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Build a sweat lodge - Building Your Own Sauna

Sweat lodges are around for thousands of years and were used for ritual purposes to purify the body, mind and soul. The sweat lodge ceremony was important, in particular to the North American Natives, for the purpose cleaning, prevention and healing of diseases.

For those interested in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony or who would like to replicate this old custom, I have provided a Wikipedia link below. (

Those huts are built following a particular pattern and ritual. For the purposes of youth work and a DIY sauna hut you can create with the group, as well as for the use of the sauna, we confine ourselves here for a simpler and more practical method.

Build a sweat lodge - Building Your Own Sauna
Build a sweat lodge - Building Your Own Sauna

Instruction to build your own hut

Material: 7-9 willow branches (approximately 3 meters), hazelnut branches, blankets, tarpaulins, horde pot, shovel, firewood, suitable stones, ladle, and a bucket. Think of the sweat lodge like a small-dome-tent, which is so tight that the occurring humidity (vapour) from the infusion cannot escape and therefore heats up the cabin. Whether you use a large dome tent (without a groundsheet) and cover it with a few tarpaulins and blankets or build your tent, entirely out of willow rods, does not really matter. The most important thing is that it is tight and robust – big enough to hold a few people, yet, not so big that the resulting steam is unable to heat up the tent.

Anyone who wants to build his hut, entirely made from natural materials will need some long wickers. These rods are to create a circle on the ground, which is a little bit lowered into the ground and if possible fixed with some tent pegs or wooden stakes.

In a height of approx. 150-160cm those rods are tied together. At half the height, repeat the same thing by putting a cross-bracing inside, and/or strengthen your tent with the help of ropes. After you have checked your construction for stability, tighten a plastic sheet (or more BW ponchos) over the frame. This can then additionally be covered with towels or cotton blankets, or, for example lapp teepee or yurts tarps. Those layers guarantee that the hot steam remains within the sweat lodge and does not escape. Please check, that all the blankets really reach from top to bottom so that no steam can leak.

In the middle of the hut you need to dig a pit, in which, later on, hot stones will be placed. The floor of the cabin can be covered with straw, or take insulating mats, blankets or sleeping bags.

Instructions for infusion

As soon as your sweat lodge is up, you can start with your sauna. However, that is only possible, if you have started early on - with the beginning of building your hut - putting stones in the fire. You can use them when they are very hot or turn to ember.

Lava would certainly be the best, however, it would be questionable if anybody really had this ready when needed. Large, well dried stones will do. Yet, they can burst and that can cause injuries. Therefore the stones can be placed in a fireproof Horde Pott, which is placed inside the sweat lodge. This, at least, will prevent splinters from flying in all directions.

Once the rocks are “sizzling” in the fire for 30-60 minutes they can be carried, using a shovel from the fire (outside the hut) to the pit inside the hut. All group members have to stay well away so that no one gets in contact with the hot stones. Since it is pitch dark in the sweat lodge is advisable to bring a torch or candles and set them up around the pit.

For the infusion you needed a bucket with water and a ladle. The water can be infused with herbs. For example, Lemon Balm, which also can be found in nature. As soon as everybody has settled in the hut and the entrance is closed carefully, you can start with the infusion.

It is up to each participant (or the youth group as a whole), if they want to enjoy the sauna wearing bathers, a bikini or relish in the nude.


The construction of a sweat lodge and the subsequent initiation can lead to an amazing group experience. The unity, the community spirit, sweating together as well as the experienced peace and relaxation in the Sweat Lodge will leave lasting memories.

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