For 11 days this summer my wife and I traveled through Iceland in a campervan to explore the land of fire and ice. Check out our gear list and Iceland travel tips to make the most of your adventure.
First and foremost, consider renting a campervan. Iceland isn’t very large; you can drive the perimeter in about 18 hours. Having a bed in back is cheaper than traditional lodging and you’re not tied to check-in and check-out times. Best of all, Iceland is full of campgrounds and has amazing dispersed camping laws. We rented our campervan, Velma, from Go Campers.
We drove for 11 days; hiking, soaking, eating, and sleeping all over Iceland. Here is the gear we used along the way.
1. Lightweight Sleeping Bag Or Quilt
We couldn’t afford to let sleeping bags take up half of our luggage space so we opted to travel light with quilts and hybrids. We tested the 50-degree Traveller TR I from Sea to Summit and a custom 30-degree Enigma from Enlightened Equipment.
Both pack down small and weigh 13.7 oz. and 13.8 oz., respectively. With a full zipper and a cinch on the bottom, the Traveller works as a sleeping bag or comforter.
2. Sleeping Essentials For Traveling Iceland
The Arctic sun shined on us for 20-plus hours each day. This was great for sightseeing and exploring, but not sleeping. It was never even remotely dark, so I relied heavily on eye shades during the trip. I tested 3 options.
- REI’s lightweight eye shade is soft on the face and has great coverage.
- The Easy Blink eyeshade is raised off the face and doesn’t touch your eyelashes while you sleep.
- A BUFF works splendidly and, as a bonus, has multiple uses outside of sleeping.
Since weight wasn’t an issue, we chose to go with a bigger travel pillow. We tested the Aeros Premium Deluxe Pillow from Sea to Summit. It was plenty comfy and the large size gave it a feeling similar to our pillows at home.
Ear plugs can also come in handy on especially windy nights.
You need something to fend off the Arctic sun while you’re awake, too. A good pair of sunglasses was key for the long drive across the country. I tested the REVO Crawler with Terra lenses. The lenses are designed for hiking or biking singletrack. Though they are best used in the woods, they worked fine out on the open road.
4. Hot Pot & Bathing Essentials
From massive geothermal pools to secluded hot pots along the sea, you’ll be spending some time in the water. Be warned, Icelanders have some specific showering rules. You must shower naked and wash your head, armpits, groin, and feet with soap before you soak.
We tested some Wilderness Wash from Sea to Summit to clean up before entering all the hot pots and pools. The dry soap leaves are handy if you’re looking to avoid liquid soap when traveling. Think ahead and grab one or two before showering; they are difficult to handle with wet hands.
All this showering had the added bonus of staying fresh and clean on the road. No road trip funk in Iceland!
Camp towels are handy for all kinds of adventures. We tested some from REI, they worked great. We hung them up in the cab to dry as we slept and they were always dry in the morning. Tip: if you have a lot of hair, consider getting the XL size.
5. Food & Snacks: Cooking In The Camper
Food (and everything else) is expensive in Iceland. We wanted to save money so we brought a bunch of snacks and dehydrated meals with us. Thankfully, Go Campers has canister stoves and kitchen essentials in each of its rentals. We alternated between eating out and eating in the van for variety.
6. Rain Jacket For Iceland
A common Icelandic saying is, “If you don´t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” It’s true, weather in Iceland is unpredictable and I found myself wearing a rain jacket at least once a day to ward off rain, wind, or both. Even on the nice days, I wore it to explore around the waterfalls because the spray will soak you. I tested the REI Rhyolite and it worked well. As promised, the eVent fabric kept me dry and didn’t break the bank.
7. Insulating Layers
With a name like Iceland, you wouldn’t expect it to be warm — and it wasn’t. We visited in July and saw average daytime temps in the 50s and 60s. With some sporadic rain and strong winds in the mix, we needed some insulation. I brought three of my all-time favorites.
- Patagonia Nano Air (read the full GearJunkie review here). I used this when we were hiking and in light precipitation. If I were limited to a single insulating layer this would be my choice.
- Ibex Woolies 3. I used this under my rain jacket on chilly days or on its own during warmer days. It’s comfy and classy.
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer (read full GearJunkie review here). My first-generation puffy weighs 7.5 oz. and packs down super small so I brought it. I wore it on several occasions and it served me best on our whale watching tour.
I always find myself bringing more pants than I need when I travel. This time around, I decided to bring less, but make sure they were solid. I tested KÜHL’s Revolvr and Radikl pants. The Revolr pants were particularly impressive for travel. If you haven’t worn pants with a gusseted crotch yet, you’re missing out on a great part of life! Plus, the cotton-nylon blend gave me freedom to move and cut some wind while hiking, climbing, and wandering the country.
9. Waterproof Shoes
A solid pair of hiking shoes is essential for Iceland. A waterproof pair is perfect for tromping around waterfalls and lagoons, and dealing with the inevitable rain. Both my wife and I picked up a pair of the Salewa Wildfire S GTX a year ago and they have been our favorites since.
10. Daypacks For Icelandic Hikes
Hiking and other day-long activities abound in Iceland, so be sure to bring a daypack. We tested two different day packs. The REI Flash 22 for light hikes and the Millican Smith Roll 25 Pack as a travel pack.
At 14.5 oz. the Flash 22 is a good size and has just enough support from the padded back panel to give it some structure. It worked great on our light hikes.
The Millican Smith Roll 25 Pack is small enough that it qualified as a “personal item” on the plane and gave us another pack option for day trips. It looks awesome and has some smart features like expandable water bottle pockets, hidden gear loops, and quick access pockets. Note that smart and stylish come at a price; as daypacks go the Millican is expensive, $195.
We tested the aptly named Gear Warrior 32 from Eagle Creek to haul gear through airports and Icelandic streets. As far as checked luggage goes, this is my new favorite. It has four burly handles, holds 92L, and has an equipment keeper bungee to hold extra items as you walk. Best of all, the 32-inch height is big enough to stash a fly rod inside.
Get Going To Iceland!
You should definitely have Iceland near the top of the list if you’re looking for adventure travel. Waterfalls, caves, and some of the most beautiful landscapes you can, and cannot, imagine await.
A campervan road trip around the island is a fun and efficient way to see a great deal Iceland has to offer with minimum expense. If you decide to embark, do not go for less than seven days. Anything less is simply too rushed.