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Things to Know Before Your Glacier Hike

All the tips and tricks

|November 10, 2023
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Heading on a glacier adventure but wondering what to expect? Maybe a little apprehensive of your first glacier experience? Find out all the necessary information before you embark.

These ice monsters are one of the most impressive features of Iceland. They are a testament to the land of fire and ice, creating and supplying many of Iceland's top activities and attractions. But even without the glacier lagoons, fissures and rivers they form, these glaciers are on many bucket lists in their own right. One of the most up close and personal ways to experience them is on a glacier tour.

Heading on a glacier hike is not something that can be done on a whim; it requires equipment, specialist knowledge and an expert guide. To make the most of your glacier hike and this incredible experience, we’ve compiled the top things to keep you safe and to make your time on the ice enjoyable before you go.

1. Use an experienced guide

Glaciers are physically and mentally demanding. From uneven and slippery ground to crevasses, they aren’t a place to go if you don’t know what you are doing. That’s why the only way to head onto the glacier is to book with an expert tour guide. And you can rest assured that each and every one of our tours is accompanied by a practiced and knowledgeable guide.

Arctic Adventures glacier guide with a group hiking on glacier

2. Choose the right experience level

Not all glaciers are the same, and neither are their hikes. Even the same glacier ice can be home to a variety of challenges. From easier strolls to strenuous hikes, some routes require better fitness and agility than others. This can be exciting when selecting the right tour for you and your group. With choices ranging from ice climbing to hike and kayak combo tours, you’ll be sure to find a level that challenges you comfortably.

Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland with a lagoon and icebergs in the foreground

Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland with a lagoon and icebergs

3. Take note of the safety instructions

Every guide will fully prepare and reassure you before you embark so that you feel completely ready for the glacier hike. Make sure that you pay close attention to the safety instructions. They will brief you on how to use the equipment and navigate the icy terrain - and remember that using crampons requires a little more technique than you might think!

4. Look out for your group

Nothing brings a group together like a shared adventure. However, to make a positive impact on the tour group, you should always be respectful and give them a safe distance when out on the ice. You don’t want to rush anyone, especially on uneven surfaces. We want everyone to have the best time that they can.

5. Check the forecasts

Being aware of the weather is always important in Iceland. But, when you are planning on heading to a glacier, it is even more vital. The weather can affect things like visibility, safety, and the overall experience. By planning ahead and keeping the forecast in mind, you can ensure you arrive ready for whatever comes your way.

It is important to note that if the guides deem the trip unsafe, it may be canceled for your safety.

Langjökull Glacier in Iceland on a cloudy day

Langjökull Glacier in Iceland

6. Bring right equipment

Your tour will provide all the specialist equipment you may need for your glacier adventure, and any extras you need to bring will be shared when you book the tour. But to be prepared and make the most of your time on the ice, bring the basic extras like windbreakers, waterproof jackets, gloves, hats, etc. Even though it’s a hike, the temperatures on the ice might still bring you a shiver if you’re not wearing warm clothing!

7. Bring some sunglasses

Even in the winter, sunglasses are needed in Iceland. The glacier's surface is mostly white, which means that it reflects a lot of the sun's light. The reflection is powerful even on a cloudy day, so even if you may not think you need it, make sure you pack your sunglasses.

What to Expect on Your Tour

Your glacier hike will most likely begin in a car park. This is where you will meet your guide and the other adventurers on your tour. Your group will be fairly small, smaller depending on the level of your tour and how many guides you have with you on the day. There will be a clear meeting point, normally where the equipment is kept.

After giving your names, it will be time to get kitted up. You’ll be provided with crampons, which the guides will measure for you. It’s important to get the right size so that they are comfortable on the ice. You’ll also be fitted for a harness, helmet and an ice axe, and shown how to put these on.

Depending on the glacier's location, you’ll either ride to the glacier or walk to the edge of the ice block. Nearer the glacier, you’ll be told to strap on your crampons as previously shown, and then it’s go time!

Your guide will show you the proper technique to walk with crampons on ice. You’ll need to take large, wide, heavy steps so that you avoid cutting yourself and give you a better grip on the ice.

Your guide will have a route planned to show you the most magnificent features and views of the glacier. These guides work days on end on the ice, so they are experts on how the glaciers change and where the best places to go are. You’ll spot crevices, caves, and black and blue ice, all while surrounded by spectacular volcanic landscapes.

View of ice-covered ash and mountains in the distance on a glacier in Iceland

View of ice-covered ash and mountains in the distance on a glacier in Iceland

If you're curious about more adventures you can have in Iceland, discover our most popular activities. From horseback riding to scuba diving, our comprehensive tours make unforgettable memories.


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