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What to look for in an ice fishing shelter
No one into ice fishing should be out on the ice without an adequate ice fishing shelter. High-quality shelters can keep the wind out, keep the heat in, and make your experience much better. Bad shelters rip and break easily, don't keep the rain out, and are a hassle to set up.
How easy is it to move the shelter around?
It should be easy for a single person to carry the shelter around. The ice fishing shelter should not be any heavier and bulkier than is necessary for how many people can fit in it. An ice fishing shelter may need to be somewhat heavy to resist the wind better or provide room for more people, but it should not be heavier than necessary.
Is it a hassle to set your shelter up?
Ideally, your shelter should be possible to set up with only one person, even if you might usually be bringing your friends with you. It should not be a long and complicated process to set it up. It should be possible to figure it out reasonably quickly the first time you try.
Most companies do a reasonably good job making their ice fishing shelters easy to set up. Camping tents take quite a lot longer - setting up an ice fishing shelter isn't anything like setting up a tent. It is also usually easy to take an ice fishing shelter down and pack it back up again.
Is the shelter made out of sturdy materials?
Some materials are cheaper, lighter, and better at keeping the heat in than others. Better materials are often more expensive, so there is no all-around best material for every tent.
You might need your tent to withstand terrible weather - wind, snow, and ice. In that case, you might go with a heavier material. If you do not plan on using your shelter on harsher days, you might go with an ice fishing shelter made out of a lighter and cheaper material.
Is your shelter big enough?
Most ice fishing shelters are for two or three people. Many are only for a single person. It will be too crowded with four people unless you buy one of the larger ice fishing shelters. A few shelters are big enough for a lot more than four if you want to bring that many.
How many people do you want to bring with you? If you take more than one or two friends, you will need a larger than average shelter.
Be on the safe side and go with a bigger shelter if you aren't sure. Remember that your gear will take up room as well.
Companies may slightly overstate how many people can fit into their shelters. It is better to buy the bigger one now than wish you did later.
Is the shelter's ventilation adequate?
Just like a tent needs adequate ventilation, so does an ice fishing shelter. Make sure you are getting enough fresh air. An adequate shelter should be able to keep the cold out while letting fresh air inside.
Is it cold-resistant enough?
More than anything else, an adequate ice fishing shelter must be cold resistant. Every shelter has a temperature rating; if you use the shelter in weather colder than what it is rated for, it will not work well. Choose a shelter with an excellent temperature rating if you plan to use your shelter on colder days.
Styles of shelters
Some styles of shelters offer more protection than others. Other styles are cheaper and easier to move around.
It depends on what conditions you want to fish in. Some people might only go ice fishing on fairly warm winter days, in which case a simpler shelter that offers less protection but is more portable is the right way to go.
Windbreaks are easy to set up, light to carry around, and quick to take down, but they are not the best in colder weather. A windbreak style shelter is not a full tent. Instead, it is only a wall that blocks the wind.
Since a windbreak does not have walls surrounding you, it is not the best in harsher conditions. However, you might find it good enough for the days when you go ice fishing. On many days, blocking the wind is enough, and on colder days, you might rather stay home.
The cabin style is a full tent, made for protection rather than simplicity. Ice fishing is mostly done sitting down, but extra height still makes the experience more comfortable.
If you and your friends are taller, the cabin style might be your best choice. Cabin style shelters are bulkier to carry around than the other kinds of ice fishing shelters.
Hubs are a great choice if you want more square feet worth of room and a tent that will hold the heat in on colder days. Hub style shelters are also easier to carry around than cabin style shelters. The disadvantage is that they are not as tall as cabin style shelters are.
Flip style shelters are both durable and portable. They are more square than round in shape and protect you from all directions like cabin and hub style shelters do. A flip-style shelter has a plastic base that lies on the ice.
Many companies only produce smaller flip-style shelters that are big enough for one or two people only. However, you can find flip-style shelters that are big enough for four people if you look around for them.
The best ice fishing shelters
Since the biggest shelter is not also going to be the lightest, there is no single best shelter to buy in 2020. The trick is to buy an ice fishing shelter that is reasonably good in more than one way.
If you want a large, multi-person shelter that you can stand up in, look for one that is relatively light for its size. If you want a higher-end shelter that will last a long time, it won't be the cheapest shelter you can find, but it might be reasonably priced for its quality.
1) Eskimo Quckfish 3
The Eskimo Quickfish 3 is a higher quality and not all that cheap shelter that can take strong winds and last for a long time. The durability is impressive. The corners are where cheaper tents often rip; on the Eskimo Quickfish they are specially reinforced and can last for a long time.
The Quickfish 3 is easy to set up as well. If you have ever been trying to set a shelter up on a windy day and having trouble, it is not an experience you want to repeat. Even if you are by yourself and the wind is blowing, you can easily set up the Quickfish 3.
The Quickfish 3 is also easy to carry around, very well ventilated, and waterproof. One reason why the Quickfish 3 is not for everyone is that it is not as well insulated as some other tents. It will keep the wind out, but the Quickfish 3 might not be good enough on a very cold day unless you run a heater a lot of the time.
- Very high durability
- Easy to set up, including if you are by yourself and the wind is blowing
2) Nordic legend wide bottom
The Nordic legend is an excellent choice if you are looking for a bigger shelter that is also inexpensive. You can easily fit three, and usually four people in the tent despite its low price. The Nordic legend can also keep the heat in better than then Quickfish 3 can.
Despite offering 40 square feet of room, the Nordic legend also fits into a surprisingly small bag when packed up. While the Nordic legend is, in some ways, the best shelter you can buy for a low price, it is not tall enough for everyone to stand up in.
- Very well insulated
- Packs up very small for its large size
3) Tangkula Pop-up Ice Shelter 2-Person
The Tangkula Pop-Up is a warm and durable tent that can stand up to harsh weather conditions. It can withstand temperatures as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. The Tangkula also has four detachable windows for better ventilation in warmer weather.
The Tangkula is also waterproof, owing to its robust 300D Oxford fabric. The tent also does a great job of letting the light in and keeping the cold air out. It is not too dim inside the tent when it is zipped up, although you might prefer to bring a light with you anyway.
One flaw is that the Tangkula does not have enough ice screws to hold it down properly. The four small ice screws the tent comes with are not enough, and you will have to buy better screws elsewhere to hold the tent in place on a windy day. The Tangkula is also not nearly large enough for three people and their gear.
- Excellent water resistance
- Keeps the cold out very well
- Four well designed detachable windows
4) Thunder Bay Ice Cube Fishing Shelter
One great thing about the thunder bay is that a cold draft won't manage to get in through the shelter's bottom on a windy day. The long skirting at the bottom of the tent does an unusually good job of keeping the drafts out. Because of the blackout coating, you can keep the light out entirely if you want and rely only on artificial light.
Unlike some other tents, the Thunderbay comes with ice screws that are good enough to secure the tent to the ice properly. It is both wide and high - 90 inches long, 90 inches wide, and 80 inches high. Both the carry bag and the tent are durable, and it is easy to set up as well.
- More than high enough for a tall person to stand up in
- Excellent ice anchors
- Flexible poles for easy setup
5) Elkton Outdoors Portable 3-4 Person
The Elkton Outdoors 3-4 person tent is easier to set up and take down than any other tent we have tried. If you have set it up before, you can set it up again in 30 seconds or less. No other tent beats this one at being easy to use.
It is a hassle with some tents to get the tent back into the bag after you take it down. That is not the case here, as the bag is more than big enough and has a wide enough opening. It is also a light tent to carry around, at least for such a large tent.
The Elkton Outdoors also has large pockets for storing gear, and it is not easy to rip these pockets like it is for some lower quality brands. Some reviewers claim that you can easily fit four people in this tent, but it seems crowded with three people and their gear.
- Easy to set up and dismantle
- Excellent carrying bag
- Durable pockets for storing gear
6) PEXMOR Ice fishing shelter
What makes that PEXMOR stand out is its size. You can fit as many as eight or nine people inside of it. If you want to go ice fishing with more than four people, or just want the roomiest tent you can find, the PEXMOR is a great choice. You do not always need to get more than one tent if there are more than three or four of you.
This large tent is easier and not harder to secure to the ice than smaller tents are. With eight ice anchors, it stays in place better than a smaller tent with four. The tent is held up with glass fiber rather than metal rods, which improves its stability further.
The PEXMOR also has enough pockets for a few different people's gear, is well ventilated, and keeps the cold out. The ice fishing shelter is durable and backed by a 12-month warranty.
One drawback is that it is not as waterproof as it should be. It works reasonably well, but water will get through, especially around the seams. Get it if you want a huge shelter, but bring a tarp with you.
- Large enough for eight or nine people, spacious for more than four people
- Stable and attaches to the ice securely
- Well ventilated
7) Frabill Recruit 1250 Ice Shelter
If you are looking for the most comfortable single person shelter you can find, the Frabill Recruit might be it. Unlike most shelters, this has a seat, which is great if you are out for more than a little while.
There isn't much room, but it is enough for someone who wants to fish on the ice comfortably by themselves. Other than a bit of leakage at the bottom of the windows during rain, the tent is waterproof. The tent is warm enough that you don't need to keep a heater on for very long, even on a cold day.
While the seat can potentially last for years, you have to be reasonably gentle with it. It does not seem very sturdy, and some people report that the seat broke not long after buying it. There is enough room for a single person's gear; it is not any smaller than a one-person shelter should be.
- Very well insulated
- Large enough for one person and their gear
8) Otter Pro Lodge Thermal Hub
The best thing about the Otter Pro Lodge is how well it attaches to the ice. Many shelters don't attach to the ice well enough, and the Otter Pro is the opposite. The strong ice anchors will keep the tent down even in the wind.
As well as pockets, the Otter Pro Lodge offers overhead nets for storage; it also has rod holders. The vertical windows are also very well placed and at the right height.
Being easy to set up is not one of this shelter's strong points. While setting it up with two people is fast, you will have trouble setting this up yourself. Don't get it unless you plan never to go ice fishing alone.
- An exceptional ice anchoring system
- Storage nets, pockets, and rod holders