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

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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.


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