I know these are novice questions, but here they are anyway:

I am starting to prepare for touring in Iceland next summer. Last summer, I did some occasional 2-4 day touring there on my old steel mtb. This time I want to upgrade my bike, as I already have the most gear and accessories and plan to tour for 1-2 weeks.

As I will be doing a great deal of off-road touring on gravel roads I wonder if I actually need a bike with a front suspension fork - and whether that will then prevent me from having front-panniers. My old mtb has a rigid fork and it sometimes felt a bit uncomfortable and harsh riding on gravel roads. On the other hand, I can put front-panniers on it.

I've been consider buying a Surly LTH, but not sure if it's the right choice for my needs, mainly due to the rigid fork for off-road touring. Perhaps it would be better to buy another mtb (e.g. Trek 4500) with the suspension and do some upgrade there (or, if going with a mtb, would you absolutely recommend a steel frame)?

What would be your recommendation and/or experience in this matter? Also, another issue is the wheel size, 26" or 27cc? Appreciate your advice.