What to Wear in Iceland: What to Pack for Icelandic Weather

|July 10, 2017
Anthropologist, social media guru, Icelandic nature and food enthusiast.

The weather in Iceland is one of Icelander's favorite topics and the reason is very valid. It just keeps changing. Ever heard the phrase if you don't like the Icelandic weather just wait 5 minutes? Well, there is a good reason for it. Here we go over the weather for each month in Iceland, what to expect and what to wear?


Aah yes, trying to predict the weather in Iceland - you are just as likely to guess the numbers in the lottery. We can tell you approximately what to expect but the best way to prepare, is to expect all kinds of weather. Still, I am here to help so let me share my best advice on what to wear so that you stay warm, comfortable and dry on your trip to Iceland.

We often refer to the Icelandic wind as ‘Kári’ or ‘Kuldaboli e’: roughly translated as “Cold Bull”. If you’ve experienced the wind in Iceland, you’ll know what I’m talking about! It often seems as if the weather in Iceland has a very beastly temper.

Thorsmork valley in summer

The same view summer vs. winter

Thorsmork winter view

I will in this section refer to the Icelandic weather as The Beast. The Beast is untameable. It is ruthless and it takes no prisoners. But, sometimes... The Beast is in a good mood and oh the joy that follows. But watch out! The Beast is also quick to change its mind.

In Iceland, a common saying is “if you don’t like the weather just wait a couple of minutes” as the weather is sure to change. So basically, love and enjoy when The Beast behaves. Keep calm and carry on when it doesn’t. The Beast will change its mind soon enough.

What to wear for Iceland’s most popular activities

Before I dive into my clothing recommendations for each month of the year, I’m going to begin with some tips on what to wear for some of Iceland’s most popular tours and activities, because let’s face it, that’s what’s so special about a trip to Iceland!

What to wear when viewing the Northern Lights

It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in Iceland between September and April and of course, only when it’s dark outside. So that means you’ll need to wrap up extra warm. If you’re planning a Northern Lights Tour, prepare to wear the following:

  • Thermal long pants
  • Waterproof ski pants
  • Thermal vest
  • A fleece top
  • Waterproof and windproof shell jacket
  • Buff
  • Hat
  • Warm gloves
  • Wool socks
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • A small backpack

What to wear on a Golden Circle Tour

Any time of year is a good time to take a tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Whether it’s winter or summer, you’re going to need to make sure you pack your waterproofs. Even on a dry day, getting close to any of the magnificent waterfalls could leave you a little soaked! Regardless of what time of year it is, wearing layers is always the best advice. You can never really know what you’re going to get. With that in mind, I recommend you consider wearing the following:

  • Thermal long pants
  • Waterproof ski pants (winter)
  • Thermal vest
  • A fleece top
  • Waterproof and windproof shell jacket
  • Buff
  • Hat
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Wool socks
  • Waterproof hiking boots

A small backpack

What to wear on a visit to the Blue Lagoon

Tours to the Blue Lagoon run all year ‘round. Even in the coldest months, you can feel quite warm around the Blue Lagoon with the heat radiating off the 40°C waters. Prepare to wear the following:

  • Swimsuit
  • Sunglasses
  • Towel, bathrobe & slippers (or you can pay to rent them there)
  • Remove jewelry
  • Water shoes or flip flops (if you prefer your feet covered walking around the water)

What to wear on a glacier walk

Glacier hiking tours run all year round in Iceland. With Arctic Adventures, you’ll be provided with crampons so you don’t need to worry about those. I advise you to prepare to wear the following.

  • Thermal long pants
  • Waterproof ski pants
  • Thermal vest
  • A fleece top
  • Waterproof and windproof shell jacket
  • Buff
  • Hat
  • Ski gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Wool socks
  • Waterproof hiking boots
  • A small backpack

As you might have gathered from the above, the key to being comfortable in your clothes in Iceland is to be prepared for all weather at all times. However, some months will typically be colder or warmer, wetter or drier than others. With that in mind, here is my guide to what to wear in Iceland for each month of the year.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE WEATHER IN ICELAND AND HOW TO DRESS FOR EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR

The weather in Iceland in January

January is dark and cold but don’t be scared, it’s also stunning!

Our winter days might contain limited sunlight but they also bring us the beautiful Northern Lights and crispy glistening snow. The average temperature in Reykjavík is about 0° Celsius or somewhere around 30° Fahrenheit. However, it can vary, quite a lot, so be prepared to give or take 10°Celcius. It’s usually colder the further you go out of the capital. Especially up in the Westfjords and in the North.

 

How long are the days in Iceland in January?

sun iceland About 4,5 – 7 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between -3°C (about 27 Fahrenheit) and 2°C (about 35 Fahrenheit)

Iceland experiences so much darkness because it sits so far North, close to the Arctic Circle. This means that in wintertime, days and periods of sunlight are short and nights and period of darkness are long. But don’t be afraid, Icelanders have mastered the art of creating cozyness everywhere. The white snow actually helps to create light and we leave all of our Christmas lights on for a very long time to help with the dark. Also, almost every cafe, restaurant or dining facility of any sorts offers hot chocolate to warm you right up.

Driving in Iceland in January

For those interested in self-drive tours, driving in January can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t used to driving in snow or on slippery roads. For anyone who is feeling nervous about this I would always recommend joining a tour where an experienced driver will take care of the whole thing and you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the Icelandic nature show.

Iceland road in winter

If you still want to experience driving in Iceland for yourself, remember to bookmark the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA) website. They are quick to update road safety information and which roads are and are not currently accessible.

What to wear in Iceland in January

Dress warm! The best way to do that is to wear layers. They keep the heat close to your body, but they also make it easy for you to adapt to changing temperatures if the weather shifts or when you move from indoors to outdoors. Wool is great for winter in Iceland, it has gotten us through ice ages so you can count on it to get you through your winter travels in Iceland. Jeans on the other hand, get cold very easily so they are not recommended if you’re going to be spending much time outdoors.

What trousers to wear in January in Iceland

  1. Start with a thermal layer
  2. Followed by active pants
  3. Wind and/or rainproof pants on top.

What tops to wear in January in Iceland

  1. A thermal top
  2. Followed by a fleece or sweater
  3. With a thick coat or wind/waterproof layer

What shoes to wear in Iceland in January

  1. Thick, high quality, warm socks
  2. Good sturdy shoes.

The Weather in Iceland in February

In February, it starts to get a little less cold, a little less dark and the days start to get a little longer. However, it’s still a great time to visit if you’re planning to see the Northern Lights. February brings great possibilities for seeing this magical event as well as plenty of other gorgeous snowy sights and winter activities.

Northern Lights in Iceland

How long are the days in Iceland in February?

It is light for about 7 hours, between 10 am and 5 pm, providing plenty of time to explore and enjoy the awesomeness of Iceland. It’s quite likely to snow and rain, the streets are usually coated with snowdrift and it can get pretty windy. 

sun iceland About 7 – 10 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between -3°c (about 27 Fahrenheit) and 2°c (about 35 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in February

Dressing for February can be a bit challenging. You pretty much have to be prepared for everything. You can skip bringing shorts and t-shirts but that’s about it. Warm things should fill your suitcase and again layers are key!

I’d advise the same trousers, tops and shoes combos as mentioned above for January. Thermal under layers, wool, and wind and waterproofs. Plus, with a bit of extra sunlight in the skies, bring a pair of sunglasses too - it can be surprisingly bright when the light hits the snow.

Dressing for Iceland pack

The weather in Iceland in March

Now on to March, the last whole month of Northern Lights and decent snow but the weather can be very changeable.

It’s less snowy and a bit rainier. The wind is high in March and the temperature is about 0-5° Celsius. Although the temperature starts to increase in March, don’t expect it to be warm.

How long are the days in Iceland in March?

It’s still wintertime in Iceland even though the days are getting longer fast. You will probably notice this changing as each day passes with the difference between sunrise and sunset about 10 hours at the beginning of March compared to 13 hours at the end of March! 

sun iceland About 10 – 13 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between -2 °c (about 28 Fahrenheit) and 3.3°c (about 38 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in March

March does not mean spring in Iceland. It’s still winter so again the same rules apply for how you should dress. I might be starting to sound like a broken record but.... LAYERS! And then some layers on top of your layers and then some more layers. More is more when it comes to layers.

Vestrahorn mountains of East Iceland

One item you might want to prioritise in March however is rain gear. It will likely be more rainy in March compared to January and February, so be sure to pack good waterproofs.

And remember: wool means warmth!

The weather in Iceland in April

Now we are reaching spring (which is quite ironic as April is the month that we celebrate Sumardagurinn fyrsti or The First Day of Summer). Unfortunately, in Iceland spring can mean rain. April is probably one of the most unpredictable months. April can bring mild weather with sun and nice temperatures around 10° Celsius, but it can also bring a snow storm. There is something we like to call Páskahret, which basically means ‘Easter cold spell’ with heavy snow or rain which usually lands suddenly and by surprise!

It’s funny how many Icelandic weather types there are that the English language just can’t explain!

An article about the Icelandic words that are missing in English

How long are the days in Iceland in April?

The daylight will be bright when you wake up and the sunset after dinnertime so this is the perfect month for a full day of exploring before heading out to explore the Northern Lights in the evening. Although you’ll have to wait until around midnight for it to get dark enough to see them,  compared to December to January when you can see them at 9 pm. 

sun iceland About 13 – 16 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between 0 °C (about 32 Fahrenheit) and 5.7 °F (about 42 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in April

Now your wardrobe will start to look a little less like you’re about to climb Mt. Everest. You can relax a little bit. In April, you’ll likely experience pleasant days where you will be able to undo a button or two on your shirt. I will still emphasize that thermals are great and will be sure to keep you warm. Hiking shoes are essential for every season in Iceland and a buff goes a long way. You can put it around your neck or use it for your head if you get warm easily.

A windbreaker is a good idea and even though it’s not in the photo below, a swimsuit + sunglasses are a must!

Warm clothes

The weather in Iceland in May

Now we will start seeing signs of summer. The grass will start to get greener, the plants will start to grow and Icelanders will start to come out from their hibernation.

How long are the days in Iceland in May?

Temperatures will be around 5°-10°C (about 40-50 in Fahrenheit) and the daylight is probably going to make sleeping in difficult for those who aren’t used to having sunlight long into the nights and again very early in the morning.

sun iceland About 16 – 20 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between 3.6 °c (about 38.5 Fahrenheit) and 9°c (about 48.9 Fahrenheit)

How to dress in Iceland in May

Finally, the light jacket can be used. Now you should be packing a t-shirt and maybe even some shorts, but this might depend on where you’re from. If you are used to hot temperatures of 30°C you might want to leave the shorts at home. May is the month we start seeing Icelanders’ skin again after being covered inside their huge parkas and coats throughout the winter season. This is when the swimming pools get busier and you should 100% pack a swimsuit to join in. Pack sunglasses again and a pair of woolen socks, though you probably won’t need as many as in Dec-Jan.

Seljavallalaug swimming pool in Iceland

BUT don’t get overconfident in this slightly milder weather. The Beast can still get into a bad mood and if it does, a thick coat will come in handy. So again, yes you guessed it, LAYERS!

The weather in Iceland in June

It’s officially summer in Iceland or at least, what we call summer. This might not count as much of a summer to those of you traveling from a warm country but it sure is different from the dark and snowy wintertime. June is the third warmest month of the year so that’s a good reason to be merry.

How long are the days in Iceland in June?

This is the month of Solstice, a full day with absolutely no darkness.

June is pretty much the month of bright days and bright nights. It’s the ultimate time of the Midnight Sun.

Another great thing about June is that it is the month with the least rain here in Iceland. So overall pretty warm and pretty dry.

sun iceland About 20-21 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between 6.7 °c (about 44 Fahrenheit) and 11.7 °c (about 53 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in June

June, you beautiful month you!

Now we are serious on the t-shirt front. We are switching the jacket out for vests and swimsuits.  June can, however, be windy so you will still need to pack layers so you don’t get cold.

I suggest packing all of the clothing displayed in the photo, which you can see covers everything from shorts and swimsuits to wooly sweaters and hats.  Basically, in Iceland, you always need to be prepared for everything at all times. While I would be very hopeful you’ll get to wear your bathing suit, I am not making any promises, we have seen snow in June.

Warm clothes pack

The weather in Iceland in July

July is the month you can expect Iceland’s highest temperatures. The average high temperature is around 14°C or 57 in Fahrenheit. This isn’t exactly beach weather but very welcome for Icelanders and people who have been here through the winter. Keep in mind though this is just an average and Icelandic weather does play around going up and down a lot.

How long are the days in Iceland in July?

The light reached its maximum level in June but you will still have plenty of light in July. The shortest day in July is about 18 hours of light. But as we move through July the light will decrease rapidly.

sun iceland About 18 hours of daylight

temperature iceland The average temperature is between 8.3 °c (about 47 Fahrenheit) and 13.3 °c (about 56 Fahrenheit)

How to dress for the weather in Iceland in July

June, July, and August have quite a similar dress code. It’s necessary to have something warm but not over the top, a couple of thin layers goes a long way in July – even better than one thick one. I mean you never know, it might be around 20°C but it could also be 5°C. Whoops, sorry, I might be repeating this quite a lot but the weather varies and so should your clothing.

Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall in Iceland

The weather in Iceland in August

Now, this is a tricky one to predict. I have seen it all in August: snow, sun, rain and strong winds but, thankfully the most common weather is quite good. August is my favorite time of year to go camping and during this month it starts to get dark and cozy again. August is also the month when we start to see the first sightings of the Northern Lights again. Especially when in the highlands, like when hiking the Laugavegur Trail.

How long are the days in Iceland in August?

The daylight time shortens quickly during July and by August we start to see fully dark nights again but no worries, August is Iceland’s second warmest month. With an average temperature of 8-19°C or 47-55 Fahrenheit. August is a little rainier than July. 

sun iceland About 14 – 18 hours of daylight

temperature iceland Average temperature is between 7.9 °C (about 46 Fahrenheit) and 13 °C (about 55.4 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in August

Here you might have a little more use for your raincoat and since it’s starting to get dark at night, pack a warmer overcoat for the evenings and night time. This is usually the last month that we see some serious sun so don’t forget to bring light clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses just in case the weather gods are in a good mood.

Clothes pack

The weather in Iceland in September

Hello, rainy days.

Now we start to see a drop in temperature and increase in rain but like with anything else when it comes to Icelandic weather this varies. One of the cool things about September is that the Gulf Stream brings the warmest ocean at this time of year and sea swimming, surfing, and other ocean activities can be done in the warmest water possible in Iceland. This is a great time to visit: the crowds get smaller, the weather isn’t too cold and if you are lucky, like we were in 2016, you might get weeks of sun and nice weather.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

How long are the days in Iceland in September?

sun iceland About 14 – 11 hours of daylight

temperature iceland Average temperature is between 5 °c (about 41 Fahrenheit) and 10 °c (about 50 Fahrenheit)

Driving in Iceland in September

This is the time of year where you might need to start thinking more carefully about driving in unusual circumstances. September can, for example, be very foggy and when driving over mountains and such it’s quite common for that thick fog to slide in forcing you to slow down a lot. Roads might also start to get slippery, especially the further outside of the capital you go, especially north, east or into the west fjords.

If you plan to drive to these parts of the country, we definitely recommend an AWD or 4×4 vehicle.

September is a beautiful time for photography!

This is, at least in my opinion one of the most stunning times to visit. HELLO Fall colors! Photographers don’t forget that extra memory card, you are going to need it!

What to wear in Iceland in September

Rain clothes, boots, warm thermals and a warm sweater. You can most probably go without a thick parka but you will need a wind/rainproof jacket and a thick good sweater underneath. You should 100% bring a swimsuit. Bathing in a hot pool when the rain drizzles down on your face. Oh wow! There is no real way to explain this. Expect quick changes in weather: this is the month where the weather is the most unpredictable. Check www.vedur.is religiously.

The weather in Iceland in October

Now we are in that month that is somewhat fall, winter, and summer at the same time. This is one of the coziest months and with the right dressing outdoor activities will be a breeze.

How long are the days in Iceland in October?

October brings the most stunning sunrises and sunsets. The daylight time drops quickly across the month by about 6,5 minutes a day. It’s not too dark during the day, but the nights are dark enough to see the Northern Lights. 

sun iceland About 11 – 8 hours of daylight

temperature iceland Average temperature is between 2.2 °c (about 36 Fahrenheit) and 6.8 °c (about 44.2 Fahrenheit)

How to dress for the weather in Iceland in October

Shoes that will keep your feet dry are important in October. The weather is wetter so rainproof clothing is very helpful. October is a little tricky as you are somewhere in between the wet and the cold months. I definitely recommend thermals for all outdoor activities and a good hat to keep your ears warm. The photo below paints a good picture of what to expect. Dress warm and keep dry waterproof clothing! I would recommend having a scarf or a buff, the winds can bite quickly.

Fall dressing pack

The weather in Iceland in November

The numbers might look mild and not too scary, but keep in mind Iceland is an island and we only live on the coastline. Your travels are also most likely only going to be along the coast so it’s likely going to be quite windy. This makes -1 °C feel like -15 °C and this is important to remember.

How long are the days in Iceland in November?

The hours of daylight are also getting shorter but this means more chances to see the Northern Lights so we can’t really complain. Here you need to prepare for snow, rain, slippery roads and wind.

sun iceland About 8 – 5 hours of daylight

temperature iceland Average temperature is between -1.3 °c (about 29.7 Fahrenheit) and 3.4 °c (about 38 Fahrenheit)

What to wear in Iceland in November

In November it’s very important that you dress warmly. Keep those layers to hand and make sure your shoes are waterproof. You will also need to pack plenty of socks. Socks are a very important factor and I would ALWAYS recommend wool socks rather than cotton or other materials. There is a reason hikers and backpackers have the saying “cotton kills”.

Go for wool, thermals, thick sweaters, keep your head, feet, neck, and hands warm. It’s better to wear more and be able to take it off than it is to be shaking with cold and not having anything to put on. Look at December’s clothing photo for inspiration.

Icelandic Wool Socks

The weather in Iceland in December

The temperature itself is probably warmer than you might expect, but of course, winds can pick up and temperatures can drop in an instant. Rain or snow is common so be prepared. The best days in December are when it’s super cold, the ground is covered with crisp snow and every house is decorated with Christmas lights. Winter Wonderland really!

How long are the days in Iceland in December?

December brings days of about 4 or 5 hours of sunlight with beautiful sunsets on offer. Night falls quickly so take care if you’re driving. If you’re not used to driving in snow, heavy winds and slippery roads, then join a tour where a tour guide is specially trained for these circumstances.

sun iceland About 5 – 4 hours of daylight

temperature iceland Average temperature is between -2.8 °c (about 27 Fahrenheit) and 2.2 °c (about 36 Fahrenheit)

How to dress for the weather in Iceland in December

As you can see by the photo, prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Sunglasses are important especially if it snows. When the (little) light hits the snowy ground and the light reflects it can be pretty hard on your eyes. Make sure you have warm socks and waterproof shoes. For in town matters make sure you have something warm around your neck. When the Kuldaboli wind strikes it usually goes for the neck blowing winds inside and around your whole body. Be prepared and protected!

Winter dressing pack
Raining near Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Icelandic Weather Records

Weather

Location

Valence

Date

Highest temperature

Teigarhorn

30,5°C

22. June 1939

Lowest temperature

Grímsstaðir og Möðrudalur

-38°C

21. January 1918

Highest temperature in Reykjavík

Reykjavík

25,7°C

30. July 2008

Lowest temperature in Reykjavík

Reykjavík

-24,5°C

21. January 1918

Kvísker293,3 mm10. January 2002

 

 

 

Most 10 min wind speed

Skálafell við Esju

62,5 m/s

20. January 1998

Strongest wind

Gagnheiðarhnúkur

74,2 m/s

16. January 1995

Strongest wind in Reykjavík

Reykjavík

59,4 m/s

15. January 1942

Highest air pressure

Reykjavík

1058,5 hPa

3. January 1841

Lowest air pressure

Vestmannaeyjar

919,7 hPa

2. December 1929

What to wear for Icelandic weather: Conclusions

Average temperature in Iceland by month
  • Layers are key!
  • The weather changes a lot and quickly
  • You pretty much have to prepare for any weather at any time of year
  • The temperature is surprisingly mild, it’s the wind that gets you
  • Don’t take chances when driving in winter
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen are essential for all seasons!
  • Waterproof shoes are important.
  • Thick wool socks are going in your bag (no matter what season)
  • Swimwear is needed for the full Icelandic experience (also no matter what season)
  • NO NEED for umbrellas. They’ll be ruined in 5 minutes. Don’t even bother!

Now that you know what to wear, why not book one of our Iceland day tours?

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