We spent the majority of 2015 in Iceland where we hiked, worked and had fun. We soon realized that the Icelandic climate differs quite a bit from mainland European climate and thus requires different clothes. During the Icelandic summer the temperature rises to maximum 20° C (68° F) or so, while it drops down to -10° C (14° F) in the winter. However, due to the ever-blowing wind, it feels much colder. Therefore, you can leave flip-flops, shorts and other summer clothes at home, regardless of the season. We several times saw tourists wandering around attractions such as Geysir and Gullfoss wearing shorts and flip-flops in the summer months and they indeed looked cold, uncomfortable and not too happy.
It also rains/snows almost every day and therefore you should always wear waterproof shoes and have water-resistant layers (jacket and pants) with you. Note that umbrellas are pretty much useless in Iceland due to the continuous strong winds. You should also not rely on the predictions of the weather forecast because the weather changes extremely fast.
In the following we’ll explain what to wear in Iceland to stay comfortable and warm at any time in any season. To make it easier for you, we made a selection of the garments and shoes which will protect you against the moody Icelandic weather. As we focused on tourists and travelers, we only included the most necessary things.
However, if you are planning to go hiking in Iceland you should also bring hiking clothes such as a moisture-wicking base layer, quick-drying fleece jacket etc. Check out our article What to wear for hiking to learn how to properly dress yourself for hiking and have a look at the Top 10 things to bring for hiking in Iceland where we list the most useful gear for hiking around the volcanic island. For general advice on hiking in Iceland, check out our article 10 things you should know before going hiking in Iceland.
If you have any additional questions about what to wear in Iceland drop us a line in the comments below.
What to wear in Iceland:
- Softshell jacket (summer)
- Winter jacket (all seasons except summer)
- Rain pants (summer)
- Softshell pants (all seasons except summer)
- Hat (all seasons)
- Gloves (all seasons)
- Trekking shoes (all seasons)
In the whole summer of 2015 there was only one nice day when we went out without wearing softshell jackets. A softshell jacket is a very useful garment because it offers protection against wind and light rain – it rarely rains heavily in Iceland. Unlike rain jackets, softshell jackets are highly breathable and very comfortable to wear because they are made of stretchy materials. You can wear a softshell jacket over a sweater or any other garment. Therefore, a softshell jacket is the perfect outer-layer for the windy and rainy Icelandic summers.
We recommend: Mountain Hardwear Fairing Jacket
The Mountain Hardwear Fairing softshell jacket is relatively inexpensive but perfect for sightseeing and other outdoor activities in quickly changing weather. The jacket provides good protection against the wind and light rain while still being breathable and very comfortable to wear. It also has three convenient pockets for storing essential items and is lined with fleece on the inside for better warmth. The Fairing jacket is unfortunately only available in men’s version. For women we recommend the Mountain Hardwear Solamere jacket which has similar qualities.
When: Spring, Fall and Winter
Spring, fall and winter are very cold in Iceland and therefore you should wear a proper winter jacket rather than a softshell jacket in these seasons. A winter jacket will provide you with warmth and protection against the elements (snow, wind etc.). We don’t recommend wearing a down jacket in Iceland as the conditions there are often too humid for down insulation to work well (down loses its warmth if it gets exposed to moisture/water). Instead you should wear a jacket with synthetic insulation which works great in the humid, rainy and snowy Icelandic weather.
We recommend: Arcteryx Atom LT Jacket
The Atom jacket from Arcteryx is perfect for touring around Iceland as it provides good warmth and protection against snow and wind. The jacket features high-quality CoreLoft synthetic insulation and has a DWR treated face fabric to repel the water. It is also super light and packs very small, which is useful for travelling to Iceland since you can easily pack it in hand luggage. The Arcteryx Atom jacket is available in a men’s and a women’s version.
During the summer we regularly brought rain pants with us when going out because the weather was changing so fast. Rain pants are indeed a handy garment, because they pack very small and you thus simply unpack them and put them over regular pants if it starts raining. They are not the most comfortable piece of clothing to wear due to the stiff fabric but on the other hand you only wear them when it rains.
We recommend: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
The Helium pants from Outdoor Research are made of Pertex Shield+ material and therefore they are super light (they weigh merely 6 ounces) and pack very small. Nevertheless, they provide great protection against rain and wind. They are also breathable and therefore they prevent condensation from building up on the inside. The Helium pants are available in a men’s and a women’s version.
When: Spring, Fall and Winter
A pair of softshell pants is very useful for travelling around Iceland in spring, fall and winter because it does not only protect you against the elements (snow, wind, rain etc.) but also keeps your lower body warm. Softshell pants typically have a brushed lining on the inside which helps trapping the body-warmed air and thus provides insulation. Note that softshell pants don’t offer as good protection against the rain as rain pants but on the other hand they are much more comfortable because they offer better breathability and stretch.
We recommend: Outdoor Research Cirque Pants
The Outdoor Research Cirque pants are made of nylon, polyester and spandex. They offer great stretch and are therefore very comfortable to wear. The fabric is also treated with DWR to provide good weather resistance – it repels the water rather than absorbing it. The pants have three zippered pockets and an adjustable waist. They are available in a men’s and a women’s version.
When: All seasons
Even in summer, the temperature in Iceland is often around 10° C (50° F) and if the weather is also windy, it’s good to wear a hat to reduce the body heat loss. Note that a hat significantly reduces the overall body heat loss, since up to 10% of body heat is lost from the head. In summer you can wear a relatively thin hat while you will need a thicker and warmer hat in winter.
We recommend: Smartwool Lid Hat
The Smartwool Lid hat is perfect for travelling around Iceland in any season. The hat is made of Merino wool and acrylic and therefore it is very comfortable. It also provides good insulation and odor-control. Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial and therefore Merino garments remain fresh for longer than garments made of synthetic materials such as polyester and nylon. The Smartwool Lid hat is available in a men’s and a women’s version.
When: All seasons
In Iceland your fingers can quickly become cold and numb due to the low temperatures and strong winds. Therefore, it’s good if you bring a pair of gloves with you. In summer, liner gloves will be sufficient while a pair of warmer gloves will be required for winter.
We recommend: Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves
The Outdoor Research Versaliner gloves are a great option for Iceland as they are very versatile. They are made of polyester fleece and come with a waterproof/breathable shell which you can pull over the gloves in case of rain or snow. The gloves also have pull-on loops, anti-slip silicone pads on the palms and tapered wrists for good fit. All in all, they are great all-around gloves which come for a reasonable price.
When: All seasons
As Iceland is a very rainy country, it requires waterproof shoes (Gore-Tex or similar). Keep in mind that due to the strong wind you generally won’t be able to use an umbrella and therefore your shoes will get wet sooner or later. Waterproof shoes are also very useful in winter when most of Iceland is covered with snow. For travelling around Iceland, we recommend low-cut trekking shoes as they are more comfortable than boots. Note that even in winter, Iceland is rarely covered with very deep snow and thus boots are unnecessary in that aspect most of the time.
We recommend: Lowa Renegade III Lo
We recommend Lowa Renegade II Lo trekking shoes as they are comfortable, durable and breathable. They also have Gore-Tex lining to keep your feet dry in wet conditions. They might be slightly pricier than similar shoes from competitive brands (Salomon, Keen etc.) but on the other hand they also use polyurethane (PU) midsoles while most other trekking shoes use EVA midsoles. PU midsoles are more durable and can easily last for years while EVA midsoles typically go “flat” after a year or two, depending on how intensively you wear them.