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There are many advantages to ice fishing and spending the night inside of a portable ice shelter! While most people will pack it in and go home right after sundown, only a few will remain to enjoy the night’s fantastic fishing opportunities!
You can sleep inside an ice fishing tent with the proper equipment and preparations. To comfortably spend the night, at a minimum, you’ll need a portable heater, carbon monoxide detector, folding cot, and sleeping bag. Insulated mats are also an option to keep your feet dry when you need to stand up.
Once you spend a good night on the ice, with or without your fishing buddies, a whole new world will open up for you. But there are other things you’ll want to consider before your first overnight trip. I’ll explain what those are below!
What Do You Need for Overnight Ice Fishing?
To spend the night on the ice, there are certain things you should have with you to do so safely and keep yourself warm.
I’m going to assume you already have an ice fishing shelter or tent you want to stay in, so what’s needed for an overnight ice fishing trip?
- Portable heater
- Carbon Monoxide Detector (I prefer to bring – two see why below!)
- Folding Cot
- Zero Degree Sleeping Bag
- Insulated Sleeping Pad
- Matches or Lighter
- Portable cookstove
- Safety Ice Picks
- Insulated or foam flooring
- Personal items as needed
Members of Women on Ice who are Ice Team Pros and Pro Staff for Clam Outdoors and Vexilar Ice Fishing Sonar Electronics have tremendous insights into what it takes to spend the night in a pop-up shelter!
Pro Tip: I have had the pleasure of fishing with some of the Women on Ice members, and they are skilled at fishing on the hardwater, lakes, and offshore waters! Check out their site if you have a chance!
You can certainly bring more gear, chest coolers, food, and drink as you think you may need. But the above list is what I would consider to be the basics of having a good night on the ice. Let’s take a closer look at a few of them!
Portable Heater for Your Ice Shelter
I’ll carry a portable heater with me when I go out on the ice, but I rarely ever use it until after the sun goes down. Even the smallest of portable propane heaters will make a huge difference when you’re inside your shelter!
The two propane heaters I choose to use are from Mr. Heater. Certainly the most popular brands on the ice, and for good reasons!
In my Jason Mitchell 5000 Thermal pop-up, which can house 4-6 people, I use the Mr. Heater Big Buddy Portable Heater to keep everyone toasty warm.
When using my one-person Clam Outdoors Legend XL Thermal, I use the Portable Buddy Heater with great results!
The Big Buddy has the capacity to heat up to 400 square feet of space for up to 220 hours in the low position.
While the Portable Buddy heats an area to 225 square feet and can run off a 1lb green propane bottle for 6 hours on low.
Both heaters can also run off of a 20lb propane tank with the proper fittings too!
You Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector for Ice Fishing
The Mr. heater brand portable heaters have an Oxygen Depletion Sensor (ODS) and an accidental tip-over safety shut-off. And I’m sure they work fine. But backups are a good thing too!
The heaters are supposed to shut down when the oxygen levels become too low, but they are not carbon monoxide detectors. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas unvented heaters will give off.
Redundancy when it comes to your safety is paramount! So I carry two carbon monoxide detectors when sleeping or napping in my shelter! They are inexpensive and could be lifesavers!
Even with one or two detectors in your ice shack, you’ll still want to open a vent window and open the zippered door enough to allow fresh air into your tent. Better safe than sorry, right?
Folding Cot for Camping on the Ice
Now that we have keeping warm and being safe while using the propane portable heaters, it’s time to get comfy for the night bite!
Having somewhere to stretch out after a day on the ice goes a long way from sitting upright in a chair and nodding on and off all night long. A folding cot in an ice tent is better than a king-sized bed in a 5 Star hotel! Well, almost!
Folding and portable cots come in many sizes and price ranges. There are even bunk-bed cots to save a ton of space in your ice shanty when fishing with a buddy!
The best I have found are the folding cots with a built-in pocket organizer like the Camping Cot below from Amazon.
You can place your eyeglasses, flashlights, nighttime snacks, or whatever you like in the organizer and have them easily accessible with the pocket organizer. Plus, they’ll stay off the floor and out of the wet spots too!
Best Sleeping Bag for Overnight Ice Fishing
Now that you have your cot put up, you could lay down with your ice suit or bib and jacket on, but a sleeping bag is a huge plus!
I used to rock climb and spend a ton of time backpacking in Wyoming’s mountains, so I have a killer North Face sub-zero sleeping bag I’ll take on the ice with me.
It’s a mummy-style bag, and if you’re slightly claustrophobic, I’d stay away from the hardcore mummy bags and go with a rectangular one. You’ll feel better being able to move your feet!
Do I Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad for Ice Camping
A sleeping pad is a luxury item, but one I do enjoy!
I’ve used this self-inflating Therm-a-Rest Backpacking pad and have had the same one for over twenty years! This one is a little on the heavier side, but it makes my nights better off than a thin, skinny pad.
A lighter option I would most likely take to the mountains with me is the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Ultralight Foam Backpacking Mattress which weighs in at only 410 grams!
In the end, you really don’t need to have a sleeping pad, but it does give you more insulation beneath you and will soften out the cot for you. And I know you’ll appreciate having it over the space and weight savings, I do!
Cookstoves and Grills for on the Ice and in the Shack
For years the only food and drink items I would take with me when I left for the ice were a handful of Snickers Bars, a couple of Pepsi’s, and a couple of bottles of water.
But there is nothing better or more energizing than a thirty minute break to heat up something hot and tasty!
While ice fishing the “Greenback” walleyes of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, our buddy worked his magic on the Blackstone Grill every day for all of us!
The smaller 17″ Blackstone Grill with its 228 square inch cooking area is the heaviest option at 25 lbs, but it is incredibly versatile. You wouldn’t want the weight of it, or I wouldn’t while dragging all the gear out. I’d only take it when you have transportation on the ice.
If you haven’t ever used one, give the Blackstone Adventure Ready 17” Tabletop Griddle a price check on Amazon, you won’t be sorry! I use mine at home quite a bit too!
I’ll grill hot dogs and brats with the Weber portable when I take a friend and his kids perch fishing. Quick, easy, and simple to set up, grill, and takedown. And the unit cools off quickly on the ice too!
The Jetboil cookstove I have had for years has served me well on the ice and mountains. The Jetboil will boil water in a couple of minutes at my elevation, can make coffee, heat soups, and even cook meats in it!
The best thing is all of these can be run off of a 1lb green propane bottle!
If you have a Mr. Buddy Heater, there are grills you can position over them to heat cans of soup and meals you brought in tinfoil pans that work well.
Sleeping in a Portable Ice Shelter
Sleeping in a hub-style fish house or tent, there are a few things you will want to consider.
First of all, you want to be certain your ice fishing shelter is large enough to accommodate gear and people. Be sure to check out my table listing the current biggest ice fishing tents and shelters.
Make sure to tightly secure your tent with the tie-down straps and bank the skirt with snow to keep air the cold air from entering your shanty through the night. Use slush from drilling your holes if you need to!
If the excess tie-down straps are long, tuck them into the pockets provided on your hub or secure them with a knot to keep them from blowing and flapping around all night long.
Place your cot up close to the wall of your pop-up shelter near the door. By doing this, you can open or close the door as needed with the zipper close to you. You can manage the airflow into the tent without leaving your cot.
If you place your fishing holes close enough, you can also fish while lying down, and if using a rattle reel, you can reach the line without getting up.
Heating an Ice Fishing Tent Properly
Properly heating your tent throughout the night is an important factor and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Whatever portable heater you use, I would choose one with an oxygen sensor. Make sure to have at least one (I prefer two!) battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors with you when you spend the night on the ice!
Even when your portable heater instruction clearly states it has an oxygen sensor or safety shutdown mechanism, always use a carbon monoxide detector as a backup to it.
Open a vent near the top of your hub-style popup or tent and also crack the door or an opposite vent to get a little cross draft of air coming in.
Keep your propane heater away from clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, etc.!
Place it on the other side of the tent, so you don’t knock it over or trip over it when moving around too. Use your portable heaters in your shack wisely!
Insulated Ice Fishing Tent With a Floor
When sleeping in an ice fishing hut or portable ice shelter, the best thing you can do is add some flooring type to your setup.
Several shelter and hub-style tents come with an insulated floor. If you already have a shelter, check with the manufacturer for accessory flooring.
For those with four-sided hubs, you might want to check the dimensions of your popup and see if this removable floor would meet your needs.
One of the better options is using interlocking foam tiles. You can cover the whole floor, just a section, or use one or two tiles beneath your electronics and heater!
The Gym Floor Mat Tiles from Epic Fitness are easily found on Amazon, are solid floor tiles, and a great value. You can bring along as many or as few as you need. They are lightweight and easy to clean too!
So there you have it! Sleeping in an ice fishing tent or portable shelter is pretty simple and a lot of fun when you take the time to prepare accordingly. Plus, the night bite can be fantastic as well!
Take advantage of those hours that many other anglers neglect and have a good time!
Have fun and stay safe out there!