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Iceland Traverse & Laugavegur

This was my big trip in 2008, and also my first major overseas backpacking trip. The trip was inspired by a few photos I saw in glossy outdoor magazines — the terrain just looked other-worldly — and by rave remarks by a respected adviser. Plus, Iceland is one of the most advanced countries of the world and most of its citizens speak English, so traveling was easy and worry-free.

In planning for this trip I struggled to find good information on backpacking in Iceland. Information I gleaned from tour operators, message boards, personal websites, and a few emails and phone calls to Iceland-based contacts helped to ground me, but I began my trip knowing that I would need to figure out most things on my own and react accordingly. To increase the amount of quality, non-superficial information available on backpacking in Iceland I have spent a lot of time developing content based on my experience. I hope you find it helpful.

I spent 25 days in Iceland and backpacked for 22 of them. I started with the 49-mile Laugavegur, a popular and beautiful trail in the south-central part of the country. Then I hitchhiked to Hofn in order to start my east-to-west traverse, which I figure was about 500 miles long with almost ~150 miles of cross-country travel. I finished several days earlier than I expected, so I spent one day doing the “Golden Circle” before returning to Laugavegur in order to do some last-minute training for the Leadville 100 foot race that was just 1.5 weeks away.

41 Responses to Iceland Traverse & Laugavegur

  1. Jan Blazicek November 25, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    Hello Andrew,

    first of all: What you do is truly inspiring stuff and I will follow your articles closer.

    Anyway, I have a question regarding tarps on Iceland. I prefer to sleep under a tarp whenever I’m hiking, although I never knew there were lightweight ones like you use (Mine was heavy military surplus sheet of fabric). I am slowly preparing for my first longer hike on Iceland for next summer and from what I have read, it’s extremely hard to pitch a tent / tarp in the highlands rocky soil, therefore people recommend using tents that can support their own weight without relying on pitching too much.

    I am hiking with a friend and I’d be delighted if we could each have our separate tarp + bivvy instead of just one tent, but because of the constant wind and problematic pitching I am a little nervous recommending him to ditch the tent. So – how did you deal with that? Are there special pegs that are better for this sort of soil? It wouldn’t exactly make my day if my tarp went flying away at 30 mph in the middle of the night while in the middle of Iceland :).

    Hope your travels are going well,
    John

    • Andrew Skurka November 25, 2012 at 9:11 am #

      If I was planning to be in the barren Highlands for a while, I would bring a fully enclosed shelter, probably a single-wall tent with waterproof-breathable walls like those used on mountaineering or alpine expeditions. This type of shelter would withstand the wind and would keep the grit out, and be worth the weight.

      Along the coasts it is easier to find more protected campsites so I would feel comfortable with a tarp.

      • Jan Blazicek November 25, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

        Damn, not what I wanted to hear, but thanks for the advice. Those things are expensive everywhere, but with makers going 1 euro = $1 and Czech Customs office it’s gonna be just one small 2 person tent for two fairly big guys…And I was sort of stoked at the prospect of sewing together my own modular pyramid tarp :).

        Just to be on the same page, do you mean something along the lines of Marmot Alpinist 2P, Mountain Hardwear expedition tents etc., or are there some options in this segment as well nowadays (Trekking pole support etc)? I have never attacked an 8k mountain top, so I never needed one of these. Research on Google so far has revealed nothing too interesting.

        Anyway, thanks again. Just reading through this website has kept me occupied for the entire day, even though the plan was to work on my bachelor’s thesis.

        • Andrew Skurka November 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

          Yes, single-wall tents like the Marmot 2P are expensive. I don’t think there’s a better solution for protecting you from the wind or windblown sand, however — the environment is not that different from an alpine one, except that snow is replaced with sand.

          Of course, you don’t NEED one if you don’t spend much time in the Highlands, if you’re willing to endure blowing sand, and/or if you are vigilant about finding campsites that are either well protected or not subject to blowing sand.

          • Jan Blazicek November 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

            I guess you’re right, I’ll figure something out…This is probably not the thing to save on. I am sort of thinking I should have picked more Hawai like destination, but where’s the fun in that eh? We’ll probably be there for a month. I sure don’t want to spend it all in highlands as there is plenty more to see in the Hornstrandir reserve area and other places, but the main idea is more or less the traverse in south to north direction as of now…Plenty of research before us though.

            Not to mention a good tent will probably come in handy in the future. Who knows, it’s just a few more metres across the arctic circle and I’ve never been to Norway.

            In any case, thanks for the tip!
            John

  2. Jared Macary December 27, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Andrew,

    I’m beginning planning for my east-west (or vice versa) trek of Iceland. I’ve already completed the Laugavegur trek and a week solo in Hornstrandir. I’ve also completed the Appalachian, John Muir, Long and Wonderland Trails. I arrived here after visiting Jonathan Ley’s site.

    I’m in the initial stages of planning. Map CD 2 still doesn’t seem available. Between yourself and Jonathan, its seems like a good strategy to purchase the 1:250,000 maps (Sections 2-5) to begin initial route planning. I’ll bounce between both of your notes going forward, but at least these maps will orient me and give visuals.

    Once I have a more locked in idea of where I’ll be going, I can pick off the 1:100,000 section maps as needed.

    I had imagined that I’d have to cache food containers in the interior, but perhaps not depending on the route. Seeing that you both completed this trek in less than 30 days is inspiring.

    Thoughts on my notes or other items between when you posted info about your trip and now?

    Thank you,

    Jared

    • Andrew Skurka December 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      In areas with BIG terrain, e.g. most of the interior highlands, the 250,000 maps are sufficient. I would only get 100,000 maps for the more complex, more intricate areas. The difference will becoming obvious to you as you start looking through the maps.

      You may also want to look at Google Maps (from which you can grab screenshots), and Google Earth layers too (there may be an Iceland topo map layer somewhere).

  3. Kelvin January 16, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Hello Andrew,

    Love reading your story about the Iceland adventure. Thanks for all the information about the logistics and routes.
    I am planning for a solo hike myself starting in the North of Iceland this summer. I have asked around and everywhere I hear that water is sufficiently available in all areas, but I keep wondering about this ‘desert’ area that you also talk about. The area around Askja seems so dry and empty to me and running out of water there seems to be one of the worst things to do.
    So how was your experience on this?

    Thanks,

    Kelvin

    • Andrew Skurka January 16, 2013 at 8:52 am #

      There’s plenty of water. You might have to carry some, but never much. Plus, you don’t burn through much water in those cool, windy conditions, hiking on flat terrain.

  4. Clint May 16, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Andrew,

    Great information regarding an epic journey. One question for you, did you store any items in Reykjavik while you were hiking and if so, was the storage at the hotel/hostel or elsewhere? I’m currently planning two shorter hikes and was hoping to find somewhere to store items, such as city clothes,laptop and battery charger for camera equipment.

    Thank you,
    Clint

    • Andrew Skurka May 17, 2013 at 10:02 am #

      I did “store” a few items, but nothing valuable — a fresh pair of pants and a shirt for flying there and back. I thought about leaving them at a hostel, which I’m sure is a service that they would provide, but instead I found a “secure” location in some woods and deposited everything in a waterproof plastic bag.

  5. Alex May 24, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    Great adventure you had. My wife and I will be doing Laugavegur in August 2013 and I have a few questions and hope you can help.
    1) I have an MSR Pocketrocket isobutane stove. I read no fuel canisters can be taken on a plane. Is there somewhere to purchase one in Rejkavic? If so where?
    2) We want to take the trip over the pass from Thorsmork to Skogar to complete the journey. How much time should we budget?
    3) is rain likely in August?

    Thank you in advance.

    cheers,

    Alex

    • Andrew Skurka May 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      1. Not sure. I use an alcohol stoves in 3-season conditions partly for this reason — I can get the fuel anywhere.

      2. Easy: divide the distance from Thorsmork to Skogar by your average pace. Don’t know your average pace? Sounds like you need to go on a pre-hike hike, then.

      3. Don’t know. You’ll have to find historical weather data.

      • Georg December 23, 2013 at 4:56 am #

        Too late for Alex, but maybe helpful for others

        1. You can buy isobutane in the outdoor shops in the main shopping street or at kringlan shopping mall, for sure the format usable for primus stoves, probably also campingaz format.

        2. You might be slower than during usual hiking as a part is on the glacier. Tip: The Icelandic hiking club has detailed descriptions, partly online (e.g. Laugarvegur http://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/ ). Try to cross Krossa river on a bridge or car, the water is much more that hip deep and fast.

        3. In Iceland, it’s likely to rain or snow around the year. 5-10cm new snow in August are nothing really exceptional. You’ll be be in high altitude and in the south (high perception due to gulf stream with warm sea water).

    • Carol October 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

      HI
      I was in Iceland summer of 2015. You can find iso butane containers in almost every gas station. Also, the hostel in Reykjavic has many on their free shelf, since no one can fly home with them. You can also purchase at Gangleri, on Hverfisgata in Reykjavic.

  6. Matt May 29, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Andrew

    My mate Tom and I are flying into Iceland this summer with a grand plan and to walk from Myvatn to Skogafoss. We plan on taking GPS units with us, but haven’t been able to find out what datum to use – WGS84 is the usual one I would set, but is this suitable for Iceland?

    Also interested to hear your thoughts on water filtration. We’ve heard from colleagues who travel in glacier country a lot that the water contains high levels of silts which can lead to constipation over many days intake. Apart from water purification tablets is this something we need to filter out using simple passive filtration such as coffee filter papers?

    Any help much appreciated.

    Best wishes

    Matt

    • Andrew Skurka May 29, 2013 at 11:21 am #

      Re GPS, I think they are overrated and strongly discourage them.

      Re water filtration, I have drank hundreds of gallons of silty water and have not shared your colleagues’ experience of constipation. If you want to purify the water, don’t bother trying to use a filter — it will clog very quickly.

  7. InsatiableWanderlust June 27, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    Hello Andrew: We’ll be trekking Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork to Fimmvorduhals this July. I’m leaning towards my synthetic Gortex hiking books vs. sturdier leather hiking boots? We have other shoes for the river crossings. Which would you recommend?

    • Andrew Skurka July 1, 2013 at 12:46 am #

      I recommend boots and “waterproof” shoes in only very limited conditions. The Laugavegur is not one of them. Instead, I’d go with non-waterproof trail running shoes like the Salomon 3D PRO or similar, or perhaps non-waterproof hiking shoes if you’re not ready for trail running shoes yet.

  8. mark October 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Hi Andrew
    I’m hoping to walk across Iceland next July from Seydisfjordur to Reyjjavik. I will probably purchase a Hilleberg one man tent – not cheap! I’ll be back packing but obviously I cannot carry all my food for the trip so I hope to send food supplies to two places ahead of me. Do you think hotels in Reykjahlid and Gullfoss would hold these for me? What sort of food would be best to take bearing in mind the space it will take up.
    I will be following the F26 across Sprengisandur, with a detour to visit the thermal pools at Laugafell. How tricky are the rivers to cross? And are there any which you are aware of on my route that are extra tricky? Just before Stong on the F26 I hope to travel across to Gullfoss on the R332. I’ve tried to follow it on google earth and I note it crosses several rivers too. Do you know if this is a feasible route? I’ll probably have other queries, but this will do for now. Great website by the way!

    • Andrew Skurka October 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to any of your questions. For resupply, I would recommend contacting some hotels. For the route, I’d recommend trying to find someone who knows that area; I’ve included about as much information as I could recall on these pages.

  9. Jen December 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    We are considering laugavegur with our two sons, 11&13, both avid and capable hikers. Every person I spoke to from Iceland has tried to steer us away-any thoughts? In particular they mention the sudden changes of weather. We would go in late June or July.

    From what I read you cannot back country camp and you need to reserve huts, was that your experience?

    Did you spend any time in Skaftafell national park?

    • Andrew Skurka December 4, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      The trail was heavily used in 2008, and probably even more overrun now. So I can definitely understand why the locals are steering you away — there is lots more to see with far fewer people.

      “Sudden changes in weather” — I think that’s the nature of weather, isn’t it? In Boulder the temperature just dropped 60 degrees in 36 hours, but I don’t think that’s abnormal — about everywhere I’ve ever gone, the locals will say, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.”

      I don’t recall a no-camping regulation. If there was one, I didn’t abide by it.

  10. Thomas Seear-Budd January 22, 2014 at 3:03 am #

    Hi Andrew I am doing an Iceland crossing (south – North) this year and wanted to know your thoughts on pack sizes. I am looking at two packs a 70L and 75L. Do you think this size is adequate (too small, or too large). You should know that I am a photographer so will have a fair amount of camera gear.

    Cheers
    Thomas

    • Andrew Skurka January 22, 2014 at 7:56 am #

      My recommendation is to determine all of your other gear and supplies, and then to buy a pack. It will be pretty obvious whether 70-75L is appropriate or not.

  11. Mike January 25, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Hey Andrew, I’ve really followed a lot of your ultra light tips, and it helped me successfully complete the JMT. I’m looking at doing the Laugavegur Trail this August with a buddy. I have the MLD Trailstar (used it on the JMT), would you recommend it here? Would you use trail runners? Would you use an alcohol stove (cat food can)? Any other advice you can give me would be great (clothing, etc.). Thanks!

  12. Chandkiran March 25, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the very elaborate and informative description of your Icelandic traverse. I read that you used 1:250,000 and 1:100,000 maps for your hike. I will be doing the N-S stretch across Iceland in July. I have been planning my trail using the 250,000 maps. Now, for a detailed understanding and later during the hike, I’m wondering if 100,000 should be good enough or would it be still better to get 50,000 scale maps?

    These are no longer available in CD Roms. Bearing in mind the cost of paper maps I can either buy the 100,000 OR the 50,000 maps. Any suggestions?

    Many thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka March 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

      The optimal scale is a function of your route, the landscape, and your map reading skills. If you’re always off-trail, and it’s a cryptic landscape, and your map-reading skills aren’t very good, you want large-scale maps, e.g. 1:50k. If the opposite is true, 100k or even 250k will work. I might look at the route in greater detail and determine areas where you will benefit from large-scale maps versus those where you can get away with smaller scale.

  13. Leonardo August 1, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    Hi Andrew how are you? I think that is great that you inspire other peoples to get out there and explore our land and our origins, I am planning a solo hike in iceland starting on sept 15 till oct 15.
    I am currently planning a section that goes from hekla volcano and links with the landmannalaugar to skogar to vik. (Should take two weeks with photos and day hikes around) than I will continue on with another hike from the glacier lagoon to laki. I am only undecided if I should bring crampons and showel, what do you think? And also would you have any suggestions on some cool spots around the areas that I’m Gnn be walking? Any other suggestions at all about my hike?

    Andrew thank you very much for your time and I hope to get some info from you.
    Thanks
    Leonardo

  14. Kienan October 17, 2015 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m planning on doing Laugavegurinn next July or August and I am wondering, in a windy, treeless and potentially rainy condition like that do you have any tent recommendations? I know you used the GoLite Shangri-La 2 tent that is no longer available so I’m looking at things with “pyramidic” shapes to shed wind from several directions. Maybe something like the Nemo Veda 1p. Any suggestions would be welcomed. Happy hiking!

    • Andrew Skurka October 18, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

      The ideal shelter for Iceland is a single-wall mountaineering tent, which offer protection from both wind and sand.

      If you want to take the pyramid tarp route, I would get an MLD SoloMid and OokNest Nano. You might also consider waiting on a solo mid that Sierra Designs is releasing next Spring, but I can’t guarantee that it will be available by July and there probably will not be a nylon nest available for it.

  15. Fien June 18, 2016 at 4:43 am #

    Hi Andrew, I found your gear list and it has been very inspiring. I m going on an Iceland trip for the whole month of August and am planning to do camping and trekking. I will not go crosscountry as it is my first solo trekking experience. I will do the Laugavegur trekking, Dettifoss, so mostly the well marked routes. Maybe Kjalvegur, depending on the experiences with the Laugavegur trekking. I am doubting if I should purchase a new sleeping pad and sleeping bag. My sleeping pad is an Exped synmat UL 7 M, R value 3.1 (air mattress) and my sleeping bag North Face Aleutian 3S (synthetic, comfort 30°). I am a cold sleeper so I am doubting if I should go for a Themarest sleeping pad and a warmer down sleeping bag or if I could also upgrade my sleeping bag with a fleece sleeping bag liner and bivy sack against humidity. Any advice is welcome! Thanks! Séverine

    • Andrew Skurka June 18, 2016 at 10:26 am #

      There are so many factors that affect nighttime warmth, related to both the system (eg what shelter are you using, anyone sleeping next to you, condition of your sleeping bag) and to the individual (eg hydration, fatigue, body composition and shape). So I am reluctant to give you an opinion about your system. For me, I could manage just fine in Iceland in August with a 30-deg bag and insulated air pad. If you are unsure, try testing it in a similar environment before your trip.

      Re the fleece liner and bivy. The liner will add warmth but not as efficiently as as a bag with more insulation. The liner weighs 12 oz or so but adds only 15-ish deg of warmth F. Whereas 12 oz of extra goose down would probably add 2-3x that much.

      Conventional alpine bivies are heavy and stuffy. They will only make condensation problems worse. Water-resistant bivies are much more breathable, but are of little value inside an enclosed tent.

  16. karel June 24, 2016 at 7:50 am #

    Hi,

    I’m planning on hiking true Europe and i want to have a good idea on what food i can take with me.
    What do you eat on your hiking trips ?

    thank you !

    • Andrew Skurka June 27, 2016 at 8:07 am #

      That’s a pretty broad question, beyond the scope of a reply here. I would encourage you to consider the purchase of this ebook — it will answer your question very thoroughly.

      • karel rigole July 2, 2016 at 5:55 am #

        Thank you !

  17. Joshua January 22, 2017 at 9:20 pm #

    Hi im joshua .. im from quebec (canada)
    Im going to iceland..backpack only…. alone.. i have 1month.. id like to.know if u could help me…give me.some tips.. its my first hiking travel

    • Andrew Skurka January 24, 2017 at 5:35 pm #

      Hi Joshua – That’s an ambitious first hiking trip. I generally recommend some smaller and lower risk trips to break yourself in. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the options, I offer a coaching service so that I can help on a deeper level than I could otherwise.

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