Jon Snow, a popular character on HBO’s hit television series Game of Thrones, famously said: “Winter is coming”. Don’t listen to Jon Snow; he knows nothing. Winter is actually already here, at least in Iceland. Many people who come to our small Nordic island decide to visit during winter, which is essentially October through April. Temperatures are notably lower than they were in the summer. If you’d like to know what weather to expect and what to pack and wear in Iceland during winter, then keep reading. There are definitely a few things you need to know about which layers to include on the packing list for your suitcase. You’ll be glad you heeded the advice for keeping warm.
Iceland’s Winter Weather
First things first. Just how cold does it get in Iceland in the winter? The mercury starts to drop in October and doesn’t really begin to rise again until April. It’s definitely cold but probably not the unbearable, don’t-leave-the-house freezing weather than many people anticipate. Average temperatures hover right around the freezing point for the most part. Highs range from the mid-30s to the mid-40s ºF (1 to 6 ºC), and lows can dip to the mid-to-high 20s ºF (-3 to -1 ºC). I know this is not warm, but winters are colder in places like Chicago, for example.
So now that you know what to expect with temperatures let’s get to the real question at hand. How do you dress for maximum warmth in Iceland in winter? The answer lies in the four-layer rule. There are four distinct layers that are absolutely necessary to keep you comfortable and happy during your travels.
The Four-Layer Rule for Dressing in Iceland: Start With Your Base Layer
The base layer is an extremely important part of your cold weather clothing arsenal for Iceland. Your thermal underwear or long underwear needs to be made up materials that both wick moisture away from the surface of your skin and trap that highly-prized body heat. Look for fabrics that achieve this dual purpose. The goal is to have warm, dry air floating between your bare skin and the first layer of clothing. Natural materials like silk or Merino wool make a great base layer as does polypropylene, which is synthetic material designed expressly for this purpose. Whatever you do, don’t use cotton. It will hold onto your sweat and have it cold against your skin. Brrrr! I’m getting chilly just thinking about it!
Iceland’s Four-Layer Rule For Clothing: The Mid Layer
Your mid layer is quite similar to your base layer. You want it to also absorb moisture so that it can take any dampness from the base layer and move it to the surface so it can evaporate. This is your second layer, and as such you also want it to keep the heat close to your body. I like to use fabrics such as wool or fleece for the shirts, jumpers, and pants for the mid layer of clothing.
Four Layers of Winter Clothing for Iceland: The Insulating Layer
You’ve gotten garments for your first to layers that are designed to trap body heat and move moisture away from the skin. Now it’s time to insulate and keep all that heat inside so you stay warm and toasty. For your insulating layer, you’ll want to choose a jacket, coat, or even parka that has bulky, cold weather materials. Think goose down comforters or your favorite duvet. Again, you can go for natural or synthetic materials. A word to the wise though: be very careful with down. If it gets wet, it will not only lose its puffiness and cease to be warm, it will also take a very long time to dry out. You’ll be without an insulating later and just might have really difficult time with the cold. It’s better to choose specially designed synthetic fibers like Thinsulate or Holofill. Explorers in polar climates use these materials, so they should serve you well.
The Fourth and Final Layer: Your Shell Layer
Your top layer needs to protect you from the elements of rain and snow. Otherwise, all the work that you’ve put in underneath will all be for nothing. Invest in a good rain jacket for your Iceland trip. Look for one that says waterproof rather than water resistant. You should also take a pair of waterproof hiking boots with you as well.
An additional word about wind. The initial temperatures we outlined above are going to feel significantly colder due to the wind chill factor. You’ll feel much warmer if you outer shell layer is not only waterproof but also has some sort of protection from the wind. A waterproof windshell is the best of both worlds when it comes to keeping you warm and dry.
What To Pack For Iceland in the Winter
If you follow our suggestions for the four-layer rule while packing for Iceland, you’ll be protected from the elements and will be comfortable while traveling. Picking the right clothing items is one of the best things you can do for yourself before your trip. You’ll spend more time enjoying the country and less time cursing the dozens of sweaters you threw into your suitcase. None of them will do the trick, but layers will. Happy packing!
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