I am investigating the feasibility of a hike looping around Hofsjökull. This will take me through several “deserts” such as Hofsafrétt and Sprengisandur. On photos, this looks pretty dry, but Iceland is not the Sahara.

Source: Johann Dréo, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

A topographic map appears to show plenty of streams in this area, but so do maps in deserts in the USA, even if those streams rarely have water (usually shown dashed but sometimes also when drawn as continuous lines). Should I expect that streams to be seasonal and dried out in September, or can I rest assured that in the chilly climate of Iceland with little evaporation, streams do not actually dry out?

  • Whether the streams are dry or not will depend in part on how much rain falls in the area of their sources, and what the yearly variation is. See weather-and-climate.com/…
    – ab2
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 3:39
  • @ab2 Right. I was looking at vedur.is for climate information, but all their weather stations appear to be in inhabited areas along the coast, which has a substantially different climate from the inland. The presence of a glacier should imply it cannot be too dry. Although Antarctica and Greenland are also very dry. Perhaps I should take a drill to take ice samples if all else fails ;-)
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 10:15
  • @ab2 It also depends on the soil. Also at your link, there are no weather stations in any of the Icelandic areas described as "deserts".
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 11:41
  • 1
    Even if these areas have no available water at all, how much of a problem is it? If you're OK with the worst case, then it doesn't really matter. Or, can you skirt the edges of these areas? Your picture, for example, shows snow off in the distance. What's the farthest distance from anywhere in Iceland to a reliable water (or snow or ice) source? What's the farthest distance if you plan your route carefully? Can you carry enough water to deal with that, then any intermittent stream you find are just a bonus? Maybe there is no problem here. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 11:44
  • @OlinLathrop Those are valid questions. There may still be snow on the glacier in September, I will likely not die of thirst. I'd say that intermittent streams would give me more freedom in my route choices.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 11:48

1 Answer 1


This is from the well known trekker Andrew Skurka, who did an East/West traverse that would cross similar terrain to your proposed route.


I have asked around and everywhere I hear that water is sufficiently available in all areas, but I keep wondering about this ‘desert’ area that you also talk about. The area around Askja seems so dry and empty to me and running out of water there seems to be one of the worst things to do. So how was your experience on this?

Andrew's reply:

There’s plenty of water. You might have to carry some, but never much. Plus, you don’t burn through much water in those cool, windy conditions, hiking on flat terrain.

enter image description here

See source...

  • Hmm, looks like he made a massive detour to avoid Þjórsá
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 17:06

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