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!
Top 6 Ice Fishing Heaters – Reviews
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.
Featured image source.
I’ve loved being in the outdoors for as long as I can remember. I grew up fishing, canoeing, and camping throughout the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. It’s what lead me to start this site and share my passions for fishing, diving, kayaking and more. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or (preferably!) preparing for my next outdoor adventure.