Defenders of Iceland

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Growing up in rural Vermont I considered Land Rovers just another part of the natural landscape. I spent many a day in high school driving by the Rovers North compound, dreaming of owning my own Series II and trekking through the woods, winching out CJ-7s and Wranglers along the way. A good part of my four years at college were spent driving my friend’s Defender 90 around upstate New York, so I know all too well the seductive allure of a “real” Land Rover.

Fast-forward fifteen years, and I find myself wandering around the city of Reykjavík, Iceland, on a shooting assignment for, of all companies, Subaru. I’m being paid to keep my lens on their newest small crossover but everywhere I turn I see lifted Defender 90s and110s, Toyota Land Cruisers, and even more exotic (to my American eyes) Nissan Patrols and Isuzu 1370s.


Rugged and fierce, Icelandic trucks are, for lack of a better automotive technical term, badass. In America, aftermarket modifications are rarely applied to real world needs. In Iceland – in the dead of winter, in daily 90-mph winds, and on some of the worst terrain on earth – everything on a truck must have a purpose.

Iceland can throw a lot at a car – volcanic rocks, hot springs, lava fields, craters, wind, snow, glaciers, and ice – all in a single day sometimes.

Some of these trucks were along as support vehicles for the event as this was a media launch for the Subaru XV crossover. Over the course of a few days, I spent plenty of time talking with the crew about the trucks they love.


For service in these harsh conditions, you must start with a solid frame. All of the vehicles used for severe duty up here are good old-fashioned, body-on-frame beasts. Next, you’ll want a malleable (read: sparse) interior that can be configured exactly for the equipment they need and the contingencies that may come up. Finally, a truck with as few computers as possible will always be prove more trustworthy, if not more reliable, because at least it’s easier to fix a broken truck in the field than it its to diagnose an electronics issue.

A turbo diesel engine is a must, both for torque and fuel economy; the latter is just as important as the former, as there may be hundreds of kilometers between fuel and wherever the hell you are. Auxiliary power supplies in the form of both 120V and 220V outlets are needed to help run equipment in the field. Your dashboard will invariably contain controls for locking differentials, GPS, a winch, and an onboard compressor.

Thirty-six-inch tires are the norm, but sometimes they’re larger. Regardless, they’re always mounted on beadlock wheels, as tire pressures are sometimes reduced to exceptionally low settings to maximize the contact patch. And what adventure vehicle would be complete without a snorkel?


No matter how you slice it, these ‘Super Jeep’ (Icelandic nickname for any lifted and modded truck) Land Rovers are unstoppable. From 30 psi on tarmac to 2 psi on snow, these beasts are ready for anything Iceland can throw at them.

And Iceland can throw a lot at a car – volcanic rocks, hot springs, lava fields, craters, wind, snow, glaciers, and ice. All in a single day sometimes.

These trucks can truly roll through it all. I can’t quite come to terms calling them Jeeps, but I can’t deny they’re super.


Ian is a commercial photographer specializing in automotive and lifestyle subjects. No longer in Vermont, Ian now enjoys balmy Chicago winters. Catch his work (or book him) at

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