What to Wear in Iceland and the Arctic Regions

clothing, jacket, Iceland

Unless you’re some kind of masochist, there’s absolutely nothing enjoyable about heading beyond the Arctic Circle without dressing for the occasion. The Norwegians have a saying, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’, and I couldn’t agree more.

As a general rule of thumb, what you wear in the Arctic regions often dictates the level of adventure you’re able to get away with. You might look great in a pair of high heels, but not so great after you’ve been knocked out cold because you thought it would be okay to wear them on ice without slipping. (Of course, with the exception of Russian women who have developed an innate skill of walking in heels regardless of black ice, potholes, quick sand, you name it).

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, ‘What should I wear in Iceland and the Arctic regions?’

Until now I’ve been writing individual replies, of which none have been specific or helpful enough so I’ve put together this post, covering all the questions you might have regarding what clothing you should pack in preparation for your trip.

 

Dressing for the Seasons

The first thing to know is there’s a huge difference between going in winter and summer. I think a lot of people still believe it’s going to be freezing in the summer whilst this isn’t true. Sure, it’s not as hot as central and southern Europe and you probably won’t need your flip flops, but temperatures can still reach a surprising 20+ degrees in the Arctic with the exception of places like Svalbard that hovers at around 7 degrees in the summer.

Vik, Iceland

Personally, I prefer travelling to these regions in the summer, not just for the warmer climate, but also the longer hours of daylight known as the Midnight Sun. Polar Nights just do not agree with me, I start feeling tired way too early and the window for exploration is only opened for a few hours per day whilst the sun sits just below the horizon.

Saying that, going to the Arctic during the winter can be a dream come true. I’ve had some of my greatest experiences during the winter up in the Arctic; dog-sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, sleeping in an ice hotel and seeing the Northern Lights.

 

Summer Jacket

On my recent trip to Iceland in September I wore an amazing jacket by Sprayway in conjunction with Blacks outdoor clothing. I went hiking, climbed volcanoes and got caught up in the rain wearing the jacket (with a retractable hood) and it didn’t fail to keep me warm and dry.

Viti Crater Iceland

What I really love most about this jacket, you’ll be pleased to know ladies, is how it combines practicality with style!

This jacket is particularly flattering because of the tie belt. I’m short, yet small with a bust so my body shape often gets lost in clothing and I usually end up looking bigger than I really am. But the belt does wonders in creating a more feminine silhouette. Problem solved.

What to wear in Iceland

What to Wear in Iceland 

Winter Jacket

Unlike clothes that are designed for summer, quality should not be compromised for winter clothing. What you wear needs to be durable, practical and responsive to wind, rain and sub-zero temperatures. Expect anything from 0 to -40 degrees.

North Cape, Norway

Since quality is a prerequisite for winter clothing, think about spending a little more than you would for an everyday jacket and see it as an investment. You will really feel the benefit of buying quality when it’s -20 degrees and you still feel well insulated. There’s a lot of truth in getting what you pay for, so buying cheap clothes is often a false economy when it’s only fit enough to last one season before the zip busts and the seam rips under the armpits.

The jacket which has proved its worth to me, is a North Face Parka Jacket that I bought a couple of years ago and has travelled to the Arctic with me on a few occasions. Although I do think I look like a marshmallow when I’m wearing it, I don’t care, it feels sooooo good and keeps me unbelievably toasty. It’s like wearing a lightweight sleeping bag at all times, so I even wear it around the house in winter!

Arctic clothing

It’s made from downs, which is arguably the greatest insulator for outerwear. In conjunction with using the highest quality down, North Face have stated they trace the material from origin to final product and adhere to a strict set of animal welfare requirements to ensure the animals are not subjected to unnecessary harm. If you want to ensure the down jacket you purchase is ethically made, look out for this symbol:

Responsible Down Standard

Further reading: Responsible Down Standard

 

Layering, Layering and Layering

The key to dressing successfully for Iceland and the Arctic in any season is layering! In winter I prefer wearing synthetic thermals because they’re thinner whilst still maintain a high level of insulation, but in the summer I prefer natural fibres like cotton for its breathability.

Svinafellsjokull, Icelad

Layering is also really practical when you’re indoors, visiting museums or refuelling in restaurants and cafés, you can easily remove any excess layers after coming in from the freezing cold into a room with a crackling fire!

Patterns

When in Rome do as the Romans do, so in Iceland this means wearing a Lopapeysa which is a traditional Icelandic sweater characterised by a decorative yoke design. You’ll see lots of people wearing them!

 

Waterproof Trousers

Ok, these trousers are somewhat of a man repeller but a must in the winter nonetheless! I prefer the ones without any pockets because I want something simple that I can slip over a pair of thermal leggings. They are essential if it’s snowing and you’re planning to do a lot of activities.

 

Footwear

In the summer you’ll be fine wearing your battered Converse, but if you’re planning to do some hiking then leave room in your luggage for walking boots with a good grip to tackle uneven terrain. During the winter you need sturdy footwear that performs well against more extreme weather conditions. Woolen lining is a bonus too!

Footwear, Iceland, Arctic

I also recommend taking Yaktrax ice grips for travelling anywhere in the Arctic during winter. I say this because I’ve spent days nursing a bruised bottom after falling on several occasions.

clothing in iceland

 

Beanie Hats

I love beanies! I think I have more beanie hats than socks. Not only are they prefect for windy days, they instantly lift any outfit if you’re wearing black or grey. In Iceland look out for a brand called Varma, they make beautiful wool hats in all colours and styles. I couldn’t resist buying this bright orange one to go with my grey Sprayway jacket.
Dettifoss Waterfall

Lastly, you will be pleased to know if you’re heading on an excursion, such as a boat trip, dog-sledding or snowmobiling, you’ll usually be provided with extra clothing like jumpsuits and big-industrial sized boots. However, it’s worth checking with the company beforehand.

Alternatively, if you want something for your whole trip in Iceland there are a couple of shops in Reykjavik where you can rent clothing and equipment, this might prove more cost-effective for people who live in warmer climates and won’t be reusing the products again: http://outfitters.is/en/.

dog-sledding winter clothing

 Pin this post for when you go to Iceland or the Arctic regions! ⇓

What to wear in Iceland and the Arctic Regions

Keep warm guys! 



A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.


'What to Wear in Iceland and the Arctic Regions' have 17 comments

  1. October 4, 2015 @ 8:17 pm dean Fraser-Phillips

    great advice!

    Norwich winters are cold regardless of location. one thing I can say is shop wisely. high Street winter jackets in the UK are like autumn jackets here. go to blacks, millets and wrap up warm!

    Reply

    • October 4, 2015 @ 8:18 pm dean Fraser-Phillips

      nordic.. not Norwich!

      Reply

      • October 6, 2015 @ 9:25 pm Shing Yoong

        Haha many of these tips will probably apply to Norwich winters 😉

        I agree, it’s important to dress wisely for the whole of Scandinavia, not just the Arctic.

        Reply

  2. October 5, 2015 @ 8:21 am Megan

    i definitely agree! for me i have found the following to be perfect:

    a marshmallow parka that goes to at least my knees (i initially took a north face shorter one to norway and quickly bought a long one when i went to sweden). doesnt need to be real animal or fur; mine is not and it keeps me PLENTY warm at all times.

    mittens. i never understood how much warmer mittens keep hands than gloves. but now i swear by them!

    legwarmers. this sounds so stupid, but in the summer in the arctic i will wear skirts with thermal leggings and i always like to have a pair of legwarmers on too as they are easily removable once i go inside to a restaurant or something. :)

    great and informative post <3

    Reply

    • October 23, 2015 @ 8:36 pm Shing Yoong

      Thanks for providing extra information Megan! The funny things is I never wear mittens or gloves but I should not let my own bad habits compromise my advice so I will duly update this blog! I agree with you 100% about not needing to wear real animal. And though I made an effort to get responsibly sourced Down, I would opt for something synthetic in the future.

      Haha leg warmers with a skirt – I’m not sure I’d be able to pull off that look 😉

      Reply

  3. October 5, 2015 @ 1:22 pm Colleen Brynn

    Adorable, love the pic of you with the pup!
    The Danes have the same saying about no bad weather, just bad clothes. I have a feeling all of Scandinavia must share this sentiment!
    Believe it or not, coming from Winnipeg, where winter winds can make the temp feel like -50C or worse(!!!), I still have yet to invest in an ACTUAL winter jacket made for that weather. I’m pretty sure my way around this has been ALL of the layers, borrowing from my mum and limiting time spent outside and maximizing time spent sipping tea by a fire. Honestly, winters where I’m from are about survival, not about hiking outside and enjoying! You should see the renaissance when the snow begins to thaw and there’s still ice and snow on the ground but everyone is outside in shorts and flip flops, walking their dogs. To us, not freezing to death = SUMMER.

    Reply

    • October 28, 2015 @ 9:44 am Shing Yoong

      Haha I spoke to a Swede and he told me they stole that saying from the Norwegians 😀

      Oh gosh, the winters in Canada look EXTREME, so you must know all about dressing well for the occasion – WRONG! Girl, how can you not have a winter coat, are you INSANE? I’m pleased to hear you’ve mastered the art of layering though… but still, you must be doing mountains of layering to substitute for an actual winter coat!

      Haha we in the UK are exactly the same, at the first glimpse of sunshine the bikinis and flip flops are then fished out from the closet.

      Reply

  4. October 5, 2015 @ 11:56 pm Tony Burgum

    Hello Shing, excellent advice, I love winter and spent 2 in Iceland and 1 in northern Finland / Sweden (-32 Deg C). 2 things I took were a decent pair of boots with a removable liner, it’s double insulation and indoors you can wear the liner as a calf length slipper, I got these from GO Outdoors half price for about £40, also Merino wool socks, thinner than most winter socks but packed fibres. For photography I used 2 pairs of gloves, 1 fingerless or the Thinsulate type and a thicker outer pair. Just remove the outer pair when taking a shot.

    Reply

    • October 28, 2015 @ 9:50 am Shing Yoong

      Hi Tony, thanks for adding some additional tips, I’m going to update this post with some of the recommendations I’ve been given from you and Megan! The reason I HATE wearing anything over my hands is because it gets in the way of using my camera so your advice to wear fingerless gloves on the inside is a very useful tip!!

      Reply

  5. October 9, 2015 @ 7:51 am Victoria@ The British Berliner

    ‘Love the post!
    I’ve always had an issue with cold feet so I wear a pair of warm tights, two pairs of socks and then my boots. I also haven’t been afraid to wear my skiing gear if I’m hiking in a much colder climate LOL!

    Reply

    • October 28, 2015 @ 10:00 am Shing Yoong

      Sounds like you’ve got your kit sorted for the winter Victoria, you’re so right, it’s all about keeping the feet warm!

      Reply

  6. October 21, 2015 @ 8:11 pm jb.

    Thanks for the info! I will be in Iceland over the winter (coming from San Francisco, California, US) and I am trying to figure out whether to buy boots here (a lot of Californians ski) or wait until I am in Reykjavik. Can you recommend Icelandic sites where I can see what boots are available and how much they cost? Þakka þér fyrir!

    Reply

    • October 28, 2015 @ 11:17 am Shing Yoong

      Hi JB, firstly I hope you have an awesome time in Iceland! My advice would be to buy in the US if you can so you have time to wear them in a little and ensure you get the perfect fit, also buying clothes in Reykjavik can be expensive. However, if you can’t find anything that suits you, there are a lot of outdoor clothing outlets in Reykjavik but for some reason I can’t seem to find a selection of footwear on their websites (66 North, Cintamani and Icewear spring to mind). I’ve tried searching to no avail so my advice is to get something beforehand to be safe. I recommend going for something made of Gore-tex because it’s light, waterproof and breathable. Hope this helps.

      Reply

      • October 28, 2015 @ 5:50 pm jb.

        Thanks so much, Shing. I’ll arrive in boots ready to walk and shop for cute middle layers.

        Reply

        • October 28, 2015 @ 6:38 pm Shing Yoong

          Sounds like a plan, get one of those dashing Icelandic jumpers 😉

          Reply

  7. May 8, 2016 @ 8:13 pm Margaret Gallagher

    Arctic circle in June any advice re clothing footwear etc ?

    Reply

  8. January 8, 2017 @ 11:14 pm Elizabeth

    What brand are your boots? I love them! I’m looking for a pair of leather walking/hiking boots for my trip this summer that aren’t too heavy. Thanks!

    Reply


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