Iceland’s popularity among tourists has grown exponentially in the past decade. And many travelers are not just coming in summer. The month of December, January and February have steadily been gaining momentum as the perfect time to visit the Nordic island due to lower prices and fewer crowds. An added bonus of camping in Iceland in winter is the plethora of winter activities like skiing and the reappearance of Iceland’s famed Northern Lights. That being said, there are some things to consider if you decide to travel at this time of year. The weather conditions can make driving particularly precarious and because we’re no longer in the tourist high season, many campsite operators close their doors. You also need to pack and wear the right clothing for Icelandic weather.
We’ve covered several of these topics already in the previous sections of our Ultimate Guide to Camping in Iceland. Here are all of them for your reference:
Camping in the Winter
Winter Weather – Are You Crazy to Go Camping?
We touched briefly on what to expect weather-wise throughout the year. Now let’s get specifically into weather and temperatures for the winter. Iceland is cold, make no mistake. But it’s not as terrible as you may have been led to believe. As we stated in the article about average temperature and daylight hours throughout the year and Iceland, we like to make the comparison of winter in Reykjavik to being similar to that of New York. There’s snow on the ground and the city is frozen. Temperatures hover around 32 °F (0 °C). While this is definitely not warm, it certainly gets colder in other places like Chicago, especially during the months of January and February.
So are you crazy to go camping in Iceland in the winter? We say no, but that comes with a caveat. Only the truly adventurous should take it upon themselves to go tent camping in Iceland in the winter. Unexpected snowstorms and other extreme elements mean that you need to come prepared with the right gear. A down sleeping bag along with a warmer and down sleeping pad are must-haves. Combine these with an insulated tent floor for an extra layer of protection from the frosty ground. Remember to check the temperature ratings on all of your items to be sure that they are designed for the levels of cold that you’ll be facing. Tent-wise, we recommend having a four-season, Arctic high-altitude expedition tent. This should protect you from heavy snowfall in the event of a snowstorm or high winds.
Winter Camping in Iceland By Campervan or Motorhome
For the not so extreme camper, you can either rent a campervan or a motorhome and sleep inside the warm, toasty interior of your chosen method of transport. These retrofitted vehicles all come with a rechargeable battery that heats your car even while you sleep. The obvious advantage of this is that you’re inside of a campervan or motorhome rather than a tent, so you are much more sheltered and protected from the elements. Additionally, you don’t have to set up a tent, so if you arrive in the middle of a storm, you won’t be cursing your decision to go camping and Iceland in the middle of winter. Just hop into your nice, warm bed or sleeping bag, turn on the overnight heater, and you’re ready to go.
Driving Safety in the Winter
We can’t stress the importance of driving safely strongly enough. The roads are slippery and things like black ice or frost on the roads create perilous circumstances. Always pay attention to signs on the road and heed speed limits in Iceland. If a road is closed, avoid it as it’s probably quite dangerous. Iceland’s harsh elements are part of its beauty. But that doesn’t mean that you can avoid taking precautions and using common sense. Drive slowly, pay attention to the road and the drivers around you, and if you get caught in extreme weather like a snowstorm or gale force winds, please pull over and wait it out. You should always give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination if there is extreme weather. Lastly, check the weather forecast in advance to see if the meteorologists have predicted any disturbances in the area where you’re planning on traveling.
What to Pack and Wear for Winter Camping in Iceland
Because temperatures in Iceland don’t get extremely high in the summer, a lot of the same guidelines still apply for the clothing that you will need if you plan on camping in the winter. Layers are key, as well as having warm, thermal materials such as wool. These will keep you well-insulated and protect you from frostbite. Waterproof boots and outer layers are also highly recommended as is a good rain jacket. See our full post about an Iceland packing list here.
Campsites Open All Year long
One of the things that surprise campers when they arrive in Iceland in winter is that the campsite where they had planned on spending the night is closed. That’s because after the high season ends, many of them close their doors until the following spring. If you’re planning on visiting after September 15th, you want to be sure that you are staying at a campsite that is open all year long. Here is a list of some popular ones:
- Garði campsite – close to the sports center
- Fjalladyrd – Moðrudal
- Hamrar vid Kjarnaskog
- Hlid, Lake Myvatn
- Hofn í Hornafirdi
- Hveragerdi – Reykjamork
- Laugardalur – Reykjavík campsite close to the city
- Lifsmotun, Laugum
- Selfoss Guesthouse
- Uthlid, Biskupstungum
Winter Camping in Iceland
One of the best things about camping and Iceland in the winter is that you have ample opportunity to see the Northern Lights. With an average of five hours of sunlight per day, this nocturnal activity is one that you’re sure to remember during your time and Iceland. There are also the glacier hikes and ice cave explorations unique to the island. Winter is a special time here and you really should try to experience it at least once in your life. Come prepared and be ready to have the adventure of a lifetime.