Before my first trip there, I had no idea what to pack for a winter week in Iceland. It just looks so cold, but it was actually the same temperature as Ireland (home for me) the week I went in January. I flit about Dublin all winter (and summer for that matter) in just a leather jacket, so practicality isn't my strong suit. Would I need thermals and a base layer? Specialist boots for snow and ice? Ski clothes for snowshoeing? Fancy stuff for going out at night in Reykjavik? I hadn't a clue. Now, I'm much more confident and ready to share my tips about what to pack for a winter week in Iceland.
I spent some time in the Westfjords, the most remote part of Iceland and arriving at Isafjordur airport, I quickly realised my leather boots weren't going to cut it, as even the runway wasn't cleared from ice and slush. In panic preparation packing mode, I'd made a big order from Helly Hansen, the Norwegian ski and sail brand before I left and proper snow boots were first on my list.
I think I was about the only tourist in the town, so the last thing I needed was to be sliding all over the place showing myself up. Walking became a lot easier when I switched to my Helly Hansen boots.
The Isafjorder hotel cleared the pavement in front of the entrance, but pretty much everywhere else was covered in deep snow or ice, even right up to the door of the (one open) bar and the bakery in town, so in my opinion good quality snow boots for a winter week in Iceland should be your top priority.
If you really don't want to invest (although you should because they're insulated and 100% waterproof) then you should at least buy the clip on grips for your shoes, Amazon has loads of options like these or these. Either way, you need something above calf height if you're anywhere in Iceland in winter that isn't built up i.e. where the snow hasn't been cleared.
Everyone, bar some toughened locals, wears gloves at all times outdoors, they must be used to it because I couldn't feel my fingers after taking my gloves off for just a minute to use my camera. If you want to be able to use your devices, then go for something like Helly Hansen's Smart Gloves. If it's just warmth you require, then I like the Thinsulate brand. You can even get heated gloves like this pair
Keeping with accessories, you'll want at least a hat and probably a scarf too, but I noticed lots of people were wearing Buff neck warmers which you can wear loads of different ways and they sell them everywhere in Iceland. If you get too warm you can just wrap it around your wrist. When I got back to Reykjavik, I realised everyone was wearing less practical but more fancy furries. Decide which is more important to you, I chose comfort and practicality, sprinkled with a little bit of decoration. For sunglasses, polarised are your best best as the glare of the bright white snow can be very tiring on your eyes, especially if you're driving.
When it comes to clothes, here's what not to wear: ripped jeans. Yeah, I know, obvious. I don't know what I was thinking, but I didn't know what to pack for a winter week in Iceland, so just don't make the same mistake as me. They were fine for a bar crawl in Reykjavik, but not so much in knee-deep snow at Heydalur in the Westfjords frolicking with the Icelandic horses. If you follow my Snapchat story (nadia_dailyself), you will have seen me drying both my jeans and my knees with the hairdryer back at the cabin. Moral of the story? Do as I say, not as I do.
For outdoorsy stuff, I went for Helly Hansen's slim fit ski pants. I wore them snow shoeing, sea kayaking and on the Golden Circle tour where you were pretty exposed to the elements and they kept me warm and dry on all occasions. They aren't the type that hideously cover your boots in a sort of dodgy flare that adds five inches to each leg look, they're more like water-resistant thick black leggings that you can tuck in, ideal.
What about thermals and stuff? If you've got the right coat and accessories, they're not an essential. Of course it can get much colder than when I was there (hovering around zero celsius or a couple below), but speaking to lots of locals the temp never drops to crazy lows like you'd find in Canada or even New York. In fact, during my snowshoe trek, I had to stop to peel off a layer. Even though we were rising in altitude, the activities really warm you up, especially if it's sunny. You want to have something ready to throw on if you're stationary or the sun's not out though.
Back in the city, normal clothes and shoes are fine if you're just going out downtown but you'll still want to be wearing your big coat, plus gloves and maybe a hat. Some paths or sidewalks can be slippy, so consider this when choosing your footwear, almost no one wears heels.
If you're venturing out at night to chase the Northern Lights or if you're going on a tour to Geysir or National Park where there's more of an open landscape, then that's when you really want to wrap up and wear all your layers.
To summarise, here's a list of what to pack for a winter week in Iceland:
Clothes and shoes
Snow boots and/or snow grips for normal shoes
Warm, thick, long socks (bring more than you think you need)
Gloves x 2 (for different activities, in case one pair gets wet)
Warm, water resistant pants
Scarf or buff
Trainers or leather shoes for non-snowy areas
Layers - cotton t-shirts and wickable fabric base layers
Wind and waterproof coat with hood and lots of pockets
Jeans - without ripped knees
Sleepwear depending on accommodation, most will be heated in winter so nothing too warm
Camera, memory card and spare batteries - batteries can drain faster in cold weather
Dry bag if you're doing any activities on water and want to bring electronics
Backpack with waterproof cover