You can spend months exploring Iceland and still not have seen everything there is to see, or have done everything there is to do. That’s why many want to extend their stay here on the island for as long as possible, and Iceland backpacking is probably the most affordable way to do that.
So if you have a spirit for adventure or just like to explore the world in a cost-effective way – this article is for you. We give you all the info and advice you’ll need for your Iceland backpacking trip.
The Best Time to Backpack Through Iceland
When the best time for you to backpack Iceland will be, will depend on a few things:
What You Want to Do and See
If you have the Northern Lights on your Iceland bucket list, it’s not going to help you to come at the height of summer. Unfortunately, the Aurora Borealis won’t make its appearance. And Mid-winter with only 4 hours of daylight won't provide you with the opportunity to party during the Midnight Sun.
You can’t spot Puffins in November, and you can’t explore ice caves in July. We can go on and on with the examples about why deciding when to visit the island heavily relies on what you have on your Iceland wishlist.
Peak season brings peak season prices. That means that your backpacking budget probably won’t be able to stretch as far from June to August than it would throughout the rest of the year. So, if you’ve already got a very tight budget to begin with, it’s probably better to opt for a trip during the wintertime or during one of the shoulder months.
If you’re someone who’s not a fan of snow and freezing temperatures, then Iceland during winter won’t be the right fit for you. If 20+ hours of daylight causes havoc on your sleeping patterns, then you should probably avoid summer here on the island.
If you intend to go camping or hiking, you should also not choose the wettest month of the year. So, the weather has quite an impact on when you choose to come to the island.
Is Backpacking Across Iceland Safe?
Iceland has taken the official title of safest country in the world for the 15th year in a row. So, you’ll probably be able to do some of your best backpacking in Iceland, having the peace of mind that you are in safe hands. This is especially reassuring for solo travelers.
You’ll also often find people hitchhiking in Iceland. That’s because it is still seen as a cheap way to travel. Also, everyone here knows that hitchhiker stories in Iceland don’t start with murderous intent and end in dismemberment.
Some of the Best Hostels to Stay When Backpacking Iceland
Hostels are not just affordable accommodation options when backpacking through Iceland. They are also a good way to connect with like-minded people and make new friends. If you want to stay in hostels during your trip, here are a few hostels that come highly recommended:
Kex Hostel, Reykjavík
Freezer Hostel, Snæfellsjökull National Park
Akureyri Backpackers, Akureyri
Laugarvatn HI Hostel, South Iceland
Galaxy Pod Hostel, Reykjavík
What to Pack for Backpacking Through Iceland
Backpacking through Iceland means that your space is limited. Here’s what to pack so you have the essentials without weighing yourself down:
3 thermal base layers (t-shirts, vests, long-sleeved shirts, etc.)
A hoodie or sweater
2 Pairs of waterproof pants
A warm hat (we recommend beanies)
Warm, waterproof gloves
Waterproof hiking boots (whether you’re going hiking or not)
Casual shoes (to wear in and around the city)
Swimsuit (to use at the hot springs)
Quick-drying towel (so you don’t carry wet things around with you all day)
Flip-flops (to use at the hot springs and other public changing rooms)
6 Pairs of woolen socks
Underwear for a week (the ladies should also bring one regular bra and one sports bra)
Water bottle (for hikes and just to fill up and rehydrate throughout the day)
Sleep mask and earplugs (if you’re visiting during the summer months)
Moisturizer and lip balm
Toiletries and medication (remember to check flight restrictions)
Electronics such as chargers, adaptors, etc.
Crampons (if you’re visiting during the winter months)
The Best Backpack for Iceland
We often get asked “what is the best backpack for Iceland?”, so if you’re still on the lookout, you might want to consider the Nomatic Travel Bag. This bag is the perfect combination between suitcase and backpack and can literally be used as both.
This makes it suitable for all sorts of travel and even hiking. The Nomatic Travel Bag is incredibly durable, it’s waterproof, and multi-functional. All its extra pockets and compartments make this a pretty spacious bag despite being compact.
You don’t have to go backpacking though Iceland all by yourself. You can actually book a spot on an Iceland backpacking tour group such as these:
Below you will find a detailed outline of backpacking Iceland costs. You will see that some of the items on the list are optional and will depend on what you have planned for your trip. Still, this should give you a good idea of what to budget for (for roughly 2 weeks here on the island):
Car Rental & Transport = $2000 per vehicle & $ +/- $600 for gas and public transport
Accommodation = $1186 per person
Food = $690 per person
Activities = $570 per person
Some Helpful Tips for Backpacking Iceland
If this is your first time backpacking or just your first time backpacking Iceland, the following tips might come in handy:
Beat the Accommodation Budget
No matter where you go in the world, accommodation will always be the most expensive part of your budget. One way of keeping cost low is by booking into hostels, but you can actually take it one step further and only make use of campsites.
The campsites here in Iceland only charge between $10-$20 per person per night. You also don’t have to be the next Bear Grylls to go camping in Iceland. Simply rent a campervan in Reykjavík when you arrive here on the island, and you can go camping in comfort.
Avoid the Restaurants
This should be pretty obvious, but eating out is expensive and if you add an alcoholic drink to your bill it might just end up costing more than your meal. Rather spend your money on unique experiences here on the island and cook your own food. You can eat out at home too.
Book in Advance
When booking things like accommodation and transport in advance, you often get a better price. When you’re planning on backpacking Iceland during the busy summer months, you have to book everything well in advance. Otherwise, you might be left thoroughly disappointed when there’s no more availability by the time you get to the island.
Don’t Buy Water
You will get some pretty weird stares if you buy bottled water here on the island. There’s a good reason why you have a water bottle on your packing list, and it’s not just to take with you on hikes. Most of Iceland’s water is pure glacial water and is of such high quality that it’ll put most expensive bottled water to shame. So, all you need to do is fill up your water bottle with normal tap water along the way.
Dress in Layers
There is a local saying on the island that goes “you can experience all four seasons in one day in Iceland”. That means that you will need to be prepared for any type of weather throughout your day. Always dress in layers so you’re able to take things off or put things on depending on how hot or cold it is.
Keep Waterproof Clothing & Gear Close
This is not just to mitigate the whole “four seasons in one day” thing. You’ll soon thank us when you’re wearing your waterproof hiking boots on the muddy hot spring paths or are left nice and dry in your raincoat and waterproof clothing whilst others are getting completely soaked in the mist and spray of a powerful waterfall.
Two Heads are Better Than One When Backpacking Iceland
We mean it – literally. Solo travel is much more expensive than when traveling in groups of 2 or more. When you are a group, costs can be shared. You can all chip in and make a big pot of stew. Or you can share a room. Or pool together for that rental car. Whatever the expense, most things will work out less expensive if you don’t have to pay for it on your own.
Backpacking Iceland; a Nice Way to Explore Iceland on a Budget
By backpacking through Iceland you truly take control of your itinerary and your budget. As you can see there are plenty of ways one can help a budget stretch a little further whilst still enjoying everything the island has to offer. Park your camper at a campground in Iceland, grab your backpack and let your Iceland adventure begin!