How to Plan Your Camping Adventure in Iceland

Iceland is one of the world’s best destinations for camping – but it’s still important to understand the rules.

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Photo © iStock/Natalia Moroz

Iceland has more than 200 inexpensive, backpacker-friendly campsites. They’re great spots to meet other travelers and share travel tips and tricks for getting the most out of Iceland.

Unless you have a big travel budget, you will probably end up camping in Iceland at least a few times. But before you pitch your tent, be sure to know the rules.

Camping Laws in Iceland

Camping at Skogafoss. Photo credit: iStock

“Along public routes in inhabited areas, you may pitch a traditional camping tent for one night on uncultivated land, provided there is no campsite in the immediate vicinity and the land owner has not restricted or prohibited access, passage or stay within the area by means of signs on gates and walking paths. Along public routes in uninhabited areas, you may pitch a traditional camping tent on privately owned land or national land. Away from public routes, you may pitch a traditional camping tent, either on privately owned or national land, unless otherwise indicated.” – Environment Agency of Iceland

So, in a nutshell, if there’s no sign and the land isn’t being used to grow crops, you can camp for a single night before you need to move on. You'll need to get permission from the landowner if you plan to camp near a private home or farm, stay for longer than one night, pitch more than three tents, or use camper vans or trailers outside organized campsites. It's also important that you don’t just drive your car off-road, as you can damage the fragile environment.

If you are camping in Iceland, it’s important that you respect both the environment and the people. There are plenty of gorgeous wild camping spots dotted across the country and, of course, there are also designated camping spots where you can often stay for free during low season.

Consider a Campervan

If you can afford it, a campervan is by the far the best way to explore Iceland. With a campervan, you can sleep soundly even if the weather turns. We strongly recommend downloading the free offline maps app, maps.me, to ensure you don’t get lost while on the road.

A campervan camped near Vik. Photo credit: iStock

Planning Your Iceland Camping Trip

If you are exploring Iceland on a budget and you will be camping, self-driving or hitchhiking, it’s important that you do plan ahead. Weather conditions in Iceland can change in an instant and if you are caught out without the right gear you can find yourself in a very dangerous situation. Follow our top tips for camping safely and responsibly in Iceland.

Happy campers in North Iceland. Photo credit: iStock

Top Tips for Happy Camping in Iceland

Don’t underestimate the weather. Icelandic weather can be wild and change abruptly. The weather forecast is pretty reliable and it’s worth keeping a close eye on the Icelandic Met Office warnings: If you know which way the clouds are heading, you can travel in the opposite direction.

Help may not be around the corner. Some of Iceland’s most stunning areas, such as the Highlands, are largely uninhabited, which means if you do get into trouble, you may be on your own. ICE-SAR, the Icelandic Search and Rescue team, recommend that travelers bring a hotspot so that they can be kept in the loop on weather and road conditions and plan accordingly.

Bring the right gear. With the right camping equipment, you can stay warm and dry in most conditions. Don’t rely on a single-skin tent – you’ll come to regret it. A self-inflating air mattress is also worth bringing – you will lose a ton of heat to the ground without one. If you don’t have your own equipment, it’s possible to rent quality gear in Reykjavik. 

Camp responsibly. If you are camping in the wild, make sure to pack out all of your litter and leave your camp spot as you found it. Follow these principles for disposing of waste properly and leaving no traces behind.

Use designated sites when possible. Due to increased numbers of tourists, Iceland’s Environmental Agency is now actively encouraging visitors to use the campsites. Campsites are cheap, offer warm showers and proper toilet facilities, and are far preferable to wild camping if the weather turns.

Always carry a headlamp. For breakdowns, midnight toilet-runs or hiking in the dark, a headlamp is an essential piece of kit and you should always travel with one – it could just save your life.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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