Hiking and Backpacking in Iceland: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Iceland: A backpacker standing on a scenic mountain, looking at a green valley

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Iceland offers stunning natural landscapes to explore, from volcanic peaks to black sand beaches for all outdoor enthusiasts.

However, the variable and harsh weather requires being prepared with proper gear, clothing, navigation skills, and adequate food supplies.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at hiking and backpacking in Iceland from a lightweight standpoint, providing tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll share the TOP 5 trails in Iceland in two parts. The first is for day hikes under 30 miles, great for exploring in one day. The second is for longer multi-day trips.

Key Tips for Hiking and Backpacking in Iceland

  • What to expect: Iceland’s trails vary a lot, with changing weather and challenging conditions. Expect steep sections, slippery spots, and fog. Facilities are limited in remote areas, so carry enough food, water, and fuel for your trip.
  • Essential gear: For your trip to Iceland, pack wool and synthetic layers for changing weather, a waterproof jacket, warm hat and gloves, GPS and map/compass for navigation, a sturdy tent for wind, ample food and water, a water filter, first aid kit, and a satellite messenger.
  • Wildlife: Arctic foxes may be aggressive if rabid; avoid them. Reindeer can be aggressive during mating season. Icelandic sheepdogs are territorial; stay away to prevent issues. Attacks are rare.
  • Wild camping: You can camp in Iceland’s wilderness, but there are rules. Stay 330 feet (100 meters) away from farms, follow Leave No Trace, and check for restrictions in protected areas or private land. Research the rules where you’re going and when you’re going.
  • Best time to go: For hiking and backpacking in Iceland, summer (June-August) is best with milder weather and long days. Inland areas may have snow early on. Fall (September-October) is cooler with fewer crowds. Shoulder seasons (May-June or late August-September) can work for experienced backpackers, but expect colder temps, rain, and some closed sites.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 30 Miles)

We picked out some of the best day hiking trails in Iceland where having lightweight gear will be really useful:

  1. Fimmvörðuháls Trail: Skógar – Þórsmörk (14.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Landmannalaugar – Bláhnúkur – Brennisteinsalda (6.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Fagradalsfjall Volcano Route C (6.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Litli Hrutu Volcano Viewpoint via Route A (11.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Geldingadalsgos Volcano via Route A (7.5 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

Explore Iceland’s amazing long trails for unforgettable adventures with beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife:

  1. Laugavegur Trail: Landmannalaugar – Þórsmörk (32.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Laugavegur: Thórsmörk – Landmannalaugar (32.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Fimmvörðuháls – Laugavegur: Skogar – Landmannalaugar (50.6 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Laugavegur & Fimmvörðuháls Trails (49.4 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Hornstrandir : Hesteyri – Hornvík – Lónhorn (52 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Iceland’s weather can be quite unpredictable and variable throughout the year:

  • Summer (June-August): Mild temperatures 46°F to 59°F (8°C to 15°C), longer days, occasional rain.
  • Autumn (September-October): Cooling temperatures 37°F to 50°F (3°C to 10°C), shorter days, more rain.
  • Winter (November-March): Cold temperatures 30°F to 37°F (-1°C to 3°C), short days, snowfall.
  • Spring (April-May): Gradual warming 34°F to 46°F (1°C to 8°C), increasing daylight, lingering winter conditions.

Before you grab your backpack and head outdoors, take a look at the weather statistics for Iceland (Reykjavík):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F363738424954565651443937
Low °F282929333945484742363229
Rain/Snow (D*)16161512109101214141416
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Whenever you go, be prepared with layered clothing. For accessibility and weather conditions that facilitate immersing yourself in Iceland’s majestic landscapes, aim for the summer.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while camping in Iceland? 

Campfires are allowed while camping in Iceland, but with important rules to follow. Fires must be built away from vegetation in an established fire pit or stone ring, kept small, never left unattended, and fully extinguished with water after use. It’s critical to check area regulations, as campfires may be restricted during dry conditions when the fire risk is high.

What are some safety tips for backpackers in Iceland?

When backpacking in Iceland, key safety tips include: checking weather and trail conditions regularly and being prepared to alter plans; carrying proper navigational tools and knowing how to use them in case of fog or losing the trail; wearing suitable layered clothing and waterproof gear to avoid hypothermia; packing extra food/water/fuel due to minimal facilities in remote areas; crossing glacial rivers with caution and avoiding if flooded; not venturing onto glaciers without proper equipment and experience; understanding basic first aid; sharing your itinerary with someone; being wary of steep drop-offs and loose rock when hiking; and exercising caution around any sheepdogs encountered near farms. Iceland’s variable conditions and lack of infrastructure in the backcountry requires extra preparation and self-sufficiency.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while hiking in Iceland?

When hiking in Iceland, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any dangerous wildlife, but exercise caution if you come across Arctic foxes, reindeer, or sheepdogs. Give foxes space, as they may be aggressive if rabid. Steer clear of male reindeer during rutting season in fall when they can become aggressive. Be wary of sheepdogs, which may view you as a threat; avoid startling any sheep herds and don’t approach the dogs. If one chases you, stand still or back away slowly – don’t run. Report any concerning wildlife behaviors to local authorities.

What are some tips for budget-friendly backpacking in Iceland?

Those backpacking in Iceland’s magnificent natural landscapes of mountains, fjords, waterfalls and hot springs can benefit from some savvy measures to explore this captivating scenery affordably. Opting for hostel dorms, hiking multi-day trails and camping in the wilderness maintains a low-cost approach to travel. Self-driving and cycling allows independent exploration of spectacular rural areas off the main ring-road while picnicking keeps fuel costs down. Free geothermal hot pools provide a relaxing soak without entry fees, and hiking up volcanic cones rewards with panoramic views over this epic scenery. With flexible multi-modal transportation and DIY food preparation, backpackers can maximize their nature discovery amid Iceland’s splendors on a budget.

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