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Hiking in Iceland: Do's and Don'ts

I put this article together for a job application. It's written in the fashion of what you might find if you google "hiking in Iceland." There's a lot of decent information, I hope you'll enjoy reading it!

If you´re been dreaming of visiting the land of Fire and Ice during the dreary days of COVID-19, you´ve come to the right site. Follow the tips below and this little island in the Atlantic will not let you down.

Hiking in Iceland requires the same type of preparation that you need to undertake anywhere else in the world. Here's a link to the basics, known as the Ten Essentials. However, hiking in Iceland can be especially treacherous due to the swiftly changing weather conditions and extreme climate. It's worth it to emphasize a couple points when planning your Icelandic hike.


  • Have a back-up plan

  • Pack for the worst, expect the best

  • Do your research

  • Take your time


  • Prioritize summits over safety

  • Try to do it all in one day

  • Underestimate the weather

Make a Back-up Plan

Iceland is a country with extreme and unpredictable weather. No matter how bright a day may look in the morning, conditions can change at the drop of a hat. Not only is it a drag to be outdoors in adverse weather conditions, it can be dangerous. To get the best out of the day, I recommend rolling with the punches and adjusting. Iceland´s unofficial motto is “petta reddast.” It basically means, “it´ll all work out.” So, if the clouds roll in and the billowing wind make your objective seem daunting, do something else. There are so many beautiful places to see in Iceland, you won´t be disappointed.

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Always, and I mean, always, bring a waterproof jacket and pants with you. Rain is never far from the horizon. Getting caught outdoors in rain without the right equipment can lead to hypothermia, or worse. Even if it doesn´t rain, your waterproof clothing also serves as effective windbreakers.

Take a First-aid kit. It´s better to have one and not need it then need it and not have it. Pack a space blanket into your kit if you can. If you have a rescue beacon, take it with you. A beacon will lead Search and Rescue right to your location. This could be the difference between life and death.

Wool, wool, wool! Wool keeps you warm, even when it gets wet. Wool can wick sweat, dry quickly, and retain heat at the same time. Unlike cotton, jeans, or synthetics. It makes a nice souvenir as well, though admittedly not a cheap one. Icelanders are very proud of their lamb and wool products. I highly recommend checking the tag or asking staff in stores specifically when buying Icelandic wool products.

Bring enough food and water. You make better decisions when you´re not hungry or dehydrated. Eating also kick starts your metabolism which keeps you warm. Take an energy tablet, from brands like Nuna, Gatorade or Powerade that are all packed with electrolytes to mix into your water.

Play it Safe

Bagging a summit before those gnarly clouds in the distance roll in may be tempting, but Iceland is not like the continental US or mainland Europe. Though the elevations of most peaks in Iceland may be unimpressive compared to peaks in other continents, Iceland sits very close to the Arctic circle in terms of latitude and our climate reflects that harsh reality. Don´t be fooled, tourists and Icelanders alike can often run into hairy situations on small peaks and short hikes when the weather strikes.

For example, I once got stuck 100 meters from a peak, pinned down by 25 meters per second winds (55 miles per hour) for an hour on a hike that I could see from my home. As I was buffeted by the gusts on narrow and slippery ridge, shivering and miserable, I rued not bringing more gear. With sunlight fast disappearing, I got lucky with a break in the clouds and crawled back down to my car. Iceland can be treacherous, no matter where you are in the country.

Do Your Research

If you´re reading this, you´re already researching! 10 points for Gryffindor! But really, look at your itinerary before you set off. Where are your water sources? Most of the water in Iceland is safe to drink straight from the source, though there are exceptions! People have gotten sick from contaminated drinking sources due to construction or pollution. Check out our best tips for water purification tablets here.

Buy physical maps for your route! I know everyone uses an app now. I do too! But paper maps are a must. Now, I’m no luddite. There’s just good sense in planning in redundancies should Plan A (navigation apps on your phone) fail. I recommend the Penninn Eymundsson chain or Forlagid if you are spending a couple days in downtown Reykjavik. Forlagid has a more exhaustive collection of maps and offers lamination services for them but the Penninn Eymundsson stores have more locations (if a less comprehensive collection of maps in each store).

Like I said, apps are fantastic and I use them frequently on my own hikes. They are extremely handy. They can record elevation, way points and time. But batteries always run out, along with those one handy apps on your phone. Batteries are thought to lose power more quickly in elevation and cold temperatures as well. Physical maps may seem old-fashioned, but having one could save your life (as well as provide more context for each environment!) As an added bonus, you´ll look cool and seasoned with a map outdoors. Below are two of my favorites.

Gaia GPS

All Trails

How to Find The Right Information

Google weather and the apps you use at home may not be the most accurate in Iceland. Several sites that are specific to Iceland will provide the most up-to-date information. Check out these sites for weather updates and traffic conditions on roads.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office.

The office also maintains a great app!

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website details road conditions and issues warnings and alerts. Checking in with the site before heading off on your adventure.

It´s important to note that certain roads, called “F roads,” are only open in the summer time (From June to August, often less. Make sure that your hike doesn´t start from a trailhead that is only accessible by an F road. Not all F roads are open at the same time either.

Leave your plans with

This site will provide Search and Rescue teams with your itinerary, list of equipment, vehicle details and an option to request a monitoring service. If you don´t check out of the site after your completed hike, Search and Rescue will begin rescue operations. You´d do well to remember to register that you´ve returned! Word will spread about you in town if you don´t.

Know Who to Call, When

Download the Icelandic directory app. No matter what you need, this app provides the most up to date numbers and addresses for your hotels, guide companies, police, hospitals, embassies or consulates, and the search and rescue bases along the way.

Take your time!

Yes, I know Iceland is expensive. I know this all too well. Trust me. I once paid the equivalent of $18 for a gas station sandwich. No fries, no chips, no drinks included. The impulse to get the most out of your pricey trip is a hard one to ignore. But if you´re able to steady that feeling, you´ll be able to truly take in the natural wonders that abound in Iceland. One can spend their whole life in Iceland and still feel that there is more to discover. The rush and hum-drum of modern tourism can suck the joy out of places that would normally amaze and stupefy any ordinary visitor. Checking items off a list to add to Instagram will only provide enough of a dopamine hit to last you a short while. The memory of a truly grand and isolated vista at the pinnacle of a sweaty, difficult hike lasts forever. If you´re still going to chase those “likes,” a more unique hike and view will get you more online attention anyway. Plus, you won´t have to jostle for room to create the illusion that no one is around amidst a sea of tourists if, in fact, you are alone in the hills.

Go with local guides!

Continuing on the quality over quantity theme, smaller outfits can provide more intimate and memorable trip experiences that can be catered to your individual needs and wishes. Larger companies are run on stiff and inflexible schedules that simply have more variables (other than you) to consider. A smaller outfit can do more for you, on your terms.

Smaller guiding companies often also have more experienced and well trained guides, in my personal experience and opinion. Larger companies will often hire unqualified guides to meet demand (during normal times) and have a lower bar for certifications. More expertise and skill translates often into a safer and more enjoyable experience.

On top of all of that, if you´re looking for a reason to feel good about yourself, your support would uplift a family business. The tourist industry has suffered in the age of COVID-19, especially smaller companies. Below is a list of guiding companies that are bonafide family operations in southern Iceland.

Iceland is a stunning and remarkable country. It has the power to strike you stupid with its grandeur and scope (and prices). Keep safety in mind while planning your epic adventure. Covering your bases will allow you to rest easy and enjoy your vacation more.


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