Most modern ice anglers use some type of shelter to keep warm. Ice shelters, also called houses, shacks, shanties or huts, vary from portable canvas windbreaks to elaborate, carpeted cabins with all the amenities of home. While a number of different shelter styles and sizes have appeared on the market, each model basically falls into one of five distinct categories: windbreak, collapsible, mobile, portable or permanent.
WINDBREAKS are simply two- or three-sided structures that can be positioned to block the wind. They're usually lightweight, easy to transport and work well for the mobile angler, but don't provide full protection in super cold weather, and most are limited to protection for only one person.
The best windbreaks feature a place to sit and provide enough room to store your equipment out of freezing winds, yet set up and break down easily and compactly for convenient transport and storage.
COLLAPSIBLE SHELTERS are lightweight, self-contained units that are easy to transport, easy to set up in calm weather and provide full protection. They work especially well when hiking or snowshoeing to remote waters, but are difficult to set up in stiff winter winds. They're available in various sizes, but usually accommodate no more than two anglers comfortably.
Top-of-the-line collapsible models feature ample room and hole positioning capabilities, and are constructed with a sturdy framework and draped windows, which are a nice feature, as they allow you to see out and either let light in or close it out as desired.
Many anglers have had the unfortunate experience of stepping out of their collapsible shelters for a moment, only to watch the wind glide the shanty across the ice into the frozen distance. Ice anchors are a handy option for just such situations, as they allow a means of stabilizing these shelters.
To insert an ice anchor, gently tap the base in, and begin twisting while firmly applying pressure to the top of the anchor until the threads grip and begin turning down. Some anglers also tie guidelines from anchors to shelter walls to help prevent the sides from bowing in heavy winds.
MOBILE SHELTERS are self-contained units slightly heavier than windbreaks or collapsibles. They are simple to set up and break down, provide full protection, and with sled bases offer a convenient means of storing and transporting gear. They're available in both one- and two-man designations.
Quality mobile models offer a comfortable seat or platform, a large and deep enough sled base to adequately hold and transport your gear, and ample room to fish with the top down. Some models feature variable top positions, allowing you to set the roof vertically to create a windbreak, or part way down to allow ventilation while using a portable heater. The most famous mobile shelter ever manufactured, the Fish Trap, continues to be the shelter of choice among North America's top ice experts.
PORTABLE SHELTERS typically feature a plastic or wood floor, and an aluminum or steel frame surrounded by canvas, polyethylene or nylon material. Depending on size, they become increasingly heavy and difficult to pull, transport and store, but are relatively easy to set up, provide full protection, and folded down allow a means of transporting gear. They're also available in a variety of sizes to accommodate various numbers of anglers.
The best portable models are easy to set up, allow standing room, and feature two wide opening, zippered doors and plenty of space for holes to accommodate the number of people you plan to fish with. In addition, quality portables have a sturdy frame and tightly sewn, quiet overlaid material, yet are lightweight for easy pulling or towing.
PERMANENT SHELTERS are usually large, wood- or aluminum-framed structures, often featuring storm doors, windows and stoves, even multiple rooms with beds or a second story. Properly trailered or rigged with drop hitches they can be moved, but because they're so heavy and transport is time-consuming, they're not considered portable.
Choosing a Shelter. The key to choosing the shelter style that best suits your needs can be determined by the way you fish. If you plan to set up in one spot, permanent shelters are hard to beat, as they're roomy, comfortable and warm, but you will need a means of transporting the unit and a place to store it off-season. Portable and collapsible models work well if you plan to move only once or twice in a day of fishing, but if you want to fish lots of holes and stay on active fish, most experts agree that mobile shelters are the best choice.