Hardwater warriors frequently battle the elements in their quest for winter 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 season’s wrath.
Their misery merited martyrdom, but modern ice fans fortunately need not repeat their sufferings, thanks to high-performance apparel that conquers the cold, thereby fueling effective and enjoyable ice capades, no matter the weather.
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.”
For example, if your stomping grounds lie on the southern fringes of Ice Belt, where mild temps are the norm, you might opt for lighter jackets and bibs that will keep you cozy without over-cooking. Conversely, ice fans who commonly sally forth in the frigid conditions of the northern Midwest and Canada should opt for heavier apparel.
“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. “Frabill’s new I-5 jacket and bibs in the company’s I-Series, for example, 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.”
Armed with a whopping 150 grams of Thinsulate, Frabill’s I-3, I-4 and I-5 jackets and bibs are ready for winter’s fury. Plus, where the two meet around an angler’s midsection, you get 300 grams of warmth.
Fleece, another top option, is found in the torso of Frabill’s I-2 jacket, while the sleeves sport soft tricot lining, 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. “You just can’t move around as easily, so you have a tendency not to move as much, or to take it off whenever possible.”
As a result, he recommends selecting form-fitting, custom-articulated outerwear geared to mobility. “Frabill did a great job engineering the I-Series in a fishing-friendly, ergonomic design with curved elbows, knees and seats,” he says. “The I-5 even has a pleated, expanding back.”
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 well 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. The also tend so suffer from a lack of breathability, which leads to sweating, followed by cold. Thankfully, well-appointed jackets and bibs can also be lifesavers.
“Frabill’s I-Series arms anglers with essential safety gear and information,” he says. “I-Series jackets and bibs feature ice pick holsters, special drainage mesh to minimize water weight, and a Frabill Ice Safety 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, both the jacket and bibs sport 3M Scotchlite reflective material that catches the beams of snowmobiles and other vehicles in time for drivers to avoid the angler wearing them.
To sort through all the outerwear options for yourself, Glorvigen recommends visiting http://www.frabill.com, then visiting local retailers to try on the latest winter gear in person. “It takes a little homework, but it’s well worth the effort,” he says. “In the end, regardless of the color of your suit, improvements in ice gear across the board have helped all of us 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.