Pick The Best Ice Rescue Gear For Your Job

The most common questions we run into around PPE for ice is, “What is the best combination of PPE?” and “Should we be wearing helmets on the ice?” Although neither question has a simple answer, we first need to start with which equipment would work best for what each organization does before we can pick the best ice rescue gear for the job.

Some places only respond to ice, while others respond to ice, water and boat – their needs will be different.  Let’s look at the pros and cons of two common setups:

Drysuit with Rescue PFD


  • Very versatile and can be used year round on ice, swiftwater, flatwater and boat responses.  Set up is the same for each.
  • More maneuverability because it is less bulky
  • Variety of sizes so that the PPE fits the responder correctly


  • Since it is not a “one size fits all”, you may need more sets of PPE to ensure it fits responder well.
  • Has very little thermal protection so you will need to layer properly underneath the drysuit to stay warm
  • For extended responses, people can get cold if not properly dressed.
  • Gloves are not built in, so keeping hands warm can be challenging.

Ice Commander or Similar Immersion Suit


  • Have thermal protection built into the suit so you can basically step in and be warm without as much thought to your layering – this translates to a much faster response time.
  • Gloves and boots are integrated so responders stay warm for longer periods of time
  • One size fits most (both a pro and a con) – fewer suits to buy because each suit fits everyone.


  • They are bulkier and since the gloves are built in, they are not very form fitting so dexterity of your hands can be an issue.
  • One size fits all – if you are not in the ideal range, the suit can be very big  (or small) on you making it uncomfortable.
  • Some jurisdictions insist that you wear a PFD with them since they are not Transport Canada approved.  This becomes a very challenging setup – a bulky suit and a PFD.  The suits have plenty of floatation, they just have not gone through the testing process for Transport Canada
  • Are not suitable to use around any moving water and is stated by the manufacturer that they are inappropriate for this purpose.

When looking at these two common setups, we ask ourselves a few questions:

  • Do I need to be able to use the PPE in a variety of environments?
  • Will I be around moving water?
  • Is one type of PPE year round more advantageous for your operating environment?

After weighing out the pros and cons of each setup, you can make an informed decision of what fits within your response model, level of training and disciplines that you need to cover.

Should I Wear A Helmet For Ice Rescue?

The next big question we face is about the wearing of helmets. 

Some agencies insist on helmets being worn at every type of call or training, which is a good policy.  When looking at ice specifically, we would look at the risk involved in the activity that we are doing before making that decision.   If we are operating on ice around moving water, we should be wearing helmets; swiftwater protocols from your Swiftwater course should be followed. 

However, when operating on static or flat water ice sheets, we feel the bigger hazard is the cold.  The problem with helmets is that they can limit the amount of thermal protection you can wear on your head and therefore can lead to you becoming colder, faster.   

When operating on static ice sheets where the risk of hypothermia outweighs other risks, we generally suggest wearing adequate toques or balaclavas to ensure you will stay warm.  The Stearns Ice Rescue Suit feature a hood, which offers great thermal protection when zipped up – but when the hood is up, fitting a helmet on top is unlikely to work.

Like all decisions, looking at what you will be using your equipment for and the environment that you are using it in should be your guide as to which PPE you decide to use when out on the ice. 

If you have any questions about the best ice rescue gear for your organization, contact us and we are happy to help out.