One of my highlights whilst I was in Iceland this summer was hiking a glacier, (Vatnajokull the largest in Europe). I managed to pick a beautiful day for it, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was bright blue. Although, this doesn’t mean that it wasn’t still cold. I will come onto that later!
If you’re planning on visiting Iceland in the summer, the glacier is a massive tourist attraction. Of course, there’s the famous Glacier lagoon and Diamond beach. But if you really want to get up close and personal then the glacier hike is for you.
Hiking on a glacier isn’t a standard activity so you might have a few questions and concerns. Here I will try to answer all your questions from when you can hike on the glacier, what to wear and how dangerous is hiking on a glacier?
Feel free to read my full guide or simply click on the questions you want to know more information!
hiking a glacier – questions & answers
- Can you hike the glacier all year?
- Should I book a tour in advance?
- How much time should I allow for the tour?
- How do I get to the glacier?
- What safety equipment is included?
- What’s it like wearing crampons?
- How do I stay safe on the glacier?
- How long are you on the glacier?
- What should I wear?
- What else do I need to take?
- How many people are on the glacier?
The tours on the glacier with Glacier Adventure start on 1 May and end 31 October each year. There are two tours a day starting at 9.30am and 12.30pm*
*Correct at time of writing
Of course, I’m going to say yes here! But it’s entirely up to you how you are planning your tour of Iceland. I didn’t have a schedule and spent my 10 days on the Ring Road driving and stopping when I wanted.
I was lucky enough to book a last minute place with Glacier Adventure. But if hiking a glacier is a ‘Bucket list’ item for you I would recommend booking in advance.
The tour I booked was the half day option starting at 12.30pm. The night before I had slept in my campervan at the Glacier Lagoon. I’d spent several hours on Diamond beach watching the sunrise (about 2 am).
That morning I had a lie in and took a few pictures of the lagoon. Before heading to the meeting point at Hali Country Hotel reception at noon. And I didn’t arrive back at the hotel until about 4.30pm.
It’s a short drive on the paved road then an unmarked gravel path. Now, this isn’t like the roads I’ve driven on around the Ring road. The only way is having a 4WD vehicle to drive over the huge bumps in the road. It’s actually good fun!
15 minutes into the drive we stop for a few photos looking over the glacier. It’s exciting knowing where we are headed. I can’t wait.
At the end of the path, there’s a water obstacle! Time for life jackets. I hadn’t factored in a boat trip but we have a speedy journey across the glacier lake to the bottom of the glacier. The thought of falling into the icy water is enough to make sure I hang on very tight!
Before we even leave the hotel we are all fitted with a safety harness. Only to be used in the event of an emergency. But the realisation how dangerous it is to hike on a glacier suddenly dawns on me.
We are also given our own helmets. And after the mini boat trip, it’s time to try out our new footwear. Yes, you guessed it, crampon time. We take it, in turn, to get fitted for the right ones. Then have a group session teaching us how to put them on.
So left foot first we have to listen and follow the instructions and then the right foot we have to do it ourselves. It’s fairly straightforward but it’s important to get it right.
The last piece of equipment is a snow axe, blimey it’s pretty scary looking. But we’re given good tips on how to use. And more importantly not to injure anyone!!
Read about my first time Seeing puffins in Iceland
Once you had the crampons tightly secured, it’s easy to walk in them. We start hiking slowing up the glacier to get used to them. And there’s chance after a few minutes to check we are comfortable and adjust them if needed.
A few things to remember:
- Some smaller rocks can get stuck underneath and cause you to fall. Be careful where you put your feet.
- When walking uphill put one foot at an angle to keep more stable.
- Treat your crampons with respect.
- Crampons are seriously sharp and could damage you or someone else if not used correctly. Sorry for being so blunt but you don’t want to ruin your trip (or someone else’s).
Booking with a reputable tour company is the best way to start. Our awesome guide Sindri from Glacier Adventures is an Icelandic local who grew up close to the glacier and has been guiding since 2006. I completely trusted him with what he was telling us. He had the firm but fair approach which was fantastic, just what you wanted.
One of the important things I learnt on the day was the ‘Penguin line’. What on earth am I talking about! In short, this means you all walk directly behind each other. But with enough gap so that you don’t get caught up in the crampons.
I do love this description, probably because I love penguins too haha! But the glacier is a pretty dangerous place to be if you don’t step in the right place.
Also for those of you wanting to take photos (like me!) do NOT go wandering off. Ask the guide and if he deems it to be safe he will accompany you.
Remember safety first, photos second 🙂
Your time on the glacier can last between 1 to 1.5 hours. But it can vary due to the weather. When we first starting hiking the wind seemed to appear from no-where. Sindri explained we might need to shorten our time.
I know this sounds disappointing but there’s a reason you have a guide. They know exactly what they are talking about and don’t want to put you in any unnecessary danger. He was also in radio contact with the office who also monitored any weather changes.
In the end, we were really lucky, the wind calmed down and we had plenty of time on the glacier.
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9. What should I wear?
Although my photos make it look hot. Remember you’re in Iceland, the land of Ice! So it does get cold and the weather on the glacier can change in an instant. Layers are a great idea, they trap air between them and help keep you warm. Here’s what I wore on the day:
- Thermal base layers – top and bottoms
- Hiking trousers/pants
- Synthetic down jacket (with hood)
- Wind/waterproof jacket
- Gloves (2 thin pairs) but 1 thick pair would be good too
- Ear warmers (a thin hat would also work)
- Thick socks
- Hiking boots
Remember you need good boots/walking shoes to fit the crampons securely.
10. What else do I need to take?
11. What else do I need to take?
Small backpack – to put your belongings in. You need your hands-free when you’re walking
Sunglasses – it’s really bright on the glacier
A little snack for the boat trip back (this is when you realise how hungry you are!)
Water or a hot drink – I took my Sigg Hot & Cold flask** with some peppermint tea
Glacier Adventures are the only tour group that come to this area on the glacier. They even have all their own kit saved in boxes at the bottom of the glacier to save transporting it.
On the day I hiked the glacier there were 4 ladies plus our guide Sindri. They have smaller groups on the glacier to make sure it’s a more personal experience and of course a lot safer. A guide will also only have up to 12 people but there can be more guides depending on experience levels too.
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My experience hiking a glacier
Hiking a glacier in Iceland was an amazing experience. And I can’t recommend it enough. It’s only when you are up there on the glacier you realise how big it is. Did you know that the glacier covers nearly 10% of Iceland? That’s how huge it is. Now I know you’re going to grab a map and check that out now!!
Well if you’re doing that then maybe the next thing to do is book yourself a flight to Iceland and see for yourself! I have lots more tips and guides from my Iceland trip.
Would you love to try hiking a glacier in Iceland? Ask me any questions in the comments below:
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