It’s difficult to tell just how popular lake ice fishing is, but judging by the increasing numbers of ice huts we see on the frozen waters around Michigan, the sport seems to be growing. Perhaps more people are doing it because it’s easier than ever to stay warm and comfortable when using a lightweight and airtight ice fishing shelter. Gone are the days when the cold weather angler has to drag a small condominium on skis behind a snowmobile for miles. When you think about it, the most important aspect of lake ice fishing is staying comfortable, so it follows that the most important piece of ice fishing gear should be your shelter. Now your ice fishing shelter doesn’t have to be your heaviest piece of gear, or your most expensive. Here’s your buyer’s guide to the ultimate lake ice fishing experience!
First, a bit of clarification; Several companies offer both “flip-style” and “pop-up,” or “cabin” style shelters. What’s the difference? Both are portable, and both are usually built on top of the sled used for transporting. Cabin shelters are usually a bit bigger and heavier, and require a little more effort to move when changing locations, because you generally have to take the poles down, instead of just flipping the top back, like with a flip shelter.
The Clam Corporation offers by far the largest selection of ice fishing shelters, with 29 models spread across two different lines; the flip-style Fish Trap series, and the pop-up/cabin-style series. The flip-styles start at $180 with the Trapper, and go up to the roomy Fish Trap X4 at $800. In the pop-up/cabin style shelters, Clam Corp. offers the 3.5×4.5 ft. Prospector I for about $120. They also have offers a “Starter kit” for around $200, which includes a 5×5 pop-up shelter, a transporting sled and a manual ice auger. A great idea for someone just getting into the sport. At the high end of Clam’s pop-up line is the Fish Camp TC, for just under $500.
Standout Features: Several Clam Corp. shelters are made with an advanced thermal IceArmor fabric that’s been proven to raise inside temperatures by up to 30%.
The Eskimo brand has long been known for its high-quality ice fishing gear including everything from augers and rods, to clothing. They also make a great, rugged ice fishing shelter, with the Quickflip, and Eskape flip-style models ranging in price from $150 to $800. Eskimo’s pop-up/cabin Quickfish series tops out at around $300. One great thing about Eskimo shelters — both from safety and marketing standpoints — is their bright red color. They can be seen for miles, even in stormy weather.
Standout Features: Some models are equipped with Eskimo’s exclusive Cold Air Barrier — an airspace between fabric layers designed for maximum insulation.
The Frabill brand offers 11 flip-style shelters that start at $230 and go up to $800, plus one cabin-style model for $280. They alsomanufacture three basic “hub” style shelters ranging in price from $160-$300.
Standout Features: Multi-position deluxe padded swivel boat seats, and insulated with NorpacR2™ Extreme Outdoor Fabric with Thinsulate™ Insulation FR from 3M. (Insulation not available on all models)
If you want to get out of the wind and cold for under $500 and still want enough room to wrestle that big lake trout without knocking
your tent over, try a Shappell “S” or “DX” series cabin-style shelter. These start at $220 and go up to $420. There’s also a few flip-style models available at similar price points, plus two more basic, lightweight “hub” style shelters, the Ice House 5000 and 6000, for $160 and $200, respectively.
Standout Features: Removable windows and shades, bowed ceilings for maximum headroom, no-slip marine carpeting, and these shelters can be used as a hunting blind!
Of the brands we researched, the most pocketbook-friendly, high-quality ice fishing shelter we found is made by Killzone. You can try the Igloo, for $200, or the Igloo XL for only $40 more.
Standout Features: The XL model fits four people and includes removable windows and shades.