Whether you are backpacking, self-driving, or joining a tour group, don’t forget to pack these five essential things to keep your summer vacation / adventure in Iceland hassle-free! Don’t worry, you will be able to buy them in Iceland as well, you just need to pay a premium. Let’s go!
Rain Gear: Iceland is really Waterland in summer!
Iceland is known for its temperamental weather. It is not unusual to experience 4 seasons in a few kilometres! In particular, pouring rain is a thing and you can get soaked, and I mean it!
Bring WATERPROOF clothing: rain jacket, pants, shoes etc. Water-resistent works for light to medium rain but doesn’t cut it for heavy downpours. Famous Icelandic clothing brands such as 66° North or ICEWEAR offer plenty of selections if you want to buy there, and the sales representatives will tell you exactly how many millimetres of rain they can resist.
You must know that Iceland is famous for waterfalls, and there are hundreds! Inevitably you will visit at least 5 or 6. You need that rain coat for the splash and mist, but if you fancy going behind the fall, you gotta wear full gown and waterproof shoes.
Sun Protection: Not just lotion!
Besides sun cream/lotion and sunglasses, make sure you protect your body skin from the very strong and direct sun in summer Iceland, even at 10PM! It may be only 10-15°C, but the sun heats you up and burns your skin pretty quickly. Therefore I suggest bringing a thin breathable windbreaker to cover your arms, wear long pants for the legs, and SPF50 sun lotion for the face, the neck (especially the back), chest and hands. At night, deep moisturising masks (something with aloe or cucumber extract), facial cream and body balm can save your skin and heal the burn. Weird enough, although humidity in Iceland is relatively high, the air is very dry. My skin becomes itchy when it is dry so I know right away I need some body lotion.
Photos, Photos, Photos!
Every corner of Iceland is full of beauty that you don’t want to miss. From wide shot to close ups, portrait to landscape to capturing the moment, you would want them all. So bring a variety of photographic equipment as you please. Some suggestions:
- Selfie stick (what?! so last century already!): I know, but there are so many gorgeous panoramic views, how would you miss them?
- GoPro: For those who are more adventurous and want to do some action shots or doesn’t want the camera to get wet in waterfalls or lagoons.
- Car Mount: Don’t expect Apple CarPlay on every rental, as some of them could be quite old (ours was 5 years old with 105,000km mileage on it!). It becomes handy for navigation when driving, but also an awesome tool for making time lapse driving videos!
- Drone: You probably heard that many attractions don’t allow drones to be flown, and yes that’s true, but they are mostly touristy attractions within the Golden Circle. The rest of Iceland is pretty chill and I am still kicking myself for not bringing it this last trip!
- Tripod: it may come in handy when you do landscape pictures or time lapse photos.
- Gimbal: Not a bad thing to have if you shoot a lot of videos, just don’t bring a bulky one, you need your hands for all the climbing and hiking.
Hiking Gear: for those who want to go high (or deep)!
You must have heard about the volcano in Iceland. Do you know you could hike up to see the crater? Not only that, but there are a ton of other volcano craters, canyons, glaciers, ice caves, hills after hills you could hike up (or down). So pack your hiking gear for the Iceland nature! Here is a checklist:
- Hiking boots: No kidding, you need them! A lot of hiking trails are rather steep and slippery, covered with dried soil, sand and pebbles. I actually strained my leg on the way down, and the grooves on my sneakers were completely gone after hiking up the Geldingadalir volcano. Not being able to walk properly for two days (and missed out going to the top of Skogafoss and skipped a couple canyons…), I immediately bought a pair of hardcore hiking boots (look for Goretex for waterproof and vibram for extra grip). Needless to say I had to pay a 20% premium even after the 14% tax refund (it’s Iceland!). BUT Man was that easier when I hiked up other volcanoes after!
- Hiking Poles / Sticks: Highly recommended! It’s like having handles for stairs, they make especially coming downhhill much easier. (Shaky knees or worse, sprained ankle anyone?)
- Water bottle: There is free, clean water everywhere in Iceland. If you have a bottle, you have water, maybe except in the hills or volcanoes.
Last but not least: Swim suits for the lagoons (and the BONUS hack!)
Everybody knows the Blue Lagoon. There are many others. Near the Mývatn Lake are the Mývatn Nature Baths, which look just like Blue Lagoon, maybe except fewer people and nicer. Same blue water with an incredible view and the raw sulphur smell (not strong at all).
Then there is the newest attraction, Sky Lagoon, which was opened in May 2021, right in Reykjavik. Entrance fee is pricey, 9,990 ISK (78 USD or 67 EUR) for the full set of lagoon bath + saune + mist + rub + steam room (they call it Pure Pass). But it is relaxing and quite worth it, if you buy the Multi-Pass at 24,000 ISK (allows 6 Pure Pass entries). It is valid for 4 years. Here is a secret: the Multi-Pass acts as a coupon code. While it is non-transferrable, it doesn’t stop you from using the same coupon code to buy multiple Pure Passes, since you have to enter the visitor’s name for every Pure Pass. Just do separate transactions (one pas at a time). Don’t quote me on this!