As a Canadian ice angler, a heater for your ice fishing tent is as important as any of your other gear. There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to finding a heat source but the most popular by far are propane catalytic heaters made by Mr. Heater. I’ve had a Mr. Heater for many years and I have used them in all available sizes to heat my various sizes of tents. I love being able to heat up my ice tent and spend the day fishing in comfort. Not all heaters are created equal though and in this post I want to explain why I prefer using the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy.
Sunflower style tank top heaters are a popular budget option but I prefer to use the Portable Buddy Heaters. There are a few reasons to spend a little more on a Mr. Heater portable buddy and they all have to do with safety. Both systems share an accidental tip-over safety shut off so you’re covered if you knock it over in your tent. The difference is the portable buddy heater comes with an automatic low oxygen shutoff system and an ignitor built in. It’s also very clean-burning when compared to sunflower heaters and they are quiet during operation.
I also like the compact design of the portable buddy heaters. The heater element is tucked well inside the body to limit accidental contact with your tent fabric. They are also very sturdy so they can be placed on the uneven ground without falling over. Mr. Heaters also run on convenient 1lb propane bottles and are much more portable than a 10-20lb propane tank.
If you need more propane than the 1 lb bottles offer there is also the opportunity to use a larger remote tank outside of your shelter with the hose adapter. Personally, I really like using an 11 lb propane tank with a six foot hose because the larger propane tanks are refillable and not as wasteful or expensive to use.
Heat Output of Mr. Heaters:
Little Buddy – 3800 btu/hr – 95 sq feet – 5.6 hrs run time
Portable Buddy – 4000/9000 btu/hr – 225 sq ft – 6 hrs low/3 hrs high
Big Buddy Heater – 4000/9000/18 000 btu/hr – 450 sq ft –
Buddy Flex – 180deg of heat – 8000/11 000 btu/hr
Three factors that affect how well your heater will work:
Insulation – I have owned three different sizes of ice fishing tents and have used Buddy Heaters in each of them. Two tents have been uninsulated and my latest Otter Lodge is fully insulated.
Frabill Recon – 20 sq ft
Frabill uninsulated hub – 25 sq ft
Otter Lodge Hub – 64 sq ft (Insulated)
Insulation makes a huge difference in the heat holding capacity of the tent. Even though my Otter hub is much larger, it can be kept warm with the smallest heater. I like the temperature in my tent to be 10-15°C to be comfortable. By 15°C I am turning the heater down or cracking open a door or window. I don’t like it too hot because the ground begins to melt and the floor turns to a swimming pool. If you end up with water on the ground the tent fabric can end up freezing to the ice and damage can occur.
Sealing against wind – It’s no secret that wind is going to rob you of heat. They don’t call it windchill for nothing! Hub shelters are much easier to seal against the wind. Once the hub is up you can shovel some snow onto the outer ground flaps and voila, no more breezes. Flip-overs, on the other hand, are notoriously harder to seal from the wind. You may find that you want to upsize your heater if you are using flip-overs more than hub shelters.
Use of a floor for insulation – Putting even a thin barrier between your feet and the ice can make a huge difference in your overall comfort. If you are interested in being as comfortable as possible, make sure you are using some sort of floor.
A note on propane tank hoses:
With extended use of a high pressure propane tank hose it has been noticed that oil can build up in the hose and work its way into your Buddy Heater’s regulator. Whether the oil leeches out of the hose or if it comes from the gas itself is up for debate but the key takeaways are either: 1. Use a filter or 2. Close the propane tank and allow gas to depressurize though the heater. I also hang my propane hose in the garage when I’m back home to allow gravity to drain any oil in the hose. That way it’s good to go next time.
To summarize, I really rely on my Buddy Heater to keep me comfortable during our long Canadian winters. I’ve used every size of the buddy heater available up except the newly released Buddy Flex and I have to say that the most versatile size is the middle child, the Portable Buddy. Even in my largest Otter Hub, I very rarely turn the heat up past medium on my Big Buddy.