1. Decide if you want to stay in huts or in tents.
Tents are more economical, and that was what I originally planned on doing. One of our group members convinced us to stay in huts, and boy was I glad. The campers looked absolutely miserable. Wet and 60 mph winds for 4 days is not for everyone and every tent. I've enjoyed a few rainy cold days before, but it's much more difficult when you can see warm hikers in the huts adjacent to your campsite. A few campers ended up coming inside and paying for the huts, if they were lucky enough to get a spot.
If you are going with the hut option, you can book huts through the official FI Association.
2. Decide on your route.
The most common route is starting at Landmannalaugar and going south to Thorsmork (Þórsmörk). There are plenty of hikes to do starting at each of the terminus' if you want to spend a few extra days there. We unfortunately were tight on time. The hike is typically broken down like this:
Day 1: Landmannalaugar - Hrafntinnusker: 7.5mi
Day 2: Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn: 7.5mi
Day 3: Álftavatn - Emstrur (Botnar): 9.3mi
Day 4: Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk: 9.3mi
It is very possible for someone with an average fitness level to do this hike in 2 days.
3. Prep your gear
If you don't have the gear you need, buy it in advance from REI, EMS, or Backcountry.com . You can rent poles, tents, rain jackets, and a GPS from Gangleri Outfitters in Reykjavik.
This is what I packed. Italicized items are things I wish I packed.
Osprey Xena 70 Pack
Footwear + Bottom Layers
5 pairs of Smartwool socks
NOLS windpants (not waterproof but quick dry)
Actual rain pants (Update: I now own the Arcteryx Beta Pant and HIGHLY recommend them!)
Patagonia hat and Buff headband
Swimsuit for the hot springs (never used)
Survival Kit and Emergency gear (DEFINITELY want an emergency blanket)
GoPro Hero 4 (Link to the 7 here)
MSR Dromlite (ended up switching it up for a 1L bottle)
Utensils (never used)
Lots of freeze-dried food and bars from the U.S. to avoid $$ Icelandic prices
Fresh produce and food
Cash!!! (More on this later...)
Tops + Layers
2 Icebreaker Merino Wool mid-layers
4. Figure out transportation logistics
Luggage storage: We stayed in Reykjavik the night before and utilized luggage storage at the domestic airport. There aren't that many lockers though. We were lucky to grab the last one. If we couldn't grab the last one, we would've been in some trouble. Go here to read more about luggage storage: http://www.luggagelockers.is/faq.html
Transportation: If you are taking the bus to Landmannalaugar, make sure you get your tickets at the BSI Bus Terminal. Speaking of, how are you getting the BSI terminal? There aren't that many taxi stands if you're staying in an AirBNB. If you don't have international calling, you might want to set something up before you leave.
FYI: If you don't feel like going through detailed logistics and planning, the Laugavegur trail can also be done through a tour company. They take care of transportation, luggage storage, food supplies, leading the way, accommodation, etc. One of the companies specializing in the Laugavegur trail is Trek Iceland. They have been in business a long time and have a lot of experience.
Our Actual Hike
Start Time: 12:37PM
Arrived at the hut: 3:18PM
The bus from Reykjavik leaves at 8AM from the BSI Bus Terminal. We got there around 7:45AM to get seats together. The bus stops twice: once around 10AM at a waterfall, and again at 11AM at a hotel with FOOD. I didn't bring cash, because who brings cash to a hike? Big mistake. There were ice cream bars, coffee, and other goods. I had to borrow money from a friend for my Magnum bar.
Finally at noon, you arrive at Landmannalaugar. A hut warden hops on and gives you a short introduction of the trek. The hike starts off by the only swimmable hot springs of the trek. We chose not to go in, but plenty of others did! We were eager to start the trek while the sun was shining. You will continue through beautiful rhyolite canyons. The trail is marked by red or yellow stakes. In the first 2 miles, you will see a lot of other tourists around. We winded up and down through canyons, past geothermal springs, and up volcanic rock. The first section of the hike flew by. At 2/3 point, we ran into large patches of snow. We were ok bare booting it although it was tricky at times. Soon enough the hut surprised us. We thought we had another hour of hiking! There were 2 water-refillable streams that I can recall in the first section. Carrying capacity of 1L was plenty.
When we got to the hut, we passed two South-North hikers who suggested that we continue on. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking (50s, partly cloudy) - something really rare for Iceland. We talked to the hut warden who managed to squeeze us into the next hut. So, we pushed our itinerary one day ahead. Onward!
Still Day 1
Hrafntinnusker - Álftavatn: 7.5 mi
Start Time: 4PM
Arrived at the Hut: 7:47PM
The rhyolite canyons quickly became dark palagonite mountains, again covered with snow. There were some smaller stream crossings here. This section of the hike was absolutely beautiful and I was happy we did it with the sun. Most of this section is descent, although there is some up and down in the beginning. You will see a distinct change from dark ground to beautiful green mountains (yes with snow patches). At that point, there is a steep descent that should be taken with care. Poles were particularly helpful here. After the descent, we slugged up through what seemed like glue but was probably a combination of geothermal minerals and mud. Best to have your boots tight or you might lose them here! Off into the distance, you can see the next hut to the left of a large lake.
About 2 miles before the hut, you will reach your first major river crossing. There is a side trail that leads to nowhere, so beware. As of mid August 2015, there was a giant rock arrow pointing you to the right direction. We chose a wide section of the river, changed shoes, and marched across. After we dried off, we hurried off to the hut ready for dinner. You will see a 2.3km sign for the hut before you finish the day on a wide car accessible road.
The hut itself was much better than I thought it would be! However showers cost 500ISK. They did not mention this anywhere in our "detailed" itinerary and voucher. I was unaware of this and again regretted my decision to not bring cash (mainly because I carried soap and shampoo, extra weight that I really didn't need). There are tons of pots, pans, knifes, cutting boards, etc. in the kitchen. I felt a bit foolish eating my freeze dried food as a Mother-Daughter duo prepared a gourmet salmon risotto. Bring fresh food! It will hold for 2 days, I promise. The sleeping area is heated, so you don't need as thick of a sleeping bag if you choose the hut option. As with most of the Scandinavian countries, there is a strict no shoe policy indoors. A policy I wish AMC huts would have.
Yes, there are garbage cans and flush toilets at this hut.
[Update:] Volcano Huts has just informed me that they've opened a restaurant at Alftavatn! You can get breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and drinks. You can also stock up for the rest of your hike. So yes bring some fresh food and don't waste your money and stomach on that freeze-dried stuff :)
Álftavatn - Hvanngil: 2 mi
Start Time: 8:37AM
Arrived at the Hut: 9:30AM
Hvanngil, what? The next day we had a 4km hike to our next hut, Hvanngill. Because we had pushed our itinerary one day forward, we couldn't secure a reservation at the next hut in Botnar. We didn't bring a tent unfortunately, but I'm not sure we would've camped anyway. The campers were soaked from the Icelandic rain and didn't look too happy.
There was one river crossing about mid-calf deep in this section. The cfs wasn't that high, and we were able to cross without problems using hiking poles.
They say this hut is usually empty because it's in an awkward location, but my theory is that it's empty because the accommodation logistics are awful and the hut wardens are the least friendly. Compared to last night's hut which housed 10 people in 500 sq ft, this hut housed 20 people in 200 sq ft. We were piled on top of strangers who quickly became friends (Hi! Sorry for stepping over your head, I'm just trying to go outside).
Note to readers: Do not stay at the Hvanngil hut if you can avoid it!
Yes, there are garbage cans and flush toilets at this hut.
Hvanngil - Emstrur (Botnar): 11mi
Start Time: 7:34AM
Arrived at the Hut: 10:13AM
The next morning we left bright and early for Botnar. It was slightly raining in the mid 40s. I thought this section of the hike was the least exciting, although there is a cold cold river crossing early on. Of the 3 river crossings, 2 are across bridges. You follow a vehicle road for a few miles (lame, I know) before splitting left back to the trail, and then joining the vehicle road again. This was the first time we used our GPS because we thought it was strange that we had to follow a vehicle road for so long.
Once you see the Botnar hut, look for "Canyon" signs pointing right. I -highly- recommend taking this detour. It was the highlight of this leg of the trip. The detour is maybe only 1.5-2 miles. There are cairns marking the way. The canyon is called the Markarfljótsgljúfur Canyon. There are a few different viewpoints marked by cairns, so be sure to explore them all. This is where the Double Rainbow picture was taken!
Once we arrived at the hut, we took a quick bathroom and food break. Did I mention that there were pretty much no trees so far? Finding a hidden pee spot is tricky for women. Don't be shy, pop a squat.
Emstrur (Botnar) - Þórsmörk
Start Time: 11:45AM
Arrived at the Hut: 4:24PM
After Botnar, the landscape becomes much more interesting. You will see an increase in vegetation and wildlife (bugs and birds). There's some nice black sand to trek on for a bit as well. There are a few small hills here, but nothing too strenuous. Once you descend back into the valley, you will see a big river crossing. This river crossing is one that destroys cars, hikers backpacks, and dreams. We were lucky to cross on a day that wasn't too bad. It was sunny after all.
After the river crossing, you will hike through denser shrubbery and trees. It felt like Northern California! It is only about 2 miles from the river to the Volcano Hut, a warm welcome (literally. they have an amazing sauna).
The Volcano Hut seems like a luxury camp you went to when you were a kiddo. They have every amenity you can wish for, including overly priced food. There are a few bus options when you get there, including the 8AM back to Reykjavik that we took back.
Am I fit enough to do this hike?
The Laugavegur Trail is an easy hike, fitness-wise. The weather is what makes this trek dangerous and possibly not even fun. It's quite humbling and scary to see the memorials to deceased hikers along the way. If you have never hiked in pouring, sideways rain, I suggest you do it before flying to Iceland and planning a whole trip around a trek you might not even enjoy.
If you are a frequent White Mountain/Katahdin hiker, you will be more than fine. If you are not, I would recommend having at least one weather experienced hiker in your group
The biggest keys to enjoyment and safety are: knowledge prep, equipment prep, and cooling your ego. You will hear stories from hut wardens. Most of the deceased hikers ignored weather warnings and the hut warden's warnings. Always have emergency weather gear in case it suddenly blizzards on you in the middle of July.
What are the huts like?
The huts are great. Their kitchens were better stocked than my kitchen. Good knives, large crock pots, ample utensils. One of my biggest regrets was not bringing real food to cook with. Carrots, onions, apples, are some produce that would've held up.
Should I do this hike in 4 days, 3 days, 2 days, or 1 mega day?
I enjoy hiking long days. My ideal situation would've been to hike this in 2 days, and then spend an extra day at Thorsmork to explore the glacier, etc. I might go back to Iceland just to explore Thorsmork! If you are not cut on time, you can definitely do the traditional 4 days, although I would recommend bringing a book or a deck of cards for the huts.
What gear should I have? How do I know if my gear is good enough?
You absolutely should have waterproof and windproof gear to make your trek more comfortable. I thought my pants were waterproof, but they were not. I was cold and wet for a day. Luckily my rain jacket was great and my upper body was warm. Gloves are also helpful to keep you warm. I'm so happy I am now a proud owner of the Arc'teryx Beta Pant. They are much better at being rainproof!
To test your gear: stand in the shower. I'm serious.
What are the river crossings like?
Really cold. Needles to the legs cold. And dangerous depending on your luck. When we went, the water levels were fine. However we heard stories of tumbled hikers who dropped their packs in the river. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Most of the river crossings went about knee deep (I'm 5'5").
You will be happy if you have a pair of water shoes to change in and out of. One person in our group didn't, and his (amazing) partner had to traverse the freezing river three times to let him borrow some.
Want to see what it looks like? Check out my video here.