Friday, February 24, 2017

Carry-On Only: What To Pack for Iceland in Winter

You know those travel bloggers who have profiles that are like, "Quit my job, sold my house, and love living life on a shoestring! 39 countries and counting! Love the great outdoors!" And their profile photo is a shot of them sitting on an incredible cliff edge, overlooking a mountain with the sun setting off in the distance?

Yeah, so not me.

In fact, you're more likely to find me hiking to the fourth floor of Selfridges or Nordstrom than the top of a mountain and wearing kitten heels than hiking boots. So, you'll bet your bottom dollar that John didn't even bother to stifle his laugh when I emerged from the bedroom of our Airbnb in Iceland wearing a pair of waterproof hiking pants and hiking boots, complete with a fleece-lined beanie and a Northface jacket.

"What?" I asked, as he snickered from his position on the couch. "Aren't we going for a hike?"

"Yes, yes," he said. "All the gear and no idea," he muttered under his breath (except, that saying only works with a British accent: "All the gear and no idea-r").

"Excuse me?" I asked, eyes narrowing.

"Nothing! Let's go!" he said, opening the door for me, still smiling.

So: Iceland with a carry-on only. In winter. Possible? Definitely.

Here's what I packed:

A swimsuit - or two.

If you plan to visit any geothermal pools or hot springs in Iceland, you should definitely bring at least one swimsuit. I brought this one from ASOS and a bikini from Victoria's Secret (they make amazing fitting bikinis). If you're visiting the Blue Lagoon, make sure to rinse your swimsuit or bikini thoroughly after your dip in the pool, as the silica will stick to the suit, leaving a residue.

Waterproof pants and jacket.

I bought these fleece-lined, waterproof pants before I left and they were terrific. I took them on a shoreline walk to the lighthouse near our Airbnb and a hike up Mount Hafnarfjall and they kept me warm and dry each time. I was so glad to have them! Buy your normal size, otherwise they'll sag as you walk, as I discovered after buying a size up. They have a nice, straight-leg fit so aren't too baggy or unattractive.

Uniqlo Extra Warm Heattech.

Uniqlo's Heattech range has been a long-time favorite of mine, but their Extra Warm range is ... well, extra warm and perfect for the changeable weather conditions in Iceland. One minute it'll be bright sunshine, and the next, snow will completely blanket the ground. I brought a pair of the Extra Warm leggings and a turtleneck with me and wore them often. The leggings are so thin, they fit snugly under skinny jeans too.

Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket.

This foldable, compact jacket is perfect for layering. I treat mine like a cardigan and wear it over long-sleeve tees and sweaters. It's light enough to not add bulk, but warm enough to keep you nice and toasty when you're out and about - particularly when visiting places like waterfalls, where you're standing still to take photos, rather than actively walking/hiking.

A cashmere sweater.

If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I love cashmere sweaters and accessories. I brought along a big, fluffy cashmere sweater for lounging around in and I was so glad that I did. I'm also a big fan of Kit & Ace's technical cashmere. It's machine washable, thin, and some of their long-sleeve tees are brushed inside, which feels SO deliciously warm and cozy. I also love the flattering cut. It's a little expensive (okay, a lot expensive), but it's an investment for something that you'll wear again and again.

Hiking boots and a smart-casual pair of sneakers. 

I lived in these Vivobarefoot hiking boots during our trip (John has the same pair - we're such nerds with our matching boots!) and these shoes by Ecco, which I wear in London a lot because they feel like walking on clouds - no joke. The Vivobarefoot boots are waterproof and were great for our shoreline walk to a lighthouse, plus our hike up Mount Hafnarfjall. They're quite different from traditional hiking boots and aren't for everyone, so I'd recommend you try them on in store (like we did) before purchasing them.

A fleece-lined beanie (or at least a hat with a fleece-lined headband).

I bought this one by Barts right before we left and was SO glad I had it with me (plus, I'll wear it a lot in London). It was a bazillion (that's right, bazillion) times better than the basic Zara one I had and it kept my head and ears warm during our mountain hike.


A good pair of insulated and waterproof gloves (though mine weren't) are a good idea. 


The weather is unpredictable in Iceland - which is great. I'll tell you why: even if the forecast says "rain", this might only last for half an hour or so, before the sun breaks through the crowds and you're treated to gorgeous sunshine ... before getting caught in a snowstorm. Sunglasses are essential if you're walking, hiking, or driving, especially if there's snow, as the sun's reflection on the snow can make driving really impossible (or dangerous!) without a good pair of sunnies.

A down jacket/coat.

I ended up not bringing my down jacket/coat because the forecast was warmer than expected when we went, but had it been a few (or several) degrees colder than it was, I would have brought my L.L. Bean down coat, which has seen me through several Massachusetts winters (East Coast winters are BAD).


I. Cannot. Stress. This. Enough. I didn't have any body moisturizer with me during our trip and my skin was crying out for moisture after spending days on windswept mountaintops and beaches before spending hours inside with central heating. This one by Caudalie is my favorite, but Avene has a fantastic one too. Just decant some into a container if you're bringing a carry-on only.

I hope this post was helpful! I scoured dozens of blogs while packing for this trip. Have you been to a winter-y, cold destination lately? What did you pack?

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