Iceland Gear

Author: Lyle

Documenting gear purchased for Iceland in the winter.

Iceland’s name is a PR mistake – it is not a land of ice, although it has its share.  So, the good news is that traveling to Iceland not like preparing for a trip to Alaska in winter.  However, you should be prepared for winter weather (temps between 20 to 40 with precipitation and short days).  Depending on what you are doing and where you are going you should prepare for winter precipitation, wind, darkness, and whatever you need as a tourist.  We were planning on northern lights viewing, which introduces nighttime coldness.  We also planned on some mild ice hiking around attractions, and we were prepped on the need for winter footwear for walking around towns where the snow and ice is common even in well traveled areas.

I’m not really a backpack person, but we took one for use for most of our explorations and I’m glad we did.  It made it easier to grab all our stuff in one motion.  The backpack we used was a sporty model backpack from Under Armour, much like one a student would use.  Water resistant, lightweight, no frame.  For the flights, it was packed with laptop, camera, e-reader, notebook (travel information), ear buds, snacks, hand cleaners and lens wipes, pens, and AC adapters.  For exploring, the laptop and chargers were left in the room and replaced with chemical hand warmers, spare batteries, flashlight, ice cleats, gloves (to swap weight between heavy and light), water.

Footwear was important.  Needed was something waterproof (not resistant), with insulation, high traction for ice and slush, and comfortable.  I ended up with a pair of Vasque waterproof boots purchased at REI which may be the best footwear purchase I ever have made.  A little more work-boot looking than desired, and not a fan of the orange Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 6.16.39 PM logo accents, but my feet were comfortable and warm the whole time.  Around $80 on sale, too.  I paired these with hiking socks from SmartWool, which I was also very happy with.  The socks were a few different weights, using the heavy duty for ~20 degree ice walking, and mid weight ones for the ~30 degree walking.  We also carried around  Yaktrax pull on ice cleats, which we were also extremely happy with.  They come in different “strengths”, a “walking” version, “pro”,  and “run”.  The walking version was fine, the pro version is more aggressive which was not only overkill, but harder to leave on without damaging floors or slipping once you go indoors.  When you’re getting in and out of vehicles and buildings, the “walk” version was more than enough for confidence on icy roads and trails and didn’t require taking them off in some situations.  They pull on and off easily, and were easy to fold up and place in a zip lock bag, then into the backpack.

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 6.31.21 PMI didn’t find the perfect pair of gloves; part of the problem was needing to take them off to use a camera in 20 degree cold.  I saw others with what seemed to be special photography gloves with pull off fingers, I should have investigated this.  I had three weights of gloves; light, mid, and heavy, the heavy ones had a slot on the back for a chemical hand warmer.  There were times when my hands were too cold to use effectively, the chemical hand warmers are a mixed bag (they are inconsistent in heat output, sometimes worthless, sometimes too hot).  We should have looked more at electrically heated gloves which can warm down the fingers and have some control of output.

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 6.57.34 PMI’m not a hat person, but I changed my mind once we got to Akureyri and I experienced the evening cold.  The hood on my jacket wasn’t enough when the temperature dropped to 20.  I bought a lined wool ski hat at a local store that I was happy with.  The jacket is L. L. Bean rated for 20 degrees; you might think you want to get something for 20 below, but if you put on a jacket like this it reflects your body heat so much you’ll sweat.  This is the wisdom of dressing in layers – you can adapt as the weather changes.  So, for the coldest times outside I had the  hat, jacket with hood, base layers from REI (heavy and mid weight), gloves with chemical warmers, SmartWool hiking socks, Eddie Bauer flannel lined jeans, and the Vasque boots.  The jacket had enough pockets that I could open layers or change hats and gloves as needed.  I was comfortable the whole time in day to night, precipitation or not, wind strong enough you had to lean into it (anything less the Icelanders called “a breeze”), and temps from high teens to high 30s.

Other random pieces:

  • Black Diamond head lamp, with red LED mode for working the camera at night.
  • Rechargeable USB power source, to plug in any of the little things that might need recharging if we were away from power (camera was primary concern).
  • Clif bars for food, if we weren’t near anything (or anything edible to us).  Access to food was frequently only nice restaurants, or maybe snacks in a quickie mart.  And, snacks frequently meant “candy” or “dried cod”.
  • Cough drops, gum, pain reliever, etc.
  • Don’t forget the 220 V power converter, and make sure your appliances can deal with different voltages (most of the electronics can do this without trouble, apparently, but not something like a hair drier).
  • Camera, with extra batteries, enough memory, etc.  Tripod needed for long exposures at night.  I purchased a Targus TG-5060TR lightweight tripod thinking it would be easier to pack and tote around.  THIS WAS A BIG MISTAKE!  While light and easy to tote around, it was also flimsy and the first night out the head cracked from the cold.  I should have taken a real tripod – the wind needed something more durable and northern lights photography is impossible without 20 second exposures.
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