Ice fishing is not for the faint of heart, as it could not be further from a casual fishing trip by the lake in the middle of summer. Instead of glorious sunshine and a nicely packed picnic, you’ve got blistering winds and icy cold hands that take way too much effort to move.
Once the frozen temperature reaches your toes, you’re more than ready to throw in the towel and head off home. This is obviously not how you wanted your ice fishing trip to go, so you’re going to need to do some preparation work before setting off.
If you don’t want this to be your fate, or you’ve unfortunately suffered this and don’t want to go through it again, you may have found your way here to purchase perhaps the most beneficial piece of equipment that you could take with you ice fishing - a portable heater.
These work great in ice houses or shelters, and we’ve found the five best models for you to choose from. Below we’ll take a look at these, as well as what to remember when purchasing an ice fishing heater, and some safety tips to keep you safe, comfortable, and warm.
- Mr. Heater Big Buddy - 18,000 BTU / 400 square feet
- Dyna-Glow Heat Around 360 - 10,000 BTU / 250 square feet
- Mr. Heater Portable Buddy - 9,000 BTU / 225 square feet
- DuraHeat Double Tank Portable 360 - 18,000 BTU / 400 square feet
- Mr. Heater Little Buddy - 3,800 BTU / 95 square feet
Ice Fishing Heater Reviews
There are hundreds of different ice fishing heaters out there on the market, however, you’ll often find that a lot of them are not suitable for use inside an ice shelter. As keeping warm is going to impact your ability to fish greatly, you want to make sure that you can use the model you choose inside your shelter, and that it is safe to do so.
Mr. Heater is a popular manufacturer of ice fishing heaters, so you will see a number of its heaters on our list. Having said that, we have found a few other options for you to choose from, in case you fancy something a little different.
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Best Ice Fishing Heater - Reviews
The first ice fishing heater we have on our list is the Big Buddy, which lives up to its name and is one of the largest models that you can buy. You can use either two one-pound propane gas cylinders, or a single 20-pound propane cylinder, to power this model, and in return, it will offer you a 400 square foot heated space.
All in all, you can heat up to 3200 cubic feet with the Big Buddy, which is more than enough for a large ice fishing house.
An interesting feature of the Big Buddy is the battery-powered fan that helps the heat reach further. This model is ideal for large and some medium-sized shelters, and for trips in which you know that the temperatures are going to be below zero.
The Big Buddy offers a large BTU output, which amps up the size and weight of the model. It weighs 17 pounds, which is not ideal for transporting it around every couple of hours, so you’ll want to choose one spot for your heater and stick to it.
We would recommend choosing this model if you’ve got a large ice house and are going to be ice fishing for more or less the whole winter.
The Dyna-Glow portable heater is an excellent alternative to the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy, which we will be looking at next. It is designed to look similar to a lantern and expels heat 360 degrees around it, warming up every corner of your ice house.
Due to this design, you’ll get a 250 square foot heated space which is more than enough heat for an ice fishing excursion.
This model is very easy to carry thanks to the handle on the side of the bottom, and compact enough to fit into a bucket for strategic packing. We’d suggest this is an ideal model for an ice tent that is on the bigger side.
The design of the Portable Buddy is almost identical to the Big Buddy, the only difference being that it is smaller and therefore much easier to transport around. You’ll be able to enjoy the heat as long as you’re within 225 square feet of this model, and it only needs a singular one pound propane gas cylinder to work.
You can switch between two output choices - either 4,000 or 9,000 BTUs - which both work excellently to heat up any portable ice house.
Mr. Heater Portable Buddy has racked up many impressive customer reviews, all of which are happy with the performance. Pair this with the reasonable price, the impressive output, and the slight size, we’d consider this model to be the best overall ice fishing heater.
The DuraHeat Double Tank heater works with two cylinders of Propane gas, and will offer you more than enough heat on your cold excursion. It is designed to look like a lantern and therefore puts out heat the whole way round the model, making it ideal for placing in the middle of an ice house to ensure heat reaches every area of your shelter.
Moreover, once your ice fishing trip is over you can take this heater back home and use it on your patio or take it with you camping. Wherever you need it, the DuraHeat Double will be there to offer a lot of heat and comfort.
While this heater puts out the same amount of heat as the Mr. Heater Big Buddy, it costs a fraction of the price, making it the best budget option around.
Although this heater is portable and can be positioned wherever you need it most, it still is rather large compared to other models and therefore would be better being used as a more permanent solution for the duration of your trip.
You’re most likely not going to want to keep packing up and resetting up an 11.4-pound heater, so we’d advise you to place it in one spot that is going to be most beneficial and leave it alone.
Last but not least is the Little Buddy, which is the most portable option on this list thanks to its small size and lightweight. As you can see, it looks similar to a flashlight with a handle, but instead of a lightbulb, you’ll find a heater.
You only need one propane gas cylinder to power this heater, which fits nicely into the stabilization base. This model would be ideal for small, one-man ice shelters which can be flipped up effortlessly.
Don’t worry about the safety of this model, as the smaller size does not mean it compromises any of the safety features that the larger models possess.
The low price makes this an excellent model for one individual who is going on an ice fishing adventure alone, or perhaps where the ice shelter is small and there is limited space for a heater.
Best Ice Fishing Heater - Buyers Guide
Size of Heater
The physical size of each heater is going to play a big role in whether or not it is the right option for you. To know the maximum size of the heater you can choose, you’re going to want to determine how much floor space you’re going to have in your ice house or shelter. This is slightly more complicated than it sounds, so bear with us.
An example of this would be: a 7x5 foot ice house has a floor area of 35 square feet. The Portable Buddy from Mr. Heater offers a heat range of 225 square feet, which therefore is most likely going to be too large for this particular shelter.
That being said, don’t just get the smallest heater to prevent getting one that’s too big, as this may underperform and barely heat your ice house up at all. In fact, it is better to choose a heater with a slightly larger capacity than you need as you can use it on a lower setting. Just not too big! Overall, choose a heater that is as close to the right size as possible, but when in doubt, go a little higher.
Auto Shut Off Feature
This is a very important safety feature for your heater to offer, as a shut-off valve will give you much more peace of mind using your heater. The valve simply switches the heater off whenever it is tipped over onto its side, preventing accidental fires and saving you from a very dangerous incident. It is best to choose an ice fishing heater that offers this feature to put your mind at rest.
Another safety feature you need to look out for is whether your chosen heater is indoor rated or not. Burning fuel such as propane gas creates carbon monoxide, which can be extremely dangerous if you inhale too much of it. However, if your ice fishing heater is indoor rated, you won’t have to worry about the carbon monoxide levels. It is unfortunately rather common that you hear of ice fishermen dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, so do not forget about this feature.
Portable ice fishing heaters are not vented properly and need to have a source of fresh air so that the gas can be let out of the shelter. While the freezing temperature may prevent you from wanting to keep the door open while your heater is on, you need a way to get the carbon monoxide out. Moreover, you may also find the open door prevents your shelter from turning into a sauna.
British Thermal Unit, or BTU, is the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. In simple terms, ice fishing heaters can expel different levels of BTUs, from 2,500 to 15,000. To compare, typical kerosene heaters that are used for emergency heat often put out 25,000 BTUs or more.
As we said before, you need to establish the floor space your shelter offers before you determine the BTU output you need. Most product descriptions will tell you what size of shelter that specific heater is best for, but whenever you’re in doubt just choose the heater with the largest BTU that can fit comfortably within your house.
Oxygen Depletion Sensors
An oxygen depletion sensor is an important feature for your heater to have when using it in an enclosed space. You can get ice fishing heaters with these included, however, if you’re choosing one that doesn’t offer this feature, you should consider purchasing one as a separate piece of gear. Every heater that we have looked at above has a built-in oxygen depletion sensor to alert you if there is too much CO in your shelter.
Provided your heater is indoor rated and you keep it well ventilated, carbon monoxide shouldn’t be an issue. However, as the inhalation of this can possibly lead to death, we think that you can never be too safe.
Ice Fishing Heater Safety Tips
No matter which ice fishing heater you decide to purchase, there are some safety precautions that you have to follow to prevent any dangerous scenarios occurring. Ice fishing accidents are often heard of and, aside from fishermen falling through the ice, CO poisoning is one of the most common causes of death during a trip.
Below are a few of the most important tips to remember when using your ice fishing heater.
- Don’t leave your heater unattended: You should never leave a heater unattended as it could easily tip over or cause an accidental fire. Don’t feel as though you have to keep your eyes fixated on it 24/7, but make sure you turn it off when you’re leaving the room for an extended period of time.
- Don’t place objects near the heater: Check the notes from the manufacturer to see how far away you should keep all your objects, including the shelter walls, away from the heater.
- Keep your shelter ventilated: Make sure you keep the doors or windows of your shelter open when using your heater, and consider leaving the shelter every now and then to get some fresh air.
- Keep the heater on a stable surface: Place your heater somewhere that is safe from potential accidents such as it tipping over, which could start an accidental fire.