Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear – 10 Suggestions for a Safe Day & Why You Need It


Ask anyone who’s been in a hostile environment, and they’ll tell you that you can never have too much safety gear.

Keeping safe while ice fishing is all about managing your level of risk. With the right gear, you can get it down to practically zero.

What ice fishing safety gear do you need?

Well, you can use the benefit of my experience, as I show you the things that I don’t go ice fishing without.

Here are some great suggestions for things you really need to look at getting.

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Essential Ice Fishing Safety Gear – 10 Suggestions for a Safe Day

Ok, here is my list of safety gear used in ice fishing. All of these are things that are useful and sometimes life-saving.

In conjunction with this guide, be sure to check out my ice fishing gear list for all the other things you might want to take to help you catch a few fish.

man waering ice suit and ice fishing on a lake in winter

Floatation Suits or Jackets

When Would I Need it?

You might not think it, but a floatation suit provides a few things. In normal day-to-day life, you’ll wear it as your regular ice fishing suit and get all the benefits that come with it.

Such as?

As a general rule, they tend to be warm and waterproof. But there’s an added feature that can really help if the worst happens and you go through the ice.

Certain suits have areas of super buoyant material sewn into strategic areas. These prevent you from sinking and keep your head above the water.

How is it Used?

If you choose a good one that you can wear day-to-day, and you’ll forget that it’s a piece of survival equipment. You just put it on like a onesie or as a jacket and pants set and get on with your day. The flotation feature is something that, ideally, you should never need to see.

Something Like This is Ideal…

There are a few things that you ideally want to look for when choosing a floatation suit. Here’s a real quick breakdown of things that you’ll find in the above type of suits:

  • Plenty of insulation.
  • A weatherproof/waterproof layer.
  • Sealable ankles and cuffs.
  • High visibility patches.
  • Plenty of foam incorporated.

If you want to see a massive range of ice fishing suits, be sure to check out my guide here. Or, if it is just an ice fishing jacket you need, then I’ve got something special for you.

Ice Safety Picks

When Would I Need it?

Ideally, never.

But, let me tell you this.

Getting out of an ice hole without these is almost impossible.

Ice picks are used to give you two grippy handles to haul yourself out of the ice if you’ve accidentally gone through.

How is it Used?

Ice picks are normally stowed in the chest region of your jacket or vest. If you were to fall through, they are connected by cords, so you don’t lose them.

All you do is grab the handles and stab the pointy ends into the ice, allowing you to pull yourself to safety

Something Like This is Ideal…

These picks are great for a few reasons. They are simple, no-nonsense, and really effective. Here are some of the features that you want to see, and these definitely have:

  • Really grippy rubber handles.
  • A stout extendable chord.
  • Really sharp points (some ice picks don’t, unbelievable, right?).
  • The points stow into each other, a nice safety feature.

Ice Chisel

When Would I Need it?

Ice chisels are great for several reasons, and unlike some other items of ice fishing safety gear, you’ll be using them all day. They are a great tool for cutting small holes, but they are vital to knowing how thick the ice is.

And let me tell you…

If you don’t know how thick the ice is, you will not want to walk on it.

How is it Used?

Like a regular chisel, but with a long handle.

An ice chisel has a pointed (and often sharp) edge that can be punched through the ice. Once you have been able to see how thick it is, you’ll know that the ice is safe to step onto.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Cabela's Ice Chisel

An ice chisel will take an awful lot of punishment, so it needs to be really sturdy. This chisel is pretty standard, but it has lots of great things that you’ll ideally want. Such as:

  • A serrated and really sharp cutting edge.
  • A high strength steel shaft.
  • A corrosion-proof coating.
  • A lanyard to prevent you from dropping it down the ice hole (trust me, it’s a really useful feature.).

If you aren’t sure, there I’ve got plenty of other great ideas; check out my ice chisel guide.

First Aid Kit

When Would I Need it?

I bought one and thought I’d never use it.

Boy, was I wrong.

Pike’s teeth, slips, and bangs on the ice being careless with a treble hook, burns from my stove…

Bit by bit, that kit has been reduced down to a few band-aids and a roll of tape.

I really should get a new one.

I guarantee that by the end of the year, you are going to need to replenish it. A few band-aids are useful. If you stumble and sprain your ankle, a support bandage might be the difference between you walking off the ice or sitting in the cold all night. And a nasty burn can result in you leaving the ice much earlier than intended.

How is it Used?

You’d be amazed at the number of minor injuries you can get. A good first aid kit will stow away in the bottom of your fishing bag, and with any luck, you can forget all about it.

You will want to keep it dry too. Most will contain remedies and fixes to minor injuries allowing you to get professional help later.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Coleman All-Purpose First Aid Tin

There’s plenty that will be of use in this kit, and it comes in a hard-wearing (and slightly retro) tin. You’ll also see:

  • 27 pieces of medical equipment.
  • Antibiotic ointment (useful when bitten by a pike).
  • Bandages of different sizes.
  • Pins.
  • A handy razorblade (shudder).

Sunglasses for Ice Fishing

When Would I Need it?

You think these are just for sunny days, right?

Wrong.

Let me tell you. Snow blindness is no joke and can really spoil your day. A blinding headache is the least of your worries. If you cannot pick out relief and colors, you might inadvertently stumble onto ice that isn’t thick enough!

Any time when the sun is up when I’m ice fishing, these are perched on my beak.

How is it Used?

I use these as regular sunglasses, but pick a decent pair of sunglasses for ice fishing, and you might even gain another bonus feature.

I’m talking polarization.

This cuts down on the horizontal elements of daylight, reducing glare and allowing you to see under the water. This is a great way to spot the odd fish.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Look, guys, I’m not going to get you to rush out and spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of shades when these will do the job just as well.

Want to know what I love about them? Here it is:

  • They wrap around, blocking light from the sides as well as from ahead.
  • They are great value and cost a fraction of designer glasses.
  • They look pretty cool.
  • They are available in different shades (go for pink or yellow in snowy conditions).

Dry Sack

When Would I Need it?

This is another that is truly essential. At some point, in some way, when you are ice fishing, you will get wet. Whether that’s a result of rain or snow or if you do accidentally go through the ice.

Rain and snow are practically unavoidable.

A good dry sack will keep your prized possessions bone dry. This includes things like:

  • Car keys.
  • Your first aid kit.
  • Mobile phone.
  • Money.
  • Bait.
  • A spare pair of socks and underwear (pro tip, thank me later).

How is it Used?

Dry bags are really easy to use. You just throw your stuff in, fold the top over and clip it together to form a watertight seal.

As an additional benefit, they can also be used as a makeshift floatation device in an emergency.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Cabela's Boundary Waters Roll-Top Dry Bag

Something like this would be ideal. There are cheaper ones out there, but they tend to be a little thin and flimsy. Here are the things that really make it great for ice fishing:

  • It is super thick.
  • It has taped and welded seams meaning it is impenetrable when it comes to water.
  • The neck opens really wide, making it easy to get inside.
  • It is easy to store when it isn’t in use.

Ice Fishing Hat

When Would I Need it?

Another of my all-time essentials.

Is this safety gear?

Absolutely. First, it stops you from losing heat through your head. Second, if you pick something nice and chunky, it could provide a little bit of protection if you were to slip backward on the ice.

When it comes to ice fishing hats, the thicker, the better…

How is it Used?

Guys, seriously. They are hats.

Ok, I’ll indulge you. Make sure you get one that covers your ears. You’ll only need to get frostbite or chilblains on your ears once before you head out and invest.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Crown Cap Nylon Shell Rabbit-Trimmed Aviator Hat

Perhaps a touch cliché, but these really work well. You get quite a bit of padding, and ear protection is about as good as it gets. Other things to love? Well…

  • It’s lined with rabbit fur, making it about as warm as it gets.
  • The buckle means you won’t be chasing it across the lake when it is windy.
  • It is water-resistant.
  • It is also quilt-lined, super toasty.

Life Jacket

When Would I Need it?

This is another essential that you should wear all the time.

Nope, not when the ice is too thin. Not when you can’t be bothered to check. Not when you are going over dangerous routes…

All the darned time!

The good news is that nowadays, life jackets are pretty low profile and are only activated when submerged.

To be quite honest, I forget that I’ve got mine on most of the time.

A life jacket is vital in ensuring your survival if the ice breaks underneath you. Even strong swimmers could benefit. Cold shock can paralyze absolutely anyone!

How is it Used?

You will want to wear this over your jacket or ice fishing suit. Strap it on at the start of your day (before you head onto the ice), and then forget about it.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Mustang Survival M.I.T. 100 Manual Inflatable Life Vest

I love a low-profile vest. I’ll be honest, I’d have loved this even more if it was automatic, but as a barebones essential, it should work really well. There are a few standout features:

  • It flips the wearer face up on inflation.
  • It is reusable.
  • I love the bright color, a bit of visibility on the ice is never a bad thing.
  • You can alter the size, giving you plenty of room around your fishing suit.

Ice Cleats

When Would I Need it?

Ice cleats, paired with a decent set of ice fishing boots, are practically mandatory. You won’t want to slip on the ice for a few reasons.

Such as?

First, it hurts like hell. Second, you stand a really good chance of doing yourself a serious injury. And finally, falling on the ice increases the chance of you breaking through.

For all of these reasons, it is best to simply stay on your feet.

How is it Used?

Ice cleats strap on over your normal shoes. They are essentially a pair of spiky metal soles that offer excellent grip on the ice in practically any conditions.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Something like this is really affordable and also pretty efficient. They are really easy to don, which is exactly what you’ll need if you are layered up in a bulky fishing suit, complete with a life vest.

Here’s why I chose these in particular as an example:

  • The polymer straps are designed specifically for super low temperatures.
  • The Velcro adjustment ensures a really great fit for all boots.
  • The spikes are multidirectional, just what you need for flitting between ice holes.

There are almost as many cleats for ice fishing as there are boots. The good news? I’ve assembled a list of the very best ice cleats right here.

A Mobile Phone

When Would I Need it?

Look, it’s like this.

If I don’t have a fully charged and working phone, I don’t go ice fishing.

It’s that simple. In a good scenario, you can use it to tell your other half you are safely off the ice and that you’ll be home for dinner.

In the worst case, you can use it to call the emergency services to tell them that you are trapped, freezing cold, and wet and need to be helped to safety.

How is it Used?

I’m not going to insult your intelligence and tell you how to use a phone. But what I will do is give you a few tips to make sure that you are always able to speak to the outside world:

  • Ensure that your phone is kept dry in a bag at all times.
  • Make sure your cell is fully charged.
  • Try and keep your phone warm. Batteries drain super-fast when exposed to cold temperatures.
  • If you are going to a remote area, consider investing in an emergency radio.

Something Like This is Ideal…

Midland X-Talker EX36VP Guide Pack 2-Way Radio

Poor network coverage and ice fishing go hand in hand. You want something with a decent range, so you can keep in touch with your buddies. Here are some things I like with this particular set:

  • 26-mile range.
  • Great water resistance.
  • Excellent battery life.
  • You can even get weather alerts… Ideal for ice fishing!

Conclusion

How much ice fishing safety gear you need is entirely up to you. My own opinion? You can never really have too much.

You only need to use it once, and if it saves your life, it is worth every single penny.

What do you never go ice fishing without? Any more items you can think of? Drop me a comment below, and I’ll see about getting it added to my list.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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