Waterproof an Ice Fishing Tent or Shelter (A to Z)

Nothing is worse than having droplets of water dripping onto you while fishing in your ice shelter! You’ll want to totally waterproof your shelter when this happens. How and why should you waterproof your shelter?

Waterproof your ice fishing tent using a seam sealer where the stitching is exposed. Stitching is the area where water intrusion occurs. The tent’s fabric is designed to allow moisture to escape, and spraying with a sealant will trap moisture that will condense and turn into water droplets.

Nowadays an ice fishing shelter is designed with high-tech fabrics and is leaps and bounds ahead of the canvas material which was once used.

Let’s jump right into how to waterproof your shelter, and how and why to do so correctly.

How to Waterproof an Ice Shanty – Easier Than You Think

Waterproofing an ice fishing shelter is a fairly straightforward process and the setup and takedown normally take longer than the actual process itself.

You’ll need the following:

  • Large enough area to set up your ice shelter
  • Small bristle brush
  • A small bowl of warm soapy water (for excessively dirty areas)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Gear Aid Seam Grip (recommended) or a regular seam sealer
  • Blue painters tape or masking tape – to keep zippers and velcro clean
  • Ability to leave your shelter up for 24 hrs to dry

You may also want to have a roll of paper towels or shop rags handy to do a quick clean-up if you get sealer in areas you don’t want it. Other than that, we’re ready to go!

Common Misconception When Waterproofing a Fishing Shelter Tent

A common misconception is to use something like a can of Scotchguard Outdoor Water Shield and spray down your whole portable shelter.

The fabric used to keep the weather out of your shelter is also designed to allow moisture to escape. When you spray down and seal the tent material, the material traps moisture inside the ice fishing shelter.

Since the water and moisture cannot escape from inside the tent space, it collects and begins to drip down upon you and your equipment when fishing!

Treat the Seams! The Stitching Is Where Leaks Occur!

When you’re setting up and taking down your portable ice fishing shelter, you stretch and pull the fabric causing the stitching and seams to stretch and open wider.

Now that the stitch holes are bigger, water can enter these openings causing you and your gear to become wet and damp.

Photo of Waterproof Your Tent

Steps to Treat Your Ice Shelter Seams and Stop the Drips

  1. Set Your Ice Shelter Up – Setting your ice shelter up puts tension on the fabric and allows the seam sealer to penetrate the stitching and seams.

    It is best to use a room or garage space to set up your shelter that is warm enough for the sealer to properly cure.
  2. Clean the Fabric Along the Seams and Stitching – Depending upon your tent quality and method of manufacturing, it may or may not have tape covering the seams.

    Check for damaged and cracked areas on the tape, and pull any loose tape away from the fabric being careful not to damage the seam or shelter any further.
  3. Diligently Clean the Seams – Clean the seams with a dry brush or warm soapy water depending on how much dirt, dust, grime, and fishing stuff is attached to the seams.

    Use rubbing alcohol after you have finished cleaning the bigger stuff off to prep the area for the seam sealer.
  4. Apply Seam Sealer Per the Directions Provided – Whatever seam sealer you choose to use is up to you. Be sure to adhere to the application instructions for the best adhesion and longevity.

    What I have found to be an excellent seam sealer is Gear Aid Seam Grip WP Waterproof Sealant and Adhesive for Tents and Outdoor Fabric I get from Amazon.

    It comes with an application brush and a bristle brush that attaches to the tube and really allows the sealer to permeate the seam.
  5. Apply to the Exterior and Interior of Seams – I have found it is beneficial to seal the seams not only on the outside of the shelter but also on the inside of the ice shelter.

    Don’t get the seam sealer on any of the velcro closures or zippers. You may want to use painters or masking tape to cover those areas.

    (1oz of the Gear Aid will treat 12 feet of seams and it also comes in an 8oz tube.)
  6. Allow Sealer to Adequately Dry – Before you fold up or take down your shelter, let the sealer cure all the way through. I usually leave the tent standing for a good 24 hrs before taking it down.

Waterproofing the seams of your ice fishing shelter is more of a bother in finding the room and getting it set up and waiting for 24 hrs than the actual sealing!

Are Ice Fishing Tents Waterproof

As a general rule, ice fishing tents are not waterproof but are water-resistant. The material tents are made from has microscopic holes smaller than water droplets. Interior moisture can pass through to the exterior. In contrast, water droplets cannot pass through the holes to the interior.

Any water entering the shelter is most likely coming through a seam, a small puncture, or a tear in the fabric.

If this is the case, then a repair is warranted. A roll of duct tape can come in handy for emergency repairs until you can have a tear or hole in your shelter properly fixed.

There are people who use hunting blinds for ice fishing and a number of them are waterproof.

Is an Insulated Ice Shelter Waterproof

An insulated ice tent isn’t waterproof but is water-resistant. The additional insulation does keep water vapor from a propane heater and your breath from condensing on the interior and turning into water droplets. Therefore an insulated tent will keep more moisture from forming inside the tent.

When I’m fishing on the ice my portable tent or flip-over has insulation built into it. My experience is an insulated tent is far better to sit in when fishing.

Insulated Ice Fishing Tent with Floor – Does it Help

An insulated ice fishing portable tent with a floor will drastically reduce moisture from inside the shelter. Companies such as Clam Outdoors have shelters with removable floors.

Without an insulated floor, the ice has a tendency to surface melt, and water forms below your feet and especially near a heater if you’re running one. Water on ice is slippery and anglers can easily slip and fall.

Melting water eventually turns into water vapor and collects on anything cold and pretty soon you have water dripping down the sides of your ice fishing shelter.

With an insulated floor in your shanty, you will be warmer and feel drier most of the day.

I have written a summary of ice fishing shelter floor ideas you can check out as well.

Condensation in a Pop-Up Ice Fishing Tent – The Enemy

There have been times it felt like it was raining inside of my ice fishing shelter! Anyone who has sat on the ice fishing in their shelter during freezing weather knows the feeling!

It becomes kind of cold and clammy inside of your shelter, you can see your breath, so you fire up your portable propane heater, right? Here’s what happens!

It’s below freezing outside, your breath puts moisture in the air, the heater produces water vapor when it burns the propane and the vapor condenses on the interior of your shelter.

When it does this, water begins to form just like your glass of iced tea “sweats” on the outside of the glass! Condensation is the enemy to a dry ice fishing shelter interior!

Dry Your Ice Fishing Shelter

I often fold up my Jason Mitchell 5000 Thermal pop-up ice fishing shelter and place it inside the carrying bag right on the ice as most do. It always ends up with snow and ice inside the bag!

If I’m lucky it’s nice enough the next day or so to back the truck out of the garage and set the tent up to dry and air out. The same holds true with my portable flip-over shelter.

Allowing your shelter to adequately dry out properly will keep the moisture down once you’re inside fishing on your next trip. Plus it’s easier to unfold when it isn’t full of ice and frozen stiff!

If you have an insulated shelter it will normally take longer to dry than a non-insulated one.

You’ll definitely want to open and set up your shelter to dry at the end of the ice season. Putting a wet and damp shelter away for the summer will lead to mold and material rotting.

In Conclusion

Most people mistake a wet ice fishing shelter for a leaking one. As a general rule, when you have moisture and water seeping in it is from condensation and not a leak.

An insulated ice shelter will keep you warmer and drier due to less condensation forming, especially when sleeping overnight in your ice fishing tent.

When you treat your shelter, nine times out of ten you only need to treat the seams. Because that’s where water intrusion is more likely to occur.

Dry your portables, whether pop-up or flip-over, as soon as you can do so. Although some of us will fish almost every day and regularly drying gear out can become difficult.

Treat your seams with seam sealer, dry out your gear when you can and your shelter will give you many more seasons of use!

Have fun and stay safe out there!

Mike Rodman

Mike is an avid ice fisherman and fishes the Rocky Mountain Region and across the US Ice Belt and Canada. During the off-winter months, he enjoys fly fishing the Wyoming mountains and fishing from his kayak for pike and smallmouth bass. When Mike can find a little spare time, he'll be at his rod bench building custom fishing rods.

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