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I'm claiming it, 2024 is the year of the sauna. Heat bathing harnesses nature’s essential elements to create a rejuvenating experience with proven health benefits for the body and mind in minutes. While there are many different types of outdoor sauna available on the market, with the more unique being sauna tents and infrared saunas, barrel saunas are arguably the coolest and most functional sauna design—if nothing else it's definitely the most photogenic.
The barrel sauna's organic aesthetic and unique shape make it look as if it belongs in nature. Beyond visuals, the form is hyper efficient in circulating heat, and in terms of setup, it's a beginner-friendly DIY project because almost every outdoor barrel sauna will come as a kit to be assembled at the location.
Readers of Field Mag will know that we’re endlessly fascinated by the art of heat bathing, along with wood fired hot tubs, as a way of being immersed in nature through a timeless restorative practice that’s relaxing and healthful. In this article we'll dive into the world of barrel saunas and share practical advice, smart buying strategies, and our top picks to help you find the perfect sauna for all your future sweat sessions.
What Are the Design Benefits of the Barrel Sauna Design?
Reminiscent of a large wine barrel, the barrel sauna’s cylindrical shape encourages natural air circulation from top to bottom, which makes it more efficient to heat than a square-shaped or cabin-style sauna where hot air may get trapped in unoccupied corners. "When you’re in a sauna, you want the most equal heat distribution possible, so your head isn’t sweating while your toes are cold," says Stewart Jensen, Director of Product Design at Redwood Outdoors, the Washington State-based manufacturer of top quality saunas, hot tubs, and cold plunge tubs. "The barrel shape is the best choice for creating a naturally even heat distribution."
The rounded shape sits on a "cradle" and not flat on the ground, which allows for ventilation underneath that helps keep the sauna dry.
What are the Health Benefits of Saunas?
Saunas deliver a range of physical and mental health benefits, including improved circulation and reduced inflammation, and lowered blood pressure. A deep, cleansing sweat that comes from heat therapy also hydrates the skin and supports natural body detoxification.
Interestingly, studies done on occasional and regular sauna users, show that a sauna session has a similar effect on the body as moderate to intense exercise. So, if you’re struggling with an injury or condition that prevents you from moving in that way, relaxing in a sauna helps to speed up the healing process both physiologically and mentally!
What Is Included In a Barrel Sauna Kit?
Most barrel saunas come as easy-to-assemble kits, delivered flat packed to your home. Unlike building a DIY sauna like our friend Andrew Szeto did, assembling a sauna kit doesn't require much DIY experience. Even a couple amateurs can build a backyard sauna kit in half a day. Most kits only require a few basic tools most homes already have, too. Check out this step-by-step video of assembling the barrel sauna kit pictured atop this article. Alternatively, some sauna dealers do offer on-site assembly for an additional fee.
Inside your barrel sauna kit of parts you should find:
- A front and back wall
- Wooden staves that fit together in a tongue-and-groove style to create the barrel shape
- Stainless steel or aluminum bands that hold the staves together and prevent the wood from expanding too much
- Support cradles for a stable base
- Tempered glass or wood door
- A sauna heater and rocks
- Any add-ons like lighting, shingles to protect the roof, windows, or a porch with a covered canopy
If you opt for an electric sauna heater, it’s important to remember that a licensed electrician will need to be hired to connect your sauna to your home's power grid. The cost to hook up electrical to your sauna will likely be between $1,000-$,2000, depending on the size of the sauna, heater type, and the distance it is placed from your electrical panel. For reference, a local electrician here in Maine charged me $1,700 to run electrical to my two-person backyard sauna last fall. Since this isn’t included in the price of the sauna kit, it’s important to factor that into your total cost.
Field Mag's Top Picks for the Best Barrel Saunas:
- Best Barrel Sauna Kit: Redwood Outdoors Thermowood Pano Sauna
- Best Sub $5k Barrel Sauna: SaunaLife Model E7 Sauna Barrel
- Best 2 Person Barrel Sauna: Almost Heaven Salem 2-Person Barrel Sauna
- Best 4-6 Person Barrel Sauna: Backcountry Recreation Classic 6 Ft Red Cedar Barrel Sauna
- Best Panoramic Barrel Sauna: Dundalk Leisurecraft Panoramic Sauna
- Barrel Sauna With Covered Porch: Sun Home Canadian Cedar Barrel Sauna
- Best Premium Cedar Barrel Sauna: Forest Cooperage Western Red Cedar Sauna
Wood Fired vs Electric Sauna Heaters
Wood burning sauna heaters and electric heaters work just about the same, with the most obvious difference being the heat source. By many accounts, an electric heater will be faster and easier to operate (many even come with wifi so you can pre-heat your sauna without even going outside), plus it gives you more accurate temperature control. BUT, as mentioned above, you'll need to hire a licensed electrician to hook it up to power, which can be expensive.
The most popular types of electric stoves include the Tylo, HUUM Drop, Virta, and Harvia KIP models—which run the gamut of four to 10.5 kW and 20 to 30 amps, depending on the heater size.
On the other hand, wood fired sauna heaters allow for off-grid enjoyment and more freedom of sauna placement. Though of course you'll need to be proficient at fire making. From experience I can say a four-person sauna can get rip roaring hot in under two hours. Though you'll need to stoke and feed the fire during this heating period. Like a wood burning hot tub, this process is part of the immersive experience. And the smell is incredible.
How Hot Does a Barrel Sauna Get?
A barrel sauna is a traditional sauna, meaning it uses a stove to generate a very high temperature of 160 to 195 degrees Fahrenheit along with water poured over hot stones from a bucket and ladle to create steam that encourages a deep, detoxifying sweat. You can control the level of heat through the electric or wood burning stove, and the humidity through how much water is sprinkled over the sauna rocks.
The 7 Best Barrel Saunas of 2024
Best Barrel Sauna Kit: Redwood Outdoors Thermowood Pano Sauna
- Seating capacity: 4-6 people
- Heat source: Harvia wood burning or electric stove heater packages
- Wood type: Scandinavian Thermowood
- Dimensions: 71” L x 72 ¾” W x 76 ½” H
- Weight: 900 pounds
- Price: $6,599
If your lucky enough to have a view from your yard, this is the best barrel sauna for you. The exclusive design—pictured atop this article at our friend Devon's epic container house Airbnb, The Pacific Bin—is crafted with rot-resistant, eco-friendly thermowood and most importantly, features a full glass front wall for panoramic views. Option to use a Harvia electric sauna heater or wood burning heater ensures efficient heating either on or off grid. The sauna kit includes everything for easy assembly. An ideal choice for nature lovers seeking relaxation.
Best Budget Sauna: SaunaLife Model E7 Sauna Barrel
- Seating capacity: 2-4 people
- Heat source: Harvia electric or HUUM wood burning stove
- Wood type: Thermo-Spruce
- Dimensions: 78"L x 43"W x 33"H
- Weight: 1,212 lbs
Finding a sauna kit for sub $5k is tough to do, but this SaunaLife model made of eco-friendly Thermo-Spruce wood is pretty solid. Compatible with both electric and wood burning sauna heaters, the barrel sauna features waterproof shingle rain jacket for the roof, a spacious 6'5" interior sauna room height, ergonomic benches and back rests, and heavy-duty stainless steel bands for structural rigidity. Plus it comes with a wi-fi enabled app that controls LED lights cus why not.
Best 2 Person Barrel Sauna: Almost Heaven Salem Barrel Sauna
- Seating capacity: 2 people
- Heat source: Harvia or HUUM electric stove
- Wood type: Red Cedar
- Dimensions: 72″W x 47″D x 75 -3/8″H
- Weight: 540 pounds
The West Virginia-made Almost Heaven Salem 2-Person Barrel Sauna lets you keep it small and compact with their 6x4’ sauna. Thanks to its compact size, it doesn’t take up a lot of room and heats up fast, making it a great option for anyone who wants to get a quick sweat in under an hour. There are also plenty of add-ons to customize your tiny but might sauna, including a rear window, light fixtures, and all-wood, clear, or opaque tempered glass door. Assembly is required.
Best 4-6 Person Barrel Sauna: Backcountry Recreation Classic 6 Ft Red Cedar Barrel Sauna
- Seating capacity: 4-6 people
- Heat source: HUUM electric sauna heater
- Wood type: 100% clear Canadian western red cedar
- Dimensions: 71” L x 72 ¾” W x 76 ½” H
- Weight: 900 lbs
- Price: $5,832
Designed to work off-grid with a wood fired sauna heater or connected to a power source with an electric heater, this sizable barrel sauna is made entirely of high-quality clear Canadian western red cedar wood for a finished product that's beautiful, functional, and incredible smelling. This is the true, authentic sauna experience. Other highlights include a flat floor—a surprisingly helpful upgrade—and glass sauna door, and the kit includes a bucket, ladle, and ergonomic backrests. Assembly takes two people just 3-4 hours, and shipping is flat across the US and Canada.
Best Panoramic Barrel Sauna: Dundalk Leisurecraft Panoramic Sauna
- Seating capacity: Six people
- Heat source: Electric or wood burning stove
- Wood type: Red cedar
- Dimensions: 84″W x 71″D x 84″H
- Weight: 1,065 pounds
A highly respected maker of high-quality saunas, Canada's Dundalk made the perfect sauna to take the beauty of nature in while you sweat it out. The traditional sauna has a not-so traditional acrylic bubble rear window and a half-moon shaped bench that sits inside the dome, so you can have the hottest seat in the house. Made from high-quality cedar, there are plenty of ways to upgrade this sauna, with add-ons that include a porch, change room, and clear cedar wood. Assembly is required.
Barrel Sauna With Covered Porch: Sun Home Canadian Cedar Barrel Sauna
- Seating capacity: 4 people
- Heat Source: 6KW Huum DROP electric heater
- Wood type: Red cedar wood
- Dimensions: 71 D x 71 L
- Weight: NA
Capable of reaching temperatures of 189 degrees F in under an hour, this efficient and high quality sauna is characterized by its outside covered bench seating area. This provides the perfect place to cool down between sauna sessions, without fully being exposed to the elements. It can also be used as a small changing area. Inside the red cedar sauna are benches and back rests and the kit includes sauna accessories like a sauna bucket and ladle, as well as volcanic sauna stones for the heater.
Best Premium Red Cedar Barrel: Forest Cooperage Red Cedar Barrel Sauna
- Seating capacity: Three options: 2, 2-4, and 4-6 people
- Heat source: Electric, WiFi option or wood stove
- Wood type: Western red cedar
- Dimensions: 6.5′ x 5′; 6.5′ x 6′; 6.5′ x 7′
- Weight: 677 pounds; 770 pounds; 959 pounds
- Price: $12,200 - $22,800
What makes Forest Cooperage’s barrel saunas unique are the customizations that allow buyers to choose a two, four, or six-person sauna all built with the same high-quality Western red cedar and craftsmanship. The Minimalist barrel sauna keeps things simple with a two-person design and Harvia stove, while buyers can kit out their six-person barrel sauna with a clear acrylic dome, front porch, and WiFi-controlled Harvia heater. Assembly required.