Top Tips for Driving in Snow in Iceland

You may think you know how to drive in the snow, but when it comes to Iceland, the weather and road conditions can make winter driving extra challenging. Here's our top tips for driving in snow in Iceland.

steering wheel of a car with a snowy road ahead

blog authorBy Samuel Hogarth shield verificationVerified Expert

Winter excursions in Iceland offer visitors an entirely different experience to summer trips. Magical snowy vistas welcome travelers with open arms, as an entire raft of exciting winter activities provide all the outdoor entertainment one could hope for. From practicing snow sports and admiring the Northern Lights, to experiencing a true winter wonderland filled with glaciers and ice caves, winter in Iceland is truly spectacular! 


But right along with the wonder of a wintry road trip comes the practicalities of winter driving. Road conditions can be quite challenging in Icelandic winters, especially if you’re not accustomed to winter weather driving. 


In this article, we will steer you safely through our top tips for driving in Icelandic snow, from nailing down weather-watching techniques to understanding how best to get your camper van out of a snowdrift. Whatever the road conditions might send your way, here is some sound advice to help you cruise on through. 

  

Winter weather in Iceland 

As you might imagine for a country on the edge of the Arctic Circle, winter in Iceland is long and cold. Winter conditions generally last from around November all the way through to the end of March. However, the snows often start to blow in from October, especially in the Central Highlands and North Iceland.

On the other side of the season, it can also stay pretty wintry well into April. So, if you choose to visit Iceland anytime outside of summer, there’s a high chance you’ll find yourself driving in snow. Don’t worry though, as Icelandic people are well accustomed to dealing with harsh winters and know how to keep things moving throughout these months. For more detailed information on what to expect from Icelandic winter weather, please visit this post.

Driving in snow in Iceland 

So, you’ve officially been won over by the beauty and adventure of a winter trip to Iceland. In that case, you are going to need some winter driving words of wisdom and know-how before you go. Here come our top tips for snowy driving in the Land of Fire and Ice.

Winter tires in Iceland 

If you’re hiring a camper van during the winter months, then you will need special winter tires. Fortunately, winter tires in Iceland come as part of the package when hiring a car with us for your road trip.

These seasonal tires have a much bigger tread than regular tires, allowing them to grip the road better, even when it's full of icy snow. While studded tires have metal studs sunk into the rubber providing even more traction, both are essential kits for safe winter driving in Iceland.
 Jeep on an icy and snowed road in Iceland

Slow and steady wins the day!

An obvious but sound piece of advice when driving in snow anywhere, but especially in Iceland: take things super slow and steady. Make it a point to drive extra smoothly without any sudden braking or changes of direction. It’s in these circumstances that things can go wrong and your vehicle could easily slide out of control.

Driving slowly is always the best policy, and using the gears to slow your speed is a great trick. Keep your car in a low gear and you’ll have less need for using the brakes.

When you do need to brake, you should squeeze the brakes gently to slow or stop your vehicle. Always being very aware of any potential hazards is the best way to make this viable. Look ahead on the road and if you see an upcoming turn or an obstacle up ahead, then preempt it immediately. Of course, if you’re driving slowly to begin with, this shouldn’t be an issue


Braking in snow and ice conditions 

Sometimes, in particular conditions and circumstances, you might need to brake suddenly. This is when things can get tricky, especially if there is a wealth of compacted snow or ice buildup on the roads. Not to mention since ice is often hidden under a fresh dusting of snow, it can be really hard to spot with the naked eye.

If you do lose control of your vehicle on ice, then first thing’s first- try to stay calm. Easier said than done, we know, but a cool head will usually save the day. Rather than slamming on the brakes, instead try to slow down gradually using your gears. If you are driving straight, then maintain that line by keeping the wheel steady.


If your back wheels begin to slide on the ice, then you should turn into the slide. For example, if your back tires are heading to the right, don’t swing left to counter it. Instead, gently steer to the right in the hope that the slide will be corrected. If your front wheels are skidding, then try to keep the steering wheel straight as gently as possible.

An action plan for when you get stuck


Getting stuck in a snowdrift is frustrating as it normally takes a little while to get out, causing you to lose precious travel time. Again, the key here is to stay calm and let logic rule the day. If you’ve prepared well for a winter road trip, you should have your vehicle stocked with some helpful items like torches, snow shovels, water, snacks and warm outdoor gear.

First off, try clearing a pathway forward of your tires with your shovel. It can also help a great deal to lay down some floor mats in front of your tires for extra traction. You should then try to gently move forward and reverse. This compacts the snow and will, hopefully, give you some run-up.

From there, hit the gas lightly and attempt to accelerate. If you’re skidding immediately, then stop and try again with a little more prep. A good push from behind can also help you to get moving again. Once you’re free, then drive steadily on before stopping in a safe place to gather your crew.
 men shoveling snow out to get his car moving again

Weather watching is key

Our main safety tip for a winter road trip success in Iceland is to keep a sharp eye on the forecast. The weather in Iceland is constantly changing, and in winter even more so. Storms can blow in at the blink of an eye, dropping flurries of snow and gushing high winds. Both of which can be passing squalls or ones that settle in for hours.

To deal with all of this wild weather, Icelandic residents and visitors are lucky to have excellent and accurate climate tracking and reporting. There are also several great apps available for download to help you plan your movements safely.

The Vedur App is absolutely indispensable if you’re driving in Iceland in winter. Operated by the Icelandic Meteorological Office, it is as accurate and up-to-date as they come.


Another good one is the Vegagerðin App operated by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. This one includes webcam footage for real time road conditions and route planning in case of closed roads. 

 

Our top tips checklist for driving in snow in Iceland 

  • Don’t try to do much – keep your driving itinerary short and manageable
  • Keep a close eye on the weather and change your plans accordingly
  • Pack warm clothes, cell phones and charging devices
  • Pack snow shovels and a torch
  • Make sure to take plenty of water and snacks with you
  • Check your tires frequently and keep gas and water levels topped up
  • Drive slowly and steadily and avoid rash decisions behind the wheel 
  • Keep a cool head and remember what to do if you skid or get stuck in snow
  • If you get caught in a heavy snowstorm, pull in at a safe place to wait it out
  • Be cautious and sensible and enjoy the incredible winter wonders of Iceland! 
If you made it through all this, there’s a high chance you’re already knee-deep in trip planning for your Iceland adventure. Renting a vehicle in Iceland for a winter road trip is a must, so hire your car today and check one of the most important things off your list! 

Reserve a rental car in Iceland instantly!

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