Protecting yourself from the elements is always a top priority when you’re fishing on the ice. Harsh winds, freezing sub-zero temperatures, and heavy snowfall can put a major damper on your outing. Quality ice fishing shelters, tents, or shanties will keep you and your buddies well protected from whatever the weather gods have in store.
Ice fishing shelters vary widely in terms of size, insulation, weight, and capacity. Some are large semi-permanent structures that can hold up to 8 people, while others are lightweight flip-up tents that can only seat 1 angler comfortably.
I’ll break down some of the best shelters on the market, and explain the features you need to be aware of when picking out the right shelter for your needs.
Quick Answer: 5 Best Ice Fishing Shelters
Why do you need an ice fishing shelter or tent?
Beyond keeping you warm in harsh conditions, ice fishing shelters offer several features that make them highly useful for ice anglers.
Many feature ventilation holes and windows for properly venting your tent when using a portable heater. This is especially important when you’re using a propane heater – as carbon monoxide can build up inside the shanty without proper ventilation.
Some feature built-in padded seats, making sitting for prolonged periods more comfortable. Self-tapping ice screws are also commonly bundled, which makes anchoring your tent a breeze.
Most quality tents come with a well-made carry bag – often with backpack straps – which makes transporting them to your fishing spot stress-free. Some premium tents also feature build in sleds, making towing them across the snow and ice much easier.
Top 5 Ice Fishing Shelters
How to pick the best ice fishing shelter or tent?
If you’ve spent any amount of time browsing for ice fishing shelters, then you’ll quickly realize just how much variability there is between different models. Different materials, insulation levels, frame designs, and price points can become overwhelming.
Let’s dive into some of the key features you need to be aware of when picking out the best ice fishing shelter for your needs.
Ice Fishing Shelter Types
Not all ice fishing shelters are created equally. There are several types to be aware of before making a decision.
- Flip-over Shelters: Flip-over shelters use a strong plastic sled base, and as the name indicates, they quickly flip over to setup. They’re favorites of run-and-gun anglers, who need a shelter that’s quick and easy to setup/teardown, as well as easy to drag across the ice. Most of these shelters will seat 1 to 2 anglers, although there are several larger models capable of holding 3 or 4 people. Most flip-over shelters also feature built-in seating, which makes them a bit heavier and more expensive than other shelters with similar capacities.
- Windbreakers: Windbreakers are lightweight flip-over shelters ideal for hole hopping. They’re designed to be as light as possible, making them easy to drag behind you from hole to hole. Because they’re so light, they don’t include much insulation, so if you’re planning to use one in colder temperatures, you’ll probably want to bring a small heater along.
- Pop-up Shelters: Pop-up shelters are another popular shelter design. They utilize lightweight frames and pop-up hubs for quick setup and teardown. Most of these shelters can be set up/torn down in just a few minutes, making them a great choice for day outings. Modern pop-up shelters typically feature frames with protruding wall hubs – increasing the amount of fishable area inside the shelter.
- Hub Shelters: Hub shelters are similar to pop-up shelters, but are larger. They can typically hold 6 to 9 anglers comfortably, so they’re perfect for longer overnight trips and using a semi-permanent base of operations. Many feature heavy duty exterior shells, allowing them to withstand seriously rough weather. They also typically feature heavy-duty rigging to keep them well anchored in heavy winds.
Ice fishing shelters are typically sold as ‘thermal’ models with added insulation, or as regular models with a non-insulated external shell. Going with an insulated or non-insulted model will depend on the local weather conditions and your intended use for the shelter.
If you want a shanty for overnight trips, or you’re fishing in sub-zero temperatures, then an insulated shelter is the way to go. Alternatively, if you fish in milder temperatures, and you prioritize mobility and weight over warmth, then a non-insulated shelter makes more sense.
If you’re not sure, I’d recommend going with an insulated model. You can always open a window or door if you’re overheating, but adding warmth is a bit more challenging.
Shelters come in a wide variety of sizes, from compact flip-overs suitable for solo anglers, to massive hubs capable of housing 10 people comfortably. Consider how much space and capacity you’ll need when you’re on the ice. If you fish in a large group, or plan to bring the whole family, stepping up to a large capacity model makes the most sense.
Keep in mind that shanties rated for 2 – 3 anglers are typically more suitable for 2 adults with gear, so if you’re in doubt, I’d recommend sizing up.
Portability is a major consideration, especially if you tend to fish with a run-and-gun style. If that sounds like you, then a flip-over shelter will serve you well. They generally come with a built-in sled, making it super easy to drag from hole to hole. The flip-over design and built-in seating means setup time takes mere seconds, which can quickly add up when you’re setting it up and tearing it down dozens of times per outing.
If portability is less of a priority for you, then a pop-up shelter makes the most sense. They cost significantly less than similarly sized flip-over shelters, so you can save a good chunk of change for other gear like tip ups, augers, ice fishing jackets and more!
The most common material used for shanty’s outer shells is high denier nylon or polyester fabric. This material is rugged, weatherproof, and light enough to keep the overall weight reasonably low. Denier fabric is rated by number, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of durability and weatherproofing.
Most shelters will feature either 300 or 600 denier nylon outer shells. Both will work admirably in harsh climates, but the 600 denier will provide a superior level of protection. Whether or not the added cost is worth it depends on how you plan to use the shanty. If it’s a semi-permanent structure, then the added durability of 600D can come in handy, otherwise, it may be a bit of overkill.
Insulation materials vary by manufacturer, and will typically increase warmth levels by 35% or more.
There are several additional features to be aware of when selecting an ice fishing shelter – let’s take a closer look at some of these handy options in detail.
As mentioned previously, flip-over style shelters often feature one or more built-in folding seats. These seats are often mounted directly to the sled’s body – making them convenient and rugged. If you get another type of ice fishing shelter, then you’ll need to pick up a few seats separately.
Windows serve several important functions in ice fishing shanties. Most shelters come with at least 2 windows, with many having many more.
Windows allow you to adjust the level of lighting inside, which can be useful when you want to darken the interior for better visibility. If you’re into darkhouse spearing, then you’ll need to completely darken the interior so you can see through the water.
Check out my in-depth review of the best ice fishing spears and decoys for a closer look at ice spearing equipment.
They also allow you to increase the amount of ventilation inside the shelter. This is especially important if you’re running a portable propane heater.
Lastly, windows enable you to view your surroundings without opening the shelter door and letting all of the heat escape!
While windows can be used for ventilation, most shelters also feature specialized ventilation holes for use with a portable heater. Propane heaters, like other fuel-powered equipment, can cause carbon monoxide buildup when there isn’t enough ventilation.
Vents are also useful for preventing condensation buildup inside your shelter, which can be a major pain. Easy to open and shut ventilation holes make this easy to deal with.
Ice shelters typically come bundled with several self-tapping ice anchors. These all feature the same basic design and aren’t too difficult to screw in by hand.
Eskimo sells an excellent universal adapter that allows you to use an electric drill as an anchor drilling rig. If you have a lot of anchors to drill, this little tool can be a serious game-changer, check it out here.
Some states require a fishing license to be displayed on the exterior of your ice fishing shelter. Several shelters feature clear plastic license holder pockets allowing you to easily display your license.
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.