Camping in Iceland is an unforgettable experience. Nowhere else in the world can you find so much natural beauty condensed into such a small area. Whether you are a seasoned outdoorsman or a greenhorn novice, there are some important aspects to camping in Iceland that you should be aware of. Do not fear; these are simply Iceland-specific reminders and tips for camping. They are not mandates that you must follow. I do, however, highly recommend that you mull them over before your trip. These are the do’s and don’t of camping in Iceland.
Do: Rent Your Camping Gear
Packing your camping attire, extra gear, and guidebooks can result in having a tremendously large suitcase. If you own a tent and are scratching your head on how to make it fit into your luggage (à la some nightmarish version of Tetris), I will save you the trouble. Instead of jamming a big bag of tent poles into your luggage, why not save yourself the hassle and rent a tent? Not only a tent, but most of the equipment that you will need on your trip can be rented. Some of you may be looking down at a receipt of recently purchased camping gear for Iceland with tears rolling down your eyes. I hate to break it to you, but you won’t be needing your full camping kit.
The provider Iceland Camping Equipment Rental is located in downtown Reykjavik, and they have been helping thousands of adventurous tourists since 2011. The process for renting the necessary outdoor equipment is simple. Head to their website, reserve as many tents, sleeping bags, and cooking equipment as your heart desires, and that’s it. When you get to Reykjavik, you only need to swing by their office during their operating hours (or, if you are getting in late, you can arrange to receive a code to open a storage area where your gear will be) and then you are on your way. This will save you money in checked luggage fees and cut down on what you have to pack. I highly recommend this route. They thoroughly inspect each item that is returned for damage, so you know that whatever you decide to rent will be in tip-top shape.
Don’t: Underestimate the Weather
Iceland’s weather can be a little unstable. Storm fronts move in rapidly, making it hard to tell when it will rain next. You need to be prepared, especially if you plan on camping. I feel like I have said this a ton, but I’ll provide another friendly reminder: you need a bullet-proof rain jacket. Invest in your rain jacket. You should feel confident that your gear will keep you dry. You should be so confident, that if you were walking down the street and a firefighter with a high-pressure hose appeared out of nowhere and asked to blast you point blank in the chest, you would merely zip up your jacket and whisper, “do your worst”. Feeling like a soggy log during your camping trip is a quick way to put a damper on your Icelandic adventure. Come prepared to wander through picturesque Nordic landscapes, take a million photos, and get caught in a downpour. If you are still lost on where to get the perfect rain jacket for your Icelandic adventure, then check out this rain jacket buying guide I wrote recently.
Do: Stop By Mál og Menning for a Map
Driving through Iceland’s vast stretches of the unbridled countryside is a hauntingly beautiful experience. If you are coming to us in the offseason, autumn and winter, you will have most of the open road to yourself. However, nothing puts a damper on a road trip like getting lost. Make sure to stop by Mál og Menning in downtown Reykjavik for a great trail map before you go. Google Maps works well enough…sometimes. Other times it can be filled with out-of-date information, or it simply won’t display a road at all. Mál og Menning has a great selection of maps and trail guides which will prevent any confusion on your trip. There are plenty of online resources if you don’t find anything that fancies you at Mál og Menning. Just make sure you are well informed.
Don’t: Be Afraid to Drive Off F-Roads (If you have the appropriate car)
One of my favorite activities, when I am camping in Iceland, is to drive on F-roads. F-roads, for uninitiated, signifies “mountain (fjall) roads”. They are open from June to September and allow travellers to explore the inland and Iceland’s Highlands. These road are cumbersome to operate on, thus requiring four-wheel drive by law. If you have never had to use four-wheel drive before, it is a thrilling experience. You have to go slower, but the destination is worth the journey. Often, if you drive to a campsite or a place at the end of an F-road, there will be few people there. So you will have all of that Icelandic splendor for yourself.
It is paramount to have a car that can handle the terrain. You don’t want to try to tackle an F-road with a sedan. You are going to get stuck. Finally, it is crucial that you, under no circumstances, do any type of off-roading. There will be clear markers indicating where the F-roads end and begin. This is done to protect particularly vulnerable patches of volcanic fields, pastures, etc. Not only could you irreversibly damage to the surrounding ecosystem, but you will face never-ending shame and a hefty fine.
Don’t: Disrespect Nature
What makes Iceland truly special is our environment. We are the youngest country in the world, geologically speaking. Our landscapes were formed by violent volcanic eruptions clashing with the ice and snow that coat our country. Being at the nexus of the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates means that Iceland is actually getting wider by an inch every year. The unique confluence of events that created our stunning landscapes means that we are environmentally very fragile. During your stay here make sure not to damage any plants, rocks, or wildlife. Flora is especially susceptible to irreversible damage; sometimes plants and vegetation that has been disturbed can take years to grow back, and sometimes it never grows back at all.
Do: Take Photos Responsibly
Thousands of aspiring artists and established professionals come to Iceland every year with the sole mission to take photos. Documenting Iceland’s natural beauty in a cohesive and stunning light can jump-start a visual artist’s career. That being said, plenty of tourists take unnecessary risks to grab the perfect snapshot of their Icelandic getaway. Sometimes, they will wander dangerously close to cliffs, walk in the middle of the highway, or trample around on protected terrain.
The stopping of cars seems to be the biggest issue here in Iceland. Imagine you are driving through the Ring Road, or elsewhere in the Icelandic countryside. You turn the bend and before you lies an incredible spectacle of light, clouds, mountains and nature unfolding before your very eyes. And there’s a vehicle blocking your way. Don’t be that car! Please find a place to park that isn’t the middle of the road. Icelandic roadways have many twists and turns. Note that if stopped on the crest of a ridge, other drivers may not see you. And your Icelandic dream vacation could take a fatal turn. So, safely park your car down the road, then carefully walk back take a photo.
Do’s and Don’t for Your Camping Trip in Iceland
I am excited that you are reading this article. It means that you are planning or researching an Icelandic camping trip. I have been camping in many places around the world, and I can safely say there is no better place to experience nature than in Iceland. We have such a diverse clash of contrasting landscapes it can be hard to think what you are looking at is real. The tradeoff to the visual beauty is the weather. Plan, prepare, and pack accordingly. That should be your biggest takeaway. Besides that, keep doing your research, get excited, and we will see you in Reykjavik before you set out into the great outdoors soon.