We describe a portable low-frequency impulse radar system intended for ground-based surveys that employs off-the-shelf hardware integrated with custom-designed software. The hardware comprises a 1–200 MHz transmitter, digitizer, computer and GPS receiver, which together weigh ∼1.5 kg. The entire system, including waterproof enclosures and batteries suited for >8 hours of continuous operation, weighs <10 kg plus the weight of the antenna housing. The system design is flexible, permitting hardware components such as the digitizer or navigation device to be exchanged. The software includes acquisition parameter control, real-time visual ice-depth rendering and data management capabilities using a hierarchical data format. The system described here has been successfully used to sound polythermal ice up to ∼220 m thick in ski-based surveys in the Yukon, Canada, and temperate ice up to ∼550 m thick in machine-based surveys in Iceland.