What to Wear in Iceland

Picking the right clothing for your adventure in Iceland can be tricky. Depending on where you live, it might be difficult to figure out what to expect and which type of clothing will work best!

This is some general advice that will serve you well no matter what exactly you are planning to do. Of course, for certain adventures such as ice climbing there are additional concerns that should be kept in mind, but what follows will still be a great starting point that only needs a few adjustments to get you ready for almost anything!

Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is that you’ll want to dress about one season colder than the one you’re visiting (so dress for spring / fall in summer, and winter at any other time). It’s easy enough to shed a layer if you end up being too warm, but being cold and miserable is never fun.

Summer temperatures can be warm enough that shorts and a t-shirt is all you need, but they can also quickly drop to single digits. In winter, effective temperatures (factoring in humidity and wind chill) can drop to -30°C.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.


In general, mid-height hiking boots are a great all-around option. They should be reasonably waterproof, and the high cut will provide ankle support for hikes over rough trails and prevent dirt or mud from getting inside your shoes and causing blisters. Around town, for driving days and if your shoes are soaked after a day in the rain, a pair of low-cut trainers are a nice addition.

In winter your typical winter boot is a good choice, but keep in mind that any footwear that you can lace up will fit much better and cause less friction while you’re walking. Rubber boots in particular rarely fit well enough to avoid blisters on longer hikes.

For glacier hikes, ice caves and other tours where you may end up wearing crampons, a well fitting, laced hiking boot is critical. The additional height of the crampon means you’ll want a boot that is high enough and can be laced up to properly support and protect your ankle. The sole should be moderately stiff – not entirely rigid but can’t be folded easily with your hands – which will help with crampon fitting and avoid blisters. B1 or B2 class mountain boots are ideal.

The Double Socks Mystery

It sounds like a good plan, but rarely works: Doubling your socks will almost never keep your feet warmer in cold weather. What’s keeping your feet warm is the air trapped between them and your boot, and two pairs of socks will not increase this air volume (since the size of your boot didn’t change). On the contrary, the additional material might compress your feet and restrict blood flow, causing colder feet than you would get otherwise.

To keep your feet warm:

  • pick the right footwear (don’t wear sneakers in snow!)
  • make sure your boots and feet remain dry
  • use high quality socks that fit well
  • keep your legs warm – if your blood is already cooling down before it reaches your toes, it can’t do any good there!


Let’s face it: Jeans / denim is a great material to be hanging out in bars or traveling in hot countries, but they are not really a suitable choice for Iceland. Cotton loses most of its insulating properties when wet! Instead, I would go for a thin to medium-weight base layer may be with breathable, waterproof hiking / outdoor pants (made of a material such as softshell) on top.

If you’re coming in the middle of summer, it can be warm enough to be wearing shorts (at least while you’re physically active), or the temperature may remain in the single digits. Best be prepared for both.

In winter, a third (thermal) layer to be worn in between the base and outer is a good idea. Remember that warm legs are a great way to also keep your feet and toes happy! Some people go as far as bringing their ski/snow pants, and while those are certainly nice and warm they usually aren’t very breathable, and could be cumbersome for more physical activities.

Upper Body

Essentially the same concept applies as for the legs: A breathable base to wick away moisture, followed by thermal and outer layers for insulation and protection against wind and rain. I like to wear one (summer) or two (winter) mid-weight fleece layers depending on the activity, and I usually bring another ‘heavy’ thermal and windproof outer jacket (something like a primaloft or down jacket) to throw on if I’m not moving much and the wind picks up.

Longer cut jackets like parkas are great because there will be less heat loss through the overlap between your lower and upper body clothing, but they are not suitable for all activities (ice climbing in particular, where long-cut jackets may interfere with the function of your safety harness).

Head and Hands

A beanie or other head cover and a pair of thin to medium-weight gloves are always a good idea (even in summer!). In winter, you might want to bring nice, warm gloves or even mittens if you tend to get cold fingers and plan to be outside for long.

Sunglasses are also always a great idea. Our winter days are short, but the sun never rises high above the horizon and is almost guaranteed to be in your face while driving…