What to Wear When Visiting Iceland in the Summer

So, you want to visit Iceland during the summer? Congratulations! You’ve chosen a great time of year that doesn’t involve heavy snow drifts, frost bite, or 20 hours of darkness! Great choice! Yes, yes, visiting Iceland during the winter comes with its own amazing experiences, but summer in Iceland is when you can really let loose and show some skin (and by “skin,” I mean your base layer of clothing underneath your parka). Summers in Iceland are still somewhat chilly compared to the typical American summer. For those of you who hate anything below 65 °F, you should probably grab a sweater before you continue reading if you haven’t already.

Iceland what to wear weather

Visiting another country is exciting and intimidating. You never know what you’ll experience, which is probably one of the reasons why you want to travel in the first place. However, it’s good to be prepared. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I spent Googling “what to wear to Iceland” before I even opened my suitcase. Hopefully this post will reassure you that you aren’t the only person searching for answers.

Mike and I recently returned from our trip in the beginning of August, and we’re already talking about going back. Mike wants to visit during the winter, but I think he forgets that I can’t grow my own beard for warmth (I have two factors working against me, people). If you are planning on visiting this beautiful country during the summer months, here are a few tips that I’ve gathered.

First off, what is an Icelandic summer like?

The summer months usually hover in the mid 50’s °F, but it can often reach into the 60’s and 70’s if you’re a lucky duck. It can also be very windy, and random rain showers can take you off guard. Think of it either like the beginning of Spring temperatures (minus the mud), or the beginning of Fall when you’ve brought out some of your winter gear, but you haven’t quite put away all of your summer clothes.

The country also experiences 20 hours of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until around midnight, and the sun rises around 3 or 4 AM. If you’re like me and have to have total darkness in order to sleep, blackout curtains and sleeping masks will be your best friend.

The sun is also lower in the sky throughout the day, so you don’t necessarily get that “high noon” heat, but you can sometimes get the “let’s make driving a pain in the ass” ray of sunlight that bypasses your car’s visor and strikes you in the face! The saying “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes” is true when it comes to Iceland. One minute it can be sunny, then it can downpour, and vice versa.

Iceland what to wear weather landscape

So what do I wear for an Icelandic summer?

The answer to this varies depending on what you want to do while you’re in the country. Are you planning on hiking the glaciers? Wandering the cities? Or just flying by the seat of your pants?

In general, check the weather in the places you plan to be before you go. This may sound like a “well, duh” statement, but it helped me plan what to pack, and I’m the type of person that will spend hours staring at my suitcase with a vacant expression. I get so caught up in what to bring or what not to bring, that I have to keep myself “tethered to the weather.” Do I really need to bring 80 sweaters? Probably not.

Iceland what to wear mammut rain shell
Me in my rain shell and hiking pants on a rainy day.

Also, “know thyself.” If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get cold very easily, maybe you don’t need to bring as many sweaters as the rest of us cold-blooded mammals. (Yes, I know that statement is all wrong science-wise, but you still understood what I meant). If you get cold even during hot summer days to the point where people look at you like you have two heads, pack warmer clothes.

Iceland summer what to wear
Notice how Mike is just fine in a button-down shirt and jogging jacket. The beard keeps him warm…

The key to dressing for Iceland is layers. This applies to both summer and winter months, but to varying…degrees! #pun-ished If you dress in layers, you have more control over how warm or cool you are. If you’re used to hot, muggy summers where being a human puddle is a way of life, forget about it! That will most likely not be the case when you get to Iceland.

For our trip, I had in my bag:

  • A Smartwool thermal wool sweater (keeps you warm, but doesn’t feel thick or heavy)
  • A fleece vest
  • A few “normal” sweaters and cardigans
  • A few long-sleeved cotton shirts
  • A t-shirt and some cotton tanks (to wear under the sweaters)
  • Jeans
  • Hiking pants (lightweight, yet wind and water-resistant)
  • Plether biker jacket (like the cool kids)
  • A Mammut rain jacket shell (wind and waterproof)
  • A light scarf
  • Light/medium wool socks (great for when you know you’ll be walking around a lot)
  • Hiking boots
  • Brown dress/casual boots
  • Bathing suit (for the Blue Lagoon Spa)
  • Fleece headband and light gloves (the just-in-case accessories)

When we ventured into the capital, Reykjavik, I usually wore jeans, a light shirt, my plether jacket, and my hiking boots. Since we were doing a lot of walking around, I could take the jacket off and cool down. If the wind picked up or the sun went away, the jacket was a nice layer to throw on. I decided to wear my hiking boots into the city because they offered the most support, and we walked around A LOT.

Some blogs or articles often talk about how to “not dress like a tourists” when you venture into the cities – especially during the nightlife. I just dressed for comfort, and you can too if you so choose (I’m not fashionista and have no idea why jeggings are so “in” right now). This is your trip. My advice is use logic, dress how you like, and don’t worry about what others think. If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around, you may not want to wear those high-heeled boots even though they’re “totes adorbs.” Chances are, no one will notice and you and your feet will have a bad time. There are so many tourists in cities like Reykjavik, and most locals are very nice. I’m pretty sure they won’t give two licks about what you’re wearing, and even if they do then that’s their problem. #lookatmycareface

Iceland what to wear
Best. Hat. Ever.

We didn’t hike this time around so I don’t have an in-depth list for that, but when we decided to venture outside of the city to go sight-seeing I usually wore my hiking pants, thermal or long-sleeved shirt, and rain jacket. Them waterfalls can be misty. Plus, wind and rain can take you by surprise, too.

Iceland what to wear sunny day
Mike is wearing a button-down shirt, his jogging jacket, and hiking pants. He wore the wrong shoes for this particular outing though…

Overall, having a good rain jacket, boots, and water-resistant or wind resistant pants can go a long way, and they’re good investments. Also, don’t forget to carry a water bottle or two with you. Sunscreen is equally as important. “You may not feel it, but you’ll be peeling it” can become a reality, and sun burns are never fashionable. #un-appeeling

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