Packing for Iceland: Lessons learned

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Packing for Iceland isn’t a hard as I thought it would be. We all have preconceived notions about Iceland, from weather to food. But did you know that the lowest average temperature in the winter is about -2 C/ 28 F. Not sure where you live, but in Virginia, where I’m from, that’s just regular winter for us too! So, how do you pack for Iceland in the fall and winter? With layers!

The biggest difference for me was that in Virginia, you ran from inside to your car to warm it up. Run back in the house for 5 minutes, then run back to the car. Drive to a restaurant, then run inside. In Iceland, you will probably be outside for longer. There might be rain and wind. So, how’d it go for me?

Related: Find good food in Reykjavik, Iceland

What to wear in Iceland

Packing for Iceland in November

Yeah, I’m not going out and buying a whole new wardrobe for a trip. So, I tried to stick with what I had. In case you do need a few things, I’ll leave affiliate links here for you. (No extra charges!)

On the bottom half

My base layers included either proper thermals – but only light-weight version-or yoga pants. I have been known to add tights on under that as well. Then, I wore jeans on top of the base layer. Those are just what I normally wear and I didn’t know what else to put on and I didn’t have anything else either.

When I went on the glacier, I wore snow pants because the weather is unpredictable and the extra cold, wind, rain protection gave me some piece of mind. I bought them in the Netherlands and they were (of course) too long, but rolling them up worked just fine and they kept me warm and happy!

On the top half

Again with the layers. Normally, it would be a tank top first and foremost. Even in Amsterdam, I always wear a tank top under everything in the winter. Then a long-sleeved shirt which ranged from regular cotton to a nice sweater. Some days I’d add an open sweater or button up sweater on top for a little extra on the arms. Finally, my wind- and rainproof jacket topped it all off.

Other accessories for my Iceland trip

I did something I thought was pretty interesting when it came to gloves. Maybe some of you already thought of this too. But I got some thin gloves that allowed me to touch my phone. Then I got heavier gloves to go on top while I spent more time outside. It allowed me to never have bare hands in the cold.

Just a regular hat that is insulated and covers your ears is just fine. I’ve been told mine looked a bit like a mullet. But I was warm and happy! I saw a lot of people wearing bands around their head that only covered their ears. While I prefer to keep my whole head covered to retain body heat, that’s a personal preference.

Boots and socks. Water-resistant boots are a big help in keeping happy feet. I paired them with some great warm socks. I didn’t have any issues. My boots were not water-resistant when I bought them, but I have a spray that I use on all my shoes that help with that. Living in Amsterdam means you will get caught in an unexpected rainstorm, so just best for all shoes to not soak in water.

Dressing for winter in Iceland

How did my clothing choice work out for me?

For the most part, I was fine. I wasn’t freezing except on my face if the wind was too bad and my hands when I took my gloves off. But those are very much “duh” situations. Even still, I learned some lessons the hard way.

Upgrades needed on the bottom part

For someone who isn’t used to the cold, I wish I had another pair of thermal pants. The yoga pants helped, but of course, they left a lot to be desired! Since I was wearing tights with the thermal pants, I feel that I have to suggest one grade higher when picking out pants.

I keep reading “NO JEANS” on websites, but they weren’t too bad. Like, I said, they are what I had and I’m not a luxury traveler or one with enough money to feel comfortable dropping a few hundred dollars/euros/pounds on new clothes for a week. Ideally, yes, hiking pants are probably a better idea and would like to have them before I go back to Iceland.

Yay for the snow pants!! Perfect when you need a little extra warmth. I went for a cheapish version, but that was still about 90 euros. They were fine. No complaints here.

Upgrades needed on the top part

I really needed some help here. Again, the proper thermal top worked nicely, but I felt like a grade up would have been much more comfortable. Also, there is a good reason the Icelanders wear wool sweaters. They are beautiful, comfy and warm! The bonus is that you don’t look like a big ball of layers. Instead of having 3-4 shirts on, a good base layer, wool sweater, and a weather-proof jacket is the best bet.


Gloves and hat worked out swimmingly! I felt really happy with how that all turned out. Even my boots turned out to work out really well. The only thing I would change here would be to get wool socks. Seriously, wool is the best fabric for this type of climate.

Glacier in Iceland

My suggestions: What to wear in Iceland in November

As I mentioned before, I don’t like buying new clothes for travel, but in this case, I highly recommended buying 5 things if you don’t already have them.

This is assuming you have a hat that covers your ears and some good gloves. If you don’t have those, then add them to the list!

Thermal layers — a must to stay warm. I’ve learned that they are much better than just throwing on leggings or tights. Check prices on Amazon.

Waterproof and windproof jacket — What’s the point of a jacket if you get chilled from the wind and water seeming through? There is no point to that jacket, so get a good one that will last you a while. Check prices on Amazon.

Snow Pants — Not needed if you are just hanging around Reykjavik, but if you’re going and running around Iceland in/on glaciers, late nights watching for the Northern Lights, just throw on this extra layer. Check prices on Amazon.

Water-resistant pants — This is where I agree with the “no jeans” rule. At least, now I agree with that rule because jeans just soak up the moisture! Grab some water-resistant pants. 

Wool socks — Happy feet make a happy human. These are a great thing to ask for as a gift to just always have for when you need them. Check prices on Amazon.

Snowy Iceland

Are you ready to pack for Iceland?

Winter is winter. At least for me, this wasn’t a huge change from what I was used to during winter time in Virginia. The main thing to preparing to be outside for a bit longer depending on your activities. Layering and staying warm will make a big difference in how you feel about your trip. Nobody likes being cold and wet, so don’t let it happen to you!

What do you think? Can you handle Iceland in the fall and winter? I think you can! I had a friend from Brazil, someone who has never seen snow, nor is she used to the cold and was just fine.

There are so many beautiful scenes and exciting adventures to see and do and explore all around Iceland! I can’t wait to go back because there are so many things still on my bucket list to do there. What is the one thing you want to do in Iceland?

If you haven’t been yet, I hope you get to discover the island, the food, and the people for yourself.

Wishing you love and travels!

Jessica on a glacier

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.