Insulated Or Uninsulated: How To Pick The Right Ice Shelter 

It’s a fair bet that the most pressing issue for most anglers venturing out onto a frigid expanse of ice is staying warm.  Which is why deciding between an insulated versus uninsulated ice shelter is such a huge sticking point for those of us in the market for a new shelter.

When I bought my ice shelter, I had a hard time choosing too.  After giving it some careful thought and focusing on the realities of ice fishing, I was able to make a sound choice.  

I want to share with you all the factors I used to decide between an insulated shelter versus an uninsulated one.  I’ll help you zero in on the aspects of ice fishing that matter so you can pick the right level of insulation for your next ice fishing shelter.  Here we go!

How warm is warm enough

If you are trying to figure out if an insulated shelter is better, then you are probably only worried about one thing.  Staying warm.  

Staying warm is a major priority for ice anglers but how warm is warm enough?  Are you wanting to fish in shorts and a t-shirt inside your pop-up or are you just interested in not shivering?

Your answer to that question will greatly impact your decision.  So let’s break down the basic realities of ice fishing so you know how warm you actually need to be.

Realistically, most anglers (us included) like using an ice shelter so that we can fish without shivering.  Maybe even make it warm enough to take our jackets off.  That means maintaining a temperature somewhere above freezing depending on other factors.  

Factors to consider when choosing a shelter

Where we live in the Pacific Northwest, winters are hardly as cold as places in the ice belt.  So for us, the biggest factor for choosing an uninsulated pop-up was the lack of severe weather.  Not cost or weight.  We are plenty warm in an uninsulated shelter and on those days it dips into single digits, a buddy heater takes the edge off.

For you, it may be different.  Here are the most important considerations when its your turn to decide between an insulated or uninsulated shelter.

Your ice fishing conditions

Again, if you are frequently fishing in conditions where frostbite is a genuine concern, insulated shelters are a no brainer.  But here is our specific recommendation based on temperature:

Do you frequently ice fish in temperatures below 10°F?  

If yes, choose an insulated shelter.

Do you mostly ice fish in temperatures above 10-20°F?

If yes, an uninsulated shelter is generally adequate.

However, temperature is not the only weather related factor to consider.  Wind plays a big role in the decision process too.  

If constant high winds are a common feature where you fish, then insulation is important no matter the temperature because wind strips away heat from your shelter so much faster.  Not only does an insulated pop-up hold in heat better, it is also much quieter in the wind.


Extreme cold also causes a lot of condensation in uninsulated shelters.  This can be a big problem if you are fishing with multiple people in your shelter.  With everyone’s breath condensing on the inside, you’ll eventually get dripped on.  An insulated shelter experiences much less condensation.

Bear in mind, just because condensation is minimized, it doesn’t mean it won’t feel humid and sticky inside an insulated shelter after awhile.  

Cost difference

Next to weather, cost is a major concern for just about all of us.  Insulated shelters are generally more expensive than non-insulated shelters.  How much more you ask?  About 25-35% more. 

It’s a significant difference so I would make sure you really need insulation before spending the money.  

If you really want to go ice fishing in comfort and you live in a region with extreme cold, then a warm pop-up is a good place to invest some money. 

Weight considerations

The method you use for transporting your gear onto the ice imposes a major limitation on the type and size of your ice fishing shelter.  

Obviously, if you use a snowmobile pulling a large sled, weight is less of a concern than temperature or cost.  But if you are like us, and you walk to your ice fishing spots (even if you have a custom built Smitty sled like ours) then you know weight matters.

Insulation adds about 25% more weight to a shelter.  Our Eskimo Quickfish 3 weighs 26 pounds.  The insulated version is 8 pounds heavier.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal but trust me, walking 2-3 miles on the ice makes 8 pounds feel like your dragging around a boat anchor.  And that’s for a small shelter. 

So, if portability is paramount, then the added weight of insulation is a deal breaker.

Using a heater in uninsulated vs insulated shelters

Some days, a pop-up alone is enough to keep us out of the chill but most of the time a heater is what we need to really stay comfortable.  The question then is, do you need insulation in your shelter if you have a heater?  

The truth is, you could eventually pump enough heat into any uninsulated shelter to stay warm, even on the coldest of days.  However, how much fuel and how big of a heater do you want to lug around?  Make sure to check out our favorite heaters to take onto the ice.

In our experience, uninsulated pop-ups or flip-overs bleed off heat quickly.  It’s not so bad when temperatures hover in the 20’s.  We can stay warm with a Little Buddy heater that produces a meager 3800 BTUs.  But once the temperature dips into single digits or colder, even a Portable Buddy that produces 9000 BTUs struggles to keep us warm.  It’s doable but you have to pack twice the fuel and the bigger heater.

Once you add insulation, heat retention is exponentially better.  Now the Little Buddy heater is more than enough for a 3-4 person pop-up on days that are near zero degrees.  

In the end, the cost and added weight of an insulated shelter is more than made up for by what you save on fuel cost and weight.  

How do you decide

Now comes the time to make a decision.  Insulated or uninsulated ice fishing shelters?  We’ve discussed all the biggest considerations, now let’s put it all together so you can pick the right one for you.

Warmth is most likely your number one priority.  Which means your average winter temperatures when you ice fish will make the decision for you.  The other factors will weigh in when you are on the fence.

Here is an incredibly simple, but useful, decision tree we made to help you decide.

Our opinion

We went through this same process when we purchased our pop-up.  Ultimately, we ended up with an Eskimo Quickfish 3.  We passed on the insulated model because portability was a huge factor for us and our ice fishing temperatures range from 10-30°F most of the time.  With a Little Buddy heater, we stay warm enough.  

But here’s the thing.  If we had to do it all over again, we might opt for an insulated shelter instead.  For one thing, the condensation is annoying.  Plus, there are days when it’s so cold and windy our shelter is barely warm enough with the heater cranked up on high.  With days like that, we realize the few extra pounds and the $100 extra would probably be worth it.

I meet a lot of anglers with insulated shelters on the ice and I ask them every time if the insulation was worth it.  The answer is always a resounding yes.  So, from our experience, if you think there is even a chance you might need the extra warmth, then just buy an insulated ice fishing shelter.  

No matter what shelter you choose, there are always drawbacks to go with the benefits.  

Now that you have decided between insulated versus uninsulated shelters, take a look at our ice fishing shelter buying guide for picking the perfect style and brand.  Our article makes finding the right one super easy, so make sure to check it out!