We all know by now that travel in Iceland can be expensive. However, knowing where to eat on the cheap, what to look for in a vehicle rental, and many other ways to save money, you CAN travel to Iceland on a budget!
Enter camping! Camping is a great way to fully enjoy nature and an affordable option for accommodation.
While I have traveled a lot in Iceland, I haven’t done much camping yet because I regretfully left all of my camping gear in the States (dumb Jeannie, I know!) But a lot of you have been asking about camping, so I needed to get to the bottom of this!
I’ve recruited my friend Bryan who recently spent two weeks camping ALL over Iceland to tell you all about his experience. I met Bryan in Chiropractic school, and we traveled through Costa Rica together. I know he loves the outdoors and would be a great resource for learning all about camping.
Take it away, Bryan!
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Hello! My name is Bryan and I’m a pretty big fan of traveling, exploring, and being outdoors. I recently knocked about Iceland for 16 days camping, hiking, and finding gigantic whale vertebrae.
I love camping. It’s a cheap, accessible way to rest your head at night. Sure, you may get a little dirty (maybe smelly?) but it’s nothing a quick jump in a stream or shower under a waterfall can’t fix. I’ve camped throughout the United States and in Mexico so I was excited to add Iceland to the list.
If you are familiar with camping in the United States, camping in Iceland is pretty similar but there are some major differences.
- It Isn’t Secluded
- There aren’t a lot of trees in Iceland. Most campsites are just a big, open field where everyone pitches their tent (or parks their camper) wherever they want. If it’s busy, this may mean you are super close to other people without anything in between. Also, sometimes campsites are on the outskirts of town, sometimes they are right in the town center, but rarely are they in the middle of nowhere.
- You Can’t Build a Fire
- There are a couple of things working against you on this one:
1) Lack of firewood (see tree comment above)
2) Fragile ecosystem
- Some campsites have metal grills set up, but most just have picnic tables where you can use a camp stove
- There are a couple of things working against you on this one:
- Running Water
- Camping in the US usually means pit toilets and (maybe) running water, sometimes a shower, and the facilities are often dirty. In Iceland, almost all campsites have flush toilets, running water, and most have showers. Also, the facilities are clean! And, added bonus, you don’t have to negotiate with a giant spider for use of the toilet.
Where can I find a campsite?
Pretty much every town has one. If you have a road map of Iceland, there is a little camping symbol everywhere there is a campsite. Typically, when you get to a town, there are road signs pointing you to the campsite.
I’ve heard you can camp anywhere in Iceland. Is this true?
Technically there is some truth to this. There are some hard rules such as you can only camp in designated areas within National Parks, you can’t camp on private land without the permission of the owner, and you can’t camp at lay-bys (Iceland’s term for rest stops). Additionally, you can’t have more than three tents in any location.
However, give me a moment while I get out my soapbox.
YOU SHOULD ONLY CAMP IN DESIGNATED CAMPSITES.
Not only am I an avid traveler, but I’m also a big proponent of RESPONSIBLE travel. Travel to Iceland can be expensive, I know, so the idea of being able to pitch your tent for free almost anywhere you chose is definitely appealing. But here is why you shouldn’t:
- Environmental Responsibility – I know it looks big on a world map (damn you Mercator projection!) but Iceland is smaller than Ohio. The majority of the ecosystem is classified as tundra (read: fragile, easily damaged). It may not seem like a big deal for you and your group of 4 to pitch your tents wherever you choose, but when you and the projected 1.2 million other tourists (this year!) all have the same idea, it can easily spell disaster for the environment. Damage to a tundra ecosystem can take over 100 years to recover, and that is if no one else is bothering it. If everyone just pitches their tent wherever they want it won’t be long before this:
Looks like this:
- Social Responsibility – This isn’t your home, it belongs to someone else and they are courteous enough to let you come and enjoy it. So don’t treat it like a frat house basement on a Saturday night after you’ve been doing keg stands. Act like you’ve been invited to the Buckingham Palace for a dinner party with the Queen. They’ll probably be more likely to invite you back.
- Economic Responsibility – I know it isn’t on the forefront of everyone’s minds, but tourism provides a huge economic boost, especially for a place like Iceland. Things are expensive because they live on a tiny island with limited access to resources. The country was hit hard by the 2008 recession and has worked hard to get back – the money they make from tourism has been a big part of that. By not paying for any accommodations while you’re there, you are effectively snubbing your nose at them,which isn’t cool.
In Summary – If you camp wherever you want, you are damaging their ecosystem, being extremely rude, and not giving them any money to help fix the damage you’ve done. Basically, you are acting like an entitled brat and don’t deserve to be traveling there in the first place.
How much does it cost?
Phew! Glad that’s over. Hopefully you’re still with me. Now that we’ve gotten past that hurdle, we can talk about how much it costs to camp.
Good news is camping is cheap! Prices are generally given per person and range from 1.000 to 2.000 Icelandic krona ($8-$16 US). Cost includes access to bathroom facilities. Typically for the more expensive campsites it also includes use of showers, sauna, and geothermal pool (if they have them). Cheaper campsites may have showers for an additional fee (typically around 500 krona, $4).
An alternative for your showering needs is just going to one of the town pools since you are required to shower before getting in. Almost every town has one (heated by geothermal energy!) and they are typically pretty cheap (500-700 krona,$4-$6 seems to be average, although some are free and some up to 1.500 krona, $12).
There is also a camping card you can buy. It is priced per person and is good for 28 days. It does limit where you can go (only 40 participating campsites) so you might need to plan a little more in advance. If you are only going to be camping for a week, probably not a great deal, but if you are going to be camping for two or more weeks, definitely worth a look.
Gear to Bring
If you are thinking about camping, you already probably have a lot the necessary gear. You can rent gear in Iceland, but you are probably looking at a lot of unnecessary additional cost. You probably shouldn’t be too concerned about weight limits for airline baggage. I brought all my clothes, food, and camping gear for 16 days and my combined bag weight was only 40 lbs. (You are allowed 2 bags at 50 lbs each for IcelandAir).
- Gear List
- Tent – most people have one where the rain cover completely covers the tent because of high wind
- Ground tarp
- Extra stakes
- Sleeping bag – I’d recommend one that is rated for cold weather as it still gets pretty cold at night during the summer
- Sleeping pad – the ground is actually pretty soft, and I felt really good with just my Thermarest
- Camp Stove – I recommend a small backpacking stove
- Cookware – this depends a lot on what you plan on doing for food. I did mostly freeze dried backpacking meals so I brought 1 pot, 1 spork
- Water Jug
- Eye Mask – if you are camping during the summer, it never gets dark. Like, not even close. If you plan on sleeping, you need to cover your eyes
- Ear Plugs – it never gets dark, so the birds never shut up.
- Fast dry towel
- Headlamp – for cave exploring! That’s the only place it’ll be dark enough for one in the summer
- Food – this is up to you. If you plan on cooking using fresh ingredients, I’d buy them in Iceland. If you plan on going the backpacking food route, it’s much cheaper to buy in the US and then bring with you (you can bring in up to 3kg of food excluding raw meat, eggs, and some other things)
- Things You’ll Need to Get in Iceland
Camping in Iceland was awesome! If you’re looking for a secluded place to drop your tent and muck about for a week, this isn’t it. But, if you are looking for affordable (and gorgeous) accommodations, this is definitely the way to go. I definitely plan on camping again for my next Iceland adventure (hopefully soon?!).
Question: Are you planning on camping in Iceland? Anything you would add to this list?
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