Iceland Navigation



Navigation in Iceland can be broken into two sections:

  • Street/City Navigation
  • Land/HikingNavigation

Street/City Navigation:

My first suggestion in getting set up for navigating around Iceland is to get an old school paper map of the island. This is assuming you have rented a car and are traveling outside Reykjavik.

When you are in Reykjavik, look for one of the city tourist maps.  While a very simplified map, they provide a good overview of the city and simple landmarks (usually tourist related).



If I had to choose one offline navigation app, GaiaGPS would be it. While the app is more oriented for land navigation use, I have used it succesfully in the past for street navigation. For this trip, along with my hiking routes and waypoints, I created city waypoints of city attractions, restaurants and other areas of interest. Having used this app extensively for years it is very intuitive for me to use. With that said, there apps I feel are better suited for street and city navigation.

At home, I primarily use the Apple maps app on my cell phone. In Iceland, I found the app was a good offline alternative.





Another option to is Waze. I have used Waze in the past as it often provides good real time traffic conditions.  Considering the amount of hidden speed cameras and stiff fines for speeding, Waze might be a good alternative. Be aware that if you get pulled over, you have to pay the fine on the spot. You will notice the locals speed with reckless abandon. Considering Iceland has a staggering amount of traffic signs, some undecipharable and sheep that like to dart into the road, take it slow and enjoy the ride.



My land navigation/hiking maps were split into two categories: paper and electronic.

Paper maps proved to be pretty elusive. Since I had decided to do this trip about two weeks prior to leaving, I didn’t have time to order the Iceland topographic map. Instead I bought it while in Iceland.

GIS map


That proved to be a major mistake as the map was pretty much useless. The scale and detail of the map made it unreadable. Apparently no one proofread the final product.

Since I use Caltopo to make all my custom hiking maps, I took a look and the map options pretty limited. A Google search didn’t turn up too much.

I did find the Iceland GIS mapping site but it appeared to be Icelandic which required me to do a 5 minute crash course in learning  basic map terms in Icelandic.

Another option I explored was purchasing maps that the USSR had created a couple of decades ago. At one time they were readily avaible for free on the internet. That didn’t seem to be the case so I was pretty limited in what I could get that was relevant.

I created a master CalTopo custom map and then printed off larger scale maps as needed of the trail. When you print a CalTopo map it gives you a QR code. Using that code I download my new paper maps into my Avenza app so that I have a digital version of my paper maps. CalTopo does have an app which I have but I haven’t really used it all that much. I find the Avenza digital backup is simple and works for my needs.

Along with my maps, I brought some additional navigation gear to use. I recently purchased a Wndsn High-Viz Quadrant Telemeter  for determing latittude using the Polaris star. I also purchased a new Suunto MC-2 Global compass for my wife (same compass that I use). Interestingly the decilnation is only 11 degrees 9 minutes West.

The Vig Svegvísir (Icelandic for sign post or wayfinder) is an Icelandic magical stave intended to help the bearer find their way through rough weather. -Wikipedia

Navigation Tools Iceland

My navigation tools include the following:

Suunto MC-3 Global Compass

iPhone 12 with GaiaGPS, Caltopo & Avenza Maps

Garm eTrex 20 GPS with waypoints loaded

Icelandic Spar Sun Stone

Trail Route Card (custom)

Sun & Moon Table (custom); Sun Charts

Printed caltopo maps (custom) for the entire route

Wndsn High-Viz Quadrant Telemeter

Icelandic Sunstone

 Considering I will be in Iceland, it seems fitting to have a chunk of Icelandic spar. Back in the day the vikings used it to navigate the foggy and cloudy skies of Norway and Iceland on their journeys west towards Greenland. The stone uses the sun and polarization to find direction.

I tried this stone and technique several times when the sky was cloudy with small patches of blue. I never could get it to work correctly. I had made a circle with a black sharpie and wondererd if perhaps the circle edge was defined enough to indicate alignment.


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