A little background on us - we are 4 college friends who are a few years out of school. 3 girls, 1 guy. We were all athletes in college and have experience with intense hiking and physical activity. I think it helped us fit the entire ring road into a 10 day trip. Two of us flew WOW air from Boston Logan to KEF and two of us flew Delta from JFK to KEF. We met up at the airport on the morning of Monday August 10th, rented a car from Enterprise at the airport and drove counter-clockwise around the ring road. We left Reykavik on the 11th and made it back on the 18th. We flew out the next day. Tickets/Car Rental were booked about 2 months in advance. We tent camped throughout the trip with the exception of both nights spent in Reykjavik.
Packing / Weather
We did some research on this ahead of time but somehow we still all stupidly packed as if expected it to be warmer than it was. My #1 advice to anyone about this trip is to pack for the cold. Probably should go without saying given that you're going to ICELAND, but you always forget how cold it can be when you're at home wearing shorts while you pack. I would best describe it as a cold fall day, one where you're going to be spending the whole day outside. That means hats/scarves and hot coffee. It's the kind of weather that if you're not dressed properly you'll get chilled and you won't warm up. The sun is no help either, unless you happen to see some while you're hiking (lucky you!) but most of the time, it will be cloudy or raining.
Here's what I suggest based on what we wore the most/what we wished we had packed over the course of our ten day trip in mid August;
Female : A pair of waterproof, warm hiking boots. Sneakers. A few Compression Tops (Cold Gear), a warm full zip hoodie, a few pullover layers, A warm, shell jacket, a multi-use scarf, a fleece neck, a few winter hats, lightweight comfortable sweatpants (cotton/easy to dry) leggings for every day, cotton long sleeve shirts, cotton t-shirts Waterproof/Windproof rain jacket and rain pants, wool socks, boot socks, cotton socks, sunglasses, mittens.
Male: A pair of waterproof, warm hiking boots. Tim was the only one of us whose boots stayed dry the entire trip. Sneakers. Compression Top ( Cold Gear), and Compression Pants (Cold Gear), Waterproof/Windproof rain jacket, Waterproof rain pants, Athletic pants, Warm Full Zip Sweatshirt, Light Pullover Sweatshirt, Full Zip Soft Shell Jacket, Cotton Long Sleeve t-shirts, Cotton T-shirts, a pair of lightweight sweatpants, boot socks, wool socks, cotton socks, winter hat, fitted hat, sunglasses, light gloves.
Camping Gear: Tent with tarp, stakes and a rain-fly, sleeping bags for temperatures as low as freezing, camping pillow, water bottle (preferably thermal to keep hot water) , a fast drying towel, toiletries, a waterproof phone case, and any cameras, go-pros etc you'd like with the appropriate storage cards (You'll probably fill them all)
Keep in mind;
1. The layers myth.
A lot of articles on 'Packing for Iceland' will suggest layering, which we would have to agree with. However, this suggestion mistakenly gave us the impression that we would be taking off layers of clothing as the weather changed. We were wrong. The only reason to layer in Iceland is for warmth. I wore a compression long sleeve and leggings every day I was there - plus 3-4 jackets, sweatshirts, t-shirts etc. on top. It wasn't for convenience, or for looks it was for warmth. You will spend the majority of your day outdoors sightseeing, or hiking and you need to be comfortable. You do not want to rush through any of the sights because you're cold.
2. The rain.
I can't stress enough the importance of good rain gear. A 100% waterproof jacket and pants will save you a lot of hassle. It rained heavily on our 3rd day so by the end of that day - we were all completely. Not a big deal if you're at home, but a big loss when all of your rain gear, your hiking boots and one of your few warm-enough outfits become unusable. Luckily ( 2 days later) we found somewhere to dry them, but even after a cycle in the dryer, they still felt a little damp. Not to mention, our rain gear had no chance because it continued to rain sporadically over the next few days as well. I don't think our boots dried for 3 or 4 days. Also - if you're camping and rain is in the forecast, take advantage of a few minutes of clear sky to set up your campground. Nothing worse that setting up in a downpour.
This is another area where our research failed us. When we arrived in Iceland, tents and sleeping bags in tow, we were under the impression that you could pitch a tent anywhere along the way as long as it wasn't in a national park. Wrong. Again. Most of the land in Iceland is owned by someone or is part of a park. The one night we tried to camp on the side of the road somewhere, it took us around 2 hours to find a spot and we still got woken up in the morning by a fisherman telling us we were on private property. Ask any local about camping and they will direct you to a campground. Listen to them. Campgrounds are abundant, cheap and very easy to find in Iceland. When you pull into a town, look for the blue sign with a tent on it. It'll run you about $5 - $15 USD per tent and usually includes a warm shower, bathrooms, sinks, and a friendly attendant with lots of information about the surrounding area. If you plan on staying in an Airbnb, hotel, hostel, guesthouse or anything else with a solid roof over your head you must book ahead. On our third day, (the rainy day) we attempted to book a last minute place. We did not succeed. I'm pretty sure every type of accommodation outside of Reykjavik was completely booked solid.
Even though we camped every night, we decided not to cook any of our own food. In the mornings we would stop for coffee and stock up for the day at a local grocery store (Netto was our personal favorite). When we arrived in the town we were spending the night in, we asked around for a good, budget friendly, restaurant. Sometimes there was only one restaurant in town. We all enjoyed this part of our day. It was good to relax in the warmth, eat some freshly cooked seafood or the refillable soup, use the free wi-fi and wind down a bit before heading back to the campground. Iceland menus are very odd. Apart from a few local dishes like a catch of the day or a lamb stew, there was a lot of familiar American fare. Burgers /fries etc.
You can see our full 10 day Itinerary here.