Sweating it out has been a way of life for the Finnish since they first invented the sauna (pronounced ‘sow-nah’) more than 2000 years ago. And if the numbers are anything to go by they’re not planning to stop anytime soon. (There are some two million saunas in Finland, servicing a population of 5.3 million.)
Recognising the many sauna health benefits to be had, the Western world has embraced the Finnish pastime with gusto. Who doesn’t want to sleep better, stress less and rid the body of unwanted toxins?
From rustic beginnings that didn’t amount to much more than a dug-out covered in animal skins, modern day saunas come in a wide range of aesthetically pleasing designs. The best outdoor sauna kits on the market run the gamut from cozy to slick and everything in between.
If you’re new to sauna bathing, visiting a spa or gym is a great way to try it out. The cost of these visits can add up fast though, which is probably why more and more people are choosing to install a sauna at home instead.
Read on to learn more about what that entails, the types of saunas available, as well as which ones work best in the cold Canadian climate.
Outdoor vs Indoor Sauna
If you’re undecided about whether to go with an indoor or outdoor sauna, there are some factors to take into account before making up your mind.
Indoor saunas win the convenience race hands down. You don’t need to leave your house (a big plus when it’s snowing outside) and your bathroom is right there when nature calls or you want to cool off under the shower.
Of course, this assumes you have the space to accommodate a sauna. Even the small ones require a fair amount of real estate. If you live in a big house that’s not a problem, but it won’t work if your home is of more moderate proportions.
An outdoor sauna, on the other hand, gets you closer to nature while still keeping you warm and toasty. Done right, they’re also aesthetically pleasing and can easily be worked into the overall look and feel of your backyard.
Yes, they do require more upkeep and there are potential stumbling blocks in getting electricity to your outdoor sauna. A wood-fire stove can eliminate this issue, but it does require more effort. There’s more to it than just flipping a switch on and off.
How to Buy and Build an Outdoor Sauna
Before you race off to your laptop to order your outdoor sauna kit you’ll need to check with your local municipality to find out about regulations, building codes and what (if any) permits are required for your new relaxation spot.
With that out of the way it’s time to decide just how DIY you want to go. Prefab saunas arrive at your doorstep partially assembled, which is great if you’re not that handy, are low on time, or simply want the fastest route to your new outdoor sauna. (We hear you.)
If you’re comfortable around tools and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from building something yourself, going the custom design route would definitely work. As is the case with most things nowadays, figuring out how to build your own outdoor sauna comes down to a reliable internet connection.
Finally, there’s always the option of converting an existing structure into the hot box of your dreams. If you’re a little strapped for cash or find upcycling weighs easier on your environmental conscience, repurposing that old shed is the way to go.
You also need to take into account the space you have available, whether or not you’re able to run electricity to your sauna as well as how much money you’d like to spend. The average cost of building a sauna will vary depending on all of these things.
What Is the Best Outdoor Sauna for a Cold Climate?
When choosing the best outdoor sauna kits for a cold climate like Canada there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
Given the region’s low winter temperatures and propensity for heavy snowfall, you’ll want to ensure you choose the right heating system.
Traditional saunas use an electric heater or wood stove to heat the air first, while infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the body directly. They do also raise the ambient temperature, however not to the same degree as the traditional method.
Some people prefer the more comfortable heat that comes from sitting in an infrared sauna, but it’s probably not the best option for Canada’s extremely cold climes. In a place where the mercury routinely drops to well below zero, it’s prudent to dial up the heat. An outdoor steam sauna will work best in this scenario.
Another important consideration when choosing your outdoor sauna kit is insulation. Regardless of wood’s heat-insulating properties, most outdoor saunas still require additional insulation. The main reason for this is to prevent the heat from seeping out.
The only exception here is the barrel-shaped sauna, as it’s been specifically designed to retain heat. As outdoor saunas go, it’s arguably the best choice for Canada’s harsh winters.
5 Outdoor Sauna Kits to Suit Every Taste
When you’re on the hunt for the best outdoor sauna kits money can buy (or you can afford), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. With so many styles to choose from, how on earth do you make up your mind?
Budget and other constraints will narrow down your options considerably. After that it really comes down to personal taste and preferences. Do you want something just for you or will the whole family be joining you?
Will it be made from wood, stainless steel or a combination of the two? Would you like large or small windows or none at all? As you’ll soon discover, there’s a lot to choose from. These are our top picks for the best outdoor sauna kits for Canadian winters.
1. Outdoor Igloo Pod Sauna
An offshoot of the popular ‘igloo cabins’ in Eastern Europe, the visually appealing outdoor igloo pod sauna (sometimes called a raindrop sauna due to its distinctive shape) is fast gaining popularity in North America.
They offer additional headroom for taller sauna enthusiasts, they don’t leak, and they’re well insulated. Igloo pod saunas also enjoy better thermal performance and heat quality thanks to the two layers of wood. Shipped as a kit, you can set up this fast heating sauna in a day.
2. Outdoor Barrel Sauna
We’re obviously huge proponents of the barrel-shaped sauna, but our decision to include it here is about more than personal bias. The barrel’s cylindrical shape allows for improved convection flow. Plus, there are no corners for air to get trapped in.
While it only boasts a single layer of wood, the barrel sauna gets around this insulation issue by making efficient use of space and convection to heat the interior rapidly and evenly. This is further aided by the fact that it has less space to heat than its cabin-style counterpart.
Along with being easy on the eye, barrel saunas are structurally sound, making them the perfect choice for harsh climates similar to those experienced in Canada. They too can be shipped and assembled in almost no time at all.
3. Outdoor Cabin Sauna
Offering a more traditional look, the outdoor cabin sauna is square or rectangular in design with level benches for stratified heat. Its boxy shape makes it easier to place when space is at a premium, but it does require proper venting to facilitate better air circulation.
Cabin saunas are great if you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that you’re channeling your inner-Finn in your backyard. A lot of them look remarkably similar to upmarket sheds and can easily be fobbed off as such.
A good cabin sauna kit is made from quality wood that’s able to withstand the elements. However, insulation is key as it’s not designed specifically with heat retention in mind. Get that right and you’re good to go.
4. Shed Conversion Sauna
If your garden shed or outbuilding has passed its sell by date, why not convert it into a hot haven of health benefits? If you like the idea of doing it entirely yourself, this step-by-step guide to turn your shed into a sauna is worth taking a look at.
All told the shed conversion cost around $10,000, although they were able to get their hands on a wood-burning stove at no charge. Still, if you’ve got the tools and the know-how it’s definitely an approach worth considering.
Keen on converting your shed, but don’t have what it takes to pull off a solo job? There’s always the option of outsourcing the job to a company who’ll take care of the fixtures and fittings on your behalf.
Provided it’s properly insulated, well heated and stable, your outdoor shed sauna should hold up just fine during the cold winter months. There’s also the added benefit of knowing you’ve done your bit for the environment.
5. Luna Sauna
The luna sauna’s rounded corners give it a much softer look and feel while also offering additional space inside. Its mostly square shape means insulation is still a critical factor in ensuring adequate heat retention.
This is especially important when the temperature outside has moved from bracing to downright unpleasant. With the proper insulation and floor to ceiling double pane windows, you’ll be able to enjoy whatever nature has to offer from the warm cozy confines of your sauna.
As with most outdoor sauna kits, the luna sauna comes in a range of sizes. However we think its design lends itself perfectly to something more intimate. If you’re on the hunt for a 2-person sauna, the luna is best suited for the job.
Bonus: Bicycle Sauna (Because, Why Not?)
While not exactly designed with Canadian winters in mind, we couldn’t resist adding this portable bike sauna from H3T Architects. At first wash it doesn’t look like the most comfortable of saunas, but take a peek inside and you’ll find it’s spacious enough to fit up to six semi-naked adults.
Sauna-ing on-the-go might not appeal to most, but this tandem bicycle-drawn sweat party is certainly garnering attention in Prague. Who knows, perhaps the idea will take off in our part of the world. There are basic blueprints of the bicycle sauna available if you want to give it a try.
Ready to Order That Outdoor Sauna?
We’ve walked you through the basics of buying and building an outdoor sauna and we’ve looked at which saunas are better suited for colder climates. Finally, we offered a roundup of sauna kits to suit your style and pocket.
Have we won you over? Will you be the proud owner of an outdoor sauna by the time fall rolls around? Go ahead and order your barrel sauna today. We’ve got no doubt you’ll agree with us that it’s the best choice for Canadian winters.