Iceland has become a very popular destination in recent years for travelers and adventurers alike. We recently visited and understand what all the hype is about. Of course, we had to stop at some of the most talked about tourist spots, but we also wanted to get away from the crowds and experience Iceland before the influx of tourists. You know what that means…lots of hiking! Here are our top 10 tips for hiking your way through Iceland!
1. Be Prepared For All Types Of Weather – The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable. We had heard about the rain and cool temperatures before we went, however, we were extremely lucky and had pretty good weather our entire trip. We talked to locals and they said that never happens. We could see rain clouds in the distance and did run into plenty of fog and clouds, but luckily, very little rain. Don’t expect that on your trip. The weather changes in a minute and can go from clear blue skies to clouds and fog before you can change your coat. Take a look at the weather before you go but don’t rely on the forecast too much. Our temperatures ended up being about 10* cooler than the week before.
2. Hiking Poles. Bring Hiking Poles – Do yourself a favor and bring hiking poles. I know a lot of people don’t like them or use them, but the ever-changing terrain will make you glad you packed them. We ran into a lot of snow on our hikes and the people in our group that didn’t have poles ended up borrowing some to save their knees. Most hikes in Iceland are not short or easy and you should expect to be out on the trail for a while. Poles can help the sore feet and knees that you might find yourself with after several days of hiking.
3. Load Up On Trail Food At Home – Iceland isn’t a cheap country. With the huge influx of travelers from around the world, prices throughout Iceland have gone up. We found out very quickly that we should have packed more meals for our hikes and brought them from home. Everything you bring should be prepackaged and sealed, but you can save a lot of time and money by packing most of what you need on the trail. Bars, freeze dried meals, etc. If you do find yourself in need of a grocery store, look for the large pig with a yellow background called BONUS. We found it to carry the best options trail food and at the best prices.
4. Take A Chance – If you see a trail you think you want to hike but can’t find much information on it, take a chance and go for it. Iceland still has a lot of undiscovered treasures especially for hikers and you can find lots of beautiful locations that haven’t been documented.
5. Do Research – Find out as much as you can about the hikes you want to do. Often, they will have tips from people who have been there and can give you very good advice such as a heads up about a hut midway through for shelter or a quick stop. The more you know about the trail/conditions/sights the better off you will be.
6. Don’t Always Trust the Research – With as much research you do, just be prepared that some of the information you get might not be correct. We ran into this with a few hikes we had planned for and even some of the amenities at the campsites. You might find you should have prepared for a river crossing or that you needed extra food because the distance was misquoted on multiple websites. We discovered a lot of misinformation, so be ready to go with the flow.
7. Plan Extra Time – With inaccurate information comes a wide range of times that are listed for hikes. Sometimes we would get done quicker, but more often, it took longer than planned. And it wasn’t just us. I spoke to a lot of hikers on the trails and they noticed the same thing. They were told it should take 3-4 hours and had been on the trail for 5 already with a few miles left. If it is summer you won’t have to worry about finishing before it gets dark since it NEVER gets dark, but it may affect the way you pack for the hike.
8. Pack Extra Socks – We mentioned that it rains quite a bit in Iceland and that means you may run into rain on the trail. Along with a lot of snow deep enough to go over our hiking boots, it made for a lot of wet socks and squishy steps. The one thing I wish I had packed more of was socks.
9. Ask Locals – Talking with locals got us to some of the best spots around that were not online or in guide books. Favorite hot pots or hikes, or a great out of the way location for pictures. Don’t pass up asking around if you have questions or are looking for a unique spot.
10. Be Ready for the Icelandic UP! – Iceland hikers apparently don’t like to use switchbacks. They find the best way to tackle a steep incline up the side of a mountain is to go in a straight line, no matter how slippery, muddy or uneven the ground is. Pack boots that have plenty of grip because there are some steep climbs that your poles, hands, and knees will be needed for. We ended up (lovingly) calling these steep inclines the Icelandic UP since it was something we’d never encountered in any other country.
A few other things to keep in mind when visiting Iceland:
With tourism boosting the Icelandic Economy things have gotten a little pricey.
Wildlife is sparse besides the birds you won't need to worry about things like bears or lions or any other animal that might attack you.
Take advantage of light during summer hours. You can hike all night long and don't worry about bringing a headlamp.
Don't miss the less traveled areas of Iceland. Westfjords, East and North Iceland. There are lots of beautiful places.