How Iceland Taught Me How to Pack Light

A few months ago I went on a trip to Iceland with some friends. We got an incredibly great deal on WOW Airlines, but it meant we were limited on the baggage we could carry. I had done short weekend trips within the US on other budget airlines, but to be out for a week with limited baggage was a different challenge. Looking back at it, I had actually over-packed a bit. One thing I really don’t like about traveling is how much of a sweat you build up when you’re moving from place to place with all the stuff you have. Unfortunately for me, I realized all these things about a day and a half after arriving in Iceland.

At the time of booking, we were allowed one small carry-on and one personal item without any extra charges. When I looked at the dimensions we were allowed, I knew my Lowepro backpack and my pacsafe camera bag were the two packs I would bring. Ever since I got it in mid-2016, I always travel with my Lowepro Tahoe BP 150 backpack. It’s the perfect weekend backpack that holds everything I need and then some. When you couple that with an additional camera bag, it seemed like I had more than enough space for a week-long journey in Iceland. The thing that takes up the most space in my backpack is my Canon DSLR. It’s huge because I have a 16–35 F/4 lens attached to it. It was a relief to be able to carry an extra camera bag (personal item) so I could use my backpack for the clothes I needed for this trip.

When planning this trip, we looked up the average temperature in Iceland for for the week that we would be there. Not surprising, it was going to be cold, but not cold to the point that it would be unbearable. During the day the temperature hovered around 32F and at night it dropped down to the low 20s. I usually run warm, but I wanted to be prepared in case it really did feel super cold there. Luckily for us, it didn’t rain during our time there. We arrived a few days after an insane snowstorm so the entire country was blanketed in fluffy white powder.

This is what I packed:

Backpack: 1 pair of ExOfficio travel boxers, 2 32Degrees thermal base layer long-sleeved shirt, 2 pairs of leggings (trust me on this one), 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of waterproof pants, 1 pair of shorts to sleep in, face wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, lotion, deodorant, q-tips, orb lights, tripod, cheap sandals, empty water bottle, one of those REI day packs that fold into itself, and my glasses case. Inside my case I packed some AAA and AA batteries for my camera remote and orb lights. I also packed some mini screwdrivers and an Allen wrench (my tripod needs adjusting sometimes). Our airbnbs had towels and the other toiletries we needed, so didn’t have to pack those.

Camera bag: Camera, 2 lenses, LEE Big Stopper filter, passport, extra batteries, memory card, liquid detergent (was planning on doing laundry), chapstick, camera remote, and some printed confirmations (Airbnb, rental car, Blue Lagoon tickets, etc).

What I wore: ExOfficio boxers, 32 Degrees thermal base layer, leggings, sweatpants on the outside of the leggings, socks, Salomon hiking boots, a thin hooded North Face fleece jacket, a down jacket, and I held my waterproof jacket in my hands. Now…inside my down jacket pockets I put a thermal base layer in one pocket, and a pair of leggings and a beanie in the other pocket.

After a day and a half in Iceland, I realized what I didn’t need. I didn’t need that thermal base layer. I didn’t need my orb lights. I didn’t need that REI day pack. I didn’t need those extra pair of leggings. I didn’t need my beanie. I didn’t need my sweatpants. I didn’t need my sandals. I didn’t even need my down jacket! When I had on my thermal base layer + fleece jacket + waterproof jacket, I was plenty warm. The thermal base layer and fleece jacket were pretty insulating, and the waterproof jacket blocked out all the wind. Now you’re probably thinking wait a minute…if you didn’t need all those items, weren’t you short on clothes to wear for the trip? In essence, yes. In reality, no. I realized that in order to travel light, it’s ok to wear your clothes twice. I had planned on doing laundry but our schedule was so packed I didn’t even bother. All the items I had (minus the sweatpants and socks) were all moisture wicking, quick drying, and odor resistant. I washed my boxers daily, and that saved me a ton of room in my backpack. If I had left my sweatpants at home, I could have worn the waterproof pants over my leggings. I did this for pretty much the rest of the trip and I was plenty warm. The waterproof layer on the outside blocked out the wind, and the heat tech leggings from Uniqlo kept me warm.

What I learned about going to Iceland for a week is that yes, it is ok to re-wear your clothing. The average person doesn’t get to the point where they smell so bad that their clothes absorb all the odor. What I also learned is that heat retaining, moisture wicking, and quick drying clothing is essential. You also want to book airbnbs that have almost all the toiletries you need (minus your specialty items like face wash, toner, and lotion that you specifically need). You should always book a place that has towels, because towels take up so much room in any bag. Depending on where you’re going, make sure you have proper footwear. You don’t need an extra pair of shoes. You don’t need those sandals. I want to travel as light as possible, because getting around from place to place with all that stuff is just inconvenient. If someone is judging you for re-wearing your clothes, well, just look at how much stuff they have with them. At least you’re comfortable.