I dream of the gear I’ll take to Iceland. These are my current thoughts:
Stephenson’s Warmlite 2C
It’s exposed and potentially windy in the Iceland highlands so the shelter of choice must be wind-worthy. The other key factor in shelter choice is sandstorms, which may not be an obvious feature of a sub-polar region but it is in this particular case: Iceland is all lava. In the highlands, fine volcanic dust covers wide areas devoid of any vegetation that could help stopping it being blown around. When it is, it gets into the most intimate corners.
It is important that the shelter is somewhat dust-proof so tarps are out. The Warmlite is the only shelter in my closet that ticks that box and it’s also good in wind as well as fairly lightweight so it seems like the obvious choice. It’s heavily dependent on tension so good staking points are a must. Just three of them are really needed but they must get a good hold. I’m aware of the potential in the Iceland highlands for a no-soil scenario, either dust or hard lava instead. I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to avoid such scenario but I’ll need to plan for some means of solid staking down on both dust and solid lava or I’ll need to spend some odd night in an oversized bivy.
The biggest drawback I foresee for the Warmlite tent in this trip is humidity. Despite manufacturer claims, this tent can get heavy condensation to the point that the living quarters can get quite tropical and the ventilation facilities are very limited. It’s happened to me before with this tent but fortunately the conditions leading to it didn’t last. If they did, I might have a problem with my rather thin down quilt losing loft. I hope the variable nature of Iceland weather will be on my side to allow for some drying time.
Merrel All-Out Terra Trail
I have it clear that hiking shoes are the way to go. I can’t picture myself hiking in any other kind of footwear except in snow/ice and Iceland won’t make any difference.
The two key factors to choose the best shoes for Iceland are water and sand. They’re somehow mutually exclusive: the best draining shoes will let the sand in. Sandproof shoes will take longer to dry.
I’ve chosen to go with the sand protection. I know how awful it can be to have consistently dusty feet and socks: it’s not the odd pebble but a fine dust that rubs the skin and mixes with the humidity in the socks to create some sort of your own muddy inside job. I’m quite fine with wet feet; I hate dusty feet.
I actually have both shoe versions ready to go, both Merrell All Out models: the Blaze Aero is best at draining. The Terra Trail has a thin neoprene built-in booty that will stop the sand through and will also provide a good enough seal on the edges even if I wear no gaiters. I’ll go with the Terra Trail.
Lots of it
With nearly 300 void km in between resupply points that will take a minimum of 7 days hiking, food is definitely an issue on this route. Furthermore, I don’t count on any wide selection at the 3 possible resupply spots so I expect to have some key, quality items with me from the very beginning and to the very end. I plan to be packing a heavy food load for at least the first week. Volume will also be an issue.
I may veer slightly away from my menu standards to make it lighter weight and more compact as well as taking the most advantage of the fact that I’ll be carrying a stove anyway.
My standard menu:
Breakfast: powder milk and some kind of cereal.
Lunch: some kind of dry meat, the driest cheese I can find, some kind of dry bread, trail mix (nuts, dried fruit, chocolate), chips, peanut butter, power bars… not all at the same time.
Dinner: couscous or some other kind of thinly cut pasta plus olive oil, salt, nuts and raisins or potato mash.
This menu is meant for a cold breakfast/lunch and a hot dinner. As far as fuel goes, I can go for a whole month on a small gas canister, which is great for extended self-supported plans or trips where fuel resupply is not easy. As for the food itself, resupply is possible in the tiniest of stores: there’s always something available from that list in all categories. The menu is compact, lightweight and calorie rich and I enjoy what I eat.
There’s not much I’d change for any reason but I’d be ready to make some compromises to save some weight or volume whenever advisable. In Iceland I wouldn’t need to carry more than 8 days worth of food at a time but that means hiking at a 40 km/day pace, which is hard enough before a heavy pack is considered. Then there’s the potential for delays due to weather or river fords.
One possible strategy I’ve followed in the past is to cook breakfast and go for the most weight/volume efficient food. The good news is that there’s an obvious choice: couscous is as compact and weight efficient as food can get. The bad news is that I’d be having the same thing for breakfast and dinner. It’s some long hours, lots of sleep and some dreaming in between though and I’m sure my body will have time to forget what it got for dinner.
Back to fuel issues, with only 13 hiking days, a small size gas canister should still be enough, no need to upgrade to a bigger size canister that would negate most of the weight advantage.
I’ve eventually ditched all my remaining silnylon stuff sacks and gone all Cuben. Weight savings are secondary here, the main asset of Cuben in this application is waterproofness.
This is not really Iceland-specific but it may be very valuable on a trip where self-reliance is key and conditions may get damp. Silnylon is quite waterproof, certainly enough for its use as a shelter but it lets water through when it’s under pressure, just what happens inside a loaded pack. I was tired of finding a wet mess all over inside the pack just because something wet was packed inside a silnylon stuff sack.
Cuben is a film and it’s effectively waterproof under the pressure found inside a loaded pack. I’ve been using a Cuben dry sack for the sleeping bag for some time and recently went cuben too for the clothing sack. Now it’ll be also the accessories bag and the down garment bag. Only the tent will be packed in silnylon but this one will go outside if it’s wet.
The main pack, a HMG 3400 Southwest, is also Cuben (Hybrid). Once again I find specially valuable the waterproofness of the fabric. I’ll be so happy to leave the pack cover behind and not worry about rainy weather adjustments anymore.
I use a typical 5 layer system where every layer meets a specific role: base, mid, windproof, waterproof and high loft insulation. I trust this system so much that no siren calls from miracle garments, new or old, will make me change a thing. It is based on a set of very specialized layers with little functional overlap. Together they’re stronger.
The roles will stay but the actual items that fill them may change. I’ve updated one item for this upcoming trip: the waterproof top. This is one of the most controversial clothing pieces and it’s so with a reason: it’s the most difficult role to fill. Rain, cold, hard times, misery, hypothermia and a waterproof top to help beat them all it’s too much to ask but we’re entitled to try and find the rainy weather hiking nirvana.
Iceland has the potential for long-lasting rain, cold and misery in a remote setting. Gear for rainy weather is no place for compromises.
I’ll be taking a cagoule. This is a prospect sweet spot in between a jacket and a poncho. It’s not a popular item but it makes so much sense that I take it as proof of the failure of the market drive to meet user needs. It can still be found commercially though. This one is the Elite Cagoule by Sierra Designs.
The one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll need to use it. I’ll see how it goes.
Wool or synths: a story of insulation, weight and the wet
Both options contend for the base and mid layers. Wool is a fantastic insulator. On the other hand, it holds more water which makes it heavier when wet as well as slower to dry.
I own a hell of a fantastic wool/nylon blend mid layer, a Smartwool PhD HYFI pullover. It insulates buckets, it’s super comfy to wear and it looks so great that it’d work as a fashion statement item on the post-hike town visit. I can imagine how much I’d love to wear this in Iceland when the weather gets tough. The bad news is that it’s heavy: 465 gr.
Its fleece alternative is a breezy 187 grams. Not a completely fair weight comparison even if both items fill the same role as the wool piece is considerably thicker and more insulative.
The mid layer need is debatable in summer conditions. It’s still a staple in my kit anywhere there’s any chance of cold/wet/both, which is most of the times if the trip involves any mountains. Still, it’s an item likely to stay in the pack for long so it needs to be lightweight to be justified. The simple, fitted fleece pullover meets this role perfectly. Then, this is Iceland.
At the time of writing I’m still undecided. Unfortunately, I don’t plan on a post-hike town visit to help justify the wool jersey. I’ll most likely be going straight from the trail to the airport.
The base layer is less tricky. It’ll be worn all the time so weight is not so critical and the weight difference between wool and synth is not that big anyway. The decision is about performance: A wool shirt wears better over two weeks of non-stop use and the extra insulation factor is more an asset than a curse in a place like Iceland. The synthetic shirt will dry faster when it gets wet.
At the time of writing, I’m still listing synthetic items for both base and mid layers. It might still change.
I’ll be just under 6 kg (13 lbs) base weight, about 1-2 kg heavier than my typical summer, long distance base. I could get lighter but I dare not.
For a complete reference, this is the current selection: