I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten all my lures together, checked my rods, gathered up my winter gear, made sure the heater had fuel, loaded everything up into the car and got everything all set up on the ice so I could get pelted with ice pellets and frostbitten from cold wind.
This is the reality for a lot of ice anglers that think there is no other option, but the truth is there are a ton of excellent ice fishing shelters out there that get you out of the elements. Some people think this is cheating and it does not give you the full experience of ice fishing, but I’m telling you—try it, and you will never go back.
What’s The Big Deal?
Ice fishing shelters make your life incredibly easy when you are on the ice. Once you get the shelter set up you can put all your gear inside and you can have your heater set up inside or right outside the door as well. There are usually multiple entrances with vents, so there is still airflow coming in and out.
Many serious ice fishing enthusiasts have permanent shelters built on the water out of scrap wood, but the advantage to a portable is that you can take it wherever you want. You do not have to fish the same spot on the same lake all the time. No matter how great the fishing is in one spot, I enjoy fishing different waters even if it means I catch less fish.
Years ago, these shelters used to be too expensive for the average middle-class family to afford but now they are coming down in price for anyone to buy. Depending on what type of material and size you get will decide how hefty of a price you pay but most are affordable.
What Type of Portable Ice Fishing Shelter Should you Choose?
There are a few important factors to consider when choosing a shelter. You want the shelter to be of the right material that will hold up against all the elements. You also want one that is large enough to meet your needs. Your location will determine what type of material you want for your ice fishing tent.
The material of the shelter is the most important factor to consider. If you choose something that is too flimsy, you will end up with severe tears during high winds. You know your location, so you understand how intense the winds get. Where I live, it never gets too blustery during the winter so I can settle for a thin canvas or nylon material which is cheaper and lighter to travel with.
If you live far up North and are accustomed to white outs, you might want to go with a poly-cotton blend which is thick and durable but more expensive.
In addition to durability, the type of fabric you choose determines how well your shelter breaths and collects heat. Nylon and poly-cotton gather up the heat and keep it inside well, but this also results in a lot of condensation and moist air inside the shelter. Canvas breaths well and is much lighter but it does not hold heat inside the tent. Try going for a color that is dark as well; this will attract more sunlight and lower the amount of heating fuel you need for your trip.
The next most important thing is the size of your shelter. Ice fishing tents run from a single person shelter to fitting as many as five or six inside. The individual man shelters are easy to travel with because they are light and come in a standard traveling case.
If you fish alone most of the time, but you travel with a lot of gear you may want to go for a two-person shelter, so you have enough room inside. Consider the fact that you will be drilling your holes inside the tent so that will take away from some of your space as well.
If you fish in groups of three or more, you will have to get at least a five-person shelter to hold the chairs, gear and have room for the holes. As you get up towards a size this big you may not be able to carry the shelter and may need to use a snowmobile or vehicle to move it. If you cannot drive out on the ice or you do not own a snowmobile, this could be an issue.
As with ordinary tents, there are different shapes and styles of ice fishing shelters. There are the standard frame tents that require you to build the frame and run it through the material as you put everything together. This can be time-consuming, and if you are out of the ice in the cold and wind, the last thing you want to do is take an hour to put together the tent.
Next are the “one-minute” shelters where all you need to do is remove them from the bag, and they put themselves up. These are easy going up but often tricky going down, and they are not as sturdy and durable because the frame inside is usually weak.
The only correct way to find out what works best for you is to test it out. If you go for a frame tent make sure you give it a few test runs before you hit the ice, so you know how to assemble it and how long it will take. In my opinion, even though these may take a bit longer, they are the best because some even have aluminum frames built in so they are incredibly durable. The last thing you want to worry about is the shelter collapsing due to high wind.
Seating and Comfort
Some shelters come with seating built in and others you have to provide your chairs. The seats that come with the shelters are usually basic and not that comfortable, but the advantage is that you do not need to carry additional chairs unless you want to.
You also want to pay attention to comfort factors like how high the shelter is. Some are as low as five feet high, and others stretch to seven or eight feet.
Ventilation inside the tent is something that is often ignored, but it is incredibly important. I imagine you will be heating the inside of the tent and most people use propane heaters to do so. This type of heat sends a lot of fumes inside the tent and while it may be nice to have a tent that keeps all the heat inside it won’t be nice when you start getting light-headed from the fumes. Make sure the tent has plenty of vents that are big enough to expel gas vapors but not so big that they let all the heat out.
Getting the Shelter to the Ice
Most single person shelters are small enough to fold up into a carrying case that you can carry by yourself, but as you get larger, the means of transport becomes more difficult and involved.
Some of the three-person and more shelters have a sled design built into them. When you fold up the shelter, the bottom of it has snow runners built right into it that make it easy to pull along the ice to your desired location. That may sound great and simple but it is still incredibly difficult to pull the shelter even with a few people, so this is something you want to consider.
Most of the locations where I fish you can drive your vehicle right out on the ice as long as it is thick enough, this is also clearly posted to tell you whether or not it is safe. If you cannot do this hopefully, you have a snowmobile to drag the shelter behind you. Now, if you do not have either of these options and you absolutely must pull the shelter by hand. Make sure there are hand ropes that are durable and long enough so you and a few others can pull it out to your spot. Make sure there are also areas to set your gear down, so you do not have to make a million trips back and forth.
We are lucky to live in a time where sitting on a bucket with a string on a stick is a faint memory to most of us. Technology and development continue to make ice fishing more accessible and more enjoyable for the average recreational angler. My friends and family used to think I was nuts when I would ask them to go ice fishing with me, but with shelters and heat, it adds more comfort to the experience.