Iceland is made for backpacking. It has a wealth of trails that are supported by smart amenities and relatively easy to access. The country has embraced the backpacker, with plenty of touring groups, sports shops and hostels. Here are some other reasons why it’s a great backpacking destination.
Icelanders realize what makes the country special: incredible scenery. Much of the land is young since it straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Some lava flows are just 20 years old. This creates some dramatic landscape unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else. The scenery also changes quickly. Walk three miles, and the scenery changes completely.
Major hiking routes have sturdy, high-quality huts ever eight miles or so. You can book reservations there, or just pitch a tent nearby (you’re not supposed to camp outside designated areas along the hiking routes). “Hut” is a bit of a misnomer since these structures actually have bathrooms and cooking facilities. Those who are tent camping can still use the bathrooms, but not the cooking gear.
Iceland isn’t the only backpacking destination to have incredible huts – New Zealand is also solid in this respect, as are many Scandinavian and Nordic areas.
No Dangerous Animals
I live in Arizona. Backpacking here brings the risk of rattlesnakes, scorpions and other potentially painful creepy-crawlies. We might have the Grand Canyon and very diverse scenery, but the state is just not set up to be backpacking destination. Iceland is a different story. Aside from sheep and harmless insects, the only animal you might encounter in the Icelandic back country is the Arctic fox – or possibly a Speedo-clad German taking a dip in a natural hot spring. In reality, the foxes are seldom seen and are too small to present a real threat.
Lots of Daylight During Summer
One of the challenges of backpacking can be the sudden drop in temperature when night falls. In Iceland, that’s not much of a concern. That’s because you’ll have about 22 hours of daylight. Even when the sun dips below the horizon, the sky still stays fairly light. That means no rushing to set up camp and dive into your tent and sleeping bag before the temperature turns frigid.
Solitude for Your Inner Hermit
Iceland is a decent-sized country. But it has only about 300,000 people in in it. So it’s slightly smaller than my home state, yet its population is about the size of a Phoenix suburb. That adds up to some empty space. Even at the popular Landmannalaugar hiking area, I hiked for hours at times without encountering another person. You’ll feel like you’re in some post-apocalyptic world with that sort of scenery, silence and solitude. Even areas like Dimmuborgir and the psuedocrater fields near Kirkjubaejarklaustur seem remote and rarely traveled.
Words of Warning
Though Iceland’s summer temperatures are often mild, things can change quickly. A driving rain can appear out of nowhere, with howling wind to accompany it.
The weather can do more than make you uncomfortable: It can kill you. In the mid-90s, a hiker died during a freak summer blizzard. He was just about a mile from the safety of the Hrafntinnusker Hut.
Plan ahead. Dress well. Bring the right gear. Then, you’ll be ready to have a great experience at any Iceland backpacking destination.
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