Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Choosing the right Portable Shelter: Part 1

I'm coming up on my 10th year of "die hard" ice fishing, and over that span I have learned many a hard lesson, some cost me time on the ice, some cost me fish, and some cost me money.. Choosing the right portable shelter cost me all three. This is part 1 of a 2 part look into choosing the right portable shelter for you

Getting Started: Knowing your wants & needs

I get it, you love to ice fish, but hate sitting out in the cold, so you want to get yourself a portable ice hut. But you have a budget, and want to buy one cheap. So you head out to your local shop not knowing what you want, or really knowing what you need all you know is how much you want to (or can) spend. I know this because I have been there, here is what you need to do:  take a step back and think about the following things prior to opening your wallet

                                (Image Courtesy of IceShanty.com Member: "mud_n_fun")

How many anglers or how much gear does this hut need to hold?

One of my first major mistakes when purchasing a hut, was purchasing a single man portable that all in all was too small for the amount of gear I carry. It felt cramped and uncomfortable and I quickly became frustrated fishing from it. I will also say I felt kinda like an ass when fishing with buddies, as I was forced to fish in solitude while they sat in two seaters or larger hub style shelters that could seat as many guys as you are willing to cram in.

If you are like me, you have a lot of gear, at the bare minimum we are talking about a rod case, a tackle bag, an auger, and a 5gallon bucket (for minnows or a seat). Now lets add in a Flasher, an underwater camera, a heater (sissy) and a second rod case. Can the portable hut your looking at transport all this gear? and even more importantly can it transport it safely? Flip-over huts are designed the best for transporting gear, they often have deep hulls that you can pack  full with no worry of anything spilling out. Most cabin style huts on the other hand offer a flat top (with a bucket slot if your lucky) you will have to stack all your gear on top of this flat surface and keep an eye out for any spillage as you travel. Hub style shelters offer no sled or hard bottom at all, and will need to carried or placed into a sled you purchased separately.

Tip: When shopping for your portable hut, bring a buddy with you (preferably your fattest buddy) and get in and sit down side by side in every hut your looking at. like with tents not all 2-man shelters are built equally, and unless you are looking to huddle together for warmth you are going to want to make sure there is plenty or room to move in the hut without rubiing elbows(or worse)

                                  (Image Courtesy of IceShanty.com Member: "Coach")

How mush does it weigh and how well will it pull through the snow?

Kinda like your dad looking at his first car, you need to look under the hood. Not all portable shelters are equal when it comes to the bottom or sled portion of the hut. I found out how the hard way how difficult it is to pull a cabin style shelter through deep soft snow.. the flat bottom sits well on ice or hard packed snow, but when trying to pull it through soft/fresh snow you will find that they dig into and begin to bury themselves as you pull. Flip-overs on the other hand have a sleigh like bottom and pull with ease over all kinds of conditions.. the issue here is that a flip-over hut often weighs way more then a standard cabin style and most 2 seaters come in at or over the 100lb mark, and that can be a work out.

Tip: Check the bottom of the hut to see how durable the sled material is, remember you will be standing on these as well as dragging them over ice, sand and salt, you want a sled that can hold up to these conditions (Some companies like Clam sell runners to improve the life of your sled)

   (Image Courtesy of IceShanty.com Member: "AdkRoy")

Seats or No seats?

Your first thought here needs to be: am I cool sitting on a bucket for 8hrs a day or do I need seats? Me I  need seats, something with a backrest that can give me some relief during a long day on the ice. There are pro's and con's to purchasing a hut with seats, first off they add additional weight to the sled and of course any portable with seats will also cost you more money. The pro's are obvious, your back and butt will thank you for a quality seat after 8 hrs on the ice.

Tip: If you are purchasing a hut with seats, make sure the are adjustable, they should be able to swivel and slide back and forth. We are all build differently and one seat does not fit all. Removable seats are also a big plus, if you want the room of a two man shelter but usually fish alone, taking out a seat not only provides you with more storage space, but it also drops som of the weight.

(Image Courtesy of IceShanty.com Member: "Coach")

Standing Room Only

This was not a big one for me, but many of my buddies like a portable they can stand up in. This allows your to stretch out while still in the comfort (warmth) of your hut. This is obviously available in Hub and Cabin style shelters, and can also be found in some flip-overs. Again, test drive a hut befor you buy it, and make sure you are comfortable sitting and standing

Tip: Don't let your eyes deceive you, just because you can stand in an empty hut, does not mean you can stand easily when it is full. Cabin style shelters can be notoriously narrow, and once you have them loaded with gear you no longer have the ability to stand unless you place one foot firmly in your hole

How fast can I get set-up and start fishing!

Ok, lets all agree that most portable huts are a bitch to set-up right out of the box, but after that initial set-up you will want something that will get you fishing fast with limited to no on-ice hassle. The clear winner in this category is a flip-over. Both a cabin and hub style shelter require on-ice set-up and to me this is a pain in the ass. Even more so when fishing solo. My first shelter was a Shapelle Cabin style portable hut, and when setting it up on the ice I kind of felt like I was playing twister by my self. It was horrible, and if there was any wind at all, it became nearly impossible (see the below pic.. the video is even funnier)

Tip: While in the store you need to attempt to take down and set-up the shelter you are looking to purchase. If you struggle to set it up inside a store, image what it would be like on the ice in the wind or in -20 conditions. Don't listen if the salesman tells you "it will break in and be easier next time" that is not always true!

Price Tag:

Look, I get it, we all have a budget, but I will warn you all about what happened to me. The first ice hut I purchased I fell into many of the above traps I have just warned your about.. all because of price, I bought the cheapest (most affordable) hut and did not take my needs into consideration, so at the end of one season I sold it off (at a loss) and purchased what I considered an upgrade, again based on price. This hut also did not suit my needs and was again sold off at the end of one season (for a loss) finally I understood, and started to really look into what I needed and wanted in a hut, I made my choice and for the past 6 seasons I have been fishing out of the same hut and loving every minute of it.. too bad that it cost me twice as much as it should have (due to two mistakes).

Tip: Dont make rash decisons, if you cant afford the hut you need, dont buy one. Put that money aside and by the next season hopfully you can afford the hut that fits you and your needs. Remember buying the wrong hut is just as bad as fishing with no hut.. it just costs more

                                   (Image Courtesy of IceShanty.com Member: "PikeMaster1")

Thats it's for part one, I hope you find some of the above info useful in your search for your perfect portable shelter. In part 2 I will spend some time breaking down all three varieties and even touch on a few brands that offer superior products and perks.

P.S: Special thanks the members of www.iceshanty.com who graciously provided photos of their personal portable huts (and in some cases portable hut collections) It is much appreciated!


  1. Great post! It almost made me want to go out and buy a new one! Alas, my current one does a great job, so I can save that money for more fishing tackle. Here's a tip for those of you that have problems pulling your flip over on wet snow...spray silicone spray on the bottom of the sled, it will slide much easier. Also, one of the main reasons for fishing inside these is to escape harsh conditions. Often that is wind, so make sure that you add some sort of ice anchoring system so your flip over doesn't get flipped by the wind, or worse, blown away.

  2. Thanks FatBoy.. I wish you a safe and successfull ice season.. see ya on the shanty