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Outdoor clothing Guide Iceland - how to perfectly dress for Icelandic wilderness.
"An adventure (lat.: adventura: „event“ or "incidence") is an exciting experience that is typically a bold, sometimes risky, undertaking", says Wikipedia. It's about leaving your familiar environment, settings and/or social network to dare to do something bold, something that promises to be interesting, fascinating or even dangerous and which outcome is uncertain. It's the urge to forever broaden one's horizon, conquer new frontiers, seek possibilities. It's the love for everything new and unknown.
Traveling Iceland might be exactly such an adventure. Nature here certainly is. It's wild and unpredictable. So embark on wearing hiking gear day in and out, getting your shoes dirty and hair messy and go for the full outdoor equipment to be truly able to savor the raw beauty the land of fire and ice has to offer. (Especially in winter.)
We always get a lot of questions about what to wear when coming to Iceland. In summer, in winter, on rainy, stormy, wet and foggy days. And even though we wrote an entire guide on what to pack (with printable packing lists, even) you might be in search for a little more insight on what items exactly you should pack. In the end, what you should bring doesn't differ much throughout the year. If your trip is planned for sometime in the dark half of the year then you just add snow boots and a layer of thermo-underwear. You should at all times be able to brave strong and icy winds (yep, even in July), equipped against heavy rainfall and have your swimsuit at hand.
For us, it all comes down to the right materials and smart layering, with Merino wool being our number one fabric. In winter we have a base of thermo-leggings and long-sleeve beneath our clothes (suitable for arctic temperatures) plus wool socks, in summer it's just the main layers, consisting of wind- and rainproof materials that are lightweight and breathable.
A hardshell jacket is a must, so is a hat or headband, in winter also gloves.
Lots of travelers are underestimating the Icelandic weather conditions. It took on a worrying scale how often people are getting injured due to not knowing how to properly equip for the wild nature of this country. Harsh storms, sudden changes of weather or drops in temperature and difficult road conditions can catch you off-guard and throw you out of balance - literally. The forces of nature are powerful. The water running through the river and down the falls is a mighty force, never to be underrated. The waves on some beaches are massive, burying huge sections of land when crashing. Black ice, rock slip, extreme mud, incredibly cold water - Iceland has it all and of that, a lot.
We are usually not the ones to recommend proper hiking gear for every little walk but here in Iceland, we would make an exception, even for sight-seeing, since the sights ARE wildest of nature. Of course, even the best clothes and boots can't help if a river is overflowing within minutes or a volcano erupts but it will get you through all the other conditions, safely.
When sorting your gear (or buying new stuff) then keep the following keywords in mind: water-repellent, quick-drying, windproof, warming, breathable. Make sure to bring enough layers and invest in natural materials like wool to be able to adapt what you are wearing to differences in temperature of what can be up to 15°C. Your clothes have to let you be able to brave strong winds and handle rain, hail, and snow. Yep, even during the summer months. Even though you might be really lucky and granted some amazing weather (there are days, even weeks, of hardly any wind, loads of sunshine and temperatures up to 20°C) but like mentioned before - the weather can change within a heartbeat and especially in the highlands you might be in for a (rather unpleasant) surprise. It sometimes only takes 20mins to get you from a mild and enjoyable climate to a zone where you feel a hurricane just hit you and the sun is replaced by rain and low hanging fog with visibility limited to like 15 meters.
Nature is unpredictable and if you wanna face it the right way be sure to take some safety measurements. If we don't know the area and the weather forecast has been everchanging for a few days in a row we take some additional layers onto our adventures. Some hiking boots or at least boots we know will be able to handle rain and mud, rain jackets and a fleece sweater or wool jacket. Wherever you go, no matter if summer or winter - check the weather forecast, the road conditions and bring some extra layers. You really won't regret it!
If you don't wanna get out your hiking boots for every little walk then we recommend bringing a comfy pair of regular boots, as well. We both own several pairs of simple black lace-up boots, that have some profile and grip. They are not as heavy as hiking shoes and look a little less touristy, as well. Personally, we got all our boots from Sacha but there are SO MANY options on the market. When it comes to hiking boots we personally wear The North Face, Mammut, Salewa, and Lowa. If the weather is decent, sneakers will do, as well. As soon as you find yourself confronted with loose gravel, intense mud or heavy rain we would suggest switching to proper hiking boots, though.
There are no paved roads for you to walk on at any of the sights (and neither in the actual Icelandic wilderness, obviously). We always have our wellies and/or hiking boots in the trunk, just in case. If you love wearing rainboots then we can only say great things about the Ilse Jacobsen lace-ups since they are robust, waterproof, have a thick profile and well, they
look cool, too.
It happened to us quite a few times by now that we had to switch from our urban boots or sneakers to hiking shoes in order to continue exploring an area and can therefore only suggest you do the same and have your hiking gear ready to grab when out and about.
If you don't own any hiking boots, yet, we highly advise for you to visit a specialized sports shop and get expert advice. Just tell them where you are going and what exactly it is you seek (via ferrata, trekking, light hiking, mountaineering, simple sight-seeing in a rather harsh terrain, boots for beginners, outdoor vacation - whatever it is you specifically need). A good hiking boot will last you for years (!) but therefore should fit like a glove, no pinching, no slightly wrong size. You can test possible boots at almost every store on different grounds, ascents, and angles to make sure it truly works for you.
Depending on your personal taste there are two main options when it comes to proper (outdoor) clothing in Iceland. Leggings or actual hiking pants. Caro, for example, despises the latter and therefore always opts for running leggings. She finds them to be way more comfortable and well, stylish. If you are like her then make sure your pair of choice is breathable and dries quickly. Also, you should make sure to always make sure to have additional rainwear either in your car or backpack in case it should start to rain cats and dogs. If you are more like Linda, then the real deal hiking trouser is no issue for you. Her go-to pair is (since two years now)
the Cecilie Climbing Pants which you can hike in, climb in and is just overall extremely comfy. The Cecilie dries super fast and if the day turns out to be extremely cold then you can easily layer with a warming leggings underneath. We do advise against jeans (even if they might be the comfiest legwear you can think of) since they dry slowly, get heavy and uncomfortable when wet and therefore are not suitable for chasing waterfalls or getting caught in a hailstorm. Thermo or merino-wool leggings, quick-dry running leggings, and proper hiking pants are our suggestions when it comes to dressing for Icelandic weather conditions.
On a rainy but also a rather mild day you are perfectly equipped for all outdoor activities with a light, rainproof jacket of thin fabric. Rolled up it hardly takes any space in your backpack and weighs next to nothing. A suitable layer to add for when the temperatures range on a summerly scale but the clouds open up, unexpectedly. Caro wears her Microlight Lady Jacket during Icelandic summer since it is such a perfect lightweight and can be quickly thrown over shirt and sweater should a sudden change in weather demand it.
Even though a softshell should be enough most of the days (June to August, that is) we would still absolutely recommend bringing a hardshell, as well. Linda loves her colorful Cecilie Jacket and wears it on all (!) her hikes. If the wind dies down and the sun shows up in the mountains it's packed away quickly but no matter how amazing a day starts (weather-wise) it happens almost every time that the mountain tops surprise with icy winds and one or the other rainfall. The Cecilie is by no means low in price but the quality of the fabric and the functionality of this jacket in all concerns justify the price. If you want to invest in a really good outdoor hardshell then you will see that they all are rather hefty in price (for a reason). The cheaper models are always of inferior quality, do not properly shield from strong winds and get heavy and soaked by rain, quickly.
Invest in a high-quality piece and you will be able to wear it for years and years! We still have some of the first jackets we bought (15 years ago) as a backup and they still 100% serve their purpose. Make sure to really go for that brings all the technical and functional details. A hardshell jacket HAS to be windproof, waterproof, warming and breathable, be equipped with a really good hood, grant you the utmost mobility and comfort and fit perfectly. The Cecilie Jacket is a three-layer hardshell able to defy even the most horrible weather conditions and suitable for hiking, mountaineering, and climbing. Linda even wears it in winter and snowstorm, hail and otherwise harsh conditions (with additional layers, of course). It is also eco-friendly and made from a fabric called Dermizax® - a plant-based Ecodear®-polyester.
Equipped like this there is not much more to consider investing in but a proper backpack (and really good socks, but we will talk underwear and thermo-wear in yet another article, coming soon). When it comes to backpacks you have two options but we do indeed recommend bringing one. You will always have to pack some rainwear, just in case and might want to bring some water and snacks with you, as well. If you explore a town or just go sight-seeing then a simple everyday pack like Knekken no 26 or Knekken || will suffice. It's urban, easy to handle, a perfect mix of stylish and functional and comes with enough room to store what you need to bring.
If you want it to handle the rain better you can easily get a cover for it in most outdoor stores (and which is a good idea for all kinds of backpacks). If you look for a pack for mountain tours then we highly recommend models by Mammut or The North Face, if you are in need of a trekking pack then Bergans sells highly suitable models in that department, as well. As soon as you head to the mountains it makes perfect sense to invest something more technical, that distributes the weight properly. We both own several kinds of different backpacks, from stylish and urban, to hiking, trekking, and biking and are always glad that we can grab what matches the trip of the day and will provide the most comfort.
To sum it all up...
For now, this would be it. Like we said, there are more articles on this topic to come. How to equip, what brands and materials to invest in, what you need for a camping trip to Iceland (in addition to regular camping) and so on. If you seek further information on how to pack your suitcase when traveling to the land of fire and ice, make sure to read our free packing guide including downloadable checklists. If you want to know more about camping rules and grounds in Iceland then you might be interested in our 'wild camping guide to Iceland' article. We do hope this has been helpful in order for you to select the right outdoor gear for your trip. Make sure to get additional info and help at the sports store of your choice if you have never shopped for gear before and never ever underestimate the nature and climate out here.
In Reykjavik, you can obviously dress as stylish and fashionable as you want to but in the mountains, remote areas and even most of the sights and attractions the clothing has to be a little functional, as well. You are in for a muddy, wet and wild treat.
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