Uni-Packing in Iceland: Logistics

In July of 2017, I embarked on a 6-day mountain unicycle/trekking trip through a series of gravel roads and then on the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls hiking trails. In the interest of open-source knowledge sharing, here is a ridiculous amount of logistical information from the trip, including a packing list (with item weights!), food breakdown (also with weights!), route itinerary, and recommendations for accommodation on the trail. Enjoy, future adventurers!

Author’s note: there are several other published articles with more pictures and videos. Use the “Iceland 2017” category at the right to see what’s available. Thanks for reading!

Want to jump ahead in the article? Here are some quick links:

  1. Gear
  2. Food
  3. Route
  4. Accommodation Recommendations

1. Gear

I’ve split this section into two parts. First is a very detailed list of pack items and weights and a few notes about anything I had and didn’t use or anything that I didn’t have but needed. Second is a quick description of the things that I had with me but didn’t carry in my pack (i.e., my “wet suit” that I wore while riding and any unicycling-related items).

Backpack list with weights

Breakdown of my pack weights in different categories. Food, water, clothes worn during riding, and unicycle not included.

People kept asking me on the trail: “How much does your pack weigh?” Unfortunately for me, I had procrastinated on packing and didn’t get to weigh everything before I left. However, I finally made a list of everything and weighed the items upon my return. So, here it is. The full monty.

The total weight of my pack without food and water was approximately 14.86 kg (about 32.7 lb). I have listed the items in my pack below, split up into six categories:

  1. Shelter: sleeping-related items plus the pack itself
  2. Cooking: food- and water-related items
  3. Dry suit: the clothes I change into when I make camp in the evening
  4. Spare clothes: a change of socks and sports bra for my “wet suit”
  5. Miscellaneous: emergency gear plus other items
  6. Electronics: electronics plus cords

The only items on this list that I didn’t use were my compass, emergency blanket, and emergency matches. This was expected. There was nothing that I didn’t have but missed. In hindsight, a smaller battery would have sufficed. I could have also gotten away without the GoPro tripod.

  • Shelter (2.99 kg)
    • Tent: ZPacks Altaplex (693 g)
    • Sleeping bag + sack: ZPacks 20° XL + Sea to Summit waterproof stuff-sack (775 g)
    • Sleeping pad + strap: Thermarest ZLite (470 g)
    • Backpack: Osprey Exos 38L M (1055 g)
  • Cooking (0.82 kg)
    • Cook set: GSI Pinnacle Soloist without bowl, BIC lighter, MSR Pocket Rocket (321 g)
    • Stove fuel: JetBoil 230g canister (356 g)
    • Dromedary: MSR 3L (126 g)
    • Spoon: Sea to Summit titanium (15 g)
  • Dry suit (2.52 kg)
    • Warm socks: REI trekking socks (141 g)
    • Thermal bottoms: colorful leggings (123 g)
    • Fleece bottoms: generic black fleece (243 g)
    • Sandals: Tevas (430 g)
    • Thermal top: generic polyester tank (77 g)
    • Warm thermal top: Prana Lucia sweater (377 g)
    • Warm jacket: North Face Nuptse (713 g)
    • Underwear: Ex Oficio briefs (27 g)
    • Rain jacket: Marmot PreCip (150 g)
    • Buff: Polar Buff (72 g)
    • Fleece hat: generic fleece beanie (54 g)
    • Gloves: North Face microfleece (31 g)
    • Dry bag: REI 15L dry sack (82 g)
  • Spare clothes (0.17 kg)
    • Riding socks: Darn Tough hiking socks (90 g)
    • Sports bra: Patagonia Active Mesh (82 g)
  • Miscellaneous (1.35 kg)
    • Bandana (22 g)
    • Toolkit: patch kit, pump, allen keys, pump, etc. (539 g)
    • Toothbrush + cover (22 g)
    • Powdered tooth paste + plastic bag (20 g)
    • Wallet + passport (152 g)
    • Mesh bag: REI 6” x 12” (20 g)
    • Knife: 1.9” Kershaw 1600VIB Ken Onion Rainbow Chive (51 g)
    • Gorilla tape + plastic bag (38 g)
    • Hand sanitizer: 88 mL bottle (76 g)
    • Emergency blanket (54 g)
    • Compass: Nice Nature Hike (69 g)
    • First aid kit: band-aids, dressings, ointment, superglue (95 g)
    • Emergency matches (16 g)
    • Pills: Ibuprofen + aspirin (29 g)
    • Rope: few meters of thin cord (60 g)
    • Trowel: standard plastic orange (53 g)
    • Some folded toilet paper (30 g)
  • Electronics (1.08 kg)
    • GoPro + waterproof case: Hero 3+ Black (137 g)
    • Extra GoPro battery + SD cards + plastic bag (33 g)
    • Battery + mesh bag: RAV Power USB C (381 g)
    • Phone: Nexus 5X (166 g)
    • The Spot + plastic bag: Gen3 (141 g)
    • GoPro cord + phone cord (42 g)
    • GoPro tripod: Gorilla tripod (176 g)

Riding Clothes/Equipment

Besides the items in my pack that are listed above, I also had my riding clothes and gear. Those items are listed here, though weights are not provided since I wore them during the day. My rain jacket is not listed because I generally rode without it unless it was extremely windy/raining. Otherwise, it stayed inside my pack.

  • 26″ mountain unicycle (Flansberrium frame, Mad4One hub, dysfunctional Shimano brake)
  • Knee pads (generic mountain biking knee pads)
  • Gloves (Giro DND)
  • Helmet (Bell Faction)
  • Hiking boots (Meindl)
  • Riding socks (wool hiking socks)
  • Leggings (generic Nike for running)
  • Shorts (generic men’s Nike for running)
  • Riding shorts (Zoot triathlon shorts)
  • Sports bra (Patagonia Active Mesh)
  • Top underlayer (Smartwool tank)
  • Top overlayer (REI thermal longsleeve)

2. Food

I planned my meals to be light, to be extremely simple to make, and to provide approximately 3,000 calories per day. I added an extra half-day of food in case of any delays. My total food weight for 6.5 days ended up being 3.83 kg. Thus, my starting pack weight with food was approximately 18.7 kg (about 41.1 lb). Adding 2L of water brought that up to around 20.7 kg (45.5 lb).

I ate the same foods every day and only used my stove to boil spaghetti for dinner. Breakfast and lunch were cold meals, either just-add-water or quick breaks on the trail. I often didn’t eat as much on the trail as I was supposed to, so I had a surplus of crackers and peanut butter at the end of the trip. I also had a lot of “sugar water” left over. These meals ended up being vegan (to my knowledge), but that was a happy accident rather than design.

  • Breakfast (just add water, inspired by this article)
    • Oats (80 g)
    • Brownie mix (20 g)
    • Instant coffee (2 g)
    • Replacement meal powder (half a packet)
  • Lunch (snacking on the trail)
    • Peanuts (150 g)
    • Raisins (75 g)
    • Dried fruit bar (25 g)
    • Crackers (24 g)
    • Peanut butter (50 g)
    • “Sugar water” (powdered iced tea, sugar, and salt; 95 g)
  • Dinner (cooking at camp)
    • Spaghetti (130 g)
    • Olive oil (20 g)
    • Vegetable bullion cube (11 g)

3. Route

Here is an overview of my route in Google’s My Maps.

Route Description

You can find a map of my route, including GPS data and campsite locations, at this link. I designed the route based on Christophe Noel’s bikepacking route. My route was identical to Noel’s except for the sections along the Ring Road, also known as Highway 1, which I replaced with hitchhiking. (Riding 80+ km along a narrow, two-lane highway with crazy-tourist-driven motorhomes screaming past me did not sound appealing.)

The route consists of two main sections: F-roads and hiking trails. The F-road section is approximately 70 km. The majority of this section is along the 208, starting at the Ring Road and finishing along the 224 to Landmannalaugar. This section is relatively remote compared to the hiking trail section, though not entirely isolated. I saw a car or camper approximately hourly from 8 am to 8 pm. But the roads were very nicely graded and the river fords entirely doable on foot. None of the rivers I crossed during the F-road section were above my knees.

Once you reach Landmannalaugar, the remainder of the route is on the Laugavegur and Fimmvörðuháls hiking trails. These hiking trails are popular. Expect tons of tourists. (Makes sense—I was one too, after all.) I accidentally shifted my clocks two hours early and was getting up at 04:00 to start riding at 06:00, which is how I was able to get a few pictures with no one in them. I highly recommend riding at irregular hours to minimize hassle.

The trails themselves are quite good. There are some sections with lots of elevation gain where you will be walking (Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker is one, as is Þórsmörk to Baldvinsskáli/Baldursskali Hut), but there are also really nice sections to either get in miles or even session if you want to get technical. Overall, I think the hiking-trail section of this route is better suited to unicycles than bicycles, since its easier for us to portage our wheels.

Schedule

I rode the route in about 5.5 days with a half-day rest day at Landmannalaugar on Day 3. (I wanted to take advantage of the hot springs, and I knew that since I was out of shape I would need time to heal.) A stronger rider could easily do this faster—much of the route is not that challenging.

  • Day 1: Ring Road to wild campsite near Hólaskjól Wilderness Center (~30 km)
  • Day 2: Wild campsite to wild campsite near Kirkjufellsvatn lake (~30 km)
  • Day 3: Wild campsite to Landmannalaugar (rest day, ~10 km)
  • Day 4: Landmannalaugar to Hvanngil (~28 km)
  • Day 5: Hvanngil to Þórsmörk/Langidalur (~27 km)
  • Day 6: Þórsmörk/Langidalur to Skógar (~25 km)

4. Accommodation Recommendations

It is legal to wild camp in Iceland if you are outside of any nature reserves or national parks. Much of this route is in national parks, so I only wild-camped the first two nights. A national park begins just after Hólaskjól, so my randomly chosen first wild camping spot was perfect. Another begins near Landmannalaugar, so the same can be said for my second wild camping spot.

Once you are on the hiking trails, there are a great many huts to chose from where you can pitch a tent. HOWEVER. I would not recommend planning on tent camping at the Hrafntinnusker Hut, the Álftavatn Hut, or either of the huts on the Fimmvörðuháls pass. The Álftavatn Hut is incredibly unprotected, basically on a wide-open plain near a lake, so any wind will cause serious damage to your tent. In fact, if conditions are bad the wardens will force you to walk another 4 km to Hvanngil, which is slightly more protected. For the Hrafntinnusker Hut and the huts in Fimmvörðuháls pass, these are high-altitude mountain huts, probably more for mountain safety than to provide a good berth for your tent. Expect no wind protection and to be sleeping on snow.

When I was there, the prices for tent-camping at most of the huts was 2000 ISK per person per night (around $20). However, this often did not include access to the huts, which was generally another 500 ISK ($5). So, 2000 gave you cold water, a place to pitch your tent, and access to the toilets. The extra fee allowed you to use the kitchen or warm up inside. One notable exception to this extra-fee rule was the Þórsmörk/Langidalur hut, which had a wonderful, big, warm common room that everyone was allowed to go into for free. That place was great.

7 Replies to “Uni-Packing in Iceland: Logistics”

  1. Jenni! Your Iceland trip sounds amazing and leaves me in awe. It is the sort of trip I would have liked to have done if I had had more time (and maybe caravan camping). A few questions:
    1. How did you find out about all the huts and hiking trails. Maybe my error was to follow the Lonely Planet book (which will great, is more suitable for a city traveler?)
    2. How did you keep your feet dry while wading?
    3. Did you fly all of your food in or did you buy it in Iceland?
    4. How was hitchhiking? Were people generally open to picking you up?

    It’s me, Ann 🙂

    1. Oh hello, shenaningans. ;P Yeah, I got really lucky with how this trip worked out. It’s set the bar really high for future trip…

      Thanks for the questions! Here are some answers:
      1. I read Noel’s bikepacking article (link in the text above) and then did a lot of research on the Laugavegur and Fimmvorduhals trails from a hiking perspective. Tons of people have hiked the trails, so a hiking-centered Google search yielded a lot of information. But, a lot of the hut stuff I learned from simply riding by and poking my head inside each hut. I also assembled the map myself.
      2. I didn’t! I’m a fan of river crossings with my boots on. It protects your ankles and, in my mind, is much safer because you fall less. You just wear good socks and wring them out at the other side if you’re too squishy.
      3. I flew my food in for this trip since I needed to be so meticulous with weights. So, I prepared everything here in Denmark using my flatmate’s trusty kitchen scale, bagged it all, and flew with 8 lb of food in my carry-on.
      4. In the south, generally good. Not sure in the less-populated areas. I’ve heard rumors that Icelanders don’t really pick up tourists, but I got picked up by one once so I don’t know how true that is. Otherwise, there are bucketloads of tourists and usually someone will pick you up. I waited maybe 30 minutes maximum for three different rides.

  2. Hi, this sounds great, and I love Iceland but I have never unicycles there maybe soon.. I see you took a 26” unicycle but what size cranks did you use? Did you have dual hole ones? Did that help?

    Thanks

    Mike fellow-mountain-unicycler 😀👍

    1. Hey Mike!

      I have single-hole 135s…or 137s…or something like that. They’re some weird custom cranks from Mad4One that I got from a friend. I also have dual-holed cranks (145/125, I think), but I don’t use them that much because I think it’s too much trouble to switch from one crank length to the other.

      Let me know if you have more questions — I’m always keen on talking unicycles.

      Jenni

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