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The ultimate packing list for your Iceland visit

It’s a long standing joke amongst Icelanders that if you don’t like the weather, you should just wait five minutes and you’ll be served up something different. The country’s location in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean means that conditions are changeable, to put it mildly. That doesn’t have to impact your itinerary, so long as you’re prepared to be a little flexible, but it can cause headaches for first-time visitors as they struggle to decide what to pack for their trip. Though it’s tempting to throw everything in, lugging all that gear around with you won’t be fun, even if you sling it in the boot of a rental car. But how do you know what to chuck in and what to leave out without regretting those decisions once you get there?

What’s your plan for staying warm?

Even in the height of summer, Iceland rarely experiences hot weather and often it’s the exact opposite. So giving careful consideration to how you’re going to keep the wind and rain out is vital to your comfort. A waterproof outer layer – jacket and trousers – will be worth their weight in gold if the heavens open. The good news is that these can be tightly rolled up and shouldn’t take up too much space. If you’re smart, you’ll pack a thicker coat in winter, as well as a warm hat, scarf and gloves. Underneath, make sure you’ve packed some decent base layers and quick-drying fleeces. If you love to wear wool, bring some cash to treat yourself to one of Iceland’s distinctive patterned sweaters; ask for a lopapeysa. Plan to add or subtract layers as the temperature rises and falls or the sun flits in and out. If you’ve booked a Northern Lights tour on a wintery night, or a high speed RIB ride to see whales, extra warm suits, life jackets and other such gear will be provided by the tour operator.

Think about your feet and ankles

Some of the hikes you’ll want to do to venture into the incredible Icelandic landscape require a little more ankle support than that given by the trainers you might wear to your local shops. Opt for a pair of walking boots with a thick sole that will be more suitable for hiking over uneven ground. And of course, it’s a very good idea to wear them in before you leave home so you don’t get blisters. Don’t stress too much about specialist equipment such as crampons. If you’re on a tour that requires extra grip, for instance to visit an ice cave, the guide will make sure you have some to pull over your own boots. But if you’re planning to ride Iceland’s famous horses, it’s a good idea to have a pair of boots with a heel as they’re safer in the stirrups. And finally, you’re not going to be very popular with owners of cafés and guesthouses if you traipse in from your hike in muddy boots, so pack shoes that you can wear inside.

Prepare for those spas and hot tubs

Iceland’s abundance of geothermal energy means it’s almost inconceivable that you’ll want to visit without taking a dip somewhere. Even in winter, it’s an essential experience for first-timers and one which return visitors will be itching to do again. For this ultimate packing list for your trip to Iceland you’ll need swimwear. Remember if the weather’s cold and damp your stuff will take longer to dry, so pack two sets so you don’t have to pull on something that’s still damp. Also, you’ll be pleased you packed a pair of flip flops that can easily be kicked off at the water’s edge, particularly if you’re planning to soak in one of the more natural hot springs out in the countryside. Depending on how rustic you plan to go, you might need a travel towel – microfibre versions don’t take up much space and dry more quickly than conventional towels. However, upscale places like the Blue Lagoon include towel rental in the price of your ticket, so if space is tight, do your planning before you leave home.

How will you record what you see?

While you need to make sure your holiday wardrobe is going to be appropriate, there are other items you’ll need to pack for your holiday in Iceland. Probably the most important, given how spectacular the scenery is, will be a smartphone or camera – you’re definitely going to want to record what you see. Make sure you have plenty of memory cards or available space so that you don’t run out of storage. Think about how you’re going to charge up batteries and pack the right kind of adapter. It’s especially important if you’re likely to encounter cold weather that you factor in how low temperatures can drain your battery much faster than you might be used to at home. Carry a spare battery if that’s the case, or a portable power pack.

What are you going to need while on the go?

Bring a day pack with you so you can set out on any day excursions with some drinks and snacks to keep up your energy levels. The cost of buying drinks in cafés and even supermarkets can quickly add up, so bring a refillable water bottle – Iceland’s tap water is safe to drink. It’s also kinder to the environment than relying on single use plastic bottles. A flask is also handy and you’ll be grateful of a warming coffee or hot chocolate if it’s chilly. You can fill some of the extra space with snacks, either those you’ve brought from home or food you’ve bought in the local store. You might be optimistic enough to throw in some sun cream, bug spray if you’re anywhere near Lake Mývatn in the summer to deal with its midges and some good quality lip balm and moisturiser which is useful year-round.

That’s pretty much all the major things, though depending on the type of accommodation you’ve chosen, if you’re travelling in summer then you’ll be glad of an eye mask to block out the light when you’re trying to sleep. The rest, well, you can always buy whatever you’ve forgotten when you get here.