There’s no such thing as bad weather — only bad clothing! Atleast, that’s the old adage that hikers around the world know by heart. When you come to Iceland, however, it’s better to forget those sayings because most of them are simply not true here. Here, the weather can definitely get so bad that it can’t be neutralized with high-tech outdoor clothing.
Fortunately, these conditions aren’t common during hiking season. But when exactly does hiking season start? What weather extremes can’t be offset by quality gear? What’s the weather like in Iceland in different seasons? What’s the best and worst time of year for hiking? Read on to learn the answers to all of these questions as we examine Iceland’s weather from a hiker’s point of view.
Iceland is a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That means the climate is heavily dependent on ocean currents. The country’s western and southern coasts are situated in the path of the warm waters of the Irminger Current, a branch of the Gulf Stream, making the climate in Iceland far milder than you’d expect.
Iceland’s climate is commonly classified as a cold maritime climate, giving it short, cool summers and long, relatively mild winters. It has plenty of precipitation and wind with a fairly limited annual temperature range, offering lows of -6°C (21°F) and highs of 10°C (51°F). There are, however, specific geographic areas with subarctic, tundra, and highland climates that experience a wider range of conditions and more extremes. These areas are also the most popular places to hike.
Temperatures: -6°C to 3°C (21.2°F to 37.4°F); Average wind speed: 7.2 m/s (16.1 mph); Average precipitation: 75.6 mm (2.9 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 13.3; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 4.5-7; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 15/85
Temperatures: -4.7°C to 2.8°C (23.5°F to 37°F): Average wind speed: 6.9 m/s (15.5 mph): Average precipitation: 71.8 mm (2.8 inches): Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.5; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 7-10: Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 25/75
Temperatures: -4.2°C to 3.2°C (24.4°F to 37.8°F); Average wind speed: 6.2 m/s (14 mph); Precipitation: 81.8 mm (3.2 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 14.4; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 10-13.5; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 32/68
Temperatures: -1.5°C to 5.7°C (23.3°F to 42.3°F); Average wind speed: 5.5 m/s (12.4 mph); Average precipitation: 58.3 mm (2.3 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.2; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 13.5-16.75; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 31/69
Temperatures: 2.3°C to 9.5°C (36.1°F to 49.1°F); Average wind speed: 3.8 m/s (8.3 mph); Average precipitation: 43.8 mm (1.72 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 9.8; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 17-20; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 33/67
Temperatures: 6°C to 13.2°C (42.8°F to 55.8°F); Average wind speed: 3.8 m/s (8.3 mph); Average precipitation: 50 mm (1.9 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 10.7; Hours of Daylight: 20-21; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 30/70
Temperatures: 7.5°C to 13.3°C (45.5°F to 55.9°F); Average wind speed: 3.6 m/s (8 mph); Average precipitation: 51.8 mm (2 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 10; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 18-21; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 30/70
Temperatures:7.1°C to 13.9°C (44.8°F to 57°F); Average wind speed: 3.8 m/s (8.3 mph); Average precipitation: 61.8 mm (2.4 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 11.7; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 14.75-18; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 34/66
Temperatures: 3.5°C to 10.1°C (38.3°F to 50.2°F); Average wind speed: 4.7 m/s (10.5 mph); Average precipitation: 66.5 mm (2.8 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.4; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 11.5-14.5; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 28/72
Temperatures: -0.4°C to 6.8°C (32.7°F to 44.2°F); Average wind speed: 10.9 m/s (4.8 mph); Average precipitation: 85.6 mm (3.37 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 14.5; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 8-11; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 25/75
Temperatures: -3.5°C to 3.4°C (25.7°F to 38.1°F); Average wind speed: 6.1 m/s (13.6 mph); Average precipitation: 72.5 mm (2.5 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 12.5; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 5-8; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 119/81
Temperatures: -5.1°C to 2.2°C (22.8°F to 36°F); Average wind speed: 6.9 m/s (15.5 mph); Average precipitation: 78.7 mm (3 inches); Number of Days with Precipitation: 13.9; Hours of Daylight in Reykjavík: 4-5; Sunny / Cloudy Daylight Hours (%): 8/92
The weather in Iceland varies enormously between regions. The biggest factors include:
Due to these influencing factors, the country’s coolest areas are: The northernmost tips (the Westfjords and Northeast Iceland) and the Highlands
As a hiker, you might already know that it’s not enough to simply learn about a country’s general weather patterns before you start your trek. Tourists that spend most of their time driving around the Ring Road need a different kind of weather report than those who spend their days out in the wilderness under the open sky, venturing off to uninhabited areas, climbing to higher altitudes, or even sleeping in tents.
Physical activity will make your heart pump faster and keep your body temperature warm, making daytime temperatures less relevant for hikers. With the right clothing, you won’t feel the cold during a hike unless it’s raining or there’s a strong wind.
Iceland’s summer temperatures range from 5–18°C (41–65°F). You’ll be comfortable hiking in a softshell jacket or, in good weather, just a T-shirt.
Winters are relatively mild with temperatures ranging from -5–5°C (23–41°F). hiking in this season can be very pleasant in a light down jacket, as long as the sun is shining and there’s no wind or rain.
Temperatures at night are a very important parameter for backpacking campers. They’ll determine the equipment you’ll need and this equipment will take up most of the space in your backpack.
In summer, the nighttime temperatures remain above freezing, even in the Highlands. A sleeping bag with a comfort rating of 0–5°C (32–41°F) should be perfectly fine.
In winter, however, nighttime temperatures can drop below -10°C (14°F), often followed by high winds and a great amount of precipitation. For this reason, camping is not recommended for 6 to 8 months of the year.
Wind and precipitation are the most important factors for hikers. These two elements can accelerate cool temperatures, cause low visibility, make paths slippery and muddy, and make an easy walk more demanding.
Walking in strong winds is more difficult and can tire even the most experienced hiker. In exposed areas, there is an increased risk that you'll be thrown off your balance. Also, high winds can result in wind chill, meaning it may feel much colder than it actually is.
When hiking in the rain, you’ll get wet even with the best waterproof gear. Your body loses significantly more heat when wet, increasing the danger of hypothermia. The rain causes slippery surfaces, so you need to slow your pace in wet conditions.
When rain and wind are combined, they intensify each other’s effects. Strong winds can cause a light rain to soak the best equipment, while heavy rain makes a light wind feel much stronger. But how extreme is too extreme And what conditions are considered dangerous?
To put it simply, anything above manageable, when combined with the other element, will make your hike miserable or even dangerous.
Winds up to 100 mph (45 m/s) aren’t uncommon in Iceland, especially in the Highlands and around the glaciers. When such a strong storm occurs, travelers are advised to stay indoors and avoid driving. Fortunately, these conditions can usually be predicted and warnings are issued days ahead of time. Failure to pay attention to the extreme weather condition forecasts can cause serious safety concerns.
When planning to hike in a foreign land, it’s crucial to take into account the length of daylight hours. No one wants to get lost in the dark on unfamiliar terrain!
In Iceland, the length of the daylight varies greatly between seasons and geographic areas. In mid-winter, some areas enjoy only three hours of daylight per day, while in the summer, there’s no darkness at night for about three months.
Due to the higher altitude, the northern part of the country gets much less daylight in winter than the south. However, the opposite happens in summer when the daylight periods are longer in the north than in the south.
Use this site to check the length of the daylight periods: https://www.timeanddate.com/. You can find the sunset and sunrise information for the closest town or city by typing its name into the search box. Under the sun graph, you’ll find detailed information for the current year and month. You can change the month and the year in the dropdown menu above the table.
The most important information in the table:
Day length is the time period between sunset and sunrise. Civil twilight is the period after sunset or before sunrise when, on clear days, there’s enough light for ordinary outdoor activities.
If there are no villages near you (e.g. in the Highlands) use the map view on this site to find out the sunset and sunrise times at your location.
The effects of specific weather conditions can last a long time, sometimes longer than expected. After a period of heavy rain or melting snow, hiking plans can be hindered by muddy, slippery paths, damaged vegetation, swollen rivers, and landslides, even when the current weather conditions seem ideal.
In spring and autumn, many of the most popular hiking trails are closed due to muddy conditions and vegetation damage. In winter, many trails are inaccessible, especially the ones in the Highlands and in the fjords area. Keep in mind that temporary closures can occur at any time of year.
If you are hiking alone or without a local guide, check the trail conditions for the most popular hiking trails. If you can't find information about the area you are heading to, contact a safety agent by chat or on Skype.
Now, let’s find out which seasons offer the best conditions in Iceland.
Not surprisingly, the best season for hiking in Iceland is summer. It lasts from mid-June to mid-August. This is the driest, warmest, and the least windy time of year. Summer, in fact, is the only time when you can hike safely in the higher altitudes and the most remote areas such as the Highlands and the fjords.
The interior of the island loses its snow cover and the remote and untouched parts of the fjords become accessible for only these few short months. This allows you to hike, trek, and backpack in epic places such as Thorsmork, Landmannalaugar, and the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.
July has the highest average temperatures and the lowest wind, while June is the coolest and driest summer month. August experiences 20% more precipitation than the previous two months.
Winter, from mid-October to mid-April, is the worst season for hiking in Iceland. It’s not the temperatures that make hiking unsafe, but all the other weather factors working together. Winter is the wettest, stormiest, and darkest time of year, making it the most unpleasant and dangerous time for hikers.
Most of the island is covered with snow and ice in winter, especially the remote and high-altitude areas such as the Highlands, mountains, and fjords. During this period, Iceland’s most famous hiking trailsare inaccessible. Even the roads that lead to these areas are closed.
In the not-so-common case of good weather in winter, however, well-equipped hikers can safely explore the areas around the capital, which offer a wide range of hiking opportunities, including a scenic hike to a geothermal river that you can even bathe in.
During the midwinter weeks between November and January, the daylight periods are limited to 4–7 hours. The sun lies very low and, according to the statistics, 75–80% of the daylight hours are cloudy, making the minimal daylight even darker.
The coldest and windiest months are December, January, and February; the darkest months are November, December, and January; and the wettest months are October and March.
Officially Iceland has only two seasons: winter and summer. However, both locals and visitors often refer to the periods between the two main seasons as spring and autumn.
Spring begins in mid- to late April and lasts until the end of May, bringing an explosion of life to the country as the winter ice thaws.
Autumn tends to begin in late August/early September and lasts into the middle of October, bringing vibrant colors and a heap of opportunities to explore. Both seasons have the benefit of cheaper prices and less busy attractions.
Iceland’s weather during these seasons is notoriously unpredictable. Autumn is often characterized by stormy, rainy weather with a few summery days here and there, and a lot of rainbows. Spring can be wintry with plenty of ice and snow. It can also be rainy and mild with some days of real spring weather,
Generally, these seasons are not ideal for hiking. They are too unpredictable and the conditions are usually too wet, which often causes trail closures to protect the vegetation. The most remote hiking trails – such as the Laugavegur, Fimmvörduhals, and Hornstrandir trails – are inaccessible at this time of the year.
However, there are hiking areas closer to the capital that are well-maintained such as the Reykjadalur Smoky Valley or the Glymur hike. For that reason, these are usually accessible even from April to May and September to October.
We advise you to look at the weather forecast 3–4 days in advance, always keeping in mind that conditions can change very quickly. Don’t forget to make a final check just before you leave civilization. If you’re planning to hike alone or without a local guide, make sure to contact a safety agent for detailed information about your hike and current conditions.
The two most reliable online weather prediction tools for Iceland are the Icelandic Met Office (vedur.is) and belgingur.is. Both websites are available in English and offer hourly predictions for wind, precipitation, and temperatures. For hikers, belgingur.is might be the more useful site as it shows the windchill, low and total cloud cover, accumulated precipitation, and wind chill as well.
Generally, Belgingur has more detailed estimates than Vedur.
On Vedur.is, you can change the language to English by clicking the flag pictogram at the top of the homepage. You can also use https://en.vedur.is for direct access to the English page.
How you cope with the elements largely depends on the quality of your gear. It’s essential for hikers in Iceland to have windproof, waterproof, and breathable hiking gear as well as at least three layers of clothing, one extra set of dry garments, and a waterproof backpack with drybags to protect whatever you’re carrying.
Those staying in tents are more exposed to the weather and won’t have the opportunity to dry their gear. Therefore, the quality of your tent will be crucial. A sturdy, waterproof 3- or 4-season tent is essential, even in summer.
A pair of trekking poles comes handy in Iceland. Hiking sticks offer additional support on rocky and slippery trails and can definitely help you keep your balance in high winds.
If you’re not hiking with a local tour guide, we highly recommend contacting a safety agent to submit your travel plans and ask for detailed information about travel conditions and trail conditions for the locations you’re planning to visit.
If you’re not an experienced hiker or have any concerns regarding your capabilities and knowledge about the hiking conditions in Iceland, or if you simply want to have fun with like-minded hikers without having to worry about any planning, we suggest joining a guided hike for your own safety and comfort. Our experts are specially trained to guide you safely through this landscape and cope with the sometimes challenging conditions that hikers can face in Iceland.
Good or bad, the weather can make or break a hike. Be well-informed and well-prepared to maximize your chances for an enjoyable, safe walking holiday in Iceland. We wish you an amazing hike!