What To Wear For Iceland, Men’s Edition:
This year we made our way through Iceland, the land of “fire and ice.” We hiked amongst ice caps, Aurora Borealis, abundant lava flows, and geothermal pools, all while taking in the views from our mobile seat on the ring road. So we decided to put together a clothing pack list for men (as well as women) on what to bring with you when wandering through this cooler climate. Keep in mind, our departure time was in April, when the weather is just starting to warm up but it’s still a far cry from the warmer mid-summer months. No matter the season though, weather in Iceland can go through a wide variety of changes so it’s good to be prepared. And it’s often windy, gusts of up to 60 miles an hour while we were there. Also, we had a few baggage restrictions on our airline so we needed to pack as light as possible while making sure to stay warm. So all that being said, let’s get started, from the feet up!
Ideally, you’ll want to go for an insulated water-resistant hiking boot. My main shoe for the trip is going to be the Salomon Quest 4D II GTX. I love these boots. I had to go out on a few hikes, to break them in but now they’re perfect and super comfortable. Not a bad idea to bring a pair of street shoes as well, for any round-the-town adventures, local bars, restaurants, or museums. While hiking boots are comfortable, they can be clunky and big with your favorite pair of jeans. And as long as you have a good thick sock, you’re feet will stay warm within your street shoes as well. I have tested so many shoes over the years from backpacking to planning out a marathon to hiking. You have to find the brand that works best for you and that gives you the most comfort. Try them out and have a professional size them for you.
Not all socks should be treated equally. They may look the same but there are definite differences. Of course, when traveling, your best bet is to aim for multi-use and multi-wear socks. If backpacking or camping, you’ll definitely be wearing them more than once and they will take a beating. You’ll still want to wash them on the regular but these socks will give you more mileage than the average. Whether you choose a light sock or a heavier thickness, compression sock or a hiking sock, make sure they’re made of wool. I use Smartwool PhD midweight. I love their versatility, strength, and endurance. Be good to your feet. They work hard. Keep them warm, clean and cozy.
One of the most important pieces for layering is your base. It’s almost like another skin. It fits snug to your body and works as a wicking and warming base. They’re like body tights, except that these tights are usually made primarily of wool, well the good ones are anyway. There are silk variations as well, which are great for moderate cool-weather activities and stationary activities (spectator sports and indoor lounging). they are thinner and very comfortable, in my opinion, they don’t keep you as warm, once wet they don’t hold the heat and need to be washed after every use. So spend some money here as well, you can thank me later. Your regular shirt, flannel, sweater, or jeans can easily fit over them and it all helps to seal you in from the cold. It’s a protective base layer that allows you to easily add or subtract additional layers, depending on how the weather performs that day.
In order to keep the core warm, it’s all about layering and maintaining protection from the wind. There’s a wide variety of pants you can use- casual jeans, a good pair of light quick drying hiking pants, or even bibs. Jeans take forever to dry so you’ll want something else just in case. While the legs don’t take too much to layer and protect, it’s good to get at least two layers in, a base (thermal) and pants (your shell). For my pants, I prefer darker colors, to hide any stains I may happen to throw at myself, during the adventure.
The upper body requires a little more attention. Layers, layers, layers, it’s all about those layers. My go-to combination?… A base layer, pull-over sweater or long-sleeved shirt, and then a down jacket over it all. If it get’s cooler than that, I go straight to my zip-up shell as an additional final layer. However, this mid-layer is all about your normal street clothes. Utilize what you have, bring a variety. The most important part of the layering process is your base and your jacket, so have a little fun here, and bring out your favorite tops.
This is your main top layer. If it’s super cold, it could be a mid layer for you as well. I usually go with a down jacket for warmth, comfort, and packability. When picking a down jacket, do yourself a favor and spend the money! It will get expensive but it’s an investment. You often get what you pay for and a well-made jacket will last you many adventures. Make sure it’s at least a 700 down count and from a reputable company that consistently respects the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and Traceable Down: a goose down that can be traced from farm to factory, ensuring the birds that have supplied the down were not harmed, force-fed or live-plucked. If down isn’t your thing, there are a number of winter shells that can provide a similar warmth and wind protection. It just depends on what you prefer and how easily you catch a chill.
We don’t want the digits getting cold! Your hands are usually sensitive to the cold due to the fact that they hang out of our jackets without any protection. I myself like to find the middle-ground here and prefer gloves from the fingerless variety. If you prefer full coverage, look into a wool glove or thermal liner. And with today’s attachment to our phones, it’s a good idea to get a pair of gloves with touchscreen capability built within the fingers. It’s a good idea to keep waterproof/resistant gloves in mind as well.
But men don’t wear scarves!… bologna. Scarves are a fantastic way to seal in your neck from the wind and chill. Bring two, maybe three, go crazy. They take up very little space and allow for that little extra added comfort.
Like your hands, your head can be the weakest link towards protecting yourself from the cold so don’t forget your beanie. In fact, I recommend that you bring two. Always have a backup. Preferably, something wool-based with a fleece liner to help with warmth and to stop any itching the wool might create. Again, try for darker colors so they don’t get too dirty too fast.
That about covers it, (pun intended). Three additional tips- don’t forget to bring a pair of Sunglasses, swim shorts (for those geothermal pools!) and of course sunscreen. Due to the reflections that will surround you in Iceland and the late sunsets, you’ll absolutely need UV protection. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments at any time. Happy trails!