Hard-water warriors frequently battle the elements in their quest for glory. In days of old, the sport’s pioneers braved brutal wind chills and other piscatorial purgatory clad in inferior attire ill-suited to withstand the weather.
Their misery merited martyrdom, but modern ice fans need not repeat their sufferings, thanks to high-performance apparel that conquers the cold, thereby fueling effective and enjoyable ice capades.
The only catch is, the market is awash in a sea of winter wear that ranges from bargain bin garments guaranteed to freeze your keister to top-shelf options capable of fending off Old Man Winter’s knockout punches.
“Apparel is a huge factor in ice fishing success and enjoyment, but too few anglers truly understand their options,” says Scott Glorvigen, a veteran guide and noted ice fishing expert who traverses the North each season.
“The trick to staying warm without getting taken to the cleaners is understanding what separates truly great gear from the good, the bad and the downright ugly.”
“Insulation is a huge factor,” he begins. “Obviously, it helps keep you warm. And choosing the right kind of insulation, and amount, for the weather you typically fish in is a key to comfort on ice.
“Of course, garments that let you adapt to the weather and your activity level are the best of both worlds, wherever you fish,” Glorvigen points out. “Some top-shelf jackets feature removable mid-layers and zipper vents, so you can quickly adjust to the conditions.”
As for types of insulation, Glorvigen says 3M Thinsulate is the gold standard. “It provides world-class warmth, without the thickness of natural materials such as down or other synthetic fibers,” he explains. “Plus, it’s breathable, which is another key to comfort. Thinsulate pulls it off by trapping air molecules between you and the outside, protecting you from cold air while allowing moisture vapors to escape.”
Glorvigen recommends jackets and bibs armed with 150 grams of Thinsulate apiece. He notes that where the two meet around the midsection, you’ll have 300 grams of warmth to fight off winter’s fury. Fleece is another top option, often found in the torso regions of top jackets. Sleeves sporting tricot linings are also warm, while engendering a wide range of motion. Which brings up another key concern when choosing great winter wear—fit and flexibility.
“Most cold-weather gear is bulky and restrictive,” says Glorvigen.
As a result, he recommends selecting form-fitting, custom-articulated outerwear geared to mobility. “Look for a fishing-friendly, ergonomic design with curved elbows, knees and seats,” he says.
Other points to consider include wind- and waterproofing. “Look for high-performance water repellant on the shell, with hydrostatic resistance of 14 to 28 psi, fully sealed seams and waterproof stretch cuffs,” he says.
“The ability to block the wind is also a key concern. Extra touches such as reinforced elbows and forearms, padded knees and seat, storm flaps over zippers, and ample pockets to carry plenty of gear are also nice.”
As much as Glorvigen loves the ice, he’s aware of the risks, and recommends choosing clothing to boost your odds of survival in the event of a surprise dunking. Float suits are excellent life insurance, but often cost-prohibitive for the masses. They also tend to suffer from a lack of breathability, which leads to sweating, followed by cold. Thankfully, well-appointed jackets and bibs can also be lifesavers.
“Some top suits arm anglers with essential safety gear and information,” he says. “At least one brand offers jackets and bibs featuring ice pick holsters, special drainage mesh to minimize water weight, and an internal label, for reference. The label offers insight on ice thickness, self-rescue and safety equipment. Plus, every jacket includes a complimentary set of factory-installed ice picks, which can be used to pull yourself out of the water if you break through.”
To guard against mishaps above the ice, look for jackets and bibs with 3M Scotchlite reflective material that catches the beams of snowmobiles and vehicles in time for drivers to avoid the angler wearing them.
To sort through the outerwear options for yourself, Glorvigen recommends a healthy dose of online research followed by visiting local retailers to try on the latest winter gear in person.
“It takes a little homework, but is well worth the effort,” he says. “In the end, regardless of the color of the suit you choose, improvements in ice gear across the board can help you catch more fish and have more fun. Take advantage of the latest technology and you’ll be fishing hard, safe and sound all winter long.”