Finally, after months of wait, we are off to Iceland tonight. Ankur is in office and would be back later in the evening. I have taken a day off from work and have some extra time at hand to pack at ease. After the trip to the Arctic in 2013 to see the Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden, we have our winter gear in place. The temperature in Abisko was -20 degrees Celsius. Add wind chill to it and the real feel was -30 degrees Celsius. Temperatures in Reykjavik and south Iceland are not as low owing to the sea breeze; however, this is what makes the weather change in a jiffy. As it is said, there is no bad weather – it’s always bad clothing! We need to pack well to make sure we are warm and snug during the frigid winters of Iceland. So, here is what is going into our bags:
Warm inner wear
It is imperative to dress in layers in the Arctic. It helps you get rid of extra clothing when you are indoors and allows you to pile on more layers when you step into the freezing wind. We have seen and bought plenty of warm inner wear that has been manufactured across the globe. Picking the right one is like Goldilocks trying porridge in the bears’ house. One is bought from North India (it is really harsh on the skin), another one is extremely warm and is manufactured by Marks and Spencer’s in UK (will make you sweat indoors) and one from Uniqlo manufactured in Japan (this one is perfect). Uniqlo has a regular Heattech range and another range called Extra Warm Heattech (1.5X), which is softer and more comfortable. We would suggest buying one of each at least, though I personally like the Extra Heattech as is softer and more comfortable.
It is crucial to have a good down jacket. This is the outermost layer (if it isn’t raining), which traps your body heat and protects you from windy conditions. I have a long down jacket from Karimor and Ankur has one from Nevica. While both the jackets work well in trapping warmth, they bleed down feathers which stick the adjacent layer. We have been embarrassed after removing our jackets in restaurants and looking like messy little duckings.
For this trip, we decided to invest a little and buy new down jackets. I stuck to Uniqlo… totally love the brand and picked up a light jacket. Ankur bought a thicker jacket from JOTT (Just Over The Top). Both the brands are awesome and we recommend them. Uniqlo products are available throughout South East Asia – Singapore, Malaysia and Japan for sure. JOTT is available in Europe and in the USA, including duty free shops at the airport. Another brand that is great to pick up extreme winter wear is Columbia, which is now available in India. It is an expensive brand; but if you are looking for quality, Columbia is a great buy (so are Uniqlo and JOTT).
Iceland isn’t so cold as Abisko. In February, the temperatures in Abikso drop to -20 degrees Celsius. During the same time, the temperatures at Reykjavik hover around -5 degrees Celsius, thanks to the warm sea breeze. However, it is this breeze and the lack of tall trees and geographical land forms that makes the country windy and humid. The weather can change in a jiffy and regardless of the season, one must carry a rain jacket always. We have picked up a rain jacket from Mumbai and are hoping that it will serve the purpose. While Ankur wanted to buy a poncho, as it covers the backpack as well, I preferred the jacket. It is a challenge to wear and handle a poncho when there is a strong gust of wind. Talking of wind, don’t carry your fancy umbrellas to Iceland. They are useless in windy conditions and turn into Maryln Monroe’s skirt!
We had second thoughts on carrying our ski pants. Initially, we were of the opinion that we would not need them during the day trips and a couple of layers would keep us warm at night. However, we intend to go into and ice cave and walk over a glacier as well. Being this close to crystal blue ice does chill the bones. We have experienced it when we were climbing a frozen waterfall in Abisko. Scrap the second thoughts, in go the ski pants… so what if they are ripped in a place or too!
Swimsuit and swimming cap
Ever seen pictures of the Blue Lagoon? The place looks surreal …steaming blue waters in a backdrop of volcanic terrain. We intend to pamper ourselves by wallowing in the pools for a few hours the day we land. Needless to say, our swimsuits are needed. Also, a friend who went here last year insists that we take our swimming caps. While the body will be warm in the geothermal pool, a gust of cold wind entering through our ears can totally chill our grey matter and ruin the experience .We surely wouldn’t want that! Swim suit and swimming cap… check!
When I had gone on a Himalayan trek in 2009, my feet literally froze at night. I would wear at least three layers of socks and that wouldn’t help! Why? I would layer thick cotton socks, one on top of the other leaving no scope for wicking! The best is to wear merino wool socks that have good wicking properties and take the moisture away from your feet. We now have four pairs of woollen socks each… in they go!
Ankur and I have done Himalayan trekking the past. Ankur has been to Ladakh and the valley of flowers while I have trekked to Roopkund at an altitude of ~5000 meters. Obviously, we have trekking shoes. They need to be aired and kept in the Sun for a while. These are bulky shoes. Instead of packing them and blocking space, we will wear them when we travel. I do understand that this does compromise the ‘style quotient’…but who cares! Its comfort before fashion – right? Or not?
We both are carrying an extra pair of shoes as well so that we do have something to wear in case our trekking boots get wet in the rain or while acting silly around the waterfalls, glaciers and ice bergs (we won’t act silly and promise to be safe)!
Gloves and Mittens
It is really difficult to operate your camera if you have thick ski gloves covering your fingers. Let me quote that as a reason for not having the best pictures of the northern lights from our trip to Abisko. This time, we are a little smarter. We have picked up warm silk glove liners and fleece gloves to keep our hands warm. I also have a pair of mittens that have a flap to free the fingers…utterly practical and convenient! I haven’t seen men wear mittens – is it a girlie thing?
Ready to eat food
We carried loads of ready to eat Indian food when we went to South Africa…gravies to have with bread. We were novice tourists then and would feel that there is a void in our life (and in our stomach) until we did not have a few spoonfuls of spicy Indian curries. We did this for a couple of trips and then decided to drop the habit and enjoy the local food wherever we go.
We have spent a while reading about local Icelandic food… whale meat, traditional meat soup, salted fish…the list goes on and on and does not suit our vegetarian diet, except for skyr, which is the traditional Icelandic yogurt. Most vegetarian restaurants offer uncooked food – salads, fruits or a cold sandwich…nothing much for the vegetarian who is craving a hot meal. So, this time, we are going back to square one and carry four packets of packaged food to satiate our hunger pangs.
Tap water in Iceland is fit for drinking. Apparently, its clean and clear but has a slight sulphurous taste and odour. However, drinking cold water when the temperature around is sub zero is no fun. In fact, we end up not drinking water at all, which isn’t a great thing to do. This time, a sparkling new thermos flask will travel with us to warm up our croaking throats. We don’t have one at home. I need to run to the market and pick one up.
Camera: Lens, tripod and remote
Now, I am not including medicines, toothbrush, clean underwear and perfume in this post…that stuff goes everywhere. So does our camera! But the tripod and the remote do not. If we intend to click the Northern Lights, which we most certainly do, it is essential to have the tripod. The remote will just make sure that we can press the shutter without our finger nails turning into icicles. It’s been a while that we used to the tripod …let me practise setting up the contraption at home while it is still nice and warm instead of experimenting in the cold and chilly Arctic night.
That’s a lot of writing while I pack. It is now time to focus on actually putting all this into a bag and ensuring that it does zip up. Soon… we will be up… up… and away!