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Updated Feb 2, 2023 4:25 PM
When I’m in the midst of the fishing bonanza of late summer and fall, the last thing I want to ponder is ice fishing shelters. However, one of the bittersweet things about fall is how quickly it comes to an end. All too soon, the winds will blow, the leaves will drop and the first snow of the year will be close behind. To combat the downturn that comes with the seasonal change, preparation for the ice fishing season is a sure-fire antidote.
If you’ve been thinking about ice fishing for years but haven’t quite made the decision to commit, what’s holding you back? Like many anglers, it might be the gear. And, one of the most important pieces of gear is the shelter. Picking the right one can be a challenge. Below, we’ve dug into the ins and outs of this crucial item and rounded up some of the best ice fishing shelters available.
How We Picked The Best Ice Fishing Shelters
I went ice fishing for the first time when I was eight years old. Our equipment included a couple of simple jigging rods, hand auger, slush scoop, lunch, thermos and two five-gallon buckets. Note the absence of a shelter. I remember enjoying the day (and it was fairly mild) but I also remember how cold I was at the end of it. That was one year before Dave Genz built the first Fish Trap, which was one of the earliest modern mobile ice fishing shelters.
Much has happened since that early outing and I’m grateful for it. As is often true (at least in my case), most of my knowledge is based on the experiences of those who came before. I’m grateful to these mentors for sharing their knowledge and experience with me each time we’ve stepped on the ice.
The Best Ice Fishing Shelters: Reviews & Recommendations
Best for One Person: Clam Legend XL
Why It Made the Cut: Built to withstand winter weather and still deliver spacious comfort.
- Capacity: One person
- Fishable Area: 28 square feet
- Height: 67 inches
- Weight: 60 pounds
- 900-denier fabric and insulation
- Spacious design allows for both leg and elbow room
- Comfortable swivel seat slides laterally and front to back
- Blackout interior
- Windows on all sides
- Good ventilation
- Heavy weight requires planning for towing or a solid workout
Clam Outdoors, based in Rogers, Minnesota, is well known for ice fishing shelters and this flip-over style does not disappoint. The 900-denier fabric and insulation makes the Legend XL a cozy home on the ice for the solo angler.
An extendable frame and spacious design allow anglers to stretch their legs out without being too big for efficient heat retention. Though this shelter is primarily a one-person unit, there is enough room for an added seat and a younger child.
The included seat is comfortable, slides smoothly, and has a gear hammock under the front edge of the seat. A lightweight shallow sled provides the needed portability and holds up well as long as it’s kept on snow and ice. Air flaps on each side of the shelter provide good ventilation and mesh gear pockets built into the interior are a nice design feature.
From a fishing perspective, this spaciousness easily translates into enough room for at least two holes. The blackout interior provides the needed darkness if you spend much time sight fishing. Adequate light can be allowed in with windows on all four sides of the shelter. The shelter conveniently also has door entries on both the front and rear of the flip-over shell, and if you like to fish into the later evening, it incorporates battery mounts for a light bar.
Best for Two People: Thunder Bay Ice Cube 3
Why It Made the Cut: Plenty of room for two, easy setup, and it stands up to the elements without flinching.
- Capacity: Two to three people
- Fishable Area: 34 square feet
- Height: 80 inches
- Weight: 20 pounds
- 300-denier polyester is strong, durable, and lightweight
- Lightweight design makes it easy to transport
- Solid reinforced corner anchor points and guy-rope tie down points
- Quick and easy set-up/tear-down
- Only one door
This offering from Thunder Bay is a great example of the extra person principle. It fishes great with two anglers but also has enough room for a third. On milder days, the sheltered space combined with body heat and good winter layers may be enough to keep you comfortable all day. If in doubt, add your favorite ice fishing heater and you’ll be fishing comfortably until it’s time to call it quits or you’ve limited out. Many days, minimal BTUs are needed to create the optimal environment and the extra wide skirting helps keep your hut draft-free.
The hub-style design makes this tent-like shanty easy to set up and tear down. Just be sure to always anchor your corners before trying to open the shelter and pop the hubs. The Ice Cube 3 comes with quality ice anchors that sport wide handles. As a nice added touch, a storage bag for the ice anchors is included as well.
Blackout coating on the interior of the tent makes this a great shelter for sight fishing or spear fishing. If more light is needed, windows on all sides provide illumination. This shelter also includes the ventilation necessary for using a portable heating unit.
Best for Four People: Eskimo Outbreak 450i
Why It Made the Cut: Insulated, well-designed, and enough space for a family of ice fishers.
- Capacity: Four to five people
- Fishable Area: 75 square feet
- Height: 80 inches
- Weight: 48 pounds
- Great for tall people and for larger groups or families
- IQ-insulated fabric
- Trip-proof doorway
- Removable window panels
- Ice anchors included
If you’re an ice fishing family or if you love fishing with several friends, the Eskimo Outbreak should be given serious consideration. First off, it provides an unbelievable 75 square feet of fishable space, leaving plenty of room for everyone.
Though on the heavier side for hub-style shelters, the quality of the insulation is a real plus on the coldest and windiest days. Set-up and takedown can be accomplished in short order and the base corners have reinforced in-skirt anchor grommets. Ice anchors are included to secure the shelter against the wind.
The overall design of this shelter is very well thought-out. The trip-proof doorway means no more unexpected stumbles while carrying gear in and out of the tent. A large main entry door is convenient, along with the smaller secondary door. The windows can be covered with removable panels to convert the interior to a dark-house. The height of the house combined with its overall spaciousness makes this a particularly nice shelter for taller anglers. Lastly, mesh storage pockets allow you to stow loose gear.
Things to Consider Before Buying The Best Ice Fishing Shelters
If you get serious about ice fishing, you might end up with more than one shelter.
For the majority of anglers and for those who might be starting out, there are a few key features to consider when purchasing an ice fishing shelter.
Mobility: Hub vs. Flip-Over
The best hub-style shelters are insulated, easy to assemble, and a pleasure to fish from; however, they are not ideal for frequent moves during an angling day. The internal hub framework pops and locks into a strong tent-like structure which seals the ice and blocks drafts but also takes a little longer to set up than flip-over shelters. Be aware that the “simple” set-up process can and will be complicated by wind, as the lightweight fabric can act like a sail and send your shelter sailing across the lake. A good tactic to prevent this is anchoring the shelter before popping it up. Strong pegs and reinforced anchor points are key.
If you’re looking to stay mobile and fish more than one spot during the day, a flip-over style shelter might be a better choice. As the name implies, you anchor the shelter, flip it over and you’re ready to fish. The simplicity of flip-over style shelters allows for a quick change of location. Follow the fish and keep the bite going.
Size: Number of Anglers
There are two things to balance when it comes to size. First is warmth. Up to a point, a more snug shelter means the space is easier to warm. However, if your fishing buddies are anything like mine, then a little extra space isn’t such a bad thing. And if warmth is still a concern, the simple answer is to invest in a high quality portable heater.
My second consideration is the last-minute extra person factor. Ice fishing is often more social than other types of fishing. Invariably, if my day’s plan includes one partner, someone else pops up at the last minute. So be sure to have a shelter that will hold the number of anglers you’re most likely to want to fish with.
On the flipside, this can also be a way to eliminate an unwanted hanger-on…you know, that guy who drives you nuts but sometimes manages to shoe-horn his way into the trip, be it your neighbor, brother-in-law or co-worker. “Sorry man, not enough room.”
Insulation and Construction
This often comes down to added warmth versus the weight of the shelter. The colder the average temperatures in an ice fishing region, the more likely you’ll want an insulated shelter. If the temperature routinely drops near or below zero, insulation is the way to go.
However, if the shelter is constructed from a high quality, high-denier fabric, it can be very warm even without insulation. On milder days, body heat alone can be enough to keep the shelter pleasant for its occupants. When the wind howls and the mercury drops, a good space heater is usually enough to keep the space comfortable for you and your fishing partners.
This is always worth considering, especially in conjunction with the weight and bulk of your additional gear, like rods, augers, and tackle bags. Lightweight shelters can be carried in a pack or pulled manually with a sled. Heavier models may require the additional towing capacity of a snowmobile, ATV, or light truck.
Q: What do you use as the floor for an ice fishing shelter?
Most ice fishing shelters have no floor and this is often not an issue. However, if you’re planning to fish for multiple days or even overnight in your shelter, then some sort of flooring makes the shelter more comfortable. The best solution I’ve seen is foam tiles that connect like jigsaw pieces like you use to form play areas for kids. Those same interconnecting tiles can be configured to fit your shelter and fishing hole pattern and provide a nice floor for your home on the ice. Note: If you’re looking for something with a floor to use off the ice, we also reviewed the top winter tents.
Q: Is it safe to use a propane heater in an ice fishing tent?
It’s safe to use a propane heater as long as your shelter has adequate ventilation. Carbon monoxide is not something to be trifled with—make sure your shelter has plenty of ventilation or leave the heater at home.
Q: How do you secure an ice fishing shelter?
Anchor points are the key to a secure ice fishing shelter. Quality hub-style huts are equipped with reinforced anchor points at each of the four corners of the base. Additional anchor points are typically built into the exterior of the walls of the hub structure; guy-ropes extend from these points to the ground, where they are anchored with anchor screws. Self-tapping ice screws with wide handles are ideal.
Flip-over shelters do not always come equipped with anchor points. Because they’re often heavier than pop-up style shelters, this weight may be enough on days when wind is limited. However, for the windiest days, a product like the S2B Shack Anchor will save the day. These are heavy-duty brackets that mount to the flip-over base and are then secured to the ice via an ice screw.
Q: Why are pop-up ice fishing shelters black on the inside?
Pop-up ice fishing shelters are black on the inside to create the contrast and clarity needed for sight fishing and spearfishing. The darkened interior also makes it easier to see electronic displays and underwater camera screens.
Final Thoughts on the Best Ice Fishing Shelters
Ice fishing is a popular winter outdoor activity. The amount of enjoyment derived from time outdoors during the cold weather months is directly proportional to how well you’re prepared for the elements along with these tips for the best ice fishing experience. With ice fishing, this boils down to quality cold weather clothing and your shelter. If you’ve selected an ice fishing shelter that’s well designed, the right size for the number of anglers, and that fits your fishing style, then you’re well on your way to a great time.