Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Saunas

Wellness By Emily Leikam

Saunas are the ultimate indulgence when it comes to wellness and relaxation. They produce so many benefits to the human body and make a great addition to any outdoor environment. Saunas work wonders in cold weather; help you relax after a tough day; ease sore muscles; improve circulation; and clear toxins from your skin. Depending on your needs, different types of outdoor saunas provide unique and distinct benefits. Check out five of the most popular types of saunas, and discover the benefits of each:

1. Outdoor Infrared Sauna

wooden sauna with the infrared radiation
Modern wooden sauna with infrared radiation. Photo by: fotiy.

An infrared sauna, also known as a heat therapy room, is built with infrared lamps that use electromagnetic radiation to warm the body. Rather than a traditional sauna that heats up the air around you, infrared lights directly heat your body. Many manufacturers claim that only 20 percent of the heat is transmitted in the air, while the other 80 percent directly heats your body.

There are two types of infrared saunas; far-infrared and near-infrared. Far infrared saunas use rays that mainly emit light around the body, while near-infrared lamps emit rays that can travel several inches past the skin. The benefits to using an outdoor infrared sauna include the following:

  • Infrared saunas run at lower temperatures than steam saunas because they use lamps to heat the body rather than the surrounding air. This may be more tolerable for anyone sensitive to high temperatures. A traditional sauna reaches temperatures above 185°F, while infrared ranges between 120 and 150°F.
  • The lights focus on triggering sweat mechanisms within the body without generating humidity. Intense sweating helps detox the body and aids in weight loss. 
  • Using an infrared sauna can be more cost effective. For a single session, many outdoor saunas use as much as 6 kw of power to heat and boil water, while infrared saunas only use about 1.5 kw of power per session to heat lamps. 
  • Using an infrared sauna improves blood circulation, relaxes sore muscles, relieves joint pain, and promotes relaxation.

2. Outdoor Barrel Sauna 

Round wooden outdoor sauna with stacks of wood for heating, by a lake with nearby trees and a picnic table
Unique barrel look is never a bad choice for any backyard. Photo by: Scandamerican.

A barrel sauna is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a giant barrel-shaped building installed in your yard for use as a sauna. Barrel saunas gained attraction in the early 70s, around the same time wooden cedar barrel hot tubs became popular. The design originated from the centuries-old wine and whiskey barrel construction. Barrel saunas allow hot air to naturally circulate around the entire space, creating warmer temperatures in the lower section of the barrel. In most “box” shaped saunas the hot air rises to the top, but the round design allows full immersion within the warm air. 

The benefits of using an outdoor barrel sauna include:

  • The circular design causes even distribution of heat and allows the barrel sauna to heat up more quickly than other saunas. 
  • Most high temperature steam saunas cause wood to expand and contract. Barrel saunas are specifically designed for temperature changes. Wood expands and contracts within the confines of the steel bands rather than nails and screws for a much longer lifespan for your sauna. 
  • Most barrel saunas come as a DIY kit and can be easily assembled with minimal carpentry skills. They are also extremely easy to care for and require low maintenance.

3. Outdoor Home Sauna

yellow wooden cabin sauna in the backyard
Cabin sauna can be a perfect fit for smaller backyard. Photo by: PxHere.

Utilize any design, like a small cabin or hut, and turn it into your very own sauna. Start from scratch, find a template online or purchase a sauna kit. Most designs call for a concrete, wood, gravel, or pier foundation with the main structure built from wood. If this sounds a bit overwhelming, “How to Build an Outdoor Sauna in Your Backyard” will get you started. 

The benefits to building an outdoor home sauna include:

  • Full creative freedom with a DIY project. 
  • Budget-friendly opportunity if you have access to scrap materials.
  • This backyard getaway provides the many health benefits of other saunas.

4. Outdoor Steam Sauna

Interior of classic wooden sauna
Hot steam embracing your body is always the right relaxing choice. Photo by: timofeev.

A steam sauna heats water to create pressurized steam that is then released into a closed structure. The steam produces a wet heat around the body that may feel like sweat, but is actually condensed water from humid air. A steam sauna is usually between 110 and 120°F with 100% humidity. 

The benefits to using an outdoor steam sauna include:

  • Steam opens sinuses and clears congestion.
  • The heat opens your pores and cleanses your skin.
  • Aids in muscle recovery and helps your body relax after a workout.
  • Loosens stiff joints and increases flexibility before a workout.

5. Outdoor Finnish Sauna

sauna stones
The best stones for saunas are heavy, rough, igneous stones. Photo by: kichigin19.

A traditional Finnish sauna, also known as a dry sauna, is heated by a pile of hot rocks that are sprinkled with water at certain intervals. Unlike a steam sauna where there is 100% humidity, a dry sauna usually ranges between 10 and 60% humidity depending on how much water is added to the rocks. The temperatures stay around 150 to 195°F. This type of sauna stimulates your body to sweat more. 

The benefits to using an outdoor Finnish sauna include:

  • Opening your pores and relaxing any facial tension. 
  • Reducing skin inflammation and flushing out toxins from the body.
  • The heat from a dry sauna acts as a natural moisturizer by stimulating the skin’s sebaceous glands. 
  • Improves circulation and regulates blood pressure for heart health.

Sweat It Out

At the end of the day, any one of these outdoor saunas to relax offers incredible health benefits. Saunas not only relax muscles and flush the body of toxins, but they also help rejuvenate your soul and restore your peace. Remember to stay hydrated before and after any sauna session. Enjoy the sweat!

Make your sauna special with simple decorations. Featured image by: termis1983.

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decorated sauna interior
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!