Camping in Iceland is an exciting option, particularly in the summer when the weather is mild and camping sites are open. In this article, I will go over some common issues regarding camping in Iceland, to help you prepare your trip.
Before I start, I want to emphasise that camping in the winter in Iceland is not recommended unless you have a proper 4-season tent. Since most travellers camp during summer or the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn), I will not be discussing winter camping in this article.
Unlike most European countries, the weather in Iceland during summer can be quite cold. This is especially true in mountainous areas, such as the Central Highlands. Therefore, it is imperative to have a proper tent that can endure cold, rain and wind. It is good to keep in mind that you‘ll probably be experiencing more wind and rain than sun in Iceland, even in the middle of the summer.
I once went on a camping trip to Snæfellsnes Peninsula in awefully windy weather, and I ended up driving back to the city two days earlier than I had planned because I didn‘t have adequate camping gear. Rain can also be potentially dangerous for campers. It can cause hypothermia even if the temperature is above 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).
Landmannalaugar campsite in the Highlands. In this area, expect cold and windy weather - even in the summer. Unsplash/Nancy O'Connor.
Having a good sleeping bag is a gamechanger when camping in Iceland. Unsplash/Jack Sloop.
If you‘re buying a new tent, explain to the salesperson that you will be camping in rainy, windy and cool weather. If they are aware of the conditions, it is more likely that they can help you find a suitable tent. You should also keep in mind the importance of having a good sleeping bag. Although they come with a hefty price tag, I recommend down sleeping bags as they provide good insulation without being too heavy. They also last longer than synthetic alternatives.
Finally, it is important to dress wisely. During the night, the temperature drops and can easily go as low as 5 degrees celcius (40 degrees F). In mountainous areas, freezing temperatures are not uncommon during the summer. This is why it‘s extremely important to wear warm clothes while you‘re sleeping. I highly recommend wearing leggins and a long-sleeved top, either made from merino wool or a warm synthetic material. Woolen socks are crucial.
If you don‘t have any camping gear, or if it‘s too much trouble to bring it all the way to Iceland, it is possible to rent it. Iceland Camping Equipment and Out Camping are two solid options. At both sites, you can rent anything you need for your trip, from tents to cooking equipment.
Strictly speaking, you can camp on any uncultivated strip of land in Iceland. This is also the case for private properties, unless the owner has ordered otherwise or if you‘re close to a private home. Although this general rule applies, there are some exceptions to it. It is, for instance, forbidden to camp three or more adjacent tents unless you ask for permission. Moreover, it is not allowed to camp for more than three nights at a given place.
Make sure not to put up more than two tents if you're camping outside of a registered campsite. Unsplash/Ryan Shultis.
It‘s good to know about this rule if you‘re camping in the wilderness. However, most travelers opt for campsites, as they usually have facilities, such as warm showers, toilets and barbeques. Usually, there‘s also access to electricity and dish washing facilities.
There are dozens of registered campsites in Iceland. Many of them are situated close to the Ring Road, which is very convenient if you‘re planning a camping road trip. I highly recommend this website if you want to get an overview over registered campsites in Iceland. The nightly fee is around 1.200 ISK (9$) per person. Teenagers pay half of that price while admission is free for children under thirteen years of age.
A map of registered campsites in Iceland. Photo: Tjalda.is.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, various access restrictions have been in place at campsites in Iceland. As a result, they have filled up quickly, especially during busy travel weekends. It is therefore a good idea to call in advance to book a spot. For some campsites, it is also possible to book online https://tjalda.is/.
It goes without saying that campers need to be quiet during the night to allow other guests to get a good night‘s sleep. I‘ve witnessed (and taken part in) late night partying at camping sites, but I believe it is generally frowned upon. It‘s a good idea to camp close to people who look like they‘re going to be drinking and staying up late if that‘s what you intend to do. If not, find some quieter neighbours and make sure to pack a sleeping mask and a pair of earplugs.
There's a lovely campsite close to this waterfall, Skógarfoss. Unsplash/Toby Elliott.
A lot of garbage tends to accumulate during camping trips. Make sure you have a large plastic bag to collect waste and leftover food. Usually, there are some dumpsters at the sites or close by. Ask the staff where to deposit the garbage if you are in doubt.
My final advise is to drive carefully around the campsites. Keep in mind that it may be harder to spot children playing while driving amidst trees and bushes than on, say, parking lots.