There is a saying in Iceland, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and bad attitudes” and it is so true. If you’re headed to Iceland during the winter and want to stay warm and dry, make sure you take these things with you.
How cold is Iceland during the winter?
Since getting back from Iceland, a few people have asked what the weather was like (duh, we’re British we love talking about the weather) and how cold it was. Honestly, it’s not as cold as you think it will be, thanks to the gulf stream.
My Mum and I visited Iceland in December, between Christmas and New Year, stayed in Reykjavik and did a couple of excursions out of the city. The temperature was between about -1C and 6C during the day, so it wasn’t that much colder than what we’re used to on a very cold day in the UK.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” is another favourite Icelandic saying. The only certainty when it comes to Icelandic weather is that it’s unpredictable. One minute it can be sunny and blue skies, and then the next you can barely see 20m in front of you because it’s snowing sideways, and then it’s sunny again.
According to Iceland Travel, the average temperature in Reykjavik in December is -0.2C, -0.5C in January, and 0.4C in February. So, while it’s not as cold as you might expect it to be make sure you have all of these things with you because you’ll be in for an uncomfortable (and expensive if you have to buy things when you get there) trip otherwise. And on top of that, the last thing you want is to be surrounded by Iceland’s beautiful scenery, hating every second of it because you’re cold.
1. Waterproof, grippy boots
In England, there only has to be the threat of a tiny bit of ice and everywhere gets covered in salt grit. In Iceland? Nah mate, they don’t bother with salt grit at all because some of their pavements are geothermally heated by the water pipes that run under them. But, not all the sidewalks are heated so you will need boots that will grip in snow and ice. And even then, when you come across thicker patches of ice you might find yourself almost falling over. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone there.
If you have a pair of walking boots already; they might not be good enough, so find out if they’re any good on snow and ice. I know mine would not have been because I was slip sliding about in them in a bit of British winter frost.
Don’t forget to make sure they’re waterproof too just in case you find yourself walking in snow that’s more than a few cm deep. It’s not like you need to go for boots that are 100% waterproof; ask yourself what you’ll be doing. If you’re spending most of the time in Reykjavik and doing a guided tour where you won’t be outside for huge amounts of time, you will probably be fine with boots that are waterproof for 3-5km. If you’re going to be outside for most of the day in snow, you’re going to need boots that will stay waterproof for longer. In fact, wellies might be a good option.
A pair of comfy, waterproof and grippy boots isn’t going to break the bank either. I got mine from Decathlon for about £35.
Do not make the mistake I almost made and think that you don’t need thermals. I almost didn’t get any, but my Mum talked sense into me and thanks to her I didn’t ruin her holiday moaning that I was cold the entire time. (Yes, I know I’m an idiot.)
A base layer will trap and keep the warmth close to your body, so that one layer of clothing can make all the difference and means you don’t necessarily have to fork out for skiing trousers or where so many layers you feel like the Michelin man.
I wore thermal trousers under my standard walking trousers, and a thermal top under a jumper and then my coat. That was more than enough to keep me nice and toasty. Again, I got my thermals from Decathlon and they cost me £3.99 a piece.
You don’t need to go for the bulkiest jumper you can find, because you might end up feeling like you can barely move. I took four fairly thin, but warm jumpers with me. Two of them were from Decathlon (I promise, this is not sponsored by Decathlon, I just love that place) and two were woolen jumpers from Oasis.
Again, this is going to depend on what you’re doing during your trip to Iceland. I took two pairs of standard walking trousers that had served me just fine between 2C – 12C while I was in Canada last summer and wore my thermal trousers underneath. If you’re worried about rain or snow storms, you can always get a pair of waterproof trousers to go over the top of your normal trousers.
Though if you’re going to be off out exploring all day, a pair of thicker, waterproof trousers is probably wise.
Whatever you do, avoid jeans. While you would probably be warm enough in a pair of jeans with thermals underneath, you know how horrible jeans can get if they get wet. We got caught in rain walking to our Air BnB on the first day while wearing jeans, and my legs got cold and sore so fast.
5. Waterproof and windproof coat
Have you got this image in your head of Iceland being windy and wet during the winter? Good, you’re on the right track. Make sure you take a coat that is warm, waterproof and windproof.
I took my Superdry coat, which isn’t actually advertised as being waterproof but it’s always been fine for me. Unfortunately, we got caught in a snowstorms on a trip and the bus was FREEZING so my coat couldn’t dry all day, and it ended up getting really wet. Thankfully it was just my coat that was wet through, not all of me, but learn from my stupidity; take an actual waterproof coat.
6. Gloves & glove liners
You know how normally your gloves advertise that they keep you warm to like -4C and they don’t? Yeah. Make sure you pick up a pair of glove liners to go underneath your gloves. You can even get glove liners that you can use your phone with, so you don’t have to choose between making your friends jealous and keeping all of your fingers.
7. Hat and scarf
It sure can be windy in Iceland, so do not underestimate the power of a hat and scarf to keep your ears and neck warm, and to stop your hair blowing all in your face. My boyfriend bought me a hat with flaps, which was perfect for making sure my ears were warm, and I would definitely take that again over a hat without flaps.
8. Good socks
Everyone loves a good pair of thick socks. What you need is socks that will keep your feet warm and dry even if you do end up getting your feet wet; and they’re not hard to find at all. Just go to any outdoor shop and you’ll be able to find them no problem.
Tips for going on northern lights tours
If you’re headed out on a trip to try and spot the lights, I would advise taking an extra jumper or layer. When we went, it was -7C and three layers wasn’t going to cut it. My Mum and I both took a thin fleece jacket to put under our coats and that worked a treat for us. I would also consider taking an extra pair of socks because my feet have never been so cold in my life.
If you haven’t booked a tour yet, make sure to read my post about photographing the northern lights in Iceland because Arctic Shots were amazing; especially if you’re a keen photographer.
I promise, this was not sponsored by Decathlon – I just like it, a lot. However, this post does contain affiliate links.
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