What to wear for Winter Trip to Iceland

Going to Iceland and other Nordic Countries such as Norway and Finland in winter requires hard core winter gears. You need to stay warm and dry instead of cold and sorry. Whether you are hiking or just taking a road trip, packing the proper clothes for your trip is essential. When it comes to packing for Iceland or Norway in winter, understand that you should be going for comfort over style.

Winter in Nordic Countries is between November and March. These are the darkest months of the year, with little sunlight. The year’s shortest day happens just before the Christmas holidays, on the 21st of December. On that day, there are only 4-5 hours of daylight. March is the longest day with sunlight during winter and is the last month to see natural ice cave and northern light.

In Iceland, winter is the most unpredictable season when it comes to the weather. Tours depend on weather and visibility so they can be canceled with just a few hours’ notice. The same with access to road. We went to Iceland in March which was supposed to be the the last month of winter but surprisingly there was a lot of snow and it was snowing almost everyday when we were there. Iceland is not as cold as what people think but the Icelandic wind is in a whole different level.

This picture is taken actually when the weather is okay
And this is at -4C and very strong wind and I thought I would be frozen if I stayed any longer

Before we start with what clothes to pack, let’s understand first what are the best fabrics to wear in winter to keep you warm:

  1. Wool: For winter activewear, wool is a great choice. Merino wool is especially popular, as it’s very warm and softer than other types of wool. It also wicks sweat and is particularly resistant to wear and odor, making it a good long-term option.
  2. Silk: It’s best for use as a base layer rather than an outer one, as it wicks moisture and helps you to retain heat. It’s smooth and comfortable, but on the downside, it is mroe expensive.
  3. Down: it is a natural material—the down, or feathers, of ducks and geese. The more down that’s stuffed in your coat, the warmer it will be. Typically, a down coat will have a waterproof outer layer into which the insulation is placed. Like silk, down winter clothing can be on the pricier side, as it’s a natural material.
  4. Polyester: It is a synthetic material made mainly from woven plastic. It’s commonly used for base layers since it provides such good insulation and also outer layer as it can also repels water and keeps out the wind. Polyester isn’t quite as odor-resistant as natural materials like wool, but it is less expensive and more durable.
  5. Nylon: Though nylon is not a particularly absorbent or warm material, it does wonders at keeping you dry. This synthetic material was designed to imitate silk, and it’s quite durable and perfect for use in both rain or snow. Wear nylon as your outer layer, and you’re guaranteed to stay dry.
  6. Polypropylene: it is a durable, hydrophobic material that is good for intense physical activity due to its excellent moisture-wicking abilities. It’s not terribly warm, but if you’ll be sweating a lot during your winter activity, a polypropylene base layer might be right for you. One thing to note is that it is not resistant to heat, so you’ll need to be careful around fire or when drying gear made of this material.
  7. Gore-Tex: it is a waterproof, windproof material made of expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE). This material is very strong, yet warm and breathable. It’s commonly used as an outer layer for winter coats or snow pants because of its ability to keep you dry in the wettest of weather. Gore-Tex can also be used in footwear like winter boots. —if you’re tramping through the snow in boots that aren’t waterproof, your feet will undoubtedly become wet and cold quite quickly, so durable, waterproof material is important.
  8. Synthetic Blends: Many base layers and other winter clothes are actually a blend of natural and synthetic materials. For example a blend of merino wool and polyester will be soft, warm, durable, moisture-wicking, and resistant to odors, whereas pure wool or polyester might just have a few of these features. This kind of blend has the benefits of natural materials without a high price tag.

And these are what you should pack to stay warm and dry

  1. Insulated jacket/shell which is windproof and waterproof and can stand below zero Celcius. I got mine from Columbia. North face also has a very good selection with higher price Vs Columbia.
  2. Sturdy waterproof boots with a good grip. These are my life saviours especially when we did the ice caving tour and glacier hike. Got mine from Columbia also. Decathlon also has nice selections for more affordable price.
  3. Wool thick socks – bring several
  4. Thermal basic layers (top and trousers), merino wool is preferred. Got mine from Coldwear and the boys from Marks and Spencer. I also got Ultra Thermal from Uniqlo which is also warm and I actually prefer this one over Merino wool because when my eczema flared up from the cold, my skin can no longer directly touch anything from wool.
  5. Middle layers such as fleece-lined or lightweight wool jumper
  6. Waterproof/rainproof trousers
  7. Fleece lined pants
  8. Wool knit hats as you want your ears to be warm
  9. Wool shawl
  10. bathing suit/swimsuit. Yes believe it or not, you do need one when you are traveling to Iceland in winter! Hot springs in Iceland are warm all year round, so you want to make sure you have a swimsuit so you can take a dip.
  11. Waterproof Gloves
  12. Sunglasses
  13. Spike/Cleats. The walks to the waterfall can be very slippery and having crampons on your shoes are super helpful and safe too. If you can’t buy it online you can get them in supermarket in Iceland or Norway.
  14. Hot hands. These are life saviors when we were chasing northern light as we had to stand outdoor for a long period of time. You can buy this in Iceland too. But I got mine from online marketplace

The key to staying warm is to dress in layers (base-middle-outer layer), get the proper fit, wear wool and avoid getting wet. I always wear my merino underwear or Ultra Warm Uniqlo as a base, add middle layer: wool or synthetic blend sweaters underneath my winter jacket. When it was really cold I would also double my wool socks.