All You Need to Know About Hiking Solo in Iceland
I am so happy you plan on hiking in Iceland. And a bit jealous – I loved it so much that I wish I can go back as soon as possible! But to make sure your stay on this gorgeous island is all good, I want to you to know a few things.
When is the best way to go hiking in Iceland?
This is a crucial question. There are so many places in Europe where you can safely hike from very early on (I hiked in Spain in February) all the way till late fall in mountainous areas. In some areas, you can basically hike the whole year. Not so in Iceland.
Thanks to Iceland’s unique geographic position, whatever is going on Europe does not really matter. There might be a heat wave throughout all European countries – but it doesn’t reach Iceland. The hiking season is pretty short: June to September. Beyond those months you can only go on very specific winter expeditions with experienced guides. The good thing is – you don’t have to worry much about overheating.
What is the weather like in Iceland?
From my own experience and from what I’ve learned and heard from a variety of people you should prepare for spring/fall kind of a summer. There can be beautiful warm days with temperatures around 17*C and sunshine but there can also be a late November-like nasty cold rains. The moment you walk up to the mountains and anywhere close to the glaciers, you have to be really well prepared or you can be in trouble. When I was hiking in Iceland back in August, I experienced nice and warm days where I wore a short-sleeved shirt when trekking but also harsh winds and icy rains with temperatures somewhere around 3-5*C.
Before you go, check a reliable weather forecast page, like yr.no or this Icelandic one.
How can I move around to get to the trail head?
You could rent a car but only if your hiking begins close to bigger towns with proper road reaching them. What surprised me, was how few good roads there were in the heart of the island. The terrain is so difficult and so sparsely populated there simply are no roads other than dirt paths for special vehicles.
If you wanted to get to Landmannalaugar – a great place to start your hiking – you can’t reach it with a regular car or bus. Even a simple SUV might have problems. Just look at the photos below – that’s what the road looks like. There are no bridges and the vehicles must have to be able to get through.
Because of it, it’s easier to get around by bus. You have a few options here – the public bus system called Straeto or one of the private companies. Straeto is cheaper than the rest but does not have the mountain buses reaching places like Landmannalaugar or Þórsmörk. I combined them both – got to Skogar by Straeto and returned from Landmannalaugar by TREX (another option: Reykjavik Excursions).
The Straeto’s ticketing system
You need to prepare for the bus tickets in Iceland. Straeto has a very simple system – the country is divided into zones, each zone is one ticket (440 króna). You go through three zones, you pay three tickets. Ten zones – ten tickets and so on. It’s simple but it also means that getting from Reykjavik somewhere north gets crazy expensive. One of the reasons why I chose hiking in the south of the island was how expensive it would get to reach northeast parts of Iceland.
Is it safe for a solo woman to go hiking in Iceland?
I would say yes, absolutely. BUT. It doesn’t mean it is absolutely safe to hike everywhere – no matter the gender. Hiking in Iceland is not a walk in a park and even the very popular trails are challenging and potentially dangerous. I felt safe on the trails I’ve trekked because I’m somewhat experienced and I knew there were a lot of people not far away from me. If anything happened to me – I had phone reception and there would be someone walking by within minutes or hours at the longest.
If you found some fascinating trail which is somewhere in the middle of nowhere – think twice (or thrice) if you should do it alone. If you are a very experienced hiker who knows what she’s doing – go for it but make sure you take all standard precautions (starting with registering on the safe hiker site).
Iceland is famous for its gender equality and being one of the best countries for women. So if you are only beginning to think about hiking solo – this is the perfect place to start. Throughout the whole time I was in Iceland I didn’t hear even once about me being solo – not as a question, a joke or stupid/creepy comment. It was so normal and common!
How about food in Iceland?
Depending on your budget, I suggest taking most of the core trail food with you. Food in Iceland is expensive and buying all your supplies there will hit your bank account with a force of a hurricane. Most of the trails run in pretty secluded areas, which mean you won’t be able to buy much while on the trail. Some snacks or chocolate maybe, but nothing significant.
Grab a gas cooker with you. If you plan on staying in huts only, then you have an access to hot water and/or gas cooking station in some of them. No need to bring a lot of food – grab some regular dehydrated meals with some fresh addition. You, of course, have to buy some skyr while there – it’s the Icelandic specialty and absolutely delicious dairy product.
I’ve heard I can wild camp in Iceland – is it true?
In theory, you can wild camp anywhere on the island unless it’s forbidden (as in the national parks or nature reserves areas). But you need to remember that this law was made for a tiny nation of local Icelandic folk. Not for the millions of tourists that visit the country every year.
The Icelandic flora is extremely delicate and vulnerable. One wrong wild camping spot can cause a lot of damage that will take decades to recover.
Choose camping at campsites and dedicated spots. If for whatever reason you can’t do that choose your wild camping spot wisely to do as little damage as possible. Go far away from the delicate moss and rather pitch your tent on sand or bare soil. Check ahead of time if there are any camping restrictions along the trail you chose to hike.
What are the campsites and huts like in Iceland?
Prepare for a basic camping adventure. Some campsites have showers where you insert coins or tokens for hot water (generally 300-400 króna for 4min). The water in the sink can be ice-cold or somewhat warm, depending on which campsite. The farther into the mountains and wild areas, the more Spartan the conditions.
There are no free charging stations at campsites, not even at the huts. Some places don’t have electricity at all – even at the office. At those that have – you can leave your device to charge over the night for a fee. I strongly suggest bringing a good power bank (>20000mAh) so it can feed all your devices once fully charged.
The huts are simple but clean and nice. They are run by FerðafélagÍslands (The Iceland Touring Association, FÍ) - check their website for important info. There are sleeping mattresses and nothing more – you need your sleeping bag. There are a basic kitchen and some kind of water supply. Sometimes it’s running water and sometimes it’s just a huge jar of water brought in by car.
You need to realize that some of the huts are placed in a really remote areas, far from any electricity or plumbing system, often based on solid rocks (no way to dig deep latrines). Appreciate the refuge they give but don't expect hotel-level of luxury.
The huts can cost from 5k króna to over 8k króna – check each one before booking. And make sure you book in advance as during the popular time it can be booked pretty fast. Campsites are around 1500 - 2000 kr for a tent.
You need to prepare for spending some time outside when you prepare your food – there are no common rooms, no shelters for hikers to prepare meals and chill. You will be cold the moment you stop moving, so prepare for it.
I also had some troubles with using my gas canister because of cold and strong winds. I think it might actually be a good idea to buy the winter gas canisters for hiking in Iceland. It could be also a good idea to grab a wind cover/protection.
Where should I go?
There are a lot of options to choose from. For your first time, I suggest going to the area of Þórsmörk – it’s a great base for multiple day-hikes and it’s a trailhead for two popular trails – Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls or you can go to Landmannalaugar and hike from there to Skogar. Those are very popular trails both for locals and tourists. The trail marking is great and it's a perfect trek for a solo hiker.
I had only a week when I was there but if I had more, I would walk to Þórsmörk from Skogar, then spend a few days there hiking day hikes and only then, move on to hike the Laugavegur. It’s a stunningly beautiful place.
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is also a great hiking destination, and it is sometimes called mini-Iceland as it has a bit of every landscape to see.
Another popular destination is the Blue Lagoon but I didn’t feel the need to go there. You can have the experience of bathing in hot springs also in other places – like Landmannalaugar, for much cheaper (although not as good looking, I guess).
You can check one of many organized tours for some challenging adventures with specialized guides and tours.
What should I take?
Packing for Icelandic hiking adventure is not that much different from any other shoulder season solo trip. Make sure you have layers - it can be warm if you are lucky but you should rather think of October-November style of clothing. Even if it feels warm when you hike, the moment you stop it can get cold very fast. That's why it's crucial to not wear cotton and merino is probably your best option.
Have a warm puffy ready to put on when you stop for breaks. In the evening, even though the sun might still shine, it can get really cold with arctic winds. Don't forget a warm hat, gloves and thermal underwear for sleeping.
Another atypical thing to pack is... a swimming suit. There are numerous occasions to take a dip in the natural geothermal pools - have one on you.
It can rain a lot in Iceland and it's far from a pleasant summer storm. Have your waterproofs ready - I was glad I had my rain pants with me, as well as waterproof mittens. No weather was slowing me down!
Another item you need are sandals or water shoes. Crossing river is common and doing it barefoot is not a good option. Take a pair of shoes that have heal strap or you can lose them in the fast flowing river currents.