Are you wondering what to wear in Iceland in winter? Here’s how our family took all the warm clothing we needed while still managing to pack light with kids.
Crazy as it sounds, I really believe winter is a magical time to visit Iceland. As I talk about in this post, there are fewer crowds, it’s less expensive, and somehow, it just fulfilled my vision of what Iceland should be. It was like something out of a fairy tale (or Frozen).
Still, one of my biggest concerns before going was what to wear in Iceland. We were traveling with little kids – including a baby – and it was important to me to keep everyone warm enough while still packing light. We were flying a budget airline and I had no interest in paying tons of money on baggage fees for Iceland clothing.
Turns out, Iceland in the winter is cold, but not unbearably so. Most of the places you’ll be able to visit in winter don’t dip into negative temperatures. Regardless, it was definitely important to have not just enough warm clothing, but also the right warm clothing. Read on for some tips on what to wear in Iceland in winter, as well as specific items we found to be the most helpful.
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Table of Contents
WHAT TO WEAR IN ICELAND IN WINTER
5 Tips for What to Wear in Iceland in Winter
Layers are Key for What to Wear in Iceland
While it’s tempting to just take the warmest, fluffiest llama around to keep you toasty warm, it’s actually not the most effective (or convenient) method. Winter temperatures in Iceland can fluctuate drastically, and you don’t want to be stuck sweating inside your one ultra-mega-super-warm bunny suit. Layers are best, especially in natural fibers. This can be trickier when visiting Iceland with kids (mine often complain about wearing several layers) but do your best to at least get a few on them.
Prioritize Waterproof and Water-resistant Gear
While we had multiple days where the temperatures climbed to 40F during the day, basically every day involved moisture of some sort. Whether it was rain or snow or just walking through slush, water was everywhere. You’ll want to make sure your Iceland clothing is great at both keeping out and recovering from moisture.
Don’t Forget Extremities
My first thoughts for warm-weather clothing all revolved around clothing. Wool sweaters! Snow bibs! Fluffy coats! While you definitely want to keep your core warm, don’t forget those extremities. Be sure to take good gloves, hats, and shoes to protect them. When visiting Iceland with kids, look into items that will cover those extremities without requiring an extra piece to monitor. For instance, many snowsuits for toddlers have built in mittens that fold over so you don’t have to keep a separate pair on their hands.
Think About Materials
While you shouldn’t need to purchase all new gear when determining what to wear in Iceland in winter, it’s definitely easier to not overpack when you have the right materials. Wool is great for Iceland clothing as it’s water-resistant and moisture-wicking. It also has self-cleaning properties so can be reworn multiple times without washing, limiting your need for many sets.
Cotton, on the other hand, isn’t great against the skin when layered as it will absorb moisture and takes a long time to dry. This means if you do sweat at all, you’ll then feel colder as the damp clothing will be against your skin.
Be Prepared for What to Wear in Iceland
As I mentioned, the weather can fluctuate really quickly in Iceland. So even if the weather forecast says it’s sunny and warm-ish, take along that warm coat and leave it in the car. Bring along the snow boots and gloves. You’ll be glad you have them if the weather turns! This is especially true when visiting Iceland with kids. So often, they’ll think they feel fine at the start of the day, but then the weather will change. It’s easy to remove layers if needed, but hard to go retrieve a coat that’s an hour’s drive away!
Iceland Winter Packing List: 10 Essentials for What to Wear in Iceland
Now onto what to wear in Iceland in winter! These are all tried-and-true items that helped us feel prepared and warm throughout our trip to Iceland in January. For the most part, these lists are pretty similar for Iceland with kids or just adults, but I’ve included some specifics for little ones, as well.
Warm Base Layers (preferably wool)
Base layers are a must when figuring out what to wear in Iceland in winter. They’ll keep you warm and dry on the inside. My very favorites are made from wool. As I mentioned above, wool is water-resistant and moisture-wicking, and also needs to be washed much less frequently than synthetic materials. Here are our favorites for women (TOP, BOTTOM), and men (TOP, BOTTOM). The same brand makes lighter-weight versions like THIS, as well. THESE are my favorites for kids.
That said, wool is certainly an investment. If you live in a warm area and are planning little cold-weather travel, you may want to just purchase a couple pairs of synthetics instead (or borrow some Iceland clothing if you can!). The ones below are our favorites because they are very warm yet not bulky. We mix them in with our wool pairs regularly (and have occasionally even worn them together when it’s SUPER cold).
Warm and Water-Resistant Outerwear
While we love these packable down jackets for other places when it’s not freezing cold, they don’t quite cut it for what to wear in Iceland in winter. While great for layering, they’re not terrifically warm on their own, and don’t dry as fast as some others.
When visiting Iceland in winter, I recommend outerwear that can really handle the wet without staying soaked for a day. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on these pants (although if you have them, by all means, take them along). Even Target or Walmart tend to carry snow pants and snow bibs that are made for the wet. (Here’s an inexpensive one for kids, or some pants for men. Or here’s a coat and bib set for toddlers.)
I would say the pants aren’t absolutely necessary for Iceland clothing for adults, but we really liked having them for kids just so they wouldn’t be soaking wet, freezing, and whiny through the day. While I may be able to keep myself from falling/rolling in the snow or in puddles, my kids tend to have a harder time with that.
Just as important as water-resistant clothing are good shoes. Honestly, we took one of our kiddos in sturdy rain boots because that’s all we had and it was fine. We doubled up wool socks and the cold actually wasn’t an issue. Still, the nice thing with snow boots is that they tend to close off at the top so snow is less likely to get in the top of the shoe. If you can swing it (or borrow some), I’d recommend trying to do snow boots over just rain boots, but rain boots will work in a pinch.
You know those cloth gloves you find in the dollar section at Target? They’re basically useless the second they hit anything wet. (Actually, they’re worse than useless as the moisture makes your hands even colder than they would be without the gloves.) Don’t get those. I find fleece also tends to stick and freeze with any sort of snow. While they’re better at resisting the moisture, they still don’t protect super well when wet.
When figuring out what to wear in Iceland, I highly recommend some sort of insulated glove. They will protect and keep out moisture and can be reworn multiple times without needing to spend a long time drying out. There are a million options out there at all different price points for KIDS and ADULTS and even BABIES (no thumb hole to worry about!).
If there’s one thing I unequivocally recommend when deciding what to wear in Iceland (or for a winter packing list in general), it’s wool socks. It’s incredible to me how much warmer they are than normal socks. You can also rewear them several times so you can pack light despite them being thick. Only in the very coldest of circumstances have we ever doubled them up, but they work for that, too.
I really love THESE (the men’s, women’s, and children’s ones are all excellent quality). We’ve had several pairs for nearly 4 years and they’re still in great condition with nearly daily use. So I’d say they’re well worth the higher price. I love these for a lower-profile wool sock that’s great for hiking and such.
That said, THIS set of 6 children’s wool socks are much less expensive, have darling prints, and are very cozy. We’ve stuck them in our kids’ stockings and they loved them. They’ve taken a beating with VERY frequent use and while they’ve gotten a few holes, they were easy to quickly sew up and have continued to function.
Hats and Scarves
These are the ones where I feel like it’s easiest to go cheap. Any warm hat will be great; same with a scarf. Fleece is nice because it’s moisture wicking (especially nice for a scarf that may get dragged on the ground). I love fleece-lined hats, in particular. Just be sure to have some sort of covering as your head needs to stay warm.
The nice thing about cold weather is that it’s easier to rewear clothing than it is when it’s roasting outside. We typically pack 3-4 outfits for each family member, and that worked just fine for Iceland clothing. Try to pack wool sweaters if you have them. Otherwise, try to avoid cotton as it dries very slowly and is heavy. (Synthetic is better.) (Thredup is a great place to look for these items at a discount, especially if you’re not planning on using them very regularly.)
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