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Backpacking along the Vatnajökull Glacier - IMG42

Remarkable Iceland backpacking tour and an unforgettable experience!

Hiking along the river
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

Hiking along the river

Many rivers and waterfalls on the way
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

Many rivers and waterfalls on the way

Very green moss
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

Very green moss

Hiking across the glacier tongue
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

Hiking across the glacier tongue

A man and a mountain
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

A man and a mountain

Enjoying the natural hot pool
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

Enjoying the natural hot pool

More rivers to cross
Photo: Einar Torfi Finnsson

More rivers to cross

Highland sunset
Photo: Arinbjörn Hauksson

Highland sunset

Scaling a cliff using a rope
Photo: Ellert Grétarsson

Scaling a cliff using a rope

Magnificent waterfalls on the way
Photo: Ellert Grétarsson

Magnificent waterfalls on the way

Stunning waterfalls and gorges
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Stunning waterfalls and gorges

Happy hiking girl
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Happy hiking girl

Hikers heading higher up
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Hikers heading higher up

Interesting rock formations
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Interesting rock formations

A good place to camp
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

A good place to camp

Preparing lunch
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Preparing lunch

Happy campers
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Happy campers

Happy hiking girls
Photo: Gréta S. Jónsdóttir

Happy hiking girls

Camp site with a glacial view
Photo: Ellert Grétarsson

Camp site with a glacial view

Skeiðarárjökull glacier tongue
Photo: Ellert Grétarsson

Skeiðarárjökull glacier tongue

Hiking the rhyolite mountains
Photo: Ellert Grétarsson

Hiking the rhyolite mountains

I loved the diversity of the landscapes and the friendliness and the professionalism of my guide. Liked the way the entire trek was distributed among the nine days. Food measurement was perfect, which allowed us having enough nutrition and calories without carrying too much extra or redundant food. Food selection was good and quite delicious as well.

- Pavel, India -

Tour type: Backpacking trek with camping




Price from:  

Adult: 219000

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What's included: Guide, food, transportation, tents, cooking gear and safety equipment for galcier crossing

Duration: 9 days

Accommodation: Tents

Meeting point: BSI bus terminal at 07:15

Group size: 4 to 12 participants

Language: English

Walking per day: 6-9 hours

  • Tour Description

    Highlights of the Tour

    • Ford rivers and bathe in a natural pool
    • Hike over glaciers and lava valleys
    • Remarkable canyons and waterfalls

    Nine-Day Backpacking Tour

    If you are a hiking/backpacking enthusiasts, this nine-day combination trek is designed just for you. Starting from the Hverfisfljót river to Skaftafell National Park, our route takes us south of the great Vatnajökull glacier and through landscape sculpted by glaciers and volcanic activity. To reach our destination, we have to find our way around or across some natural hurdles; Síðujökull and Skeiðarárjökull huge glacier tongues and the many rivers that fall from the monstrous Vatnajökull glacier. These obstacles make this trek a challenge that in turn, is rewarded by some of Iceland’s most unique landscapes and locations. Book online today for this remarkable Iceland backpacking tour and an unforgettable experience!

    Total walking distance: 125 km. (78 miles)
    Altitude: 450-800 m. (1475-2625 feet)
    Maximum Ascent: 450 m. (1475 feet)

    Minimum age: 16

    Included : Guide for 9 days, transport from Reykjavík to the starting point of the hike, food for 9 days (from lunch day 1 to lunch on day 9), cooking gear, tents and safety equipment for glacier crossing, transfer from Skaftafell to Reykjavík at the end of the trip. 

    Pick up from hotel or guesthouse to bus station in Reykjavík can be added for 5000 ISK

  • Tour Itinerary

    Day 1Reykjavík- Dalshöfði- Hverfisfljót river

    Meeting point is at BSI central bus station at 07:15.  From there we take the public bus at 08:00 towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The walk starts at Dalshöfði farm about 300 km (200 mi) east of Reykjavík. Following the great river of Hverfisfljót we come to a extraordinary series of waterfalls before putting up our camp.
    Distance: 10-15km (7-9mi) Walking time: 5-7hrs

    Day 2Hverfisfljót- Rauðhólar Craters

    Continuing along the Hverfisfljót river we pass series of rapids and waterfalls before we come to a great red hill, where the river cuts the side of a crater. We climb that crater and enjoy a great view towards the grand red craters of the Rauðhólar crater row.

    Distance: 15-18km Walking time: 7-8hrs

    Day 3: Fossahraun- Síðujökull

    Our route then takes us through or above the Fossahraun desert at the foot of the splendid Síðujökull glacier where it will be necessary to cross several streams with swift current, or eventually climbing up on the glacier to avoid them. We camp on the banks of the Djúpá River south of the Síðujökull moraines with the green slopes of Gæsabringur just at the other side of the river. 
    Distance: 15-18km (9-11mi) Walking time: 7-9hrs

    Day 4Across Síðujökull- Beinadalur Valley

    To avoid the strong current of the Djúpá river, we are required to go up the Síðujökull and cross a relatively flat part of that enormous glacier. Once across we head to the red crater of Eldgígur. The next hurdle on our way is one higher branches of Djúpá before we head up the glacier carved hill dominating the Beinadalur valley (Bone Valley). There, however, our effort is rewarded with ideal campsites that can be found along the edge of relatively recent lava fields, with magnificent panoramic views towards the Vatnajökull glacier and its highest summits. Additionally, from our camp in only a few minutes walk is a fantastic hot spring to bathe in!
    Distance: 15-18km (9-11mi) Walking time: 6-8hrs

    *Note: The glacier landscapes are an ever changing environment so river crossings and glaciers change from year to year. Passengers must be aware that the program of the tour can and will be modified by the guide whenever necessary for the quality of the trip and security of our staff and passengers. 

    Day 5: Núpsá River- Súlnadalur- Núpstaðarskógar

    The Núpsá River runs down Beinadalur, towards a series of canyons and waterfalls. At their junction with another stream is the infamous “Bone Pointe” or Beinatangi, where, sheep have perished during autumn storms, leaving scattered bones like warning signs. Below the gorges, we are greeted by the Sléttur plains that could be radiant with violet willow herb flourishing. Leaving the canyon, we descend into the Súludalur valley with its picturesque landmark Súla (the Pillar). The valley is abruptly cut off by recent passages of Skeiðarárjökull Glacier, thus the trail turns down as we approach the wooded Núpsstaðarskógar valley, covered with Arctic birch. Here a part of the group might leave the group (passengers on IMG40), and we might be joined by new passengers for the second part of the tour.
    Distance: 12-18km (7-11mi) Walking time: 6-7hrs

    Day 6: Núpsá canyon- Tvílitihylur waterfalls- Sléttur plains

    After passing the magnificent waterfalls of Tvílitahylur, we head up along the neatly sculpted canyons of the lower part of Núpsá river. A short climb leads us up to the deeper part of the canyons showcasing walls up to 200 m high. Tonight we will camp on the Sléttur lava plains.
    Distance: 15-20km (9-12mi) Walking time: 6-7hrs

    Day 7: Sléttur –Grænalón lagoon-Skeiðarárjökull

    Crossing plains pink with Arctic River Beauty flowers, we start to climb the hills towards Grænalón glacier lagoon. After ascending the Eggjar hills, the view opens over the lagoon where it lies between the mountains with floating icebergs. Our campsite is north of the lake, with a spectacular view over the enormous glacier tongue of Skeiðarárjökull, streaming down towards the plains and covering almost 1600 km².
    Distance: 18-22km (11-14mi) Walking time: 6-7hrs

    Day 8: Skeiðarárjökull  crossing - Norðurdalur

    This day is devoted to the crossing of Skeiðarárjökull, from Grænafjall Mountain to Norðurdalur valley, an area surrounded by ice and high mountain ridges. Almost a whole day is required to traverse the 15-km of ice, before standing again on solid ground in the hinterland of Skaftafell National Park. Waiting for us is a magnificent camping with view over the several glacier lakes with floating icebergs and colored rhyolite mountains in the background.
    Distance: 18-22km (11-14mi) Walking time: 7-8hrs

    Day 9: Morsárdalur – Skaftafell National park – Reykjavik

    After some climbing to a narrow mountain ridge, one is able to admire the view to the yellowish rhyolite valley of Kjós at the other side as well as to Iceland’s highest mountain the Hvannadalshnúkur. Descending into the valley of Morsárdalur, the vegetation becomes progressively more abundant. The beautiful Arctic birch forest of Bæjarstaðarskógur welcomes us before we continue down to Skaftafell. Here we catch a bus back to Reykjavík where the tour ends in the evening.  
    Distance: 20-25km (12-16mi) Walking time: 7-8hrs

  • Equipment List

    Backpacking Tours

    -Equipment list for IMG Backpacking Tours

    For your own wellbeing and safety we strongly suggest following the advice of our equipment list, this includes having good quality rain-gear, tops and bottoms! Also respect that cotton clothing is not appropriate for any strenuous outdoor activity – this includes jeans and t-shirts. Modern outdoor clothing is by far more comfortable and will greatly improve your experience. 

    Boots and clothing:

    • Sturdy Hiking Boots – waterproof with good ankle support. 
    • Long sleeve shirt (thermal underwear) – Wool or synthetic. 
    • T-shirt (thermal underwear) – Wool or synthetic. 
    • Light wool or fleece sweater (2nd layer).
    • Trousers – Strong, light and quick drying e.g. soft-shell. 
    • Jacket with a good hood – windproof, waterproof and breathable. 
    • Rain trousers – windproof, waterproof and breathable. Please note that full raingear is mandatory in Iceland. 
    • Gloves 1 – 2 pairs – Wool or synthetic. 
    • Socks – Wool or synthetic. Two to three pairs. 
    • Warm hat – Wool or synthetic. 
    • Long Johns (thermal underwear) – Wool or synthetic.
    • Warm jacket/sweater – Wool or fleece (3rd layer).
    • Puffy jacket (e.g. Primaloft or down).

    Other gear:

    • Backpack – (woman size: 50-60 litres - man size: 60-75 litres) – note that each guest will need about 15 – 20L of space free for food, tents and other communal gear. 
    • River shoes – Closed sandals or old running shoes with, along with a pair of warm socks or neoprene socks. Open sandals or flip-flops will not do the job. 
    • Sleeping bag – Down or fibre. Light weight and warm
    • Insulation mattress / thermarest.
    • Towel – light and packable. 
    • Sunglasses & sun protection. 
    • Change of clothes – e.g. long and short underwear.
    • Water container – thermos flask or water bottle 0,5 – 1L. 
    • Camera, spare batteries and a memory card.
    • Personal first aid kit – including blister care. 
    • Prescription medication and other personal health items.
    • Toiletries; Toothbrush, toothpaste etc. 
    • Swim suit (depends on tour).
    • Dry-bags for electronics and extra clothing. 
    • Headlamp.

    Optional gear:

    • Walking pole(s).
    • Gaiters
    • Neoprene socks – highly recommended for river crossings. 
    • Pen knife. 
    • Sun/rain Hat or a Cap. Shorts
    • Heart-warming spirits.

    Should you have any questions regarding this equipment list or the equipment on our tours feel free to contact and/or look at our Gear Lexicon. 

  • Gear Lexicon

    Backpacking Tours

    What is a Backpacking tour?

    Backpacking tours is a multi-day trips where required gear and food is carried on the back. The tour may at some point have support in the form of food supply mid-way. Participants will need to be prepared to carry both their personal gear as well as a share of the team´s food and communal gear (tents, stoves, pots).  On most backpacking tours you will camp wild, others use huts or a combination of huts and camping. 

    Hiking Boots


    Scarpa Hekla

    Sturdy hiking boots with good ankle support. Leather or synthetic with a waterproof membrane, e.g. Gore-Tex. Make sure they are a good fit, leaving some space for your toes – and wear them in, even if it is just by light hiking in the city. 

    Jacket with a good hood (wind and waterproof)


    ME Manaslu

    We recommend a water resistant or waterproof “hard-shell” jacket with a large protective hood, and a Gore-Tex membrane, or similar material, to keep you dry. Make sure it is not too tight and that you can fit insulation underneath. Please note that a soft-shell jacket is a great addition but will not replace a waterproof hard-shell when you really, really need one! Good rain-gear – tops and bottoms are mandatory on all IMG tours.

    Hard shell pants (wind and waterproof)


    Ideally the hard-shell-pants should be lightweight – as they will be in your backpack most of the time. If they have zip-up legs to ease getting into it is a big bonus. Make sure they are breathable and strong enough to take some abuse from walking.  We often see cheap rain pants disintegrate during the tour.  Gore-Tex or similar waterproof breathing membrane is appropriate. Good rain gear – tops and bottoms are mandatory on all IMG tours.

    Hiking pants


    Soft shell is strong and durable, wind resistant and quick drying – ideal for any outdoor activity. Some might consider a thin base-layer (long-johns) for extra insulation on colder days.  Jeans and other cotton pants are not advisable for any outdoor activity. 

    Base layer


    Bergans Merino

    The most popular thin base layer (next to skin) is made with merino wool because it is comfortable to wear for multiple days without the smell of synthetic materials. Most people should be fine with wearing the same merino shirt for 2 – 3 days on harder tours where weight matters. A thicker base-layer for colder days could also be a part of your adjustable layering.  We recommend packing short and long sleeve options to adjust to different weather conditions.  Women might want a sports bra as a part of their base layer. Cotton t-shirts are not advisable for any strenuous outdoor activity.

    Insulation layer

    A fleece jacket is a classic insulating layer material. Wool is also a good option. It is possible to layer up – two thin jackets or a jacket and a vest rather than one very thick jacket.

    Hands, feet and head:


    ME Knitted beanie

    Gloves: A light pair of fleece or wool gloves/mittens does the job. You can also take a pair of ski-gloves or other wind and waterproof shell gloves. Having an extra pair of different thickness is recommended. 

    Socks: Wool is the preferred material for skiing socks, and different blends are available. If you are prone to blisters or have new boots, you should consider wearing a thin liner sock underneath your socks in your ski boots. Make sure you have a few pairs of socks to use to keep your feet dry.

    Warm hat: A normal ski-hat/beanie is perfect. You can also use a thick buff. An extra buff is nice to have - you can use it to protect your neck and face when needed, or as a thinner option for a hat. 

    Backpack and dry bags


    Love Alpine Kongur ND 65:75

    You will need a large backpack for most of our backpacking trips. Make sure that you have space for your personal gear, including extra clothes and a sleeping bag inside the pack. Most of your gear should fit into the main compartment of your pack and should be packed into one or more dry bags.  Dry bags, as the name suggests, keep wet and dry things separate. Do not count on only the backpack cover to keep your items dry. The size of the pack depends largely on your personal needs. Most people will use a 65 – 75L (4000 - 4600 cu in) or bigger. Make sure to have at least 20L (1200+ cu in) of space (about 1/3) left for communal gear and food. 

    Puffy Jacket


    ME Compressor Hooded Jacket PrimaLoft

    A light puffy is great during breaks. The insulation could be down or synthetic material (such as Primaloft). It should not be very big or bulky for summer time use. Synthetic insulation is preferred as it keeps most of its insulating properties when wet, but down is also a good option.  A puffy vest is a good option as well.

    Changes of clothes

    On a backpacking trip weight is everything so you should limit very much the amount of extra clothes your carry. You should still have a change of clothes so that at least a set of long underwear stays dry in your pack during the day. But there is no need for more than one pair of pants or a fresh t-shirt for every day.


    A baseball cap or a comfortable hat with brim is great to have and is useful both in sunny and rainy weather. You should also have a nice pair of sunglasses and some sun-bloc – SPF 15-25 should be enough protection for most.  If you plan to be playing on snow covers summits you should bring a pair of quality sunglasses for mountaineering SPF 30 – 50 sunblock.  

    Sleeping Bag Hut

    The mountain-huts during the summer are usually warm, although most are not heated during the night. Any old sleeping bag will therefore do, unless you get cold easily. For temperature control having a full length zipper is the best. A liner bag is also a very nice addition and will improve your ability to regulate your head during the night.  If you are doing a winter hut trip or summer camping a 3 season sleeping bag would be sufficient. All the huts we use have mattresses on the beds so no need to bring your own for huts.  

    Sleeping Bag Tent

    Camping in the arctic summer can be cold. A good quality sleeping bag is essential. Due to the favourable weight-to-warmth ratio down sleeping bags is most people’s choice. Consider a 3 season sleeping bag unless you are a very warm sleeper. Note that the pack volume of your sleeping bag should affect the size of your backpack.  Bear in mind also that temperature rating on sleeping bags are an inexact science, and you may need a heavier or lighter bag than the climate you are headed out to. Consider a liner bag for comfort, temperature regulation and to lengthen the lifetime of your sleeping bag. 

    Sleeping mattress

    Most will use a self-inflating mattress.  A modern model is amazingly light and comfortable and will pack down to the size of a water bottle. A classical foam mattress is also a good option – but bulky and less comfortable. If you choose to store the mattress on the outside of your pack it will need to be in a separate waterproof bag.

    Water container / thermos flask

    In Iceland & Greenland, you can drink from any stream, no filters, no iodine and no chlorine needed! It is good to have a small water bottle at hand. A 1L bottle should be plenty, as water is easily found all over. If you prefer warm drinks, we are happy to fill up your thermos in the morning and a selection of teas will be available. Very dedicated tea drinkers often bring an emergency stash of their favorite brand. Those who like cold drinks might like to bring their favorite powdered vitamin/energy drink. 

    River shoes


    Keen Newport Sandal

    An old pair of running shoes will do just fine. Closed hiking sandals or neoprene kayaking shoes will also work great.  Any quick drying shoe with a good sole that can be securely attached to the foot will do. Loose slippers, flip-flops etc. are not acceptable.
    A good addition to your river crossing shoes are neoprene socks – see Neoprene socks.



    Even though the summer night is bright, the inside of the hut/tent might not be. A headlamp is also useful for those that want to do some reading. There are plenty of options available for LED head lamps that are just perfect for reading and getting around. A small flashlight will also do the job. Most LED headlamps have more than enough light for our purposes and the battery life is so good that one fully charged battery will be enough for your trip.  

    Personal first-aid-kit

    All the guides on our tours will have a first-aid kit available. However, it is still nice to have some small items for minor injuries. Band-Aids, Compeed for blisters, pain killers and/or anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended personal first-aid kit items.  

    Personal Items

    Make sure to have all your prescription medication with you, if you have any medical condition that could in any way affect you during the trip make sure to let your guide know. For those suffering from allergies having antihistamine is advisable – or any other medication that works for your condition. Items for personal hygiene should also be included, having a small bar of soap handy or some liquid camping soap is a good idea. Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental-floss should be packed. Avoid liquid antiperspirant and glass containers due to risks of spilling and weight. Feminine products like pads, tampons etc. should also be packed if needed. If you take vitamins or other supplements you should continue to do so during your holiday.
    In most cases you are sharing sleeping facilities with one or more fellow travellers – so a pair of good ear-plugs can ensure a good night sleep – they are also helpful if the wind is howling. Contact lenses, lens liquid etc. as needed.  Think light-weight when packing your personal things on a backpacking trip – keeping clean is important, but the standard is very different than in your normal life.


    To save weight and bulk, a light weight microfiber towel is ideal. You might like a big one for drying off after a swim or a small one for drying your feet after river crossings depending on your trip. 

    Swim suit

    Bathing in the natural hot pools will be one of the highlights of your trip in Iceland. Make sure you come dressed for the occasion. There are no specific rules, written or unwritten on how to dress or not to dress; board shorts, speedos, bikinis or bathing suits – anything goes. Quick drying material is always a good idea. 

    Trekking pole(s)


    Black Diamond Trekking / hiking poles

    One or two poles are nice to have. Some trekkers like to use them all the time, other use them only during river crossings or on steep ups and downs. If you like them, make sure that they are foldable and light weight. A small basket is also nice. 


    There are plenty of different products available for storing your equipment inside your pack and keeping it dry. A rain cover over your pack often has limited use due to high winds– a safer option is to pack whatever needs to be kept dry into dry-bags inside your back-pack. It is also a great way to organize the inside of your pack. One bag for electronics (camera and phone) and one bag for extra clothing, as an example. Note that dry-bags were out and might not be as dry as they were when you first bought them. 


    For summer time use you should normally not need gaiters as they are designed to keep snow from getting into your boots. Some like them also for scree slopes. Keep in mind that the volcanic soil in Iceland is very abrasive so you will want to be able to remove the strap that goes under your boot sole to keep it from getting trashed.

    Other cool things to have

    Book – to read during the evenings. 

    Music - and head phones. Some of our guides also have speakers with them to share Icelandic music. 

    Diary or notebook – to write down your good memories from Iceland. Also, a pen or pencil

    Power-bank / extra battery for your electronics – small solar cells usually do not work that well in Iceland, so a pre-charged power bank is a better option.  Charging your electronics in huts in the highlands often is not an option or will cost you extra. Make sure you have an adapter plug and/or a voltage converter for 220 V. 

    Playing cards and travel games – or other toys you might like and can travel. 

    Cash – showers in mountain huts normally cost about 500 ISK and take 100 ISK coins. 

    Travel pillow – if it is not very bulky. Otherwise, you can just use your clothes. 

    Powder drink mix – Good water is never a problem – but you might like a bit of variety. Some powders contain vitamins and minerals that help your body after a hard day.  

    Shorts - It does get warm enough to wear shorts on occasions. They are also nice for sleeping in, and can be worn if you need to get out of your sleeping accommodations at night. For hiking, it is nice to have some pockets to hold items that would normally be in the pockets of your pants. But any old pair of shorts will do.

    Gear shopping in Iceland

    Already in Iceland and need to grab some extra gear? No worries. There are a few shops in Reykjavík to go to (remember to ask for a VAT refund slip when you buy over 5000 ISK, which will save you 14%):

    Íslensku Alparnir:  this is where IMG gets its Mountain Equipment gear, much of with is featured on the pictures above – can’t go wrong there.

    GG-Sjósport: great products, but not in the downtown area.

    Laugavegur: the main shopping street downtown has a few stores, including some local brands like 66°North and Cintamani.

    Kringlan & Smáralind are the indoor shopping centers in Iceland – both have outdoor adventure equipment stores and are open on Sundays.

    For your own wellbeing and safety, we strongly suggest following the advice of our equipment list -  this includes having good quality rain-gear, tops and bottoms!  Also respect that cotton clothing is not appropriate for any strenuous outdoor activity – this includes jeans and t-shirts. Modern outdoor clothing is by far more comfortable and will greatly improve your experience.  Should you have any questions regarding this equipment list or the equipment on our tours, feel free to contact

    Aperitif of other heart-warming spirits

    Aperitif or other heart-warming spirits - Liquor laws in Iceland prohibit the sale of alcohol in most places you come by on your trip in the highlands. Additionally, limited opening hours prevent you from buying alcohol in most places unless you are staying in a hotel. Having a flask (preferably plastic or metal) to share with your fellow travellers in front of the camp fire (gas heater) can be a great way top off a good day. You can buy alcohol in the duty-free shops upon your arrival in Iceland. Just follow all the Icelanders on your flight – they will take you straight to duty-free! Also, there are government run alcohol stores in Reykjavík called Vínbuðin.  If time allows, you can purchase alcohol there but alcohol is much less expensive in the duty-free shops at the airport. 

    On trips to Greenland, you can buy alcohol in the duty-free shop on arrival in Iceland. Duty free in Kulusuk, Greenland does not sell high % spirits – but if you make it to the supermarket they will have beer. 

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