Classic Man: A Sweat Hut Can Kill You

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Frequently in this space, we will consult a different entry in the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life to see how the advice therein has aged. Last week, we talked about sharpening axes; today, we’ve moved on to sweat lodges.

Some parts of the Modern Man’s Guide to Life have very practical advice. Other parts can’t possibly be interpreted as remotely helpful. See if you can guess which category the section on sweat huts falls into.

Let’s start with your shopping list for a building process that will take you a whole day:

* A dozen rocks about the size of footballs

* A good supply of firewood

* A pile of old blankets, carpet remnants, old tents or similar coverings

* A shovel, an axe, a water container (a 5- or 10-gallon bucket will do) filled with fresh water, a knife, and a candle and matches

* Proximity to a lake, stream, river, pond, or snowbank

* A willing pal or two

Then, you build your very own outdoor sauna. Why? I don’t know!

Start by building a healthy, medium-sized fire. Add the rocks to the blaze and let them heat for several hours while you build the hut. (Be careful; certain kinds of rocks explode when subjected to high temperatures.)

Clear a 10-foot-wide circle for the structure, which, when completed, will be a hemisphere six or eight feet in diameter, about four feet high.


Seems like a nice little Saturday, so long as you avoid the exploding rocks.

First, dig a pit about two feet wide and a foot deep in the center of your site. Next, construct the frame by bending over green saplings in arcs. Fix the bottoms of the saplings to trees, other saplings, or by sticking them in the ground like tent stakes. Next, cover the frame with the blankets or carpets, making sure that the ends overlap so that no heat can escape from outside the hut. Remember to leave a flap for the entrance. Seal the edges around the bottom [with] leaves and dirt, and weight the fabric with stones or logs. When the hut is complete, use the shovel to take four or five of the stones from the fire and transfer them to the pit inside the hut. Take the bucket of water and lit candle inside (careful, now). Leave all your clothing outside, and seal the flap.


Optional: peyote. Forbidden: clothing. Required: a fire extinguisher. The guide says if you make your hut properly, you’ll sweat as you’ve never sweated before. Don’t stay inside longer than a half-hour, and when you get out, jump in the nearby lake or go for a roll in a snowbank. Invigorating!

However! In The Native American Sweat Lodge, author Joseph Bruchac describes these things as sacred places within Native American tradition, where people go to clean and heal the mind and the body. It’s a holy place, and probably not exactly suitable for a cool weekend project. Besides, you can die in one of these things. Seriously! In 2011, an Arizona self-help author was jailed for two years after three people attending one of his retreats died after spending time in a sweat lodge under his supervision. Maybe just skip this whole thing.


Image via Getty