Can I Use A Regular Tent For Ice Fishing: Here’s The Truth

It doesn’t take long to burn through some money once you start gearing up for ice fishing.  One of the more expensive items is an ice fishing shelter.  And in some of the coldest areas of the ice belt, a shelter is an essential expense.

That’s why it’s completely understandable to save a few bucks anywhere you can.  As a result, I’m not the only one who has seriously considered using a regular camping tent as an ice fishing shelter.  However, theory and reality are not always the same thing.  So, can you use a regular tent for ice fishing?  Here is our answer based on first hand experience.

You can use a regular tent for ice fishing by cutting out a portion of the floor.  However, an inexpensive camping tent is not designed to handle the winds and driving snow that pound large expanses of open ice.  The truth is, a hub style or pop-up ice shelter is significantly better and will keep you warmer. 

But that answer wasn’t enough to dissuade us either.  Surely, you can make a tent work on the ice, right?  Well, let us show you what we’ve learned so you can see how a regular tent compares to a quality ice shelter.

How to make a regular tent work for ice fishing

If you’re determined to make a regular tent work as a shelter on the ice, modifications are needed.  Plus, you’ll need some additional accessories.  Here is our simple step by step plan.

Step 1:

Select the right tent.  Not just any tent will work.  A flexible frame tent that handles moderate wind speeds is a must.  Coleman tents are usually good up to 15-20 mph winds.  Anything more and you’ll have issues.  In addition, you want as little see-through mesh area as possible and it should have a sturdy rain fly that extends close to the bottom.  This will help hold in a bit more heat and keep out wind.  

Step 2:

Cut out the floor.  Obviously, to ice fish inside a tent you need to remove all or some portion of the floor.  Do this step at home.  Typically, camping tents have a waterproof, tarp-like floor.  How much you remove is up to you.  However, you should leave an 8 to 10 inch border to maintain the tent’s rigidity.  The floor border also gives you a place to pile snow on for wind protection.

It may seem like a good idea to cut out only a small section were you drill the ice fishing holes.  However, you’ll end up with a water drenched floor in no time.  Plus, you’ll shred the floor if you wear ice spikes.  Just cut out the entire floor and leave a border.

Step 3:

Drill the holes before placing the tent.  We recommend drilling your holes before you setup the tent.  That way, you can limit the amount of slush and ice inside.  Also, you may not have enough head room to comfortably drill inside the tent. 

Step 4:

Use ice anchors.  Tent stake that come with summer camping tents are not suitable for tethering your tent to the ice.  You need ice anchors.  You can get 4 Hotop Ice Anchors for around $20 on Amazon.  These are essential.  Use at least 4 (1 on each corner) but get a few more to anchor extra guy wires for more strength against the wind.  Ice anchors hold your tent in place.  Without them, your tent will be across the lake faster than you can say “whoops.”  

Step 5:

Put on the rain fly and put snow on the inside edge.  Hopefully, your tent has a large rainfly.  If so, put it on and strap it down tight.  Next, go inside and scoop some snow around that floor border we had you leave.  Not only does this help anchor your tent, it also blocks the wind.

You are now ready to ice fish with a regular camping tent.  It will work in many situations.  Just be aware as you get more serious about ice fishing, you’ll quickly want to graduate to an ice fishing specific shelter. 

When won’t a regular tent work

A regular camping tent has some major weaknesses when adapted for ice fishing.  Two of them are a deal breaker.  You are far better off with a well designed hub-style shelter in the following conditions.

  • Single digit or colder temperatures:  When it gets that cold, insulation and protection from the elements is critical.  At least if you want to have fun fishing.  A regular tent provides almost no insulation and you will need to run your heater at full blast just to keep the cold at bay. (Take a look at our absolute favorite heaters for ice fishing, camping and more.)
  • High wind conditions:  Some all-season camping tents can handle high winds.  But they are expensive and not worth cutting the floor out for ice fishing.  Most regular tents have enough strength to resist only moderate winds.  They likely could remain intact in 15-20 mph winds but we wouldn’t risk it.  

Is it actually cheaper that an ice shelter

More than likely, you are considering a regular tent for ice fishing to save money.  So, the most important question to answer is if it’s actually cheaper.

In some cases, a regular tent is cheaper than an ice shelter for ice fishing.  Most big box store camping tents that can be adapted for ice fishing range in price from $50 to $150.  Throw in at least 4 ice anchors for another $20 and you have a fishing shelter for less than $200.  Compare that to a basic 3 person, uninsulated ice shelter at around $250.  Larger ice fishing hubs cost as much as $800.

Certainly, you may save some money but you end up sacrificing some very important comforts.  If you seldom use a shelter anyway and you just want a way to limit exposure to the elements, a regular tent could save you some money.

Ice Fishing Shelter vs. A Regular Tent

Before you opt for a regular tent over a dedicated ice fishing pop-up, let’s compare some of the important features.  

Important FeaturesRegular TentIce Fishing Shelter
InsulatedNoDepends on model
Wind rating15-20 mph
(some handle 35+ mph winds)
35-45 mph
Snow skirtNoYes
Average weight 10-20 pounds20-60 pounds
Standing roomNo
(except for very large tents)
Yes (edge to edge)
Set up time5 to 10 minutes
(might need 2 people)
Less than 5 minutes
DurablityFairGood
WindowsNo (not with rain fly on)2 or more
DoorsUsually 12 or more
Price$50 to $150 new$250 to $800

As you can see, a dedicated ice fishing pop-up has the upper hand on most of the features that matter out on the ice.  But consider carefully the conditions you normally fish in.  It’s entirely possible that a converted tent is all you need for the few days a season you spend on the ice.  

Yet, if you are an avid ice angler looking to fish a dozen or more times each winter no matter what mother nature throws at you, get an ice fishing shelter.

Are ice fishing shelters worth the money

At the end of the day, our primary concern is cost.  Why else try “jerry rigging” an improvised pop-up?  How much are you really saving?  And is it worth that extra $100-$200?

In our experience, dedicated ice fishing shelters are worth the extra money compared to a modified camping tent.  Ice shelters are easier to setup, keep you warmer, are more functional for fishing and handle the elements far better.  

Also, you run the risk of having a regular tent destroyed during rough weather.  With enough wind, thin skinned camping tents start ripping at the seams and poles start bending.  After a season or two, it’s trash.  Whereas, a quality pop-up style shelter will last you many years of hard use.

Think about it another way.  A lot of us only get a couple opportunities each season to get on the ice.  You may not get to choose the nicest days.  Between work, family and other responsibilities, you need to be able to take advantage of what time you have, regardless of the weather.  

A proper ice fishing shelter makes that possible.  So, save up the money, buy a good shelter and fish with confidence knowing you’ll be comfortable on the ice.