How to Pack for Iceland
An inexperienced traveler fits two weeks into one backpack
By Drew Streip
So when my friend Konstantine said we were camping in Iceland in May, I immediately envisioned the worst. How could I pack enough clothes to stay warm? Won’t “layers” turn into “sponges” if it rains? Can you use Hot Hands 24/7? Can I pack beard oil in a carry-on?
However, a 30-minute phone call with a friend who’d traveled to Iceland in April calmed most of my fears. The trick, he said, is to be adaptable. And also to have enough money for a hostel if needed. (I priced insulated coveralls, just in case.)
I say “planned” because our bags were delayed — including our tent — so we spent our first night in a hostel. Then we stayed an extra night at our cozy fjord-side cabin in Akureyri. And it was just damn cold in Reykjavik, so checked we into the hostel a night early.
I relied on NordicVisitor.com for basic weather and travel information. My two travel mates and I created a shared packing list — and I realized I had some shopping to do.
As someone who isn’t an avid camper/hiker, the amount of choices is overwhelming. (Ask me about bikes or running shoes, and it’s a different story.) I don’t know what features I need, nor do I know the technical and philosophical differences between brands. But for purchases this substantial, I want to. So I relied on the expertise of Rock/Creek sales associates.
The Shopping List
I started from the bottom: Hiking boots. A whole wall of ‘em. I’ve never had a good pair, so I went through the entire fitting process. All but one pair was waterproof — exactly what I needed for waterfalls, glaciers and sudden rain.
After trying four styles in varying sizes, I chose the Vasque Breeze 2.0 for its chunky feel, rugged outsole and substantial ankle support.
I added three pairs of SmartWool PhD Outdoor Crew socks with varying cushion to my collection, because they retain their snug, friction-free fit for several seasons. They also resist odor, which allows you to wear them two days in a row without suffocating your tent-mates.
For pants, I wanted lightweight and quick-drying, rather than full-on waterproof. The Marmot Arch Rock Pants fit the bill, with a dirt-camouflaging slate color that blended in with the Icelandic color palette of black, lighter black, and dark gray. Waterproof pants would be nice if you plan to spend significant time hiking on glaciers — where everything is wet, weather is unpredictable and shelter is non-existent.
I bought two pairs of the coveted ExOfficio boxer briefs. The best compliment you can give underwear is to forget you’re wearing them — and these provided a commando feel that would make Sharon Stone proud. Like the socks, they remained reasonably stench-free after a few days.
On top of my 700-fill down jacket, I layered on a Marmot PreCip rain shell. It provided a packable defense from light rain and wind. I hate rain, so this was my most difficult purchase decision. On one hand, I wanted absolute protection; on the other, I avoid hiking and biking in the rain, so I didn’t need a full-featured jacket.
In other words: Did the unknown variables of a two-week trip outweigh my likely day-to-day usage? My answer was no, and I chose correctly. It was perfect for keeping me comfortable and dry (albeit without any major rainstorms — only light drizzles).
The Full Pack
I packed this all in an older Kelty pack — which unfortunately had a shoulder strap ripped off during the baggage delay. Along with my laptop bag and guitar, I was fairly well loaded down.
Inov-8 running shoes
7 pairs of SmartWool socks, 1 pair of compression socks for travel
3 pairs of pants (hiking pants, quick-dry chinos, heavy Columbia khakis)
8 pairs of underwear
9 shirts (3 tech baselayers, 2 cotton thermal, 3 short-sleeve, 1 button-down)
1 light sweater
Toiletries / medicine
Assorted snacks (Clif bars, jerky, tuna)
Mountain Hardwear down sleeping bag
To effectively fit it all:
Roll smaller items (socks and underwear) tightly and stuff them into shoes. Put shoes at the bottom. Stuff the excess into the open space.
Roll shirts and layer them on top of the shoes.
Fold pants and place on top of shirts.
Add toiletries bag and miscellaneous items.
Put a sweater on top to hold those in place.
Add the sleeping bag last. Pull the drawstring taught and secure the fastener.
Tighten down all the straps and have an adventure.