Iceland is a wonder to visit at all times of the year. Depending on when you’re here, you’ll be treated to completely unique experiences. Summertime brings with it long stretches of daylight, warmer weather and cleared hiking trails. Winter boasts the northern lights, snow-covered mountains, and cold temperatures.
Therefore, the way you prepare will directly depend on when you choose to come. Of course, you’ll need to bring warmer clothes in winter and have gear designed to traverse through snow. But just as important as your clothes is your vehicle and ensuring it’s suited for winter driving. Let’s take a look at snow tires in Iceland, when they’re needed and how to get them.
Winter in Iceland
It’s debatable what is considered ‘winter time’ in Iceland. While it’s generally thought to be the time from December to February, if you define winter by snowfall and low temperatures, then it could be from October to April. Since Iceland is far north, there’s almost 24 hours of darkness leading up to the winter solstice which kicks off on the 21st of December.
Although temperatures do not drop as low as Finland or Canada, below zero is fairly normal for most of winter. This means that many lakes partially or completely freeze over and icy roads and pavements are a daily occurrence. Despite the efforts of the snowplows and gritters, sometimes the snow falls too fast for them to keep up.
Since you cannot always expect roads to be fully clear of snow and ice, you should know how to drive in snow and adjust your driving accordingly. Driving on clear, dry roads is very different to wet, snow- or ice-covered roads. If you don’t have experience with winter driving, be extra careful and do your research. A large portion of car accidents are caused by tourists in Iceland’s winter.
So, how can you best prepare your vehicle for its first Icelandic winter? What kind of car should you choose to hire? Before you think about whether your vehicle is suitable for these types of conditions, you’ll need to hire one. Book yours now at Cars Iceland.
Using Snow Tires in Iceland
Are snow tires enough to drive in Iceland during winter? Well, this depends on three things: the kind of vehicle you’re driving, where you’re driving, and the road conditions. While winter tires are not legally compulsory, they are essential.
Therefore, every Icelander will have a set of winter tires they switch to in the darker months. These have a different tread pattern, creating better grip on slippery surfaces. At the very least, you’ll need these snow tires, also known as winter tires, for your winter driving adventure.
But what if you want to give yourself more assurance? Well, with Cars Iceland, you’ll be better protected. Your Iceland rental car snow tires will be studded winter tires when you hire from us in winter. Studded tires have small metal studs embedded in the rubber, to reduce slipping by breaking through snow and ice.
Icelandic law states that studded tires may be used from November 1st to April 15th. For most places and most conditions in Iceland, studded tires will be sufficient to keep you on the road.
The next step up from studded tires are snow chains, which must be manually fitted to each individual tire. These are unnecessary for most tourists unless you’re driving after heavy snowfall before the roads have been plowed. They are useful for steep hills and rural roads, but it’s advisable to stick to main roads in Icelandic winter.
If the conditions are such that snow chains are necessary, it’s better to make other plans. Iceland’s weather is famously unpredictable and the country faces heavy storms in winter. You don’t want to find yourself stranded, trying to fit chains in a blizzard.
Regarding the type of vehicle, it’s best to go with a 4x4 in the wintertime.
Other Tips for Driving in Snow
Drive below the speed limit. The maximum speeds in Iceland are 90 km/h for rural paved roads, 80 km/h for rural gravel roads, and 50 km/h for urban roads. If there’s snow or ice on the road, drive slower than you usually would so as to reduce the likelihood of hydroplaning.
Leave extra space behind the car in front. Remember that the stopping distance is much longer when roads are wet. If you’d normally leave one full car length, leave two or more. This will improve your reaction times, especially for unforeseen circumstances.
No sudden movements. Jerky movements will make you slide out of control. Take your turns gradually and try to ease your brake down rather than slamming it.
Have a window scraper and de-icing spray. Visibility will be just as key as road conditions. Ensure your windscreen and all other windows are clear before setting out. Remember that if you’ve parked your car outside, you may have to dig it out if it snowed overnight.
Check the road conditions online. Roads will be closed if it’s considered dangerous to drive on them. This includes the road from Keflavík International Airport to Reykjavík. So, before embarking on an excursion, make sure your route is clear.
Check the weather forecast here. The official website of the Icelandic Meteorological Society will give you the most accurate forecasts. In the event that a storm, strong wind or heavy snow is predicted, find something to do indoors. Keep in mind that if you break down in the middle of nowhere during bad weather, rescue is hours away.
Always keep your headlights on. In fact, this is the law in Iceland: you must keep your headlights on at all times while driving. This applies no matter the weather or season.
Other Winter in Iceland Tips
Bring a pair of well-fitted, sturdy and waterproof hiking boots. Once your feet become cold or wet, it will quickly sap your energy and lower your mood. Invest in a good pair of boots and they’ll last you for years.
Crampons, or spikes. These are useful for winter hikes, providing extra grip on snow and ice. Nowadays, it’s easy to find affordable crampons that are both light and easy to put on and take off.
Bring thermal layers to wear under your regular clothes. This tight layer will go a long way towards keeping you warm when temperatures are low. Especially since hunting for the northern lights or watching a waterfall involves a lot of standing still.
Have some Plan B activities in mind. Excursions and tours are cancelled when wintry weather makes them unfeasible. Check out some of Reykjavík’s awesome museums or explore the downtown area if your original plans don’t work out.
Be prepared to wake up at any time. The northern lights don’t follow a schedule; they could come out at 9pm, midnight or 2am, or anytime in between. But rest assured-they’re well worth getting out of bed for. The good news is that many hotels offer a wake-up service, calling your room if the lights appear so you don’t miss out on the big show.
Winter driving and snow tires
Although driving in Iceland’s winter requires greater caution, there’s nothing to worry about. With your snow tires, you’ll be all set for a snow-filled adventure. Just remember to take it slow and pay attention to weather warnings.
The landscape of The Land of Fire and Ice is completely different in winter. Icicles hanging alongside famous waterfalls, snow-covered lava fields, frozen lakes, all of this adds to Iceland’s unique majestic nature.
Book your rental with studded tires included, and kickstart your winter adventure in this incredible Nordic island.