Packing...for Iceland!

I travel so much that I am usually quite calm about it all...but I am packing for Iceland and am in a bit of a tizzy. I leave tomorrow and will be gone for 12 days. The problems are threefold: 

  • Need to fit it all in carry on, plus day pack.
  • Varied activities -- from retreat/ hiking in 7C temps in the far north, to conference in fashionable Reykjavik, with temps probably closer to 12C.
  • Followed by...several days in (probably much warmer -- even up to 25C and humid) Toronto.
  • No laundry. 

I know the trick will be layers...but which ones is the question! For footwear, I have hiking boots, silver sneakers, rainproof booties (for city) and maybe Fitflops for hot springs and Toronto if killer hot while there. I don't know if that is right but it will probably have to do. 

I have one pair jeans, one pair leggings (for hiking only, since I don't wear them regularly), one pair dress pants, one pair rain pants, and several pairs of base layers in wool and poly. 

I have a rain shell. Rain pants. Hat, gloves. I'm also bringing my cashmere shawl. (Not that it coordinates with my rain coat, but whatever.) Question is what level of fleece (not sure I have what would be right -- can make a quick shopping trip this afternoon) -- and/ or should I bring my thin Northface puffer. Or a puffer vest. And/or my dressy lightweight raincoat for laying over a blazer or leather jacket in the city. Maybe I don't need a fleece at all if I take the right woollen sweater to layer under my rain jacket. I typically don't wear fleece because I tend to move from puffer coat straight to raincoat where I live -- we don't tend to need that in between stuff. 

Also trying to figure out how many and what weight of knit tops. I have a lighterweight cotton that can be worn as a heavier top under a jacket, a slightly warmer cotton that can be layered over merino layer, a thin merino that can go over and under other items, and am wondering what else I might need. 

Ack! Sorry for incoherence. Off to do some more planning/ adjusting. Here are a few of the items I'm considering or taking for sure. 

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • columbine(erin) replied 4 years ago

    I would bring fleece for these temperatures. Do you have something like a smart wool layering long sleeve top and then a fleece pullover? I was imagining temps below 0 F, but some quick research shows its not that cold. 

  • Janet replied 4 years ago

    It sounds like you have everything covered, really. When I went to Iceland, I relied heavily on gear, as we were out hiking/photographing every day and I wanted to be able to comfortably get on the ground, etc., without fretting getting wet/muddy. For Reykjavik, I just relied on jeans and easily packable knit tops with a jacket that serves well for gear/casual crossover. Good walkable shoes, and you've got that covered. Good rain gear -- check. I have been there twice in September, so the weather might be a little different than what I experienced, but probably not too far off. I was plenty comfortable walking around Reykjavik in jeans and long sleeve tees with a light jacket most of the time. I personally wouldn't take a bulky coat or puffer -- I just add or subtract lighter layers under rain/windbreaker layer as needed. 

    Lightweight merino that can be layered is a good idea. I took lightweight, long sleeve tops in technical fabrics from Under Armour and Lululemon that look fine for casual wear with a scarf at the neck. I realize you might want a bit more variety in nice-casual tops than that, but I found that more than adequate for my needs. 

    Have a wonderful time! I love Iceland and would love to go back again! 

  • Janet replied 4 years ago

    If you were going in the winter, I'd say yes to fleece. But not now. 

  • JAileen replied 4 years ago

    So envious!! We were planning for an Iceland trip but then MIL health issues (on *both* sides) came up.

    My wardrobe would have been more gear driven because no conference for us. We were planning to drive around the country, birding, hiking, etc. I probably would have taken something like the following: North Face 1/4 zip fleece top, a vest - either fleece or down or down substitute, Patagonia nanopuff, Salomon hiking shoes, some kind of waterproof jacket - Woolrich 60/40 or Patagonia raincoat, hat for sun, warm knitted hat, gloves. And then a variety of long/short sleeve tees, jeans, and waterproof pants to put over the jeans. Maybe even long underwear. I think the weather would have been similar to Alaska, and I wore long underwear there.

    As to conference wear, what you show looks great.

  • texstyle replied 4 years ago

    Wow, 12 days in one carry on with multiple temps and no laundry? That is a challenge! Your packing list looks great. I find fleece to be really useful for colder but not frigid weather. I usually wear my fleece jacket to travel so I don't have to take up room in the bag. You could layer your raincoat over it or over a puffer I guess. I have a very lightweight hooded waterproof jacket that compresses down into almost nothing but offers a lot of insulation. I used it for hiking during a windy winter in the Pacific NW over a fleece jacket and it was great and warm.

  • Sisi replied 4 years ago

    Wow Suz! That is an exciting but very challenging trip. I see that our expert YLF travelers are giving you good advice. For me, what works in extreme cold are wool and puffers. Safe trip and have fun!

  • replied 4 years ago

    Wow! Sounds like a fabulous trip! You are such an experienced traveller, I can't imagine I can give any advice you haven't already considered. But, of course, I'll try anyway - Lol!
    I know that I personally am most comfortable in merino and silk in variable temperatures. I also find that I can stretch the comfort of a given outfit about 10 degrees F by adding/ subtracting gloves, neck warmer and hat or earmuffs.
    Have a wonderful time - can't wait to hear about it upon your return!

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    WOW! EXCITING. Sounds fabulous!

    Why do you have to fit it all in a carry-on, Suz? 

    You absolutely need more than one pair of jeans. 

    Yes, to bringing the thin puffer. I would pack heavier weight items for those temperatures - but you ARE Canadian - *smiling*. 

    Footwear looks good. 

  • Chris987 replied 4 years ago

    Wow sounds like a really exciting trip. You sound like you've got it pretty well figured out and with the input from others who have been there you should be able to work it out.

    The combo of a waterproof rain shell, a down vest (if it folds up small), and a sweater OR fleece would be pretty versatile and cover a lot of situations.  .

    I also agree with Ryce that adding gloves, hat, scarf can really help with the cold end of the temp scale, even if they are lightweight, and especially if you are going to be outdoors for several hours at a time.

    Looking forward to hearing about the trip when you get back. I hear it's a spectacularly beautiful country.

  • cobaltblue replied 4 years ago

    When I was in Iceland in August for a short course and a little sightseeing/hiking, I found a rainjacket totally necessary and sometimes layered a lightweight puffer jacket underneath. The double layer gave me the warmth of one normal-weight coat plus rain/wind stopping, and I could also wear them separately.

    Have fun! I'm envious, but my research will take me back eventually. Take every chance you get to swim/hot pot. When I was there i got a multi-day card for my neighborhood pool so I could swim a bit and relax my tired legs there every evening.


  • harmonica replied 4 years ago

    How exciting! I agree with Janet. A merino sweater, cardi or thin puffer could substitute for the fleece layer. I would weight it and take the smallest and lightest piece. Wear the chunkiest items on the airplane to save luggage space. I like the idea of bringing a dressy raincoat if you want to get out of gear. Iceland is windy! And rainy. The wind makes the temp quite a bit lower than 12 Celsius. Are you visiting Akureyri? The church is beautiful and it's quite the experience to go to a public outdoor bathing pools in that temp. Wish a safe travel! 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    It's amazing how many of us have been or are planning trips to this tiny island! Becky, I didn't know about multi-day swim passes! Great idea, though I am not sure how much time I will have given the busy conference schedule. JAileen, too bad you didn't get to go but it sounds as if you were totally prepared, so I hope you get to do it another time!

    I am going to go out and see about the fleece. My daughter has one but it does not fit me.

    Angie, I need it to be carry on for two reasons. 1. That is all the room there will be in the car driving up to the retreat destination -- small car and 4 people. 2. They want to leave very shortly after I arrive in Iceland and I need to scoot through customs quickly and get to the car rental place. So. I don't know what to do about the denim situation. I will see what I can fit in the bag. 

    Ryce and Chris -- yes, I am like you in that a hat, scarf, and similar make a huge difference to me and help me regulate. So those will certainly be in the bag. Also, I have merino base layer and a light Uniglo heattech base layer as base layer options. I have silks too but not full length ones (capri and tank) but I might bring those also as sleeping in/ and/ or layering pieces. 

    Thanks, Sisi. For me this is not extreme cold, just chilly! :) 

    Tex, that is the idea. Rainshell over fleece over merino is the typical recommendation for active hikes in this type of weather. But now I need to find a fleece! I left it a bit late because I actually thought I had one. Ooops!! 

    Janet, what type of jacket did you wear for crossover? I have to give a presentation at least once so need a dressier outfit but not for every day. 

    Columbine, yes -- it is warmer than people imagine there! 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Harmonica, I hope to see Akureyri. But might not. My conference is in Reykjavik and my retreat is way, way north in SigluFjordur! Even further north than Akureyri! 

    Hmmm. It seems there are mixed feelings about fleece, down, and a simple sweater. I have cashmere pullovers galore so maybe that is the easiest option! Layered over merino base? 

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    Got it. Makes sense, Suz. Will you be wearing a pair of jeans when you travel? Then you'll have TWO pairs. 

    Probably a GOOD idea to bring fleece and warm socks. 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Warm socks, check! (They are stuffed inside the hiking boots!) 

    I was going to wear the jeans and not bring another pair. I wonder if another pair of dress pants would be lighter/ easier to pack? Hmmm. I have my wool stretch ones from Kit and Ace. They are black and everything else I'm taking is blue but that's okay....Could also bring my burgundy Dres which are lightweight (and can be layered under). They say that jeans are useless for hiking there -- I will wear base layers or leggings + rainpants. 

  • harmonica replied 4 years ago

    Jeans are no good for hiking if it's raining and windy. Even if they are under a rain/wind shell. If you want more variety, you could add the dress or pants. If not, you seem pretty set. :-)

    Pullover over thin wool base is great, but maybe too much when not hiking? Will you stay more indoors/city walking than hiking? 

  • columbine(erin) replied 4 years ago

    Sounds like you don't need to panic about the fleece, because you have the merino layers and puffer. I was imagining at first a scenario as my husband experienced on an assignment to Greenland. He said it was like visiting the moon. Like nothing he'd ever seen. They had to wear serious survival gear. Sounds like for Iceland you need layers and a windproof layer especially for this time of year. I hope you have fun Suz! 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Harmonica, I think it will be a combination. During the day at the retreat I will take short walks in the morning but otherwise be working in a hotel. We have classes from 2-5 each day. At the same time, I imagine there will be some evening outings planned because people will want to see what is around us and it stays light so late.  I have to give a presentation there also, and will be walking to the destination. 

    In Reykjavik I will be indoors for the conference but walking up to 40 minutes at a time between venues and also to and from our accommodation. So I will be in and out a lot. This is why I think a dressier raincoat might be a good idea if I can fit it in my bag. I am thinking it will be similar to winter weather in Vancouver. I can get by with a merino top, wool blazer, and raincoat plus scarf and maybe gloves there. 

  • Gaylene replied 4 years ago

    Sounds super exciting, Suz! Everyone I know who has been to Iceland raves about its beauty.

    From my outdoors experience, down works best in dry cold while fleece is the way to go in wet. Synthetic down is harder to compress into a small space. More and more, I've found myself going back to wool--the original cold weather fabric. It is easier to wear in layers under a rain shell, it looks good in both urban and rural settings, and, even more importantly, keeps me from overheating when I get warm from hiking or when I move indoors. Layering cashmere over merino over silk and topping with a rain shell would be overkill for me if I was actively moving around in those temps, especially if I was wearing a hat, gloves, and neck warmer.

    And I think you are right in thinking one pair of jeans is sufficient since leggings and rain pants make a much better hiking bottom. I'd personally go for a lighter pair of dressier pants because I'd find them to be more useful for indoor conference events and, possibly, Toronto. Maybe throw in a lightweight dress to wear over the dress pants as per Angie's blog this morning so you'd have something cool to wear if Toronto gets steamy?

  • Christina F. replied 4 years ago

    Oh, Suz, what an awesome sounding trip! And what a packing challenge! I love a good packing challenge. It's like a logic puzzle to me.

    I don't know that this right for your trip, but a part of double-duty pants I have are these:

    They're very light and good for hiking (only one pocket, though, but dress up decently. They probably won't stand up to Icelandic rain, but I recommend them to anyone looking for pants for this kind of situation. For your situation, I agree with Gaylene's suggestion of lighter dressier pants for Toronto - maybe linen if you don't mind creasing.

  • SandyG replied 4 years ago

    Fleece is bulky so I'd recommend the Patagonia Nanopuff line instead, as it packs down very small and is warm and weather resistant, perfect for travel and ties easily around your waist when it gets warmer. A California friend toured Iceland in late March and found it chilly but not  cold, so coming from Canada you should be fine with medium layers. I think cashmere will be far too warm this trip. Have fun!

  • Sal replied 4 years ago

    What an exciting trip!!  I have never been there so cannot offer any recommendations regarding gear but your plan sounds suitable.

    I would be very tempted to get some laundry done while there - either myself in the bathroom (light layers and underwear and socks) or at the hotel laundry (and accept the large cost).  I always do laundry on trips if at all possible to allow me to travel lightly but still have a couple of options.  There are probably laundromats too but given a busy itinerary that is harder to fit in.

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Thanks, all! Things are shaping up here. 

    I didn't go get a fleece. Instead I put in a light cashmere pullover and a substantial thermal top with a turtle neck, which keeps me super warm. Plus a linen tee for Toronto. I think I can bring two coats. (One for city, one for hiking). I did not add another jean but did add my Kit and Ace pants, and a Kit and Ace cotton/ cashmere grey turtleneck which has proven good for these temperatures in the past, especially for lounging in my room.

    It's supposed to be about 17 in Toronto when I arrive there, so not brutally hot. Jeans and sneakers should be fine with a cotton or silk top and possibly my jacket or coat in the evening. 

  • Angie replied 4 years ago

    (It's 20 here, and I'm a jacket, top and cami). 

    I think what you've packed is suited to the trip - but throw in that extra pair of jeans/pants. A dress could be good too. Lightweight, and can be worn over jeans. If you REALLY need something, you can get it there. Have a safe and wonderful trip. Much love to you. 

  • Tisa replied 4 years ago

    I see you have everything figured out. Your travel capsule is beautiful, weather appropriate and practical. I especially love your red/pink scarf.

    Your travel plan sounds perfect and I hope you have a great time in the beautiful Iceland. A trip to the island remains unchecked on my bucket list, so I feel excited for you and hope you might share a photo or two :-) . 
    All that's left for me to say is: Have a great trip!

  • Janet replied 4 years ago

    Oh, there are some fun independent boutiques in Reykjavik too! You might want to take a little packable extra bag in case you find some treasures to bring home. :-) I brought home a cute striped top (which I still have), and some fab blue leather fingerless gloves, which I also still enjoy. 

  • Suz replied 4 years ago

    Angie, I hear you. But it's so personal... and humidity/ wind related. It is about 18 here today...but SO MUCH COLDER than yesterday when it was sunny, humid, and supposedly 23 (but felt at least 30!). Today I am in jeans, raincoat, heavier cotton sweater, cami, sneakers. Yesterday I was going crazy in my white denim crops and a very thin voile cotton top! My sandals gave me blisters despite body glide -- such humidity, such swelling! 

    This is the variable that travel in the end I just have to hope. I will have camis, long sleeve full length base layers (in merino and Heattech and heavy thermal), cotton sweaters, cashmere sweater and shawl, merino sweater, wool blazer, scarves, hat, gloves...

    At 20 without a lot of humidity or wind, I would typically feel comfortable in crops, a long sleeved shirt or a linen tee with cami, a light jacket or no jacket (depending on strength of sun). Sandals or maybe sneakers but my feet might be too hot in sneakers at that temp. 

    At 12 with rain and some wind (e.g. Vancouver or Seattle winter) I can manage just fine in: Booties, jeans, cami, merino or cashmere sweater, wool blazer, raincoat, scarf, gloves in case, hat in case. Make it 12 with sun and I could do a cotton sweater instead of wool or cashmere. 

    This assumes I am moving at all times. I almost never stay still...if I were staying still in those temps I would need a puffer coat for certain!!  And at 10 degrees, I do often wear my light Northface puffer for a walk! But in that case, I wouldn't layer much under it -- just a regular top/ jeans. 

  • Staysfit replied 4 years ago

    Suz, I have no useful travel wardrobe advice, but what an exciting opportunity! I am happy for you and look forward to anything you care to share about your travel adventures.

  • Gaylene replied 4 years ago

    I just want to add that the Northern sun away from the ocean can be surprisingly hot. The only time I've suffered from dehydration and heat exhaustion was in Dawson City, Yukon, in June. The sun shone almost continuously with only a brief respite of twilight from 2am to 4am. The average temp forDawson City in June is around 72F/22C, but we were hiking in shorts, tank tops, and gallons of sunscreen.

    Temperature isn't always the most reliable guide.

  • Nebraskim replied 4 years ago

    I hope you have a fabulous trip. I am not a traveler but Iceland is a tempting location. Everyone I know who has been there rates it as among their favorite places ever. Enjoy every minute.

  • Joy replied 4 years ago

    Not any help as I've not been to Iceland but would love to go. I would forgo fleece for one of your cashmere sweaters. I always travel with one even in summer. They repel smells and are very light weight. I took a light weight puffer that can be squeezed into a little bag to Ireland and wore it alone or layered under a raincoat. Was so glad I had it. Again, it was very light weight.
    Your choices in finds all look wonderful. Have a great time and post photos.

  • Classically Casual replied 4 years ago

    A friend was there (Iceland) a couple of weeks ago. It was very windy and chilly for the entire week. I'd throw in long underwear if you can find the space. The car rental company actually charged them damage to the car that windblown sand had caused.

  • shevia replied 4 years ago

    Wow! I have no practical packing advice to add to all the helpful ideas above, but have a wonderful time. (Btw, Iceland is opening a cheap airline to Israel and my sister is already planning her trip in October!)

  • Joyce B replied 4 years ago

    Have a great and fun trip, Suz.
    I don't have advice to add, only good wishes :-)

  • Elizabeth P replied 4 years ago

    Oh wow Suz, ICELAND!  I spent four days there some time ago on my way back from Sweden, and loved every minute of it.  Highlight was siting in an outdoor hot tub (heated geothermally) when the wind was howling, it was raining, and about 4 degrees.  It's such a cool place... geology in action... and if that makes no sense now, it will.

    You've left, so no packing advice, just have a ball.

  • replied 4 years ago

    Have a great time!

  • Jenn replied 4 years ago

    I'm so envious, Suz! I like the idea of bringing a puffer vest, especially if you already have one. I live in a climate that requires layering year-round, especially in the mountains, and my vest has served me well. It's amazing how far insulating your core can go towards keeping you comfortable in varying temperatures.

  • Bijou replied 4 years ago

    I hope you have a brilliant holiday. You seem to be sorted with the packing advice. Lovely to see how you have built a streamlined small capsule that covers all your needs. 

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