allimba asked: I'm going to be hiking in Iceland this summer. Because I'm going solo, I'm going to go into the ICE-SAR office. What your thoughts on personal locator beacons and GPS in Iceland. Is it necessary to have them? I've heard that the cell service and wi-fi is quite good. For GPSs do you know of any good maps? Also what are good camping stores for things like cooking-ware and fuel? And do you need to pay at camping sites for a tent? Thank you!
I’m glad you are taking precautions. As great as Iceland can be for hiking, it is unpredictable and potentially dangerous, especially if you are solo.
Iceland has as you mention an excellent network of volunteer search and rescue teams (ICE-SAR). Through the website safetravel.is, they offer a leave your travel plan service. All travelers who intend to venture off the beaten track should be advised to post their plans their. Take note though that they don’t follow up on whether you’ve returned or not. That is still up to your trusted friend or family. But I’ve taken part in many ICE-SAR rescues and I can tell you every little piece of information is very valuable.
If you need more support from them they also offer you to come by the ICE-SAR office and get advice. In this case they will also follow up on you.
Regarding PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) I think ICE-SAR has some to rent or lend. You might want to check that out. In any case, a GPS PLB is a lightweight and cheap safety item. I’ve never carried them, but I have carried satellite phones for the same purpose.
Cell phone service in the mountains has improved a lot in the past few years with the introduction of Vodafone’s long range 3G network. Make sure you have a 3G capable phone as this will give you best coverage. Still, coverage is far from complete and few valley bottoms away from civilization will have coverage. Here’s a coverage map (click the GSM and 3G buttons).
Regarding maps, there are three main sets of maps of Iceland for hiking.
Atlaskort Landmælingar Íslands 1:100.000: The traditional hiking maps for Iceland. Measured and largely drawn around 1910-20, but updated in the 80s. These are my favorite as I’m quite used to them. Available here.
US Navy 1:50.000 The most accurate maps of Iceland, drawn in the 50s. The originals are almost impossible to get, but a more recent mix of these maps and aerial photos is available. These maps are not available for the whole country. I have no experience with the aerial map version.
New Atlaskort 1:100.000: There is a new set of maps published a few years ago. I can’t find them anywhere online, but I know these are great for hiking. They have plenty of hiking routes marked on them.
Specific maps (Sérkort) 1:100.000: For many popular hikes and areas there are tailor made maps. For these areas these are almost always the best maps, with huts and paths marked. I think all of them are offered here.
Reykjavík has a few nice outdoors stores. The most accessible one might be Fjallakofinn as it is downtown. Other good ones are Everest and Útilíf. You can get butane gas cartridges (compatible with MSR, Primus etc. NOT compatible with Campingaz) at most gas stations.
Camping sites usually charge a fee per tent and sometimes per traveller. Here are a couple of posts I’ve written about camping in Iceland.