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What to Wear in Iceland in Summer

Iceland isn’t as cold as its name implies, but it’s not exactly a tropical paradise either. In summer, low temps range from 5-8 °C with highs between 10 and 13 °C (which means you can generally expect temps between 45 and 55°F). But Iceland’s weather can fluctuate wildly and a warm sunny day can quickly become chilly and wet. Add in the fact that Reykjavik is known for its forward-thinking fashionistas while you’ll also need certain gear for outdoor activities, and figuring out what to pack and wear in Iceland becomes a more daunting task.

On my first trip to Iceland, I packed only for the city, and wound up spelunking in a wet cave in skinny jeans, black knee-high boots and a wool trench coat – not exactly outdoor gear. But I’ve learned from my mistakes. Here are my tips for what to wear and pack for a summer trip to Iceland.

Pack for activities first

Start by figuring out what you’ll be doing on your trip to Iceland. Most outdoor activities (horseback riding, spelunking, hiking, glacier walking, etc.) will require basically the same gear. Heeled boots, such as hiking boots, moisture-wicking socks, long pants, and t-shirts. You’ll also want a lightweight, waterproof but breathable shell for rainy or misty days, and a few wool (not cotton) sweaters for cooler days and evenings. If you’re coming from a very warm climate, you might even feel more comfortable with a hat, scarf, and gloves at night, though the Icelanders running around rejoicing in the warmth might look at you a little funny.

Add in some “city clothes”

In Reykjavik and Akureyri, the only uniting theme of fashion is “unique.” It’s all about personal style, from the frilly dresses and stiletto heels you’d expect to find in New York and London to the hippe-chic styles you might imagine as the norm in the Pacific Northwest. What you won’t find is anything boring and basic – no plain jeans, white t’s and sneakers here. Dressing for Reykjavik isn’t about changing your personal style, but it is about taking it to the next level. Though, if you plan on going on the weekend Runtur, you’ll want to add a few dressier items to your wardrobe. Women generally wear heels and dress/skirt or jeans with trendy tops. Men wear tailored dark jeans and button-up shirts, or even dark pants and sportcoats. For footwear, men usually sport loafers or Converse, while women wear anything from high-heeled boots to open-toed stilettos to fashionable flats.

Be prepared for anything

A day that starts out rainy and cold can become warm and sunny by mid-afternoon (and vice versa) and when it’s pleasant in the city it may be frigid twenty minutes away, so always plan on wearing layers and bring ready for a range of conditions. A light, breathable, waterproof shell jacket that can be layered with a wool sweater or cardigan, a scarf and hat, and an umbrella will prove invaluable.

And don’t forget the bathing suit

Icelanders love swimming and there is a municipal pool in nearly every town. Admission prices are generally just a few bucks, though the rental of a bathing suit is a bit more, so you may as well bring your own. Visiting one of these hot spring pools is one of the best ways to experience Icelandic culture, so be sure to come prepared for a soak.

Photo by jovike