What to wear in Iceland during the winter months is a question many people have.
And I get it.
You hear from some friends that it’s cold but after a bit of googling you see that the average temperature for the coldest month is 2°C (36°F) and it can get windy. I wouldn’t fault you for underestimating the Icelandic weather.
I’ve lived here all my life and I sometimes make the same mistake.
Getting ready for Icelandic weather solely based on the numbers might lead you to one cold vacation.
That is where I come in!
In this blog, I’ll go over
- Why it’s important to dress well
- What to wear in Iceland in the winter months
- What activities will require good clothes
So let’s begin!
Why is it important to dress well for Icelandic winter?
Let’s start with a little overview of why it’s important to dress well.
Winter weather in Iceland
The winter in Iceland isn’t all that cold…on paper.
Look at the average temperature of each winter month.
Doesn’t look too bad.
However, these numbers don’t paint the whole story.
You see, the reason why Iceland is cold is…
It’s those two factors that people don’t takin into account. We Icelanders sure don’t, which is mildly annoying.
Although the temperature outside might only be 36 F (2 C), when you add wind and rain into the mix, it sure doesn’t feel like it.
You can’t just rely on the weather report. Even though you think the weather is supposed to be nice, you should always make sure to bring everything with you.
So how much does it rain during the winter months in Iceland?
Average rain in Iceland in winter
As you can see, it rains almost half the month each month. Less than in some countries, but definitely enough, so you don’t want to risk it!
Even half of December is rainy!
But there’s more!
Winter wind in Iceland
The wind is an ever-present companion here in Iceland.
It’s not enough to just wear a raincoat to repel the rain, which is why ours have an extra layer to keep you warm as well!
A lot of storms happen between September and March. And it also depends on where you are of course!
In general, the wind is far greater in the highlands than in the lowlands.
The winter is windier than the summer and the average wind speed from October to March is 6.4 m/s (14.2 mph).
With January being the windiest month, 7.2 m/s (16.1 mph).
Snowy days in Iceland
You can definitely expect snow in Iceland.
It just depends where you are.
In the capital? Yes, but not really. Sure we might get a bad week or two.
But most of the time, it’s just a thin layer that is more bothersome than nice.
Once you get out of the capital area and into the south coast or the north, then you definitely get more snow.
So don’t be surprised if there isn’t as much snow as you had imagined, once you start venturing out of the capital, you’ll find it.
So now that I’ve gone over WHY Iceland is cold, the question becomes
How do you prepare for it?
Well, let me tell ya!
What to wear in Iceland in winter
Now it’s time to get you ready for Icelandic weather.
So let’s start with the key to surviving Icelandic weather…layers.
Your base layer is the one closest to your skin.
It should be breathable and dry easily.
So what does a good base layer look like?
A merino wool base layer is my go-to option. It doesn’t have to be made out of merino wool but something similar.
You could also do well with a thick t-shirt or a workout t-shirt.
When you’re walking behind Seljalandsfoss and the water is spraying you up and down. You’ll be thankful for the warm base layer keeping you safe and cozy!
If you google what a good mid layer is, then you might find suggestions that it should be made out of wool or polyester.
And if you’ve got a sweater made of wool or polyester hidden away in your closet then great!
However, I’ve found that a thick sweatshirt or a sports hoodie will do the job just fine.
This is the final layer you’ll need for Iceland.
Water and windproof, this garment will keep you safe from the worst of the weather.
One important factor for this layer is that it has a hood.
It’s not mandatory, but it is incredibly handy to be able to pull it up to shield you from the elements.
There is a 4th layer called the outer shell. However, unless you plan on going into the most extreme situations. This won’t be necessary.
But I’ll give you an idea of what that might look like.
If you plan on using an outer shell you would drop the parka and get a jacket with a hoodie.
On top of that, you would wear a shell, which is made out of water-resistant material and protects you from the wind.
This would be a bit overkill for the average traveler coming to Iceland.
Stick with 2 layers and a parka and you’ll be just fine!
But that’s not all of course!
Here are other things to bring with you to our little island.
Socks for the winter in Iceland
Bring a good pair of socks with you.
There are some discussions if you should wear 1 or 2 pairs and the general consensus amongst hikers is to wear 1 thick pair of socks.
You want to be comfortable and not put too much unnecessary pressure on your foot.
A warm pair of socks combined with hiking boots will be enough!
Hiking boots for Iceland
A good pair of boots is essential for Iceland in winter.
This is because of the rain.
Your shoes should be water resistant and be able to withstand low temperatures.
There are few things that will spoil your vacation as much as wet feet or cold feet.
When you’re northern lights hunting you don’t want to stay in the car because your feet are cold and wet from the day.
Don’t forget your lower half!
Having water-resistant pants will make any hike, walk or northern lights hunt more pleasant.
There really isn’t more to add. It’s windy, it’s wet and these pair of pants will keep you covered!
Personally, I don’t use a scarf since I have a hard time fitting it comfortably on my neck if I zip up my parka.
But they are of course a great way to protect your neck. So if you’re worried about the cold, it won’t hurt to bring it with you!
A beanie is mandatory in winter!
Make sure that it reaches well below your ears, leave the fisherman beanie at home.
Any pair of gloves is better than none at all.
However, the ideal pair would be waterproof. Don’t worry too much about it, you can always stick your hands in the pockets of your jacket.
Handy dandy tip
There are many other things that you can take with you and Almost There Adventures have created a great packing list if you’d like to know more.
Now you know WHY and HOW you can stay warm and enjoy your Icelandic adventure!
But for what do you actually need these clothes?
Examples of activities where you’ll need good clothes!
Of course, you need the clothes for your daily life in Iceland. You’re not just planning on staying inside the hotel… Are you?
For those brave souls venturing forth into the Icelandic winter climate here are some amazing activities where you’ll need good clothes.
Glacier hikes in Iceland
If you’re doing a glacier hike (and you should!) you’ll need good shoes.
It’s cold, wet, and beautiful up there and you definitely want to be able to enjoy it all!
You’ll want good shoes, a parka, a beanie, water-resistant gloves, and lots of layers.
The tour will provide crampons so you won’t have to bring your own and some of the tour companies rent out shoes for the duration of the hike.
Snowmobiling in the highlands is an amazing experience but if you’re not well equipped then you won’t be able to savor the moment.
Most companies include the appropriate equipment such as a helmet, a suit, gloves, and overshoes.
So you’ll need to bring a parka (just in case), a few layers, and a beanie.
As we say, you can always add more layers!
South coast adventure
The south coast is wet and windy most of the time.
Walking behind Seljalandsfoss? You can expect to get wet.
Want to get up close to Skógafoss? Wet!
Running from the waves on the Black Sand beach? That’s gonna leave you wet!
It’s very common for people to get soaked early on in their south coast trip which will affect the rest of the day.
You don’t want to spend the entire time thinking about the warmth in the car!
So make sure to wear good shoes, layers, outdoor pants, and a parka!
If you bring the items that I’ve mentioned above, you’ll be ready for the Icelandic weather.
Check out our selection to stay warm in Iceland in the winter!