Backpacking in Iceland is an adventure like no other. Untamed nature, rugged landscapes, and natural beauty await at every turn. During my camping trip to Iceland, I had the incredible opportunity to hike on glaciers and witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights, and I was left speechless by the sheer magnificence of Iceland’s natural wonders.
While the Land of Fire and Ice promises a journey with awe-inspiring sights, it’s essential to plan meticulously to ensure a safe and memorable experience. If you’re ready to pitch a tent and go camping in Iceland, let’s dive into the essential steps that will turn your dream of exploring this remarkable country into reality.
Let’s dive in!
What Does It Cost to Backpack Iceland?
Iceland is known for its breathtaking beauty but also its high cost of living. To plan your budget effectively, you must consider several expenses. Firstly, both dining out and groceries in Iceland can be costly. Secondly, gas prices are steep. My biggest cost throughout my backpacking experience was gas as Iceland’s remote locations require significant driving. Plan your routes wisely to optimize your fuel usage. Additional expenses include car rentals, campsites, and camping gear.
The good news is that many of Iceland’s natural attractions are free, helping to keep your budget in check. On average, a daily budget can range from $150 to $300 per person. I saved money by buying my groceries before I hit the road and staying at affordable campgrounds that averaged between $10-15/night. Additionally, backpacking with friends helped to cut the vehicle and gas costs as we evenly split the total.
5 Best Iceland Backpacking Routes
Are you ready to hop behind the wheel and head out into Iceland’s best and most beautiful sites? A few routes will take a range of days to complete and offer different advantages.
1. The Ring Road (Route One)
The Ring Road encircles the entire island, and visitors often consider it the ultimate way to experience Iceland. It took me ten days to complete my journey along the Ring Road. However, I could have easily extended my stay in some of the unique little villages along the route.
Backpackers camping in Iceland often prefer the Ring Road for its full-circle adventure. It allows them to experience all corners of Iceland, from the bustling capital to remote coastal towns and the beauty of the highlands. The continuous road loop also provides flexibility, making it easier to adjust your itinerary based on weather conditions and attractions. Whether you’re captivated by waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal hotspots, or charming Icelandic culture, the Ring Road has it all.
2. The Golden Circle
For a shorter but thrilling adventure, the Golden Circle is an option for a two to three-day Icelandic backpacking trip. This route includes Iceland’s most famous natural wonder Thingvellir National Park, which is a great spot for hiking and angling. It also has the Geysir Geothermal Area with its spouting hot springs and the thunderous Gullfoss Waterfall. This route is for those seeking a taste of Iceland’s geological marvels within a limited timeframe.
3. The Southern Route
If you want to extend your adventure after exploring the Golden Circle, driving the Southern Route of Iceland is a great way to add more sites to your itinerary. The Southern Route is the first portion of the famous Ring Road. However, instead of heading north to complete Route One, you will return along the southern coast to Reykjavik.
This route takes roughly five days. In addition to the Golden Circle sites, it will take you to popular sites like the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall which you can walk behind. There’s also the village of Vik with its black sand volcanic beaches and Reynisdrangar’s basalt columns, and two of my favorite sites throughout my visit, Jökulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.
4. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula route takes you to one of Iceland’s hidden gems. Located in western Iceland between Reykjavík and the Westfjords, this remote region has dramatic landscapes. It features a glacier-topped volcano, lush valleys, and rugged coastlines. Exploring this peninsula grants you a glimpse into Iceland’s extraordinary natural beauty.
It takes about two hours to drive to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavik and about two to four days to drive and hike around the peninsula. If you’ve seen photos of the famous Black Church of Budir in Iceland, you can find it on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This was one of my favorite spots to view the Northern Lights. If you’re lucky you may also see Orca whales from March through June.
5. Reykjanes Peninsula
The Reykjanes Peninsula showcases Iceland’s geothermal heritage. Home to the famous Blue Lagoon and an array of other hot springs, this route offers an immersive experience in the country’s unique geology and culture. If you want to get up close and personal with a volcano during your visit, driving the Reykjanes Peninsula is the route for you. However, be careful to check for eruption information while exploring this route.
Choosing Campsites in Iceland
Tent camping in Iceland is one of the best ways to connect with its natural landscapes. It is the most affordable option while camping in Iceland. However, it’s crucial to navigate the country’s guidelines for a smooth camping experience. Iceland’s regulations regarding wild camping are stringent to protect its fragile environment. They restrict camping on private land without permission.
Prior research on campsite locations is vital. Favor designated sites with amenities like restrooms and showers. I found this website the most useful for finding campsites in each destination. Campsites here for tent and vehicle camping tend to be the most affordable options while on the road. Keep in mind that campsites may not operate year-round, closing during the winter due to harsh conditions. Planning accordingly is important.
Renting a Car in Iceland
Renting a car is essential for exploring Iceland’s diverse landscapes. When renting a car, ensure it is suitable for the Icelandic terrain and weather conditions. We recommend a 4×4 vehicle for tackling rough roads and unpredictable weather. Thoroughly inspect and document any dings and scratches on your vehicle before embarking on your journey. Road conditions can sometimes cause damage without you even realizing it.
Pro Tip: Want to rent a camper while road-tripping around Iceland? Find out how!
Ditch Packing Gear and Rent It There
Preparing for a backpacking adventure in Iceland is distinct from many other destinations. This is due to the country’s extreme and rapidly changing weather conditions. It’s paramount to have gear tailored to Iceland’s unique climate and rugged terrain.
The good news is that Icelandic tourism companies recognize the pivotal role that gear plays in ensuring visitors’ safety and enjoyment. One of the most effective strategies for securing the correct equipment is to rent it upon arrival. Doing this guarantees that you have the appropriate gear for Icelandic weather conditions. It also alleviates the burdensome task of lugging bulky items through airports.
I used this company to rent a tent, sleeping bag, and cookware. I also stocked up on all my groceries in Reykjavik when I picked up my gear so I was well prepared for my adventures. There are not many gas stations along the most popular routes. You’ll want to ensure you have all the groceries you need to fuel your adventures before you hit the road.
Safety Tips for Backpacking Iceland
Don’t let Iceland’s beauty fool you. While the natural beauty of Iceland is impressive, it is also dangerous. One thing I learned while backpacking in Iceland was to take safety seriously. You never know when the weather might change abruptly or when you might encounter challenging terrain. Remember the following five tips to stay safe while camping in Iceland.
1. Don’t Go Off Route
Venturing off designated routes or roads in Iceland can be treacherous. While driving the Ring Road I mistakenly took a detour I saw on a map. Straying from the path led to me navigating the vehicle up the side of a volcano on a narrow “two-way road” that one car could barely fit on. Luckily, I safely made it to my next destination, but I learned that Iceland’s terrain is unforgiving. With challenging landscapes and unpredictable weather conditions, staying on established routes is one of the best ways to ensure your safety.
2. Fill Up Your Car Whenever You See a Gas Station
Gas stations in Iceland can be few and far between, especially in remote areas. It’s imperative to top up your vehicle’s gas tank whenever the opportunity arises. Running out of fuel in the Icelandic wilderness can strand you in inhospitable conditions. Plan your refueling strategically to avoid unnecessary stress and complications.
3. Bring Many Layers
Iceland’s weather is famous for its unpredictability. To stay comfortable and safe, pack plenty of clothing that you can easily add or remove as conditions change. Even during the summer, temperatures can fluctuate dramatically. Rain, wind, and sudden cold snaps are typical. Dressing in layers ensures you can prepare for any weather scenario and helps you adapt to the often capricious Icelandic climate.
4. Check the Weather Frequently
Checking the weather frequently is a vital aspect of your safety when backpacking in Iceland. Weather conditions can shift rapidly, so it’s essential to stay updated. Pay attention to local forecasts, especially if you plan to hike or camp in remote areas. Avoid heading out in dangerous conditions like storms or heavy snowfall, and prepare to adjust your itinerary with the latest weather information. Checking the weather frequently can also help make it more likely that you will know when you can view the Northern Lights!
5. Don’t Hike Alone
We strongly discourage hiking alone in Iceland, especially in remote areas. Having a hiking companion significantly enhances safety. In case of an accident, getting lost, or experiencing any health issues, having someone with you can make a critical difference. When planning your Icelandic backpacking trip, bring a friend or two so you can all safely marvel over the stunning scenery.
Pro Tip: Make sure you bring these 10 Hiking Essentials You Should Never Hit the Trail Without on your trip to Iceland.
When Is the Best Time to Backpack Iceland?
Many people visit Iceland in the summer as it brings warmer weather and longer daylight hours. However, camping in Iceland in the summer can be tricky as the Midnight Sun means you will be sleeping while the sun is still up. Of course, the benefit of this is you can spend more time exploring, hiking on glaciers, and relaxing in natural hot springs. Make sure to pack a blackout tent if you plan to camp in Iceland during these months.
I did my backpacking trip at the end of September and found this to be one of the best months for Icelandic travel. The shoulder season meant fewer crowds, but the weather was pleasant. While the nights were chilly, the weather throughout the day was mild. September and October are also great times to witness the Northern Lights.
However, if you want a higher likelihood of seeing the sky light up in green and yellow, backpacking in Iceland from October to April is the best option. It’s crucial to note that Iceland’s winter brings harsh weather, limited daylight, and challenging road conditions. This can make it a risky time to backpack. Many campsites also close by October due to weather conditions.
Is backpacking Iceland on your bucket list? Tell us in the comments!
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