Packing for Iceland

_S6A6845-Edit copy.jpg

Photographers love looking at, talking about and, most importantly, buying camera gear. This obsession even has a name - Gear Acquisition Syndrome! Apart from the (very) occasional camera body upgrade however, the contents of my camera bag has remained pretty much unchanged for the last few years. I’m happy with my camera system, lens line-up, filters and even the bag itself, it’s taken a while to get there and I’m still tempted by the latest shiny new kit but what I have is working for me so why spend more money?

When it comes to outdoor gear though, it’s a different story. In an effort to make sure I have the right gear for my travels, I’ve spent far more in recent years on clothes and boots than camera gear. At least that’s my excuse, in all honesty, I’m a sucker for all that outdoorsy stuff, so as I’m just about to pack for a two week trip leading northern lights workshops in Iceland I thought it would be a good time to go though some of the things I’ll be taking. 

Before I do, a quick word on brand choice. There’s a bewildering array of brands and technologies out there, everybody has (and swears by) their personal favourites, these are just some of my mine. If you have any tips or recommendations please leave a comment, I’d love to hear them but the important thing is taking a selection of layers so you can easily add or remove one depending on the conditions.

Another thing worth mentioning is as my trips are usually based in a hotel, something I don’t have to consider too carefully is weight, I won’t be carrying it around on my back so as long as I don’t exceed the airline weight allowance I’m ok. 

1 Merino wool base layers - one thing I’d recommend whatever the brand is a complete base layer - long sleeve top, leggings and even socks (see below). Synthetic base layers are more efficient at wicking moisture away from the skin but I find merino wool more comfortable and (very important on long trips) it has anti-bacterial qualities that keep it odour free! My favourite brands are Icebreaker and Smart Wool.

2 Bridgedale socks - there’s nothing worse than cold/wet feet so I wear two pairs - thin liner socks to wick moisture away from the feet (and finish off the merino wool base layer) and thick wool socks keep to them warm. 

3 Craghoppers fleece - I wear Craghoppers micro fleeces all the time, they’re a bit ‘no frills’ but are good value. For Iceland I have a couple of Barston insulating half zip fleeces that serve well as a warm mid layer.

4 Paramo Cascada trousers - I love these trousers, they are waterproof and breathable and far more comfortable than nasty rustley waterproof overtrousers which in my experience aren’t very breathable. The reinforced knee areas mean I can kneel down to get the shot without worrying about getting wet and there are side zips for ventilation if, like Paramo gear often does, they get a little too hot.  Admittedly, Paramo clothing isn’t the most stylish, but it is very effective and combined with merino leggings these cut out even the harsh winter Icelandic winds.

5 Paramo Velez Adventure light smock - Temperature control always seems to be the problem, even in winter, I get hot when lugging all my gear to the location and then cold while standing around for long periods waiting for the light. The Paramo system is the perfect solution for me, this light waterproof smock isn’t warm enough for winter but it is enough to keep me warm while walking, then when I stop to take photos and start to cool down, I can slip the insulated Torres jacket over the top. There won’t be a great deal of walking involved in this Iceland trip so the smock will serve as an extra layer to keep me warm at night while waiting for the northern lights.

6 Paramo Torres jacket - The insulating layer in the Paramo system is like wearing a sleeping bag, as mentioned above, it normally goes over the top of the waterproof but in Iceland it is my go-to jacket worn over a base layer and fleece. Being synthetic rather than down it is still effective even when wet.

7 Heat company gloves - the extremities are the first things to get cold, a particular problem for photographers! Finding gloves that keep the fingers warm and toasty while still offering a high enough level of dexterity to operate the camera is the holy grail for landscape photographers, right up there with the mythical ‘perfect bag’. These liner gloves and mittens come very close, the only issue being that they’re expensive and perhaps a little bit OTT for the average winter in East Anglia (look out for a full review on these gloves here soon.)

8 Hat & ‘Buff’ - windproof is the name of the game in Iceland and this Sealskinz hat is wind and waterproof while the Buff neck warmer does what you’d expect given it’s name.

9 Ice grips - chain and spiked grips on rubber straps - easy to fit over your boots but essential for staying upright in icy conditions.

10 Snacks - I always keep a couple of these in my camera bag and, as Iceland is very expensive, take a supply with me.

11 Muck boots - Ok this might seem a strange choice but my walking boots aren’t warm enough for the standing around in the cold night that is part of photographing the northern lights and as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t too much walking involved on this trip. There are however beaches and I’m somehow unable to go on a beach without getting my feet wet. These neoprene lined boots are warm and comfortable and the only thing I’ve found that is completely waterproof, both the Columbia and Sorel ‘waterproof’ winter boots I’ve tried have been far from it.

Of course this isn’t everything I’ve packed, there are also clothes for wearing back at base, chargers, laptop, oh and my camera bag… but that’s another story.