Iceland, and the Anatomy of a NEMO Trip

We have a running joke here in the office: if it doesn’t rain, it’s not a NEMO trip.  Annual fall foliage campout in the Whites? Downpour. Basecamp for pre-OR canyoneering at Zion? Mud. Trail maintenance day with Southeast Land Trust? 99% humidity … and a surprise thunderstorm at the end of the day!

Even through I went to Iceland without our office crew, my GO FAR adventure was still a NEMO trip. So, of course, the weather gods delivered. During my time in the Land of Fire and Ice, I was treated to rain, snow, hail, wind, fog, and a few (brief) moments of sun. Luckily, with a few NEMO trips under my belt, I know the secret to sketchy-forecast success:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”

Outfitted with my NEMO adventure kit, I had a blast on a 4-day hike of the Laugavegur Trail. The 55-kilometer trail crests snowy ridges and snakes through obsidian deserts. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and I’m happy to report it was 100% worth the hype … despite some interesting conditions. Below is a recap of my adventure, and some recommendations for gear that can weather any storm.

DAY 1: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

After a few days of solo hiking and camping around southern Iceland, I met up with Francois, my Trek Iceland guide, and the rest of our group.

We were a small, motley crew of primarily solo travelers from all different corners of the world. Before we started the trek, Francois warned us about the day to come: extreme wind, heavy snow, and a long uphill slog. He gave us the option to skip this day of the hike if we had any hesitation about our abilities or gear.

Being a typical stubborn New Englander, I laced up my boots and got ready to hike.

It was lightly raining when we reached the multicolored valley of Landmannalaugar. We passed through turquoise blue ravines and climbed along alien black lava fields. Rain turned to snow turned to blizzard. Constant blistering wind pelted us with snow, but we persevered up the ridge through the whiteout. To keep the group together, our pace slowed to a crawl. As we gained elevation, the weather became increasingly intense. In theory, I should have been miserable: it was cold, breaking trail through the snow was hard, and any exposed skin was stinging. But, I was almost giddy. I was in Iceland, hiking through a blizzard! When we finally saw shelter in the distance, we sprinted down the slippery descent. Hot soup and the dry hut: heavenly.

Gear MVP: Aya™ 15. Our new 2019 ultralight down mummy was perfect for this trek. It’s super packable, and the versatile Thermo Gills™ meant comfortable nights in a variety of temperatures; I was comfy in a warm hut and on the side of the trail.

DAY 2: Hrafntinnusker to Alftavatn

We awoke to a deep coat of snow on the ground, but clear skies and a calmer day in the forecast. We set off into the blaring whiteness, happy that Francois knew the way; all the trail markers were buried under the fresh snow. The trail meandered past sulfurous hot springs and pushed over a final snowy pass. When we crested the ridge, a whole new world of green and ash came into view below us.

We wound through mossy glens and dense purple wildflowers. After stretching our legs over a few flat miles, we made it to Lake Alftavatn, our destination for the night. At the campsite, a tiny shed/bar had been transformed into a World Cup watching party. Our crew squeezed in and witnessed Iceland fall to Croatia on a makeshift TV: a laptop hanging from a rope.

After a fun night of toasting to the historic Iceland World Cup attempt, we sprinted through chilly wind and crawled into our tents for the night.

Gear MVP: Chogori™ 2P. This bomber tent is well suited for Iceland’s notorious winds. The exterior poles and integrated fly/tent system make for quick set up in bad weather.

DAY 3: Alftavatn to Emstrur

This was my favorite day of hiking. After a few days of dreading the unavoidable river crossings, we finally strapped on our sandals and took the plunge. Luckily, the water was low, and our first crossing was relatively easy… even though our shrieks from the icy water would indicate otherwise! After some surprising sunshine in the morning, a thick fog descended over the valley as we hiked through endless black sand. In the evening, the clouds parted for a beautiful glimpse of Eyjafjallajökull, or E15 for the Icelandic-challenged.

By bedtime, the midnight sun was blaring.

Gear MVP: Fillo™ pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs. A good night’s rest is key to staying happy on a camping trip. A Fillo™ and earplugs are always in my pack. And for summer in Iceland, an eye mask should be mandatory — the sun doesn’t set!

DAY 4: Emstrur to Thorsmork

On the last day of our hike, we experienced a bit of everything on the weather front: rain, wind, hail, and sun (but no blizzard)! The terrain was varied as well; we passed a glacier, huffed and puffed up some rocky hills, and wandered through a scrub forest. When we reached the trailhead in Thorsmork, our group rested our tired feet and reminisced over beer and Doritos. In typical fashion, it started to rain right before we caught our bus back to Reykjavik.

Gear MVP: Vector™ Insulated. The insulating effects of the metallized interior film kept me warm during chilly nights in Iceland. The foot pump is well worth the weight after a long day of adventures.

Once we said our sad goodbyes in Reykjavik, I grabbed an Icelandic hot dog and set off in pursuit of the hot shower that had been haunting my dreams.

As I walked through the city with my muddy backpack, I was dirty, wet, tired, and happy. Crazy weather, new friends, and amazing nights in the backcountry? Definitely an adventure. Definitely a NEMO trip.

Essential Gear

  • Aya™ 15° – Coming out next year, our new 2019 ultralight down mummy was perfect for this trek. It’s super packable, and the versatile Thermo Gills™ meant comfortable nights in a variety of temperatures.
  • Chogori™ 2P – This bomber tent is well suited for Iceland’s notorious winds. The exterior poles and integrated fly/tent system make for quick set up in bad weather and lighter packed weight.
  • Fillo™ Pillow- A good night’s rest is key to staying happy on a camping trip. A Fillo™ and earplugs are always in my pack. And for summer in Iceland, an eye mask should be mandatory — the sun doesn’t set!
  • Vector™ Insulated – The insulating effects of the metallized interior film kept me warm during chilly nights in Iceland. The foot pump is well worth the weight after a long day of adventures.
  • Outdoor Research – Rocky Mountain Low Gaiters – I borrowed my dad’s 1990’s era OR Gaiters, and they were still killer. On Laugavegur, the black sand easily drifts in boots; gaiters kept my feet protected, dry, and blister-free.
  • Kindle E-Reader – As a lifelong book lover, I pushed back on e-readers for several years, preferring the experience of holding a real book. But when I picked up a Kindle at a yard sale, I realized how awesome e-readers are for backpacking. Thousands of books can come along with you, for just a few ounces.

The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Theresa Conn manages International Logistics at NEMO, loves to play the fiddle, and explore mountain trails wherever they may take her.