Portable and permanent ice fishing shelters are great pieces of gear that make your hard water fishing trip so much more comfortable. Even more so, if you bring a heater.
There are, however, a few essential things you have to keep in mind when it comes to heating an ice fishing shelter, which is why I decided to write this helpful guide.
The best and most convenient way of heating your ice fishing shelter is by using a portable propane heater. Such heaters will provide a stable and comfortable warmth inside your shelter and can be easily transported to your intended fishing spot.
Continue reading this article for helpful tips on what heaters to use for different shelters and what safety measures you should implement when using them indoors.
What Is the Best Way to Heat an Ice Fishing Shelter?
For a long time, anglers used good, old wood stoves in their permanent ice shacks and, most of the time, no heat source at all in their portable shelters.
Both ways weren’t the most convenient ones ever invented, and so, around the turn of the millennium, a portable propane heater called Mr. Buddy entered the market and changed ice fishing for good!
These smart, highly efficient, and very affordable heaters are used by millions of ice anglers all over North America and are considered the best heat source for ice fishing shelters available today.
The classic and very popular Buddy heaters are lightweight, can be instantly turned on and off, and last for many hours, keeping your shack warm and dry.
They also come in different sizes, making them the perfect choice for any type of shelter.
PRO TIP: Many anglers experience condensation inside their shelters when using propane heaters. This can often be avoided by adequately venting your shack. You can read more about how to ventilate your ice shelter further down in the article!
How to Heat a Portable Ice Fishing Shelter?
Portable pop-up shelters are generally smaller than permanent shacks and can be heated relatively easily and quickly. Smaller heaters are often enough for this type of ice fishing shelter. Also, because you are most likely only using them for day trips.
Of course, if you have a pop-up shelter of dark fabric and only fish during the daytime, you could solely rely on the warmth of the sun. But who is to say that it’ll be sunny all day when you’re out on the lake?
Additionally, your hands will often get exposed to the cold snow and water, and handling your fishing gear with cold, wet, and stiff hands is not fun at all. It can be pretty painful, to be honest!
Fishing in a warm pop-up shelter will keep both you and your hands warm and dry, which means that you can both fish as long as you want without freezing and handle your gear much more effectively.
And as most portable ice fishing shelters only have an interior area of about 30 to 50 square feet, using a smaller heater model, like the Mr. Heater Little Buddy, is often perfectly sufficient.
PRO TIP: To prevent snow and ice melt in your shelter, place your heater on a milk crate or a bucket to get it off the ground, or use a foam floor or mat to cover the snow and ice your fishing on.
That little wonder will keep your shelter nice and warm for many hours! It’s light (5lb), compact (11 inches), uses a standard 1lb propane cylinder, and has excellent stability.
Many anglers put it close to their fishing hole to dry their wet hands with it, which is super practical!
PRO TIP: The Little Buddy requires a minimum vent area (preferably two) of 4 square inches for adequate ventilation of your shelter!
Of course, you can also use a more powerful heater for your portable shelter. It all depends on your preferences and needs! This next section will discuss such heater models in more detail.
How to Heat a Permanent Ice Fishing Shelter?
Permanent ice fishing shelters, or ice houses, are much bigger than pop-up shelters and require bigger and more powerful heaters with a longer runtime.
Most commonly, bigger permanent shelters are used for overnight fishing trips that can last an entire weekend or even longer.
If you’re out in the middle of a big lake, you will want to ensure that the heater you have with you will both heat your entire ice house and last during the whole stay.
That’s why using a bigger model makes the most sense, especially since you can connect it to a bigger propane tank.
Via an adapter hose, you can connect a 20lb propane tank to your 1lb propane heater, making the need to bring a bunch of small 1lb propane cylinders obsolete. You can find the necessary adapter hose with a propane tank gauge on Amazon here.
A setup like that will last you for many days, especially if you don’t run the heater on maximum and all day long, which, most of the time, is not strictly necessary.
Both the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy, for smaller ice houses, and the Mr. Heater Big Buddy, for larger ones, are solid choices for such trips.
Thanks to their heat level control knobs (low, medium, high), they practically function like your average heater at home, providing your permanent shelter with a steady, comfortable day and night temperature, regardless of how cold it gets outside.
And as you can read further down in this article, these two Mr. Heater models have yet another practical feature that makes them the perfect fit for your ice fishing trip.
Is it Safe to Heat an Ice Fishing Shelter?
This is, by far, the most important and most frequently asked question concerning the use of propane heaters indoors.
While modern propane heaters like the ones mentioned in this article have built-in safety measures, such as a low oxygen sensor and an accidental tip-over switch, and are relatively safe to use indoors, in my opinion, you can never be too sure and careful!
Even if the Mr. Heater models have a low oxygen sensor that shuts them off automatically if it detects too little oxygen in the air inside of your shelter, you should never rely on that one safety measure alone!
Because while it does tell you if there’s too little oxygen, it doesn’t warn you if there’s carbon monoxide building up.
And make no mistake, carbon monoxide poisoning is something you’ll want to avoid at all costs, as it can lead to severe damage or even death!
In my mind, a comfortable and cozy ice fishing trip is certainly not worth dying for! And it’s really simple to prevent that from happening. Just follow these two simple steps:
Open the metal vents, ventilation windows, windows, or the door of your portable or permanent ice shelter half an inch to one inch or so to ensure that fresh air can enter and exit.
If you let fresh air flow in and through your shelter at all times, there will never be a risk of oxygen deficiency.
Ideally, there should be an opening on two opposite sides of your shelter, so that a steady flow of air is created.
Alternatively, there should be one air hole close to the ground and one close to the top of your shelter, as the heavier fresh and cold air will enter close to the ground, and the lighter warm air will rise and exit through the top.
If the air ventilation is not enough to ease your mind, buying a CO alarm will undoubtedly do the trick, especially if you’re planning on sleeping through the night!
Anything can get wrong, and if you’re sleeping when that carbon monoxide slowly builds up inside, well, there’s a risk that you’ll never wake up to notice that!
Should that ever occur, a simple carbon monoxide alarm has got your back and can save your life! It will most likely allow you to sleep much better because you don’t have that constant “what if”-thought in the back of your head! You can find a reliable and decently priced CO alarm on Amazon here.
PRO TIP: Make sure to place your CO alarm at head level when sleeping, so that it will measure the same air you’ll be breathing in!
How Long Do Propane Heaters Last?
I went ahead and checked the runtimes of the Little Buddy, Portable Buddy, and Big Buddy when used in combination with a standard 1lb propane cylinder:
|Heater Model||Tank Size||On Low||On High|
|Little Buddy||1lb cylinder||5.6h||2.4h|
|Portable Buddy||1lb cylinder||5.4h||2.4h|
|Big Buddy||2x 1lb cylinder||10.8h||2.4h|
Keep in mind that these are only estimates based on the assumption that the heaters are on the entire time.
And remember that you can connect a 20lb propane tank to both the Buddy and Big Buddy heater. Both heaters can run up to 96h (4 days) on medium with a full 20lb tank.
Can You Cook Food on a Propane Heater?
It is possible to prepare your food or make your morning coffee using the Mr. Heater Buddy or Big Buddy.
All you need to do is to take off the heater’s wire guard, turn it upside down, and then reinsert it back into the holes on the upper side.
And boom! You now have a portable grill or cooking surface! The heat will be enough to cook, boil, fry, or grill almost anything! That’s a neat trick, isn’t it!?
Disclaimer: Strike&Catch assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions of the presented information about propane heaters or CO alarms. Neither does Strike&Catch assume responsibility for any kind of damages or accidents caused by the products and items described in this article.
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Featured image courtesy of Bob Deckert