Camping and Caravanning in Iceland in Winter
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
So you are thinking of going camping in Iceland this winter? You might well be asking yourself whether or not you are crazy? Not at all! Of course, travelling in Iceland at this time of year does come with its own set of challenges. But it is more than worth facing them head-on. In fact, many of these challenges just add to the sense of pure adventure that you experience on a wintery trip to Iceland. With snow-covered vistas, frozen waterfalls and vast glaciers the landscapes are just incredible. Not to mention the Northern Lights that light up the night sky with their dancing multi-colored glow.
There are other more practical benefits too. This is officially the low season for tourism in Iceland. Because of that the roads and natural attractions will all be much quieter than in the busier summer months. And rental prices for a camper van or a motorhome will be much cheaper too. So you will have beauty spots almost to yourself and a much more economical trip overall. In this article, we will take you through the practicalities of winter camping in Iceland. There is a lot to think about but we promise that you’ll be very glad you made the effort.
Daylight hours in Iceland during winter
First of all the days are short in winter so you do need to be organised with your time. There are around five hours of daylight during the winter months. But there is also an hour or two of half-light at either end of the day. You do need to keep this in mind if you are on a road trip and planning your itinerary. Your best bet if you are moving on that day is to wake up and breakfast before daybreak. You can then start driving early as the sky begins to lighten. If you plan your timings well you can arrive at your destination and take full advantage of the daylight hours. As the sun sets you could head towards your campground and enjoy a relaxed evening. Early to bed and early to rise works well on a winter Iceland trip.
The winter weather in Iceland
The weather in Iceland in winter can be challenging too. But with the right gear, it is perfectly doable. One thing to keep in mind is that you must be is flexible. And for this reason, it is a very good idea not to be too ambitious in your travel plans. Stick to shorter road trips and give yourself plenty of time to complete them. You must factor in the possibility of a storm blowing in from the Arctic. Depending on the severity of the weather you could be grounded for a few hours or even days. Don’t let this put you off though. You could just as well have clear and settled weather. This all adds to the excitement and adventure of the trip. The elements are bound to put on a show for you!
Camping in winter in Iceland
Camping in winter is perfectly doable too. Many campsites in Iceland do close for the winter months. However, there are more and more that are staying open year-round these days. Especially so in areas that are well suited to a winter road trip. Places like the Golden Circle, the southern stretch of the Ring Road and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. These shorter Iceland road trips really make sense in winter. There is plenty to see and do but nowhere is too far away from Reykjavik and Keflavík International Airport. So if you are caught in a storm it is unlikely to stop you making your way home again.
The south of the country is also a little more densely inhabited than the north. The roads are busier and well kept and assistance is never far away should you get into any difficulties. It is possible to drive the full Ring Road by camper van in winter. But you will need to allow plenty of time for it to be viable and enjoyable.
All winter Iceland campgrounds are open for campers and motorhomes specifically. Tent camping at this time of year is not advised. These will be places to park up, plug in and charge batteries and fill water tanks. There should be coin-operated hot showers available too. Even if the campsite is closed it is ok for you to park there if there are no other campsites nearby. You may just have to forgo that hot shower!
One great option is to rent a 4x4 camper for your Icelandic road trip. These types of vehicle, such as a diesel van 4x4, can offer even more comfort and security on your trip. They are a really good idea if you are looking to rent a campervan for a longer trip. A 4x4 rental is also a good choice to allow for a little more space and comfort on your trip. Otherwise, a regular easy van rental is totally fine. Winter tyres will come as standard and if you are doing shorter trips in South Iceland this is perfectly adequate.
What to pack for a winter camping trip
The key to packing for Iceland in the winter is to go for layers. You should always bring microfibers that can easily be layered up to keep you warm and dry. If you plan on hiking, skiing or snowboarding then these are vital. They keep you warm but also allow your skin to breath. If you are exerting yourself in the icy conditions regular thermals can get sweaty and wet and then cold.
On top of all these layers, you will need a decent water and windproof jacket. A technical winter jacket with a good hood is ideal. Add to these several pairs of gloves, socks, woolly hats, and a snood. Sturdy shoes are essential and a spare pair of lighter weight trainers for changing it up. At night you will need pillows and sleeping bags, which can all be hired. You will be snug as most camper hires are fitted with a webasto diesel heater. You should bring pajamas and bed socks though for extra comfort.
Lastly, it is important to keep your devices charged. When visiting Iceland in winter this can be a little more challenging as the cold drains batteries more quickly. Bring cables and spare battery packs to charge up. A smartphone is almost an essential piece of kit in Iceland these days. It means you can use the weather and road apps to stay up to date on conditions. The ability to call for assistance or advice is also invaluable.
Safety on a winter camping trip
Traveling in Iceland in winter is perfectly safe as long as you stay sensible. There are of course hazards so keep your eyes open, check the weather forecasts and don’t do anything rash. If there are warning signs up, obey them. The reason for them might not be entirely obvious at first. But trust us they are there for a very good reason and there’s no need to test the theory.
When driving in winter make sure you are up to speed on the rules of the road. We have some great articles all about this. For more information visit Top Tips for Driving in Iceland. But we will say this. Take it slow and try to drive mostly during daylight hours. Driving at night is ok for short distances if you have to. But with wintery weather conditions, it makes it a little trickier and can be dangerous. Once more you will miss all of the amazing winter views. Seeing the beautiful snowy landscapes is all part of the experience and you definitely won’t want to miss them.
And one more piece of driving advice. If you see a gas station do pull over and top up your tank. There are plenty of 24-hour self-service petrol stations around on the busier routes. But it always best to play it safe and keep topped up just in case.
Things to do in winter
Camping Iceland is a lot of fun and in winter there is a whole host of activities to enjoy. The whole country is a veritable winter wonderland. From a glacier hike to ice climbing to scooting about on a snowmobile on the glacier surface. There are all sorts of icy fun to be had. The snow brings lots more opportunities for outdoor adventure too. There are several good ski resorts in Iceland. So snow sports enthusiasts can enjoy a slope or two or even some backcountry skiing adventures. With the right gear hiking in a national park is a great option for seeing the landscapes at a calmer pace.
Winter month dips in Iceland’s natural hot springs are an absolute must too. In fact, Iceland’s thermal swimming pools and outdoor baths are really well used during winter. They are a great way to stay warm and the novelty of outdoor bathing under the snow is wonderful. Once all of your daytime activities are over you can relax in your camping rental and look out for the Northern Lights. Camping Iceland in winter is sure to offer some truly exhilarating experiences. It really is a magnificent time of year to venture north!