New Businesses 2022: Up North will bring the sauna to you

For thousands of years a Finnish idea of a good time has been to sweat in a confined space then jump into a lake or ocean or pile of snow. Not far from Finland across the Baltic Sea is Lithuania, where Rimvydas Balčiūnas was born. His country is Baltic rather than Scandinavian, but saunas are a really big thing in Lithuania, too.

“Almost every cabin has a sauna,” Balčiūnas said. 

The portable sauna comes with several things, including a 100-gallon dunk tank for hot/cold rotations.

Balčiūnas came to Door County two years ago as a J-1 student, met his future wife, and now lives in Baileys Harbor and works as a cook at Husby’s in Sister Bay. The slower-paced Door County winters made him antsy. Casting about for more to do, he thought the cold, snow, frozen water and outdoor winter recreation and sports were the perfect environment for some of his culture to take hold.

“I don’t have a cabin, but maybe I have a sauna and bring it to people,” he said. “I thought it was a neat idea. I also want to spread the sauna culture.”

Portable saunas have caught on in other states, like Minnesota and Michigan, but hadn’t in Wisconsin back in February when Balčiūnas did his research.

“So I bought one, built it with my friends, put it on my trailer,” he said. 

Up North, his mobile barrel sauna rental company, was born. He brings the sauna to the customer and parks it for the rental period. The rental comes with two bundles of cedar firewood for the sauna’s wood stove, a bucket and ladle, essential oils, and a 100-gallon dunk tank for ice or water or both. 

“Once you leave the sauna, you go into that to recover your body temperature,” he said. “You want to do cold and hot rounds.”

He also provides woolen sauna hats that prevent overheating and allow increased sauna time.

“If your head is too hot, you just want to get out,” he said.

The rental comes with these woolen hats to protect the head from overheating and allowing the sauna bather to remain longer in the sauna.

He said the Americans he has met have usually only been in a gym sauna.

“No, no, no,” he said about that experience, where the temperature can’t be customized, the room smells like a gym, and a person is in, out, and done, like taking a shower. 

Sauna bathing is also more ritual than routine, as Balčiūnas explained it, from the stoking of the woodstove to the repeated rounds of hot and cold baths to the outdoor firepits that come with the sauna rental. Beyond the novelty and pleasure, research shows sauna bathing can reduce high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and neurocognitive diseases, and ease arthritis, headaches and the flu.

Balčiūnas is not a doctor, but he knows a good thing when he feels it.

“When sitting in a hot temperature your heart races and it’s kind of like a workout,” he said. “Blood starts to circulate. That’s why I do hot then cold to help the blood circulation. It relieves muscles, it’s relaxing. I feel better after it. I always sleep really good after my saunas.”

Reservations for the Up North portable sauna can be made on his website at He said he expects to be busiest when it’s cold outside, but not for recent converts.

“If you get into the sauna culture, you’ll want to use it in the summer, too,” he said.