Which Is Better For Ice Fishing: ATV Or Snowmobile?

Having an ATV or snowmobile is like the difference between having a crank auger or an electric auger, both are good but one is substantially more efficient.

Both vehicles can allow you to get from spot to spot very fast. Being able to move around the lake fast and stay on the move can often be the difference between having a good day or having a bad day. 

But there is often a debate about which is better for ice fishing, an ATV or snowmobile…and why?

In this article, I am going to put this debate to rest and tell you the pros and cons that both ATVs and snowmobiles have going for them.

Price Differences

The first main point when considering any vehicle is price.

Both ATVs and snowmobiles are expensive, and depending on how serious of an ice fisherman you are, you might want to consider how much you are going to use the vehicle during the winter season. 

Depending on the type and brand of the ATV or snowmobile, a new one is going to cost about 10,000 dollars. But many people don’t have that kind of money, so buying a used snowmobile in most cases is the best solution. 

On the secondary market, you can get a decent used snowmobile for around 3,000-4,000 dollars usually, which is significantly less than the retail price. 

Man fishing with a snowmobile in the background

When buying an ATV or snowmobile, it is very important to look at the description to see how many CC’s it is, CC’s is the measurement of the engine’s volume, the more CC’s it has the more power it will have. 

The average amount of CC’s to look for when picking and buying an ATV or snowmobile is between 450-700 CC’s, this will allow for enough power needed to get through the snow and be able to haul your gear and support your weight.

If you see a very cheap ATV or snowmobile on the market be sure to check the CC’s because at least 90% of the time it’s a mini version designed for kids.

A mini version’s engine will only be between 100-300 CC’s, which usually is not nearly enough power for an adult to carry gear for ice-fishing. 

Amount of Ice Needed To Safely Needed To Drive

The average weight of an ATV or snowmobile is 500 pounds. To be able to safely travel on the ice with your gear and vehicle you need a fair amount of ice.

Generally, 6 inches of clear ice should be safe enough for an ATV or snowmobile, but I like to stick to 7-8 inches as my general rule of thumb. 

Notice how I said clear ice. Clear ice is substantially stronger than cloudy ice and should be evaluated before driving anything out onto the ice.

In most cases, 6-8 inches of clear ice is enough for driving an ATV or snowmobile. But in terms of cloudy ice, you need about double the amount. 

Before driving your ATV or snowmobile on the ice, it is best to make sure that others have driven out before. If others have not been on the ice yet, make sure the ice thickness is in the top range of 7-8 inches of clear ice. 

Making sure there are 7-8 inches of ice on lakes nobody has been on with an ATV or snowmobile is smart because ice thickness can vary throughout the body of water depending on the depth or the water’s movement.

Which Is Better For Ice Fishing: ATV Or Snowmobile?
ATV in the Snow

Vehicle Reliability 

Reliability in the wintertime is very important, especially when dealing with cold temperatures and times when you’re fishing miles away from civilization. 

Depending on the amount of snow on the lake and its consistency, can result in your ATV getting stuck in the snow…and depending on how stuck it is, it may result in having someone pull you out.

Snowmobiles on the other hand don’t have this problem and their design allows them to plow right through the snow which makes for a fast and usually seamless journey.

In terms of maintenance and engine reliability through the winter, snowmobiles usually involve less maintenance than ATVs and their engines usually perform better in the cold than ATVs. After all, they are designed to operate in the snow.

But this all depends on the year and how well it’s been maintained over its life. 


There are a multitude of accessories for both snowmobiles and ATVs that you can add to turn your vehicle into an ice-fishing machine (and that is half the fun!).

Examples of things you can add include, rack systems for your auger, boxes to store your buckets full of tip-ups and sonar systems, and much more.

Both vehicles have the capability of towing your gear on a sled.

An ATV is generally going to have more towing power, but as I said, if the snow is deep you may find yourself stuck and having to push your ATV out. 

An all-time favorite pairing amongst anglers for an ATV or snowmobile is a flip-over shelter. Flip-over shelters, especially the big ones, can be difficult to pull by hand through the thick deep snow. 

But utilizing a flip-over in combination with an ATV or snowmobile is a match made in heaven and can allow you to stay mobile whilst staying very warm and comfortable. 

Final Thoughts

Overall both vehicles have their own pros and cons and both can be suitable for ice fishing.

It ultimately comes down to if you’re buying a vehicle just for ice fishing and you don’t need to use it during the rest of the year. In that case, I would go with a snowmobile. 

But if you need to have a vehicle year-round, I’d go with an ATV. It would work just fine in the ice season, but you must keep in mind that if there’s a lot of snow you risk getting yourself stuck and not making it to your destination safely.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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