Looking for a new winter ice suit? With a number of different manufacturers and even more models, here is our list for a few features you will want to make sure your next ice suit has.
Going through the ice is the greatest risk of death while ice fishing. So if you are looking for a new suit, buy one with built in flotation. Let’s talk about the 2 most common reasons people say they don’t need a floatsuit.
“I am a great swimmer”
A lot of people think that because they are good swimmers, that they will be able to get out of the water if they go through. With really cold water, the issue isn’t actually about being able to swim.
Have you ever stepped into the shower before it has fully warmed up? Your body gets hit with a little jolt and you gasp in. Now imagine that instead of the water being 50 degrees and just part of your body, it is your whole body and 33 degree water. That initial cold shock gives rise to the 2 biggest concerns with going through the ice – hyperventilation and muscle paralysis.
The sympathetic nervous system response to cold exposure causes your muscles to tense up and for your breathing to rapidly accelerate – this is not something you can control. So when you first go through the water, if your head goes underwater, there is a strong likelihood that you will gasp and inhale water. This often causes “sudden disappearance syndrome” you simply go in and never come back up. A float suit will help keep your head above water when you go in, and even if your head does go under, the floatsuit will bring you back to the surface, greatly increasing your chances of survival.
This is why even if you are a great swimmer, a floatsuit is important. It buys you time to overcome your initial cold shock and make a plan for getting out of the water.
“I would never go through the ice”
If you go out on early ice or late ice, you should already know that you are running a much higher risk of going through the ice. Bring a spud and test the ice as you go. However, even if you are going out when it seems like the ice is a lot thicker, it is still a very good idea to wear an ice suit with built in floatation. Remember this, ICE IS UNPREDICATABLE. I have been out on ice where it is 15in thick in one spot (thick enough to hold a truck) and 30ft away it was 4in (just enough to hold a person).
Why was this? Because there was an underwater spring, this water that was coming up from the bottom of the lake was warmer than the surrounding water and had current, which makes it more difficult for the ice to form. This is also true with any sort of channels, or underwater currents that occur in lakes. This is why, even if you think you only go out on “safe ice” there is still a risk of going through.
With the plethora of ice suits with floatation, often for the same cost as no floatation winter gear, there really is no reason not to purchase a floatsuit.
2. Adjustable Inseams
When looking at outdoor gear, unlike normal pants, you can typically only find items by size like Large or XXL. This means that no matter if you are 5’8 and 245 or 6’3 and 245 lbs, you will have to get an XXL. For someone who is shorter, most of the times, the inseam will be too long and your bibs will drag on the ground ruining them. Some of the newer style of ice fishing bibs have an inseam that is adjustable without having to sew anything. This means, you no matter if you are taller or shorter, you can make the bibs fit for you.
Adjustable inseams on the bibs are typically done using Velcro on the inner leg. This allows you to “roll up” the bottom of the bibs and then have it still held in place. Here is a quick video on how it is done on the WindRider Boreas Bibs.
For ice fishing bibs, the adjustable inseam means you will be able to get a product that fits better and less likely to be damaged by stepping on the cuff, protecting your investment for the long term.
3. Hand Warmer Pockets
While it may seem odd, when ice fishing, you will frequently have your hands out of your gloves or mittens. When you are tying knots, removing fish, even jigging it is usually easier when your hands aren’t covered by bulky gloves. To help warm them up, without having to take your gloves on and off all the time, hand warmer pockets in both the bibs and jacket are convenient.
What is a hand warmer pocket? A hand warmer pocket is typically a pocket that is lined with fleece. A nice thick fleece will help retain the heat from your hands to warm them up. Because your hands are cold, they are also typically more sensitive, so a soft fleece is also just generally more comfortable. A good hand warmer pocket will also be a bit larger than typical pockets so you have room to ball your hand up to help warm it up.
If you are going to be spending a lot of time with your gloves off, we also really like having a chemical hand warmer in each pocket. This will both keep the pocket warmer, and also be something to grab when your hand is in your pocket to warm it up even faster. Warm fingers are much more nimble, so you will have an easier time tying knots, especially with the pretty light line that is frequently used while ice fishing.
4. Zippered Legs
Ice fishing gear is warm, so wearing it while driving isn’t ideal. Beyond that, most people aren’t going to be wearing their winter boots while driving, and because the ground is usually cold and wet when you get to the spot you are going to put your ice fishing bibs on, you don’t want to take off your boots. With bibs that have zippered legs, ideally up to the hip, means you can easily put your boots on first, then still get your bibs on, making sure your feet stay dry and warm (critical for being comfortable on the ice).
Beyond the convenience factor of making it easier to get your bibs on, one of the other big advantages of zippered legs is venting. While this may seem counterintuitive, venting is critical for ice fishing gear. Ice fishing suits are designed to keep you warm while sitting and fishing, but because of this, it is easy to overheat when hole hopping or just hiking to your first spot. If you start sweating while you are moving, when you stop that sweat will freeze, causing you to get too cold. So it is important to regulate your temperature.
On the WindRider Boreas Bibs for example, there are 3 zippers. This means you can keep the bottom closed, so they aren’t flopping around, while opening up the middle to let cool air in. Combining the zippered legs with venting options on the jackets will help keep you cool while walking, but warm while fishing.
When fishing in a popup and especially when hole hopping there is a lot of gear you will be carrying. Having a bunch of different pockets helps keep things right at hand when you need it and other things stored safely away. Having a zippered internal pocket is super important to keep your car keys in, so you don’t accidentally drop them down the hole. Ever noticed that your phone battery dies much more quickly in the cold? Some jackets have pockets that are accessible without fully opening your coat up, but still underneath the insulation, so your phone will stay warmer and the battery will last longer.
We have already talked about the importance of hand warmer pockets, and we think having them on both the bibs and the jacket is important. In Minnesota, we are required to have our fishing license on us while fishing and it has to be a paper copy (when I fish in Wisconsin, just having a copy on my phone works), so having another zippered pocket on my chest to keep my fishing license helps make sure that if I am ever stopped by a game warden it is right there.
On the bibs, having large thigh pockets to carry a small tackle box with jigs is nice, same with being able to keep a pair of pliers handy. Placement on the top of the legs is important so they are easy to access even while sitting and so things don’t fall out.
Other nice to have pockets are big internal pockets on your jacket. Some are mesh, so if you have a baitpuck full of waxies or spikes and it spills, it is easy to get all the sawdust out. These pockets are also great for carrying your drill batteries if you are using something like a Lite-Flite auger with a cordless drill. Like the celphone, you will get a lot more holes out of your drill if you keep your batteries warm, so keeping them next to your body is important.
Who would have thought you needed so many different pockets?!?
If you go through the ice, the water that enters your suit is going to be heavy and cold. A well designed ice fishing suit will have pockets with drain holes, and even will have drainage between the layers of insulation. This will make it easier as your are getting out the water to get out, as you will have less weight to pull up, as well as reduce the amount of cold water that will be trapped by your ice suit that would otherwise accelerate hypothermia.
Beyond just the safety factor in drainage, there is also a major convenience factor. Eventually you will need to wash your ice fishing suit. Because of the insulation and foam floatation in your new ice suit, there is a lot of area to trap water. This would normally make it so drying your suit takes a long time. With a suit that has some purpose-built drainage built in, when it comes out of the wash it will then dry a lot faster, meaning instead of having to wait days to get back out there, you will be able to get fish the next day.
We hope that this guide has given you some ideas for your next ice fishing suit, as well as helped to clarify the options available to you. It can be overwhelming when there are so many different styles and features out there, but if you keep these six tips in mind, it will help narrow down the choices and make your decision on your next ice fishing suit easier.
Check out the WindRider Boreas Ice Suit to learn more.