How to Stay Warm Ice Fishing: Learn from the Pros

October 17, 2021

Ice fishing is great, but getting chilled and to the bone and having toes that feel like little blocks of ice for hours on end isn’t. If you can’t outlast the cold, you will miss out on fish catching opportunities, but don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to outlast the cold so you can stay out and catch more fish. Let’s learn how to stay warm ice fishing!

Make your Body Adapt

The human body can adapt to various temperatures given time. When it comes to temperature, we grab a sweatshirt after the summer months when temperatures hit 60 or 50 degrees, and by early spring, we may be completely comfortable with nothing but a sweatshirt in 30-degree temperatures. 

You can help your body adapt faster to colder temperatures by wearing nothing but a sweatshirt when temperatures get cold in the early ice season, and while you will have to suffer a little through these bouts of cold temperatures and lack of layers, it will accustom your body to the conditions quickly. 

You don’t need to do this for a full outing, but do it in periods of time for as long as you can, and you will quickly see how easy it is to handle the colder temperatures. 

There are stories of explorers in Antarctica taking snow baths in temperatures under -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures to them were considered warm after months and months in the coldest place on the planet. I

Author Note: If humans can adapt to those conditions and find them tolerable, you should have no issues adapting to the temperatures we commonly find ourselves in while ice fishing. 

Proper Layering

ice fishing in the sun

It’s no surprise to many of us that have spent time in freezing environments to know that being too warm can be very detrimental to keeping warm. 

Being too warm makes you sweat, which means you are now covered in moisture. Once your body regulates, and you start cooling down, that moisture is going to work against you in protecting against the cold air. In fact, wet skin will conduct heat away from your body 25 times faster than dry skin.

Layer 1

The first step to fighting perspiration is to start with the base layer. Base layers like long underwear use modern synthetic materials that work specifically to counter this negative moisture effect by pulling the moisture away from the body with layer one and moving it to layer two. 

This is one of the most crucial steps forhow to stay warm ice fishing.

Layer 2

Layer 2 should consist of warm clothing made of materials like fleece, wool, or some other midweight type of filler material that works great as an insulator but can still handle some moisture, as layer one will be wicking moisture into layer 2. 

Wool has some amazing properties, including being able to keep 70% of its insulating properties even when wet. 

Cotton clothing like standard jeans, hoodies, zip-up sweaters, and similar clothing should be avoided if at all possible, especially as the base layer. Cotton fabrics are poor at insulating, and they hold in moisture.

 If you must use cotton-based clothing, it should be done in layer 2 and not in contact with skin. 

Layer 3 

The outer shell is for both your lower and upper body and should be something that is both waterproof and windproof. Another important layer for how to stay warm ice fishing.

Today there are many great outer shells on the market that cater directly to ice fishermen. Many of them even float should the unfortunate event of breaking through the ice occur, and they have tons of pockets and storage options. 

Feet and Hand Protection 

family ice fishing

Hands and feet are the furthest from the heart, and as a consequence, they get cold easier and faster, as well as taking longer to warm back up. Many anglers will tell you that out of the two, cold feet are the biggest culprit when it comes to ice fishing and packing it up early. 

Hands  

Hands are easier to warm up than feet are in most cases. The obvious solution is to wear thick insulated leather or synthetic gloves, but it is very hard to fish with gloves on constantly. 

Simply putting hands into your pockets is also a great option, but you need to ensure your hands are dry before doing so, and this can be done by keeping a towel attached somewhere to use. 

When we catch fish, we grab them and get wet hands, dip our hands into minnow buckets for bait, and do various other things that require our hands to get wet while on the ice. When all else fails, and you really need to warm up those hands, you can always shove your hands down the front of your pants, it might make you squeal at first, but they will warm up very quickly. 

Feet 

Your feet are going to sweat, and this means that we need to approach our feet like our bodies and layer properly. 

You should start with a poly or a lightweight synthetic sock that excels at wicking away moisture in the same way the first layer on your body does. After that base layer, add the second layer, which should be something like a heavy wool sock. 

You need to ensure that your boots are dry as well, and a good way to do this is to purchase a boot dryer or do the old school method like when I was a kid and put your boot openings up against a heating vent in your home. 

Rubber boots with good insulation are the best approach when ice fishing, as they keep moisture out with ease. Leather boots will allow moisture to eventually creep in, especially after drilling several holes, which always result in soaking wet and eventually ice-covered boots. 

Leave the Beer at Home 

In my wild youth, I have been a part of many ice shack parties, and I’m sure many of you have as well, but we had the advantage of an insulated and wood stove heated ice shack, and fishing wasn’t a part of the party in most cases. 

Top Tip: Alcohol while on the open ice is a serious detriment. Alcohol may warm up your insides, but it’s freezing your body everywhere else due to thinning your blood. 

Water also works against your body to keep you warm. You should drink enough to stay hydrated, but the longer water stored in your body, the less, the more your body has to work at keeping the temperature regulated. 

If you drink soda or water frequently on the water, that’s fine, but you need to remove it from your body frequently, so be sure to pee a lot.  

Heaters and Ice Shacks 

Ice fishing

In my opinion, permanent ice shacks that you sit in all day long, staring out the windows at tip-ups, and jigging in one or two holes that may or may not have fish under them is the lazy man’s way of ice fishing. 

Portable pop-up style shacks are great, as they allow you to remain mobile, which is a necessity in most ice fishing scenarios if you want to make the most of your time on the ice. 

Heaters are great too, and propane-fueled heaters are light and can produce significant amounts of heat. 

These are great ways to keep you warm, but heaters should be used as little as possible.

One reason for this goes back to our bodily adaptability. If you sit in a heated shack, you will want to spend less time outside of it, which is detrimental to your fishing cause, as you should be out and about on the ice, drilling holes, finding fish, and overall being productive.

 If you don’t want to leave the confines of your tiny portable shack and heater, this becomes an issue. 

Author Note: You should use your portable to warm up, fish a little, and take the chill out of your bones, and you should supplement this with regular bouts of movement outside of your heated sanctuary. 

Ice fishing Heat Hacks 

  • There’s nothing wrong with keeping an ample supply of hand and foot warmers with you to use as needed. 
  • If your feet feel like blocks of ice and you have no way of warming them up, stamping your feet on the ice and constantly wiggling your toes can help to warm them up. 
  • Drill holes every 1-2 hours to get the blood flowing and warm your body up, but be sure to be properly vented to avoid sweating. 
  • Wear a face mask or balaclava over your face to keep the sting of the cold air off of it, as well as a warm hat, as most heat is lost through your head. 
  • If the ice is thick enough to drive vehicles on (12 inches or more), simply take breaks by sitting in your truck with the heater on. You can even take off your boot and stick your feet on the heater vents. 

Final Thoughts 

Sometimes there is only so much one can do to try to stay warm while ice fishing.

Sometimes you just have to put your big boy pants on and ride it out if you want to catch fish. If you dress properly using the layering system and take the other tips mentioned in this article, your ability to spend all day on the ice will greatly increase. 

We hope you found this guide on how to stay warm ice fishing useful!

Happy Hunting!

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