How to Pack for Iceland & Scotland: 9 Days in a Backpack
4 days iceland / 5 days scotland
My husband and I just returned from an epic, 9-day adventure to Europe. Neither of us had been to Iceland and Scotland before, and we had a small idea of what to expect based on insight from a few friends. It was a difficult trip to pack for because of the duration of our stay and the activities we had planned. Not to mention we were limiting ourselves to carry-on luggage. This was not the typical tourist trip as we planned on doing a lot of hiking, including hiking a portion of the West Highland Way in Scotland. Check out my West Highland Way itinerary!
A few things about our trip that will help you decide if this packing list is right for you: we traveled in late May (weather was in the low 40s & 50s in Iceland, and high 40s & 50s in Scotland); we split our trip into manageable chunks (2 days Iceland - 5 days Scotland - 2 days Iceland); we hiked 36 miles along the West Highland Way; we did not dress to impress, nor did we plan any activities that required something nicer than jeans and a casual sweater/button-up; we never had access to a washer/dryer. Depending on the time of year you travel and what activities you have planned, this packing list could change significantly, but it’s a decent place to start if you plan on at least some adventuring.
As you can see, there are 5 columns shown above. Starting from the left column and working my way down each to the right, here’s what I packed:
Hiking boots (if you’re hiking the West Highland Way, boots with ankle-support are a MUST!)
Mid-weight sweater (layers are key during this time of year…the one pictured is a Merrell Select Regulate Snap Pullover)
Light rain jacket, w/ hood
Workout shorts (for relaxing in)
Casual shoes (I brought slip-on, Earth brand shoes, but anything comfy that can also be worn in a restaurant is fine)
PJs (t-shirt, fleece leggings)
Undergarments (I put these in a waterproof sack: 9x underwear, 5x socks, 5x bras)
Sandals (I think I wore these once…thought I might need them for geothermal pool experiences in Iceland…light flip-flops would probably be better)
3x hiking shirts (lightweight, long sleeve)
3x hiking pants
Travel journal and personal book (totally optional and a Kindle book would save room…I just prefer something tangible)
1x quick-dry towel (never used it, but it could come in handy)
2x base-layer camisoles
My “nice” outfit (black jeans, light sweater)
3x t-shirts (probably only need 2, but depends on how many times you want to re-wear shirts)
Toiletries bag and Essentials bag (this bag is explained in detail later on)
Day pack (pictured is a sling-shoulder Osprey)
Swimsuit and large plastic bag (the bag is super helpful so you have a place to put your wet suit while in transit)
Hat & Gloves (not pictured above, but essential)
Trekking poles (not pictured above…recommend buying some in country as you are not allowed to bring these as a carry on)
Water bottle (not pictured above)
Snacks (not pictured above…power bars, gummy bears, chocolate, electrolyte solution)
A few packing must-haves
Here it is all consolidated! Those green and blue bags are a friggin lifesaver. All of the clothing listed above was stuffed into the blue bag with a little room to spare. You can find them in most outdoor stores, like REI. Once the majority of everything was put in the pack, I was left with what’s pictured on the right. I attached my trekking poles to the outside of my backpack, the hat and gloves were put in an outer pocket, and the two little balls are shoe deodorizers (totally optional), which I put in a small outer pocket as well.
The Essentials Bag
- To-go toilet paper, lotion, bug spray, Chapstick, sunscreen
- Pepto-Bismol tablets, Dramamine, Advil, Bendadryl pills, Tums
- Theraflu (day & nighttime), Alka-Seltzer Cold & Flu
- Makeup remover wipes, Moleskin, Bandaids, Neosporin
About that Essentials bag…this bag houses all the items I cannot live without when traveling internationally. I’m not kidding, I used every single item on the list above at one point or another (minus the LifeStraw). I caught a nasty cold on day 3 and used almost all of the Theraflu, Alka-Seltzer, and Benadryl pills by the end of the trip. These three items and the Advil were of the utmost importance to me on my trip and I would never travel without them again. Especially because you can’t buy these kinds of things in the 24 hour convenience stores in Iceland & Scotland. You have to buy them from a pharmacy.
The Essentials bag is different from the toiletries bag, which includes travel-size bottles of shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste/toothbrush, deodorant, etc…Make sure all your liquids are in plastic bags so you can easily remove them at airport security. I forgot to remove them on one leg of the trip and my bag was taken to the side for additional screening. Added another 15 minutes to our check-in because they were limited on security personnel.
That sums it up! Below is what my bag looked like after everything was packed. Weighed in just shy of 19 pounds and there was additional room for souvenirs on the way home. Happy travels!
about the author
Riley is an active duty US Army Captain and the Founder of Right and Up. She’s currently stationed in Washington, DC, with previous assignments at Fort Huachuca, Fort Bliss, Fort Riley and Fort Benning. You can typically find her eating embarrassingly large amounts of food in local restaurants, or exploring her military town with her husband, Sean and her dog, Gus. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!