Staying warm in Iceland: footwear?
December 7, 2017 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Heading to Copenhagen for the first week of March, and Iceland for the second week. Activities in Iceland will include a glacier walk, ice cave visit, some hiking, hopefully gazing at the Northern Lights. I’ve found some packing lists, and I’ve got my wool base layers. I’m uncertain about footwear. I would like to only bring one pair of footwear, so I’m not sure if they should be hiking boots or winter boots or...something else? I care more about being warm than about being stylish, although if there’s an option to incorporate both into one that would be great. If you have any recommendations for waterproof, windproof top layers that you’ve tried out in these conditions, I’m all ears as well. Also: can one fly with hand/foot warmers (the air-activated kind) in their carry-on?
posted by sugarbomb to Travel & Transportation around Iceland (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When we did a glacier walk in Iceland, it included an option to rent boots. Many of the folks we were traveling with did this, although I did not. I had a pair of vasque hiking boots that were okay, but did not have steel shanks and as a result the cramp ons that also came with the glacier walk could have functioned a bit better, but I survived and it was fine. Depending on the grippiness of your winter boots I would think youd be fine in just those, perhaps with rented hiking boots for your glaciering.

As far as top layers, we bought gore tex shells from Patagonia for our (summer) visit. They are ultra waterproof although not at all breathable (though they have pit zips to let out some hot air without inviting in water). Not cheap but very worth it - buy it in a size that would allow you to wear a medium weight non-waterproof outerwear option.

one thing you didn't ask about but I feel compelled to comment on - rainproof pants. I would have never gotten these in a million years but we were advised to do so by an Icelandic friend and I have to say they saved my ass. Wore them on and off but mostly on for 4 days straight of very mixed weather (and this was in July). Some of our traveling companions who did not have them were significantly miserable after getting soaked early in the day without adequate opportunity to dry out. This may be less of a problem for you if all the precipitation you expect to see will be frozen, but I think one pair of water resistant/water proof bottoms is a good plan if you want to be outside for extended periods.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:44 AM on December 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I did an Iceland trip just like this in March a few years ago! While out trekking I basically wore my usual ski gear - waterproof snow pants and ski jacket with wool long underwear and a sweater underneath. I had a pair of Vasque winter boots that are insulated and waterproof that I wore with wool socks- here is a version similar-ish.

Most days it was in the 30s and there were light snow flurries but nothing insane. Night time does get quite cold so you'll need to bundle up more then. But honestly Iceland was not nearly as Arctic cold or wet as I was expecting.

I am going back to Iceland next month and plan to do the same for our adventure treks. While staying in Reykjavik I plan to wear normal winter weather clothes plus a knee-length puffy coat I bought from North Face and some Teva boots with good traction. The roads and sidewalks are kept pretty clean of snow and ice so you don't need, say, crampons to walk around.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:55 AM on December 7, 2017

I visited Iceland in January and did ok with just my hiking boots (keen brand) and thick socks. I also did a glacier walk and rented boots with the company on their advice (as their boots fitted better with their crampons- and I didn't want to risk these not fitting correctly). Iceland is super fun, you will have a blast.
posted by daffodil at 10:20 AM on December 7, 2017

Yes on the rainproof outer layer. The waterfalls will jump out and "bite" you.

Also rented boots, for non glacier hikes, I wore my sneakers and carried extra socks. February in Iceland was significantly warmer than I anticipated
posted by TravellingCari at 10:45 AM on December 7, 2017

Yes, on the rainproof outer layer. It was pouring when we did our glacier walk, which made it extra beautiful because it washed away the snow and we could see how the water actually pooled/drained. But we saw multiple other groups leave early because the people were not prepared.

For boots, I got shearling lined duck boots. (Mine are Frye boots.) The bottom part is waterproof. The lining makes it warm, but I'd recommend wool socks in addition to it. It has good tread. And it's stiff enough for the crampon when hiking on ice.
posted by ethidda at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2017

I bought Columbia Gortex ? (They were only 50$) waterproof pants from Amazon based on reviews from people who went to Iceland- waterproof, windproof, invaluable.

Also Gortex ski jacket (old) and wool sweater and thermal underwear is MANDATORY.

Buy hiking boots. Ideally waterproof, Gortex has been famous for years for exactly these situations.
posted by bquarters at 5:37 PM on December 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have done both Iceland and (north) Norway in the winter, for the former I just took the winter boots I already had (Merrell) with some thick socks and for the later I got some fancy Sorel Snow boots with thermal socks.

I think you could survive in walking/hiking boots providing you have enough space in them to have decent socks. And trust me - you want to invest in some. Waterproof boots are non negotiable - I have experienced wet weather in Iceland and you will be very miserable if you are not prepared.

Regards to the rest of your gear. Merino wool layers are your friend. Thermals are a must and in general for any of your garments try to avoid cotton. Go for materials that are warm when wet, so if you sweat at any point or heaven forbid get wet for some other reason - you are not battling against the cold harder than you need to. Look into thermal coats/down jackets to put under a waterproof shell (read up on the hydro-static head before buying!). Waterproof gloves are very good for this kind of travel with a thinner thermal pair underneath.

The one thing I would say. This is Iceland and so in the towns they will have shops that will sell you suitable gear if you turn up and find what you have is not cutting the mustard. You'll probably pay through the nose for it - but it's a more appealing option than hypothermia.

I went trekking in the Himalayas not that long ago and the weather was VERY cold - feel free to message me if you want an actual kit list, but my stripped down advice would be to buy a handful of very high quality bits of gear and use the shit out of them rather than having more items of lower quality.
Yes you'll look the same every day - but you wont ever regret being warm/dry.

Also, I can see you're only going for a week so - if this is a one off trip and you're unlikely to use this stuff again, absolutely consider renting. It might save you some money/storage space in your house.

Enjoy! Both Copenhagen and Iceland are really, really great places!
posted by TheGarden at 3:42 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can get shearling/wool insoles pretty cheap these days-- they last me a season, but make a huge difference in how warm my feet are in any shoes or boots. Whether you go with your own, or rentals, I'd imagine extra fuzzy insoles will help keep you nice and warm.
posted by lettezilla at 11:53 AM on December 8, 2017

Response by poster: This is all excellent advice--thank you! I am definitely willing to shell out some money in order to be comfortable. I've been eyeing some Patagonia waterproof layers to go over my existing windproof puffer that served me well in Wyoming winters when the temps could get down to -30 F with windchill.
posted by sugarbomb at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2017

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