It’s never entirely safe to walk on ice. Although people venture out on frozen rivers, streams, and lakes successfully during winter and the ice doesn’t break, this is still risky to do. But, there are a number of ways that can help you determine whether ice is safe enough to walk on. 

First, you can measure the thickness or observe the ice color. However, you need to understand the frozen waterways in your area, the local conditions, and temperature. The thicker the ice, the more weight it can hold. 

When it comes to ice, there’s no such thing as absolute safety, but there’s a certain ice thickness that’s acceptable if you would like to walk on ice. So, how thick should ice be to walk on? Read on to find out!

Factors That Affect Ice Thickness

Ice thickness is affected by a variety of factors. This includes the time of year, the kind of water, location, as well as other environmental factors. Below are some other factors that affect ice thickness.

  • Depth of the water
  • Size of the body of water
  • Tides, currents, and other forms of moving water
  • Heat absorption by rocks, logs, and docks
  • Temperature of the air
  • Shock waves emitted by automobiles on the ice
  • Chemicals, such as salt
  • Water level fluctuations

How Thick Should Ice Be To Walk On: Ice Thickness Guidelines

If you’re in an area that’s filled with ice, here are some general guidelines that you should follow: 

  • Stay off ice if the depth is less than 2 inches
  • If walking, the ice needs to be at least 4 inches thick
  • For an ATV or snowmobile of about 800 pounds, 6 inches of good ice is required
  • For a small pickup or car, 8 – 12 inches of good ice is required
  • For a medium pickup vehicle or SUV, 12 – 15 inches of good ice is required

How To Test Ice Thickness

The safety of ice is affected by currents, temperature, snow cover, rough fish, and springs. Above a single body of water, such as a lake, ice is rarely the same thickness. This means that it can be one inch thick in one location and two feet thick just a few feet away. This is why you need to check the thickness of ice every 150 feet at minimum. Read on to learn about some of the ways you can do this.

  1. Use an Ice Auger

Hand, gas, and electric augers are the three types of augers available. Hand augers are inexpensive, quiet, and light. Electric augers tend to be just as quiet as hand augers, although they need less manual work. 

Gas augers are by far the fastest at drilling through ice. However, they’re noisier, heavier, and more expensive than both the manual and electric types. When you drill a hole with the ice auger, use a tape measure in order to determine the thickness of the ice.

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  1. Use a Cordless Drill

You can drill through about eight inches of ice in 30 seconds or less when using a cordless drill. Usually, cordless drills with a voltage of at least 7.2 volts should work, but the bit type is crucial. 

When drilling, you’ll need a wooden auger bit because they have a spiral at the shaft referred to as a “flute”. Metal drilling bits don’t have this. The flutes, similar to a full-sized ice auger, draw ice chips out from the hole and prevent it from becoming stuck. 

Upon drilling a hole, use a measuring tape to determine the thickness of the ice. To avoid rust, keep the bit dry and spray it with silicone lubricant every time you’re done using it. 

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  1. Use an Ice Chisel

A metal rod with a sharp, flat blade soldered to one end is known as an ice chisel. To make a hole in the ice, use a stabbing motion with the chisel. After that, use a tape measure to determine the thickness of the ice. Please note the following.

  • Using a tape measure helps you determine the true thickness of the ice. Before collecting measurements, insert the tape measure into the hole you have made and hook it to the bottom edge of the ice. 
  • Other than a tape measure, you can also use an ice fisherman’s ice skimmer that has inch indicators on the handle. You shouldn’t assess the thickness of ice by how readily it can be broken with a drill or chisel. Sometimes when ice breaks so quickly, it’s easy to misinterpret the thickness.
  • When going out to check the ice thickness, ensure that you bring some safety gear and basic tools in order to stay safe. Some additional items you may require include ice picks, a life jacket, a communication device or mobile phone, an ice safety kit, a safety rope that is 100 – 500 feet, and a spud bar. 
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Facts About Ice That You Should Know

The strength of new ice is usually greater than that of old ice. Old ice, partially thawed at a foot or more, may not be able to hold one person, but four inches of newly formed ice that has just formed can. 

Newer ice tends to be clear, while opaque ice tends to be older. Dark black and light gray ice should be avoided because it can’t hold much. 

Snow acts as an insulator, slowing the freezing process. The additional weight of snow decreases the amount of weight that an ice sheet can hold. Furthermore, ice near the coast tends to be weaker than ice further offshore.

Ice that’s cracking and booming isn’t always harmful. It simply implies that as the temperature changes, the ice expands and contracts.

Ice rarely freezes evenly, which means that it could be a foot thick in one spot and merely an inch or two in another. Keep an eye on the ice condition as you walk. 

Ice that forms over moving water and currents is frequently hazardous. This is particularly the case in the vicinity of rivers, bridges, and storm drains. 

Due to the current moving quickly beneath the ice, ice that’s outside river bends, as well as inlets and outflows of ponds and lakes, is generally weaker.

Ice Fishing Guidelines

Ice fishing is a great way to spend some time outside, as long as it’s done safely. There are easy steps that can be taken to ensure a fun and safe outing. Check for footsteps from other people, for example, if there’s snow on the ice. 

If there are footsteps, then this is a good sign that you can walk on the ice safely. During the chilly winter season, ice fishing offers fishermen the rare chance to go fishing on a pond or lake without using a boat. 

Whenever you’re going out for ice fishing, make sure that you take safety precautions for an enjoyable and safe experience on the ice. This is important, whether you’re a beginner or an expert that has been doing it for years.

The deeper areas of a lake tend to be the warmest in the winter. Therefore, this is where fish normally spend much of their time and you’ll find more fish when winter is starting. As winter advances, the deeper sections of the lake or body of water become devoid of oxygen, causing fish to ascend and migrate to the inlets with more food and oxygen. 

When ice fishing, avoid crossing ice-bound streams and rivers since the thickness of the ice is uncertain due to the currents, as mentioned before. You might come across weak spots in some lakes and ponds because the spring holes from currents have thinned out the ice.

It’s always a good idea to tell your friends, family, or neighbors about your plan to go ice fishing. Let them know the name of the pond or lake you’ll be fishing on, which hot spot you’ll be fishing at, and how long you intend to fish for.

If you decide to stay out fishing for longer than you intended to, inform them of your decision. During ice fishing, we recommend that you not be alone. 

A friend or family member can lend a helping hand, assist you in staying focused on safety, and get help if an unexpected problem occurs and you need to be rescued. It’s also a good idea to leave the lake before it gets dark since it can be dangerous to navigate at night. 

What To Do If You Break Through The Ice

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you break through the ice, here are some steps you can take.

  • Don’t be alarmed. Try to stay calm, catch your breath, and, if there are any people around, call for assistance.
  • Winter garments shouldn’t be removed. Warmth and buoyancy can be provided by trapped air, and this is particularly true when you’re wearing a snowmobile outfit.
  • Turn towards the shore, which in this case would be the direction you came from before you fell into the ice. The strongest ice will be in that direction. 
  • Reach out and place your hands on the ice that’s not shattered and pull yourself up without pushing down on the ice. 
  • To get back onto the solid ice, use your ice picks and kick your legs. Attempt to bring your body up to a horizontal position and crawl onto the ice while continuing to kick your legs.
  • You’ll have to use your elbows to lift yourself out of the water partially if your clothes are soaked. Allow the water to drain out before moving further.
  • Lie flat and roll away from the hole once you’re back on solid ice. This helps to spread out your weight evenly and can help you avoid breaking through again. Do not stand up. 
  • Get to a dry, sheltered location and get warm as soon as possible. You can use an emergency blanket for this. Change out of your wet clothes and get some dry ones. Get to or make a campfire if you’re in a remote location. If not, make your way to your car or residence and seek medical assistance from a doctor.

What To Do If You See Someone Else Break Through Ice

Trying to save someone from the ice can be a dangerous endeavor. Rescuing them from the shore is the safest option. Call for help or ask for assistance from bystanders. Consider whether you should call for help from ambulances, the police, or from firefighters.  

Reassure the person who is stuck in the ice that you will help them and that they shouldn’t panic. Extend something like a rope, a ladder, a branch from a tree, or jumper cables to the victim if you can safely reach them from shore. 

If the individual begins to pull you in, let go of the object and begin again. When extending the pole to the individual, lay down in order to balance out your weight. 

Before they become too weak from the cold, have them tie a rope around themselves if you have a rope with you. When you’re close to the hole, crawl carefully towards them making sure that your weight is evenly spread out. 

As you take the person out, have them kick. Don’t venture out onto the ice if the scenario is too risky for you to execute a rescue successfully. For assistance, dial 911. Rescuers have the potential to become victims so you need to be really careful when going out to help people. 


If you’ve been wondering, “how thick should ice be to walk on?”, we hope that this article has given you all the answers that you needed. It’s important to determine how thick ice is before you venture out. It’s also important that you have all the tools and equipment needed to be safe. 

Remember, you can always drill down or cut into ice to conduct direct measurements in order to determine how thick the ice is. There’s just one concern: you’ll have to walk out onto the ice to accomplish it. As a result, if the ice isn’t thick enough to hold your body weight, you might be putting yourself in danger

When in doubt, always choose the safe option. For more outdoor tips, information, or buying guides, please feel free to explore more of our website!

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