When it comes to ice fishing, keeping yourself warm is one of the major keys to success. Fishing with half-frozen fingers and toes is not only uncomfortable; it’ll make you want to head home early – leading to less fish in your cooler! Luckily there’s a simple solution to this problem – portable ice fishing heaters.
These heaters are specifically designed for use inside ice fishing shelters and huts, and will quickly turn a hellishly frozen pop-up shelter into a toasty warm fishing environment.
I’ll break down what you need to know when picking out a heater, review some of the best models on the market, and explain how best to use them on the hard water.
Quick Answer: 6 Best Ice Fishing Heaters
- Best Overall: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy
- Best Large Ice Fishing Heater: Mr. Heater Big Buddy
- Best Compact Ice Fishing Heater: Mr. Heater Little Buddy
- Budget Pick: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
- Best Heater for Cooking: Mr. Heater Cooker MH15C
- Ice House Heater: Dyna-Glo 10,000 BTU Vent Free Heater
Why do you need an ice fishing heater
Beyond just heating up an ice fishing shelter or hut, portable ice fishing heaters have a number of features that make them invaluable to the modern ice angler.
Most high-quality heaters also feature a built-in carbon monoxide detector and auto shut-off, preventing you from breathing in dangerous fumes should the pilot light go out, or your shelter’s ventilation gets blocked. Unlike wall-mounted heaters, portable ice fishing heaters need some form of fresh air to circulate air and prevent CO buildup.
Many also feature auto shut-off when the heater is tipped over, preventing accidental fires and burns to your shelter, clothing, or equipment. These work with a simple shut off valve. When the heater tips over, the fuel source cuts off, and the heater shuts off immediately.
Many larger heaters feature a built-in grill and food heating element, allowing you to cook fish, meat, and veggies, boil water, make coffee, or heat up just about anything. This is a particularly useful feature when your camping overnight, as you won’t have to survive on cold sandwiches the whole time!
Best Overall: Mr. Heater Portable Buddy
Compact, portable, and highly effective, this 9,000 BTU heater is the perfect solution when you need to heat a pop shelter or moderately sized hub tent (up to 225 square feet). It’s fairly compact, and at just under 10 pounds, it’s light enough to drag in a sled or gear bag.
There are two heating settings: high at 9,000 BTUs and low at 4,000 BTUs. It runs off a single 1lb propane canister, which will last for around 6 to 8 hours on low, or 3 hours on high. If you plan to use it for long periods of time, you can also connect it to larger sized propane canisters with a separate adapter hose.
An auto shut-off feature ensures the heater goes out if it’s tipped over, if the pilot light goes out, or if it detects low oxygen levels. This makes it ideal for use inside ice fishing shelters, tents, and shanties. It also features a built-in Piezo sparking mechanism – so there’s no need for a lighter or matches.
Like other Mr. Heater models, you can flip up the grate and use the heater to cook/heat up food and liquids. One minor drawback is that it can shut off automatically at altitudes above 7000 ft. above sea level.
- Portable heater will heat ice fishing shelter up to 225 sq. feet
- Two heat settings: 9,000 BTU and 4,000 BTU
- Runs off compact 1lb propane canisters
- Auto shut off safety feature when tipped over, pilot light extinguished, or CO buildup
- Can connect to a larger external propane tank with an optional adapter
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Best Large Ice Fishing Heater: Mr. Heater Big Buddy
If you’re looking for a heater capable of heating up large hub shelters, shanties, and huts, look no further. The Big Buddy from Mr. Heater is the Cadillac of ice fishing heaters. It puts out an impressive 18,000 BTUs – making it capable of quickly heating spaces up to 450 square feet!
Three heat settings are available: Low, medium, and high. Running the heater on low uses a single burner and puts out 4,000 BTUs, which is the same as the low setting on the smaller ‘Portable Buddy’. On high it uses both burners and puts out a massive 18,000 BTUs – which is enough to heat a 200 sq. foot space from freezing to room temperature in about 10 – 15 minutes. The medium setting also uses two burners but runs them at a lower output level.
The same auto shut-off safety features as the smaller Mr. Heater models come included. A battery-powered blower fan helps to circulate hot air around the space, which results in less time needed to heat up a cold shelter or cabin. Fueling the heater is accomplished with two 1lb propane canisters, or you can connect a larger 20lb propane tank with a separate hose attachment.
Keep in mind the heater is not exactly lightweight, weighing a substantial 17 lbs. If you’re hauling your gear by hand, you might find it’s a bit too heavy for comfort. Alternatively, if you’re hauling your gear in a vehicle it should be perfect.
- High output heater can produce between 4,000 and 18,000 BTUs
- It can heat up to 450 sq. feet
- Runs off two 1lb propane canisters (sold separately)
- Three heating modes: Low, medium, and high
- Tip-over, pilot light, and low oxygen auto shut-off safety features
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Best Compact Ice Fishing Heater: Mr. Heater Little Buddy
Perfect for run and gun fishing, and anytime you want to cut down on excess weight, this compact heater from Mr. Heater is the ideal heater for those who prefer to pack light. It mounts directly onto a 1lb propane canister, with a plastic base on the bottom for stabilization. The compact design makes it small enough to stash inside a 5-gallon bucket, which is perfect for carrying onto the ice.
Producing 3,800 BTUs of heat, the heater is capable of heating areas up to 95 sq. feet. A standard 1lb propane bottle should last approximately 6 – 7 hours of continuous use, so you’ll get a good amount of use from one cylinder.
The heater packs the same auto shut-off features as the larger models and will turn itself off in case of low oxygen, the pilot light going out, or if it’s tipped over. In addition to being an excellent heater for compact spaces, it also works well as an emergency backup if your larger heater craps out at some point.
- Compact, portable heater is ideal for lightweight fishing setups
- Small enough to fit inside standard 5-gallon bucket
- 3,800 BTUs of heating power
- Auto-shutoff when tipped over, low oxygen, and pilot light out
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Budget Pick: Texsport Portable Outdoor Propane Heater
This stripped-down heater is little more than a burner and plastic base mounted to a 1lb propane canister – but it gets the job done. It’s capable of putting out 2,890 BTUs, so it can heat up a small shelter or tent in a jiffy or can be used on the open ice as a directional heater.
The heat output can be adjusted by turning the regulator control knob, so you can set the heat level to your exact preference. Unlike larger heaters, this unit sips fuel and will last 6+ hours on a single propane tank.
The large collapsible paddle-shaped plastic base provides a highly stable footing for the heater, which will keep it upright on the ice. An auto shut off valve will shut the heater off if the pilot light goes out, but it doesn’t have an auto shut off for low oxygen or if it’s tipped over. If you’re planning to use the heater inside a shelter or hut, make sure it’s well ventilated, and pick up a carbon monoxide detector.
One minor drawback of this style heater is that the protective grid can get red hot when in use, which can burn your bibs or other gear if you’re not careful.
- Compact, portable heater is perfect for packing light
- Fully adjustable heat output
- Maximum 2,890 BTU heat output
- Excellent fuel efficiency
- The collapsible plastic base provides strong footing on the ice
Best Heater for Cooking: Mr. Heater Cooker MH15C
If you’re looking for an ice fishing heater that doubles as a powerful cooker, this unit from the heater experts at Mr. Heater makes an excellent option. It puts out a surprising amount of heat for such a small unit – 15,000 BTUs on the highest setting. Up to 375 square feet can be heated with this unit, making it one of the most powerful heaters for its size.
Three heating settings (low, medium, and high) allow you to adjust the heat output from 10,000 to 15,000 BTUs. The heater can either be fueled with compact 1lb propane cylinders or with a larger 20lb tank via an optional hose. Because it puts out a fairly high heat level, a 1lb cylinder will last about an hour or two on high, more on lower settings.
The stainless steel stand can be quickly flipped from face-up for cooking, and forward-facing for directional heating. Like other Mr. Heater models, it comes with a built-in auto shut-off safety valve if the pilot light goes out.
- Compact, powerful heater/cooker capable of putting out 15,000 BTUs
- Low, medium, and high heat settings
- Perfect for cooking breakfast, heating soup, making coffee, and frying fish
- Can be used with 1lb propane canisters, or 20lb tank with optional hose attachment
- Also works well for sports events, tailgating, hunting, and camping
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Ice House Heater: Dyna-Glo 10,000 BTU Vent Free Heater
If you’re looking for a heater to use in a semi-permanent structure like an ice fishing house or cabin, then this slick-looking heater makes an excellent choice. Its 10,000 BTU output can quickly heat an area up to 300 square feet, making it ideal for small to medium-sized structures. The vent-free heating system doesn’t require a chimney or flue, and runs completely off of fuel – no electricity required.
Three heat settings (low, medium, and high) enable you to adjust the heat level to your preference, while the blue flame heat system heats the air in the same way as a central heating system. The heater comes with a 10-foot propane hose, allowing you to connect it to an external 20 or 40 lb. propane tank.
A built-in oxygen depletion sensor immediately shuts down the heater if carbon monoxide or low oxygen is detected, making it safe to use indoors. The heater also comes with a wall mount bracket and hardware for attaching it to the wall or an ice house.
Lastly, you can also purchase a separate wall heater fan attachment. This attachment rapidly circulates the hot air – lowering the time needed to heat up your hut. Keep in mind this heater is built for structures with hard walls, and won’t work in pop up shelter or hubs.
- Highly effective and efficient propane heater for ice houses
- Adjustable heat levels with the variable control knob
- No electricity required – propane only
- Blue flame technology works like central heating system
- Wall mount comes included
- For use in hard-walled ice houses, cabins, and structures
How to pick the best ice fishing heater
With so many makes, models, and types, picking the ideal ice fishing heater for your needs can seem like a daunting task. Let’s take a look at some of the most important features to be aware of when choosing an ice fishing heater.
An ice fishing heater’s size and weight will have a major impact on how it can be used on the ice. If you’re trucking your gear by hand in an ice fishing sled or gear bag, then you’ll want to cut down on excess weight and go with a compact heater and light 1lb propane canisters. Alternatively, if you’re hauling everything in a quad, snowmobile, or truck, then you can afford to go with a larger heater and a bulkier 20lb propane tank.
Another consideration to keep in mind is the size of your ice fishing shelter. A compact one-man pop-up shelter will need less heating than a roomy hub tent that can hold 5 – 6 anglers. We’ll get into the ideal size heater for a given area later on.
Portable ice fishing heaters typically run on 1lb propane canisters. These are the same small green canisters you’d find used with portable propane grills or camping stoves. Keep in mind that these smaller canisters will only last a maximum of 4 to 6 hours on the lowest setting for efficient heaters.
Most heaters can also be hooked up to larger refillable 10 or 20lb tanks with an optional propane hose. These tanks will last for much longer but are obviously bulkier and heavier to transport.
Fuel consumption will depend on a heater’s output as well as its efficiency. As would be expected, more powerful heaters will consume fuel at a faster rate than less powerful ones. If you want to cut down on the amount of fuel needed, a lower BTU heater will sip fuel at a much lower rate than a higher one.
As mentioned previously, ice fishing heaters typically include several safety features allowing you to use them safely indoors. Never use a heater marked outdoor use only indoors.
While most people think falling through the ice and drowning is the most predominant danger of ice fishing, injuries and deaths from improper use of propane appliances are far more common. Carbon monoxide poisoning from using heaters in improperly vented shelters is a serious concern, which is why you should always use some form of CO detector when using a propane heater indoors. Fires and burns from heaters tipping over are another serious concern.
Some of the safety features to look for in an ice fishing heater:
Oxygen depletion sensors. These are commonly found built into heaters and will shut off the heater if low oxygen is detected by the sensor. Anytime you’re using a heater inside an enclosed space, there is a risk of carbon monoxide buildup. You should take this very seriously, as the result of serious CO (carbon monoxide) poisoning is death. CO is also odorless, so you won’t be able to detect anything by smelling the air.
These sensors can also be purchased as a separate unit, so if your heater doesn’t have one built-in, make sure to pick one up separately.
Tip-over auto shut off. This safety feature is a sensor that causes the heater’s fuel source to shut off if it gets tipped over. While it’s not strictly necessary, if you plan to use your heater for prolonged periods of time, or while you’re sleeping, then this feature makes sense. It will prevent accidental fires, which can also be deadly.
Pilot light auto shut-off valve. This safety feature ensures that the heater’s fuel source shuts off if the pilot light goes out. All of the heaters reviewed above include this feature, as will any decent heater.
Several heaters have the ability to function as both a heater and a cooking unit. While it’s not essential, having the ability to heat up food, make coffee, and even fry up bacon and eggs for breakfast makes your heater that much more useful. Instead of needing a separate propane stove or BBQ, you can rig up your heater to function as both a cooker and heating unit.
Both the Mr. Heater Big Buddy and Portable Buddy heaters can be set up to work as cookers with a little DIY. Check out this video for a look at how to accomplish this yourself:
What size heater do you need
When picking out a heater, it’s important to consider the size of your shelter or ice house. You want to match the heat output to the square footage of the ice fishing structure. An undersized heater will struggle to heat up a large area, while an overpowered heater will turn a compact shelter into a sweat lodge!
Heat output is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units), which is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Most ice fishing heaters will put out between 3,000 and 15,000 BTUs, with many having adjustable output levels (low, medium, and high).
Most heaters will include the maximum square footage they’re designed to heat. When in doubt, go with a larger heater, as a larger unit can always be used on a lower setting if needed.
Heater Safety Tips
Setting up a heater in an ice fishing shelter or hut is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t run into any problems.
- Proper Ventilation: Anytime you’re using a propane heater in an enclosed space, it’s important to ensure there is proper ventilation. Most ice fishing shelters have built-in vents and windows for this purpose, so make sure they’re open whenever you’re using the heater.
- Set Up Away From Objects: Make sure to set up the heater in an open area of your shelter or ice house, to ensure you don’t accidentally burn yourself or your gear.
- Don’t Leave Unattended: Never leave the heater on while it’s unattended. If you’re planning to sleep in your shelter with the heater on, make sure you have an oxygen depletion sensor on.
- Stable Surface: Always set up your heater on a flat, stable surface. This ensures it won’t get tipped over accidentally and will lower the odds of accidental fires and burns.