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Your Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Iceland


Hiking in Iceland

In a land with breathtaking scenery and natural wonders, it would be a shame if one could not immerse oneself in its beauty by hiking. Luckily, the opportunity to go hiking in Iceland can be found all across the island, and, not surprisingly, it is a favorite activity.

If you are an avid hiker or would like to take up the hobby on your trip to Iceland, this is everything you need to know. Fro what to wear, how to hike solo, when to go hiking in Iceland and much, much more. So, without further ado, let’s jump straight into the ultimate guide about hiking Iceland.

When is the Best Time to go Hiking in Iceland?

Although the landscape in Iceland is always beautiful and each season brings its own flare to the island, hiking is generally done in the summer. This is because of three reasons:

  1. The Weather – You’re not only dealing with extreme cold during the winter months in Iceland, but also with extreme weather elements. From snow and ice to those legendary Icelandic winds that we’re sure “huffed and puffed” and blew those three little pigs’ houses down. To say that temperatures and the harsh elements when hiking in Iceland in winter makes hiking extremely uncomfortable would be an understatement.
  2. Your Safety – Except for being wet and uncomfortable, the winter weather conditions also pose a serious safety hazard. What do you do if visibility disappears in a blizzard and you get lost? What if you slip on some ice on the trail and break something? Even worse, what if those legendary Icelandic winds pick up, pick you up, and blow you off a cliff?!
  3. The Number of Daylight Hours – Winter in Iceland is a popular destination for those who want to see natural phenomena such as see the Northern Lights and the ice caves. These are normally not open during the warmer months.

The reason why the wintertime offers the best odds to see the Aurora Borealis, is because of the amount of darkness the season has in store. In fact, mid-winter, you'll only have about 4 hours of daylight each day. How do you want to take on a hike that’s more than a couple of hours long when you’ll barely have enough time to drive to the trail in daylight?

hiking in Iceland

What to Pack for a Week’s Hiking in Iceland in Summer

It can be tricky to pack for a summer trip to a place that’s called Iceland. And it’s only made worse if you add physical activity into the mix. That’s why we created this handy packing list for a week’s hiking in Iceland in summer that you can use as a reference for your trip:

  • Raincoat (for when you’re hiking in Iceland when it suddenly starts raining)
  • Extra set of thermal underwear
  • Extra shirt
  • Waterproof hiking pants
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Warm hat (we recommend using a beanie)
  • Warm gloves
  • Extra 2 pairs of socks
  • Sleeping bag & travel pillow (this is mostly when taking on a multi-day hike, even though there are many who pack it “just in case”)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Bathing suit (only if you know there are hot springs on your trail)
  • Quick-drying towel (do not pack a normal towel – you do not want o be lugging around heavy, wet stuff on a hike)
  • Backpack of at least 25-40 liters (depending on how long your backpacking trips in Iceland are)
  • A pair of old shoes (for whenever you need to walk in mud or cross water and feel sorry for your hiking boots)
  • Refillable Water bottle (with water obviously) & snacks
  • Toiletries & medication
  • A first aid kit
  • Power bank & chargers
  • Optional Extras:
  • Hiking poles
  • Gaiters

*In terms of multi-day treks, what to wear when hiking in Iceland in summer doesn’t change. Still, you will need to adapt the number of things such as shirts and pants to the number of nights/days you’ll be away. The same applies to the type of accommodation offered on the trail.

what to pack a week hiking in Iceland

How to Go Hiking Solo in Iceland

In terms of general personal safety, you don’t need to be concerned about going solo hiking in Iceland. As the (official) safest country in the world, the odds are very slim that you will be met with foul play when tackling a trail alone. In terms of general hiking safety, it’s not the recommended way to go. Still, there are certain things that can help mitigate risk if you don’t have any other choice:

  • Only hike well-marked trails and keep to the route.
  • Avoid trails in the more remote parts of the country, where the odds of someone coming across you are not great.
  • Have a GPS on you & ensure that your phone is charged. As backup, you’ll need to download offline maps and keep a hard copy map of the hiking trails in Iceland.
  • Inform people of where you’re going and by what time you should be back and when they should start sounding the alarm. In solo travel, this can be family or friends, or the accommodation you’re staying at.
  • Don’t take unnecessary chances. You know your limits and need to make rational decisions. You cannot cross a rushing river and you cannot walk 30km in an hour before the sun sets.
  • Leave the headphones behind. You need to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Research the trail – are there geological things you need to be aware of or Icelandic wildlife you need to look out for? Stepping into a boiling hot spring (ask Ed Sheeran about that one). Or trampling a tiny Puffling is going to lead to a memorable trip for all the wrong reasons.

how to go hiking solo in Iceland

The Best Hiking Trails in Iceland

It will be impossible to squeeze in every amazing hike the island has to offer – there simply are too many Iceland backpacking trails. So, if your time is limited, the following are considered to be some of the best hikes in Iceland divided into day hikes and multi-day treks:

The Best Day Hikes in Iceland

Below you will find some of the day hikes in Iceland that come highly recommended by the Iceland hiking community. We'll include some of the best hikes near Reykjavík:

1. Mount Esja

Distance: 7km (a 2-3 hour hike)

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Where: Close to Mosfellsbær (about 50 minutes from Reykjavik)

Best hikes near Reykjavik

2. Glymur Waterfall

Distance: 7.1km (a 3-4 hour hike)

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Where: Hvalfjördur (about 1 hour north of Reykjavík)

Iceland backpacking trails

3. Kirkjufell in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Distance: 4km (a 3 hour hike)

Difficulty Level: Extremely challenging (best to take this one on with a guide)

Where: Kirkjufell Mountain in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (about 2.5 hours from Reykjavík)

Kirkjufell, Iceland

4. Blahnujur Brennisteinsalda Loop in Landmannalaugar

Distance: 9.7km (a 4-6 hour hike)

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Where: Landmannalaugar in the southern Highlands (about 4 hours from Reykjavík)

Best day hikes in Iceland

5. Skogafoss Waterfall

Distance: 16km (a 4-6 hour hike)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Where: Skogafoss (just over 2 hours from Reykjavík)

Skogafoss Waterfall hike

The Best Multi-day Hiking Trails in Iceland

Below you will find some of the multi-day hikes in Iceland that come highly recommended by the hiking community in Iceland:

1. The Hesteyri to Kögar Loop in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Distance: 67.6km (a 3-5 day hike)

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Where: Hornstrandir, Westfjords (43.2km from Isafjördur, but you will need to take the ferry) 

Hiking across Iceland

2. Laugavegur Trail in Fjallabak Nature Reserve

Distance: 55km (a 3-4 day hike)

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Where: Fjallabak Nature Reserve, South Iceland (just over 3 hours from Reykjavík)

Laugavegur Trail, Iceland

3. Fimmvörduhals Trail

Distance: 30km (a 1-2 day hike)

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Where: Skogar, South Iceland (just over 2 hours from Reykjavík)

Famous hikes in Iceland

4. Nupstadskogar to Skaftafell Trail

Distance: 59.5km (a 5 day hike)

Difficulty Level: Moderate to Challenging

Where: Vatnajökull National Park, South Iceland (about 2.5 hours from Reykjavík)

guided hikes in Iceland

5. Seydisfjördur to Borgarfjördur Trail

Distance: 74km (a 4 day hike)

Difficulty Level: Challenging

Where: The East Fjords (about 1 hour from Egilsstadir)

Hiking in Iceland winter

Can I Go on Guided Hikes in Iceland?

Absolutely! In fact, with more tricky trails such as Kirkjufell it is recommended. But if you are traveling solo or just enjoy hiking as part of a group, you will find plenty of trekking tours in Iceland where you can book your spot. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to book well in advance if you’re planning on hiking across Iceland during the busy summer months. Some of the best-selling hiking tours in Iceland are:

Hiking in Iceland: Suitable for All

As you can see, there are a wide variety of day and multi-day hikes available on the island. And irrelevant of your skill level or experience, you’ll be able to find one that suits you. So, now that you have all the answers to questions like “which are the best trails to tackle on the island”” and “what hiking shoes should I wear in Iceland?” there’s no reason put off the trip any longer. Book your flight, rent a car in Reykjavík and head out on your hiking in Iceland adventure!