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Ultimate Guide to Camping in Iceland

    Updated: 29th January 2024

    Understanding Iceland’s Climate

    Getting to grips with Iceland’s climate is essential for a pleasant camping experience. It’s unique and can change quite unexpectedly, so you need to be well-prepared for various conditions.

    Campsite, Vik, Iceland
    Credit: brookpeterson

    Best Times to Camp

    The best time to camp in Iceland is during the summer months, from June to August. This season offers the mildest weather, with average temperatures ranging between 10°C and 15°C. Enjoy long daylight hours due to the midnight sun, especially if you’re venturing near the Arctic Circle, a truly unique experience for camping.

    Weather Patterns and What to Expect

    In Iceland, “predictable” isn’t a word used to describe the weather patterns. You should expect anything from sunny skies to sudden showers. Always pack waterproof gear and warm layers. In summer, you might witness temperatures as warm as 25°C, but they can also drop as low as 5°C, so be ready for a swift change.

    • Wind: The island is known for its gusty conditions. Ensure your tent is wind-resistant and secured.
    • Rain and Snow: Even in summer, rain is common, and snow can occur in higher elevations.

    It’s crucial to stay informed about the weather in Iceland, especially when camping, to enjoy the beautiful landscapes safely.

    Choosing Your Camping Experience

    Choosing the right camping experience in Iceland is crucial for a memorable adventure. Whether you prefer the comfort of well-equipped campsites or the freedom of wild camping, understanding the regulations and options available is key.

    Wild Camping Regulations

    Wild camping in Iceland has specific regulations that you must follow. Since 2015, camping in a tent on uncultivated land is only permitted if there are no nearby camping facilities and if the landowner’s permission is obtained. However, camping with tents on cultivated land, national parks, and nature reserves is strictly prohibited without explicit permission. Always make sure to check the most recent rules as they can change.

    Campsite Options

    Regarding campsite options:

    When choosing a campsite, consider the amenities like washrooms, kitchen facilities, and Wi-Fi, and factor in the location relative to the attractions you’re planning to visit. Remember that camping facilities vary widely from basic to luxurious, so pick what suits your comfort level and budget.

    Essential Gear for Icelandic Camping

    In Iceland, the right gear is crucial for a safe and enjoyable camping experience, especially given the country’s unpredictable weather.

    Tents and Sleeping Bags

    Your tent should be windproof and waterproof to withstand Iceland’s variable climate. Look for a tent with a robust flysheet and a hydrostatic head rating of at least 3000mm for the best protection against rain. For your sleeping setup, a well-insulated sleeping bag is essential, as temperatures can drop significantly at night. Consider a sleeping bag suitable for at least 0°C, and if you’re camping during the shoulder seasons or in the highlands, you might need one rated for -10°C or lower.

    Clothing and Footwear

    Prioritise waterproof and windproof clothing to shield yourself from the elements. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer, add insulating mid-layers such as fleece or wool, and top it off with a waterproof shell jacket. For your lower half, water-resistant trousers are a good idea, paired with thermal leggings for extra warmth if needed.

    When it comes to footwear, go for waterproof hiking boots with a sturdy grip. They should be well broken-in before your trip to avoid blisters. Also, pack several pairs of wool or synthetic socks to keep your feet warm and dry.

    Cooking and Food Storage

    Your cooking equipment should be portable and wind-resistant. A gas stove is a reliable choice, as it performs well in cold weather. Don’t forget a lighter or matches stored in a waterproof container. For food storage, insulated cool boxes can help keep perishables fresh, and sturdy, sealable containers can protect your food from the elements and any curious wildlife.

    Navigating Iceland’s Terrain

    Before setting out on your Icelandic camping adventure, it’s essential to understand the distinct geographical features and heed specific safety advice. This will ensure you have both a thrilling and secure experience.

    Geographical Features

    Iceland’s Landscape: Your journey across Iceland will present a variety of landscapes, from volcanic fields and geysers to glaciers and waterfalls. The terrain can change rapidly, yielding both breathtaking views and challenging conditions.

    • Coastlines: Coastal areas may feature black sand beaches and rugged cliffs. Always stay a safe distance from the water’s edge to avoid unexpected waves.
    • Highlands: The central highlands are only accessible during summer, with F-roads requiring a 4×4 vehicle to navigate safely.

    Safety Tips and Navigation Tools

    Preparation is Key: Check the weather forecast and road conditions through the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration before and during your travels.

    • Tools for Navigation: Equip yourself with accurate maps and a GPS device. Mobile phone service can be unreliable in remote parts of Iceland, making traditional navigation tools vital.
    • Safety First: Make sure you let someone know your itinerary and expected return times. The Safetravel website is an excellent resource for alerts and safety information.

    Remember, your thrilling exploration of Iceland’s unique terrain comes with the responsibility to prepare and proceed with caution.

    Plan Your Trip

    Before heading to the land of fire and ice, it’s crucial for you to consider how you’ll traverse the diverse landscapes and which destinations will make your trip unforgettable.

    Travel and Transport

    Renting a camper van is a practical choice for comfort and convenience as you explore Iceland. It offers the freedom to travel at your own pace with added amenities. On the other hand, the Camping Card can be a cost-effective option if staying at campgrounds, with charges ranging from 1000-2000 ISK per night.

    • Camper Van Rental: Luxurious, self-sufficient, but more costly.
    • Public Transport: Limited routes and schedules, yet budget-friendly.
    • Camping Card: Unlimited stays in various campgrounds, ideal for longer trips.

    Itineraries and Must-See Destinations

    Crafting your itinerary relies on the length of your stay and interests:

    • The Golden Circle: Ideal for a short trip, covering Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
    • The South Coast: Recommended for first-timers with a 3-4 day trip, showcasing Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Reynisfjara Beach.
    • Landmannalaugar: A gem within the Highlands, accessible from June to September.
    • Short trips: Golden Circle and South Coast highlights.
    • Weeklong adventures: Explore the Ring Road with detours to less frequented spots.
    • Special Interests: Tailor your journey around activities like hiking, bird-watching, or the Northern Lights.

    Leave No Trace

    When camping in Iceland, you’re responsible for preserving the beauty of its wild and unique landscape. Adopting a “Leave No Trace” approach ensures that future visitors can enjoy the same stunning environment as you do.

    Environmental Responsibility

    Your commitment to environmental responsibility is essential while camping in Iceland. The unspoiled nature of Iceland is delicate, and your actions have a direct impact. Stick to established trails and campgrounds, avoiding the temptation to venture off the path which can harm fragile vegetation. Additionally, be mindful of the nesting periods of local wildlife, and keep a respectful distance to avoid disturbing them.

    Waste Management

    Effective waste management protects the Icelandic environment. You should aim to:

    • Pack it in, pack it out: Take all your rubbish with you, even organic waste such as fruit peels which can take years to decompose in Iceland’s cold climate.
    • Recycle and dispose: Utilise recycling facilities whenever available, and dispose of litter in designated bins.
    • Sanitation: Use campsite toilets or bring a portable one. If these aren’t available, ensure you’re at least 100m away from water sources and bury human waste 15-20cm deep.
    • Wastewater: Use biodegradable soap and scatter greywater over a wide area, well away from waterways to minimise pollution.

    By adhering to these guidelines, you help maintain Iceland’s pristine condition for everyone to cherish.

    Make sure you’re wrapped up warm for a night in the outdoors with our guide on where to buy outdoor clothing in Reykjavik!

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