Iceland in January: What to Wear

Having arrived back in London on ‘Blue Monday’ from an incredible trip to Iceland, I’m feeling the post-holiday blues pretty badly right now.

I had such an amazing time there and was looking forward to seeing as much as I could, but the one thing I was pretty anxious about before getting there was just how cold it was going to be. Before I left, I tried reading as many articles on recommended clothing as I could, and I found that the most common theme was that it’s always much colder than you expect it to be. Which was a surprise to me, because I already thought it would be really, really cold; how could it be colder than that?

So I braced myself and as promised, it was cold.

For the most part, Reykjavik was fine, and we spent a day or two walking around the city and taking in the sights. My day to day outfit was generally a layer of thermals all over, some jeans, a long-sleeved top, a jumper, a face cover that sits around the neck, some faux fur lined boots with good grip, the cosiest socks in the world, thermal gloves, and a thick coat that I normally wear while out and about in London. These were fine for me: it didn’t snow on us on our first couple of days, so my regular coat on top of these layers kept me warm during the day and night.


When it came to exploring outside of Reykjavik, it was a bit more of a challenge. I layered the same way I had in Reykjavik but added an extra layer in the form of a really thick, thermal jacket underneath my coat, and brought along a raincoat to go on top if needed.

We had a day where we travelled from Reykjavik to Vik along the south coast with a tour guide. While my main layers were enough for seeing Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls (still chillier than Reykjavik), when we got to the Sólheimajökull glacier, that’s when I realised my definitely-not-water-resistant coat was not going to keep me warm for the rest of the journey.

Why? Because I stupidly left my raincoat on the bus. Before getting off, I asked myself: ‘If I didn’t need this at the waterfalls, will I need it now?’ and partly because I didn’t fancy bringing my whole bag with me, I decided not to bring it along! When we started making our way to the glacier, it started snowing, then hailing, and by the time we’d started walking back it was so strong we could barely see in front of us (the hailstones were pelting into our eyes and it made it difficult to even keep them open).

When we got back to the bus, we were covered all over in snow, and although I hastily tried to shake it off as we went, I was too late: it had already started to melt and was seeping through the top layer of my coat. In fairness to my coat, it prevented the water from actually reaching me, but because the outside of it was wet, the coldness of the outside seeped in pretty quickly. Here’s a photo of me at the Sólheimajökull glacier before said soaking, looking fairly warm and completely unaware of my shivery future.


Overall, I brought the right things with me, but where I failed was not wearing the right things when I should have. My outfit was warm, but had I not left my rain jacket on the bus before we made our way to the glacier, I reckon I would have been pretty toasty for the rest of the day.

So now that I’ve experienced a bit of Iceland in January, I think I have a better idea of what to wear if I ever got the chance to go back, and hopefully this post will help out anyone who’s planning to go over and isn’t sure what they should wear.

What I’d recommend for a regular day out in Reykjavik:

  • an under-layer of thermals
  • jeans are generally fine (I think)
  • a long-sleeved top
  • a jumper
  • a face cover that sits around the neck (just in case)
  • a pair of warm boots with a thick sole and good grip
  • thermal socks
  • thermal gloves
  • a warm coat (preferably waterproof)

And for a day of walking around waterfalls and glaciers, I’d recommend:

  • All of the above
  • Another thermal layer to go under your coat, because it will be colder outside of Reykjavik
  • Basically, a waterproof layer over anything that isn’t waterproof (i.e. gloves, coat, hat, shoes)
  • A bag where you can keep all of these extra layers if they’re making you too warm
  • Some spikes to attach to your shoes if you’re planning on really getting into the glacier walking

I know it comes down to basic common sense (something I tend to lack at the best of times): if you’re going somewhere cold, wear warm things, and wear them in layers. As someone who doesn’t tend to go out in the cold for long periods of time, and who has never been skiing, I was second guessing myself a lot when it came to packing for it. Until we actually arrived in Reykjavik, I still wasn’t sure if I’d brought enough, but overall, I think I did (… we’ll just skim over the fact that I didn’t actually wear one key aspect of it).

My point with this post is, “If in doubt, bring it with you”. I was hitting myself when I realised it was snowing and that I had no way to prevent myself from getting covered in it! But there’s no one to blame but me for that… So, hopefully this list and my moan about sogginess will help you avoid making the same mistake as me.

Moral of the story: wrap up warm and bring waterproof everything!

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