Desert delivery! Estonian soldiers in Africa upgrade their sauna on base

Take a look inside and find out why even soldiers in Africa need good leil.

Estonian soldiers serving on a peacekeeping mission in the West African state of Mali have received a special delivery from back home — a new stove to upgrade their sauna on base.

The Estonian military has a tradition of building saunas on deployment and has previously set them up in Afghanistan and Lebanon. They currently have two saunas in Mali.

The soldiers built this sauna last year just before jaanipäev (midsummer’s night) at their Goa Military Base, which they share with French and other allied troops.

Tartu-Based HUUM has now sent them a new Estonian sauna stove that not only delivers a superior heat and leil (sauna steam), but is WiFi-connected and has an UKU controller to let them easily choose their perfect temperature exactly when they need it.

That means they can even switch on their sauna before returning to base so it’s the perfect temperature after a long day on operation.

HUUM design and technology is increasingly popular in spas and home saunas around the world for its sleek design, which includes a large number of exposed stones, and user-friendly controls.

They have recently unveiled two new stove designs, including one named Steel that is now in Goa Spa. These stoves are able to deliver a powerful heat even with a low power input, which them ideal to meet the rising demand for home saunas — and also ideal for a military base in the African desert.

…but why would they want a sauna in the desert?

This is a question we get asked a lot whenever we share pictures about Estonia’s military saunas abroad. Surely, it’s hot enough there already? Even the former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, joined the discussion on Twitter last night to explain why Estonian soldiers deserve good leil.

For anyone still confused, here are eight good reasons that even soldiers have saunas:

The sauna is part of regular hygiene

A big part of the confusion is that most people around the world associate saunas with luxury. For Estonians, the sauna has many functions, but one of the main purposes is to keep clean. It’s a little less convenient than a daily shower, but many Estonians will tell you that they don’t feel truly clean until after they’ve had a good sauna at least once a week. So questioning why they would have a hot sauna is like questioning why soldiers from elsewhere would have a hot shower.

The Estonian military even introduced a rule in 1998 making it mandatory for soldiers to go to the sauna at least once per week. The rule is no longer mandatory, but still commonly respected.

Sauna-style sweat bathing already has a long tradition in hot countries

The Estonians, like their Nordic neighbours, have preserved their sweat bathing tradition to the modern day. Historically though, sweat bathing traditions can be found all over the planet, including in hot countries. Native American sweat lodges existed quite far south into central America, while here in West Africa there is already a tradition of using ‘vapour baths’ for medical purposes.

The heat of the sauna is better than being outside

Mali is hot, but not compared to a sauna. The temperature in Mali ranges from about 20 to 40 degrees Celsius through the year, although much lower at night. And you need more than just a high temperature for a good sauna. You need to alternate between dry heat and leil (sauna steam) for limited periods before regularly going outside to cool down.

It helps relieve muscle ache.

The soldiers are doing tough physical work out there and a good sauna helps relieve muscle ache and helps them recover faster. Estonians have always understood this because historically they’ve been doing hard work on the land through the day then recovering with a good sauna.

But the main benefit is social bonding.

There’s lots of other great health benefits for regularly going to the sauna, according to scientific studies (and also some overhyped benefits like ‘detoxing’). However, the top health benefit is also the most underappreciated. The sauna improves social bonds, which not only helps soldiers work together out of the sauna, but also improves individual health. One study shows that men who sweat together are better at co-operating afterwards.

Notice that their sauna also includes a great outdoor seating area with a BBQ. This is what we’d call the eesruum (sauna pre-room). To us, the sauna is so much more than just a leiliruum (hot room).

And that’s good for international relations too.

The Estonian soldiers share their base with troops from other countries who they often invite to join them at the sauna, which is useful for helping improve relations with allies and helping them understand Estonia.

And there’s no place like home

Home comforts are particularly important for soldiers serving abroad. All militaries look for ways to give their soldiers a familiar sense of home, whether that’s imported food or bringing entertainers over. For Estonians, the sauna is a great way to do this.

Thanks for reading

This Estonian Saunas blog is run by Anni and Adam. We export Estonian sauna design, technology, and traditions around the world. You can learn more at

We also have several saunas of our own made with the best of Estonian design and technology. We are currently renovating an old Soviet Army truck into the ZiL-131 SAUN, which we’ll open to visitors as a pop-up sauna in Tallinn. You can support this project by backing it here on Hooandja (an Estonian equivalent of Kickstarter).

In addition to our blog, you can follow our own adventures exploring and exporting Estonian saunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. You can also join our Facebook group for fans of Estonian saunas. You can contact us at



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