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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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!
- 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!