Iceland has a lot of open space; combine that with a deep respect for nature, and you have a hiker’s heaven. With three national parks, nature reserves, and an uninhabited interior, you could spend weeks exploring. There are lots of backpacking trails in the Land of Fire and Ice that cater for all tastes, whether you want to go exploring for days or only a few hours. Now let’s take a look at the best backpacking hikes in Iceland.
The Laugavegur Trail
Let’s start with Iceland’s most famous hiking trail, and a must-do in Iceland: the Laugavegur Trail. It's 54 km (34 miles) long and traverses the highlands, the uninhabited center of Iceland. The route stretches between two famous areas—Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk—so you can choose which one to start from. Most hikers start from Landmannalaugar, as they usually combine this trail with the Fimmvörðuháls trail (more on that later!).
How long does the Laugavegur Trail typically take to complete?
People generally spread the Laugavegur Trail out over three or four days. Accommodation is available on the route in the form of six huts that are operated by Ferðafélag Íslands (the Iceland Touring Association). You can either book a bed in these huts (we advise booking them well in advance) or camp outside them. All the huts have designated camping areas and they just happen to be the only places you can camp on the trail. Free camping is illegal in Iceland, so stick to the campsites if you want to pitch your own tent.
What do you need to bring to hike the trail?
Although these huts are stocked with some supplies, you should not rely solely on them; bring everything you need with you. Your backpack needs to be big enough to carry all the clothes and food you’ll need for the trip. We will talk more about food later, but rest assured that finding drinking water won’t be a problem on this trail.
There are lots of rivers en route and the water that flows in them is perhaps the purest water you can drink! In addition, all the huts have toilets and water facilities. However, you’ll only be able to use the huts’ cooking facilities if you’ve paid for a bed in them. Camping stoves are allowed if you want to heat up your food or you can just eat it cold until the hike is over.
What can you expect to see on the trail?
This isn’t considered one of the world’s best backpacking hikes for nothing. As well as passing glacial rivers and lava fields, you’ll also discover Landmannalaugar’s famous multicolored rhyolite mountains and its natural hot springs.
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to combine the Laugavegur Trail with the Fimmvörðuháls trail. Many people opt to continue hiking past Þórsmörk until they reach Skogarfoss, giving the hike a total length of almost 80 km over a duration of 5-6 days. However, it is equally popular to just hike the Fimmvörðuháls trail.
How long does it take to hike the Fimmvörðuháls trail?
At 24 km (15 miles), this is a shorter hike than the Laugavegur Trail, and can be completed in 1-2 days.
What can you expect to see on the trail?
You will pass between two of Iceland’s glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull, and see one of Iceland’s most recently formed lava fields, Goðahraun. This field was formed in 2010 by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, which was famous for grounding thousands of flights across Europe.
What do I need to bring with me?
Plenty of water. Part of the route follows a river, but there is another part with no water access, so we advise stocking up. There is one hut along the trail (Baldvinsskáli) that is located directly between the two glaciers, but it doesn’t have a campsite or running water.
How do I get to the trail?
You can drive yourself, but you must be in a 4x4 vehicle. The roads leading into the highlands are F-Roads, which are unpaved and involve river crossings. When renting your campervan with us, check that the one you have chosen is suitable for F-roads. You will of course have to make your way back to your vehicle once you’ve finished your hike.
Another option is to pre-book a highland bus instead, which can take you to and from your hike location. For example, there’s a bus that’ll take you from Reykjavík to Landmannalaugar, then from Þórsmörk or Skógafoss back to Reykjavík. Note that the highlands, and their hiking trails, are only accessible during the summer months, from June to September.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
What can I expect to see at Hornstrandir?
Hornstrandir is a nature reserve in the Westfjords (the northwest of Iceland) and has been uninhabited for decades. The absence of human activity has allowed wildflowers to grow in abundance and arctic foxes to roam fearlessly. It’s a wonderful place to experience Iceland’s natural beauty untouched, but you must be well-prepared.
How long does it take to hike Hornstrandir?
That depends on how long you want to go for. There are a variety of hiking routes to choose from. Some are multi-day backpack adventures; others, such as the Aðalvík to Hesteyri hike, only take 1 day. Most people spend at least a few days exploring the reserve, always heading to the famous cliffs at its edge. Just be aware that you’ll be in the middle of nowhere, with no access to cell phone services, so be prepared!
What do I need to take with me?
Up in Hornstrandir, as in the highlands, the weather can be fierce and unpredictable, so warm and waterproof clothing is a must, even in the summer. You’ll need to know how to navigate and rely on your own initiative, so a map and a compass are also a necessity. There are designated campsites you can stay at, but these have minimum facilities. Therefore, you must carry your food, water, first aid kit and clothing with you in your backpack.
How do I get there?
You can reach Hornstrandir via a ferry that leaves from the Westfjords’ capital, Ísafjörður. If you’re not confident with navigating, then you can join a guided group tour that will leave from the town.
What is the best food for backpacking hikes in Iceland?
First of all, you’ll want to avoid anything too heavy, as you don’t want to be unnecessarily weighed down. Dehydrated meal packets are a great choice, as they’re light and calorie-rich. It is advisable to avoid cans if possible. Snack foods such as dried fruit, nuts and protein bars that can be eaten while walking are a must. Dried soup or noodle packs that only require added water are also very handy.
If you have space, then small amounts of salt, pepper or soy sauce will make all the difference to a meal. On a final note, try to have a hot drink prepared in a flask when possible, such as tea or soup, and always carry enough water bottles that when full last for a whole day.
When is the best time to go hiking in Iceland?
With the snow, wind, and low temperatures that characterize much of the seasons in Iceland, summer is the best time to go hiking!. Aim to complete your backpacking between June and September, and chances are your hike will be much more enjoyable and safer. Maybe the most important thing to have is a decent pair of well-fitting hiking boots - you won’t get far wearing Ugg boots or flip-flops!
This is just a small selection of some amazing hiking trails in Iceland that will surely make your camper rental experience that much greater. Before embarking on your backpacking adventure in Iceland, we highly recommend checking out Ferðafélag Ísland for information on more trails, including maps and details on finding accommodation.