5 Strange Saunas

By: Robert Lamb

How can a sauna get any crazier than this? Read on to find out. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
Chris Ware/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You might not think the sauna offers that much room for crazy innovation. After all, the basic concept behind the traditional Finnish steam bath hasn't changed in centuries. Just crowd some naked people inside a wooden room, crank up the heat and pour water over some rocks and presto! You have a sweaty, relaxing and rejuvenating good time.

Even the sauna-worshiping Finnish people don't gather around the TV to watch the latest episode of "Pimp My Sauna." Sure, high-quality materials and skilled carpentry can make for a particularly fine sauna. Sometimes a window is nice, but can a sauna really get any crazier than that?


Well, grab a towel (it's the rules), gentle reader. We're about to go on a sauna-hopping journey through five of the most imaginative, bizarre and, in some cases, thoroughly unnecessary innovations on the traditional sauna design.

Get ready to break a sweat.

5: Sauna on Wheels

Hit a traffic jam or run over a nail? Don't worry about it! You just bought yourself some sauna time.
Hit a traffic jam or run over a nail? Don't worry about it! You just bought yourself some sauna time.
Varun / Creative Commons

It's nearly impossible to exaggerate the importance of saunas in Finland, where a good sweat bath is a traditional part of daily life. Scout troops drag portable saunas with them on camping trips, and even the prison wardens in Finland don't dare deny convicted felons a good sweat. In a land where the number of saunas may rival that of automobiles, it should come as no surprise that they've come up with a way to combine the two.

Behold, a custom sauna bus -- and it's far from one of a kind. Various takes on the wheeled, mobile saunas exist around the world. Savvy mechanics have modified everything from trailers to fire trucks into their own steamy sanctuaries on wheels. The Canadian Web site SaunaSessions.com even hosts a section titled "Mobile Saunas" chronicling the various saunas that may or may not be street legal.


What sense does this crazy idea make? Well, look no further than Russia, where love for the traditional banya prompted some crafty Ruskies to convert an army truck into their own all-terrain sauna. After all, you're going to want a cold dip after a proper sauna session, so why not drive it straight to a chilly, mountain lake surrounded by forest instead of the city pool?

4: Submarine Sauna

Forget staring at your feet in the sauna. How about a school of trout instead?
Forget staring at your feet in the sauna. How about a school of trout instead?
Image Courtesy Nordic Marine Living AB

Many saunas tend to consist of dim, wooden rooms, so you're often out of luck if you want to stare at local fauna and flora during your sweat bath. Sure, you'll find the occasional sauna with a window looking out on a mountain vista or frozen woodland, but what if you're less into bird watching and more into, say, aquariums?

Well, Nordic Marine Living AB and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have come up with the perfect compromise: the Nordic Submarine Sauna. Floating saunas are a common enough sight in certain corners of the world, but these Swedish masterminds have crossbred the concept with that of a glass-bottomed boat.


Once the heat's cranking, you can descend into the underwater glass observation area. Powerful, underwater searchlights even illuminate the surrounding waters at night.

3: Gondola Sauna

Riding the gondola naked no longer has to mean frostbite and arrest!
Riding the gondola naked no longer has to mean frostbite and arrest!
Image Courtesy CWA Constructions

Let's face it: The best part of hitting the slopes isn't skiing the slopes -- it's warming up in the ski lodge afterward. If you happen to be Finnish, then there's only one way to warm back up: take it all off and let a lengthy sauna session do its work.

Now, thanks to relentless Finnish sauna innovators, you don't have to leave the slopes to enjoy a relaxing sauna. Pick the Ylläs ski resort as your next vacation destination and you'll have the chance to ascend the slopes of Ylläs Fell in a wood-lined sauna gondola car. Launched in 2008, the luxurious four-seater covers 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) in seven minutes, providing both a breathtaking view of the mountains and a healthy sweat. Can you guess what awaits you at the top? That's right: the resort's main sauna facilities.


The Ylläs Gondola Sauna is only the second such operating sauna lift in the world, the first being Doppelmayr's 2000 sauna gondola in Levi, Finland. If you're looking to install one of these beauties on your own gondola lift, then look no further than Switzerland's CWA Constructions, which offers its own sauna gondola design.

2: Skull Sauna

A woman peeks inside Joep van Lieshout's "Wellness Skull" at the Karlsplatz in Vienna, during its 2008 exhibition there.
A woman peeks inside Joep van Lieshout's "Wellness Skull" at the Karlsplatz in Vienna, during its 2008 exhibition there.
AP Photo/ AP Photo/Lilli Strauss

Who doesn't love a good skull motif? The design shows up in belt buckles, T-shirts, vodka bottles and outrageous Burning Man art cars. And now, thanks to Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, you can rest assured that somewhere out there in the world, there's a giant skull with a sauna inside it.

Van Lieshout constructed his 15-foot (4.6-meter) "Wellness Skull" entirely from wood and synthetic materials. As with most pieces of art, the average visitor is prohibited from climbing inside it naked, but when the artist actually heats up the sauna, steam pours out of the skull's eye sockets. The death's head also boasts a bathtub and a shower.


As for the meaning of the piece, the artist insists that his design aims to invite varying interpretations. Still, you can't fill the universal icon of death with healthy, cleansing spa amenities without stirring up the interconnectedness of health, birth and purity with disease, death and sin.

How long until Nordic death metal bands can sweat it out in their own skull saunas? Only time will tell.

1: Wonder Sauna Hot Pants

How did this not catch on?
How did this not catch on?
Image courtesy Jon Sauder

Humans love multitasking, and some of us just don't have the time or the patience to just sit there sweating in a sauna. This leads to the inevitable question: If I can drive a sauna around, then why can't I wear one while I work out or clean the house?

This is the sort of idea that sauna purists find ridiculous. After all, a huge part of the sauna experience is that you're leaving everything -- even your clothes -- outside the door and letting the dry heat relax and recharge you. Still, no one can stand in the way of innovation, even when the resulting pants look this ridiculous.


While Wonder Sauna Hot Pants are just an embarrassing page from the American consumer past, the basic premise continues to this day. Sauna exercise suits are widely available, complete with dubious promises of weight loss.

Strictly speaking, these costumes are not saunas. There's no dry heat oven in there, and they're obviously not made of wood. Instead, the shiny, baggy athletic wear seals in body heat and promotes increased sweating (which decreases water weight) and a marginal release of body toxins. As such, boxers, wrestlers and other competitive athletes sometimes use the suits to trim down just enough to slip into lower weight classes.

For the rest of you, don't fret about your ridiculous purchases. One of these days, sauna lederhosen and sauna bras are going to show up on Paris runways, and who's going to be laughing then?

Explore the links on the next page to learn more about saunas and skin care.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Atelier Van Lieshout. 2009. (Sept. 4, 2009)http://www.ateliervanlieshout.com/
  • "Mobile Saunas." SaunaSessions.ca. (Sept. 4, 2009)http://www.saunasessions.ca/mobilesaunas/index.php
  • "The Sauna Truck." English Russia. (Sept. 4, 2009)http://englishrussia.com/?p=1867
  • "Nordic Submarine Sauna." Nordic Marine Living AB. (Sept. 8, 2009)http://www.nordicmarineliving.com/eng/index.php?id=30
  • "Sauna Edition." CWA Constructions. 2009. (Aug. 8, 2009)http://www.cwa.ch/en/sauna_content---1--1057.html
  • "Sauna in the sky in Finland." Birmingham Mail. Aug. 27, 2008. (Aug. 8, 2009)http://www.birminghammail.net/lifestyle/travel/travel-reports/2008/08/27/sauna-in-the-sky-in-finland-97319-21615585/
  • "Skull with built-in sauna turns heads in Austria." Associated Press. Nov. 18, 2008. (Sept. 8, 2009)http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2008/11/17/national/a125922S73.DTL
  • "Ylläs - Freedom of seven Fells." Ylläs Travel Association. Oct. 10, 2008. (Sept. 8, 2009)