Updated: Aug 16, 2022
Iceland is a magnificent country, full of opportunities and adventures. Every passionate about outdoor activities and fan of spending holidays active will be in a real paradise here. If you are not really fond of organized vacations and you rather like to plan everything yourself and not be limited by anything, or if you are an enthusiastic defender of sustainable tourism, backpacking in Iceland will be ideal for you. Although you need to follow some tips and take some precautions. Iceland is a very tourist-friendly country but its nature is wild and might be dangerous. Prepare yourself well for your Iceland backpacking trip and check what aspects you should be aware of.
How to pack for backpacking in Iceland?
When thinking of the right sort of clothes and stuff you will take for your backpacking trip in Iceland, you need to take into consideration the time of the year. Temperatures in Iceland are a very important aspect and the weather will determine the kind of activities you will be able to enjoy. Most of the people planning their trip to Iceland think, that the weather here is very similar to the North Pole climate. Nothing more misleading. The temperatures are quite mild, thanks to the Gulf Stream, however, the weather in Iceland is very unpredictable. You can easily experience all 4 seasons in one day. This is what you should always have in mind while planning your backpacking route around Iceland.
Despite the season you will decide to visit Iceland, make sure you pack a good waterproof and windproof jacket. You will definitely need it. The second most important thing is a pair of trekking shoes with a thick sole. The ones that we always recommend are those that are just above your ankle. Those stabilize the joint and the risk of injury in the event of stress is lower. Even though you normally do not do that while buying new shoes, here you should check the parameters. The resistance to rain is very important. The worst possible thing is to hike in wet socks.
Talking about socks, do not underestimate their importance. A good pair of socks will keep your feet warm at any time, prevent chafing, and wick moisture away. You should also pack gloves, a scarf, rain pants, and a swimming suit. Even if the weather is not the most favorable and the temperature drops down below 0, you can still enjoy soaking in the Blue Lagoon. For that, you will also need some flip flops which can also serve you to use in the hotels and guesthouses. It is a good idea to have a pair of shoes to use there, as normally you are required to take your shoes off when you use the common rooms like restaurants and lobby.
Thermal underwear is also a must especially if you are planning to do some hiking or trekking in the Highlands where the weather is always harsh. It is indeed of great importance. During activities like trekking, our body heats up and we start sweating. A good thermal layer will transport the moisture to the outside thus not letting your body chill.
Make sure you bring some warmer sweaters or jumpers and enough shirts. Regardless of where you are going to stay for the night, hotels or campsites, you will find a washing machine in case you are in need of one. Do not worry if you forget any of those things. The local shops will be very happy to offer you one of the traditional Lopapeysa sweaters... in exchange for some money of course.
What gear to bring for backpacking in Iceland?
If you are wondering what gear to bring for backpacking in Iceland, that depends on another factor. Namely, what type of transport you will choose for your trip. The best way of getting around Iceland is to rent a vehicle. As soon as you choose the type of vehicle you will go for, you will know exactly what gear you should bring with you. If you are planning to rent a campervan or a motorhome in Iceland and stay overnight on campsites, here the list gets a bit longer.
Most of the rental companies equip their vehicles pretty well. You should already have all the necessary kitchenware and all the utensils you might need, to prepare your vehicle. A thing that will not be provided certainly is a can opener and a coffee machine. Although the opener will definitely fit even in your jeans’ pocket, the coffee machine case is more complicated. All the coffee freaks should bring a small French press with them or get one here on spot.
Bed linen sets are usually a part of the equipment but usually at an extra cost. Calculate the typical costs and assess whether it is more profitable for you to bring your sleeping bags with you instead of purchasing the linens.
What many customers ask us about, is whether the vehicles are equipped with a flashlight. This is not a part of standard equipment so bring one with you along with the matches.
Thermos or a thermal mug will be much appreciated. You can use it for your glacier hike tour or any other trekking and bring some warm drinks with you. Same about bottled water. Do not bother buying it in the shops. Bring a reusable bottle and fill it up with tap water which is perfectly fine to drink.
Do not forget about the camera and spare batteries. If your memory card has very limited space, bring some additional ones. Believe me, you will fill them all up! Remember also about the chargers for your devices. A backpacking trip in Iceland may require you to change locations very often. In case you run out of a battery on your phone, a power bank is a perfect solution.
Another thing you cannot forget is the sun cream which will protect you from sunburn. Even though the sun here is not the Caribbean one, it can still do harm.
If you go for a standard car rental and decide to spend the nights in the hotels, your „must pack” list will be much shorter.
Hitchhiking in Iceland
Hitchhiking is one of the ways of getting around the country. It has its perks and being cheap, it still finds many followers. Unlike in some other countries, hitchhiking in Iceland is still allowed, however, it is not a very popular form of travel. Iceland is very unlike other countries. Nature reigns here and dictates the terms. There are places in Iceland that are inhabited and remote. Sometimes you will not find a gas station on a 280 km road section. This is why hitchhiking in Iceland is not that easy to do unless you only stick to the main road - Iceland's Ring Road. In the peak season, there will be someone passing by for sure. The off-peak season is much less crowded due to the harsh weather and road conditions, which means, that there might pass hours until someone gives you a lift.
There are some money-saving tips on your budget backpacking trip in Iceland:
Get the best possible deal on car rental. Booking a vehicle in advance, online is the best way to achieve this. You can get some early birds discount and if the company of your choice does not offer such, make sure you ask them for any other benefits you could apply for.
If possible, travel in the off-peak season. The low cost of basically everything, tours, and rentals, plus less crowded places, are the benefits.
Save on water. I do not want to get you dehydrated, obviously! The water in Iceland is said to be one of the tastiest in the world. You can then drink tap water and refill your reusable bottle or thermos with it.
Save on museum tickets. Check online beforehand whether the certain museum or gallery you wish to visit offers a free-pass day. Some of them do. You can then plan your trip accordingly.
Make some food supplies in advance. Try to avoid eating every day in restaurants as those are expensive in Iceland. Look for discounts in the local supermarkets like Bonus and stock up for your trip. This way you can then spend on one, but a good meal in a good restaurant in Reykjavik.
Instead of organized tours, rent a motorhome or a campervan and organize them yourself. A good travel guide and a bit of reading, and you can be your own guide. You will easily be able to do the Diamond Circle or the Golden Circle tour on your own. I would rather save that extra cash on visiting the Blue Lagoon or going for a whale-watching tour.