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Founder of NorthUp ultralight sauna shares his creative journey

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Let’s hear from Darin Mays who takes us through his creative journey as founder of his NorthUp ultralight sauna.

You’ve recently transitioned your life and career, care to share more? 

About 2 years ago I had the opportunity to leave my corporate healthcare software career, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I did know I wanted to get into the physical product space as this has been a passion since childhood. Soon I realized I had my creative energy back, the energy I had during elementary school, so I started an Etsy page with products I would design and make. This became the Urban Wing brand, which is a reflection of me and now my full time gig. Our mission is to inspire environmental freedom, physical and mental health, and meaningful connection in an increasingly digital world.

So how and when did sauna come into your life? 

Loaded question, Glenn, you know the answer. 🙂 I moved in across the street from you a little before Covid. We hit it off both sharing an entrepreneurial passion and mutual belief in community. I still remember my first sauna session with you and how dry my eyes were the next day (lesson learned I now close my eyes while water is tossed). I was hooked and found sauna was a lost piece of my life; sauna connects me with my inner-caveman and is the missing link to get through harsh Minnesota winters. An aside, I now cherish the winter and found sauna and a hose shower helps soften the heat of hot summer days.

Inside the NorthUp sauna

The NorthUp ultralight sauna, tell us a bit about your thoughts and inspiration, was it a lightbulb moment or a slow burn in your brain? 

Both. I’ve had the desire to build an outside-the-box mobile structure for quite some time and have been evaluating alternative materials for it and other inventions. Soon this morphed into a space that also worked for sauna, and the “aha” moment happened this summer when I sketched out my design and layout early one morning. This was the lightbulb moment, and once it was turned on, I moved very, very quickly as I already had all the other aspects mapped out in my brain. Start to finish, I built my working prototype in 9 calendar days. I asked my 6 year old what we should call it, and after thinking about it for a minute in the car ride to summer school, she confidently named it “NorthUp”. She named it perfectly.

NorthUp Sauna interior, ready for rocks and flame-age

The NorthUp ultralight sauna, please share with us a few features of your innovation? 

  • Transparent: Natural light really enriches the experience and connection to nature. It’s unlike any other sauna and the whole thing glows at night via wood-fired stove flames. Since the walls are thin, you can enjoy song bird melodies and conversations with an outside cold plunging buddy.
  • Lämpömassa: I ran calculations for the thermo mass placement, which enables quick heat-up temperatures, yet bold heat. The löyly is gentle. It has two tiers of benches and circular ventilation in an insulated and controllable climate.
  • Ultralight Mobility: My trailers are professionally welded aluminum and NorthUp has a total tow weight of ~950 lbs., without bodies. Keeping it light was a major priority for me. It’s inside dimensions are 6′ x 10′ and it fits 3 to 6 adults. It is built with quality in mind using durable thermo material and Western Red Cedar. The trailer, stove and sauna are all made right here in Minnesota.

Glenn, you were there during the maiden voyage when it was fired up the first time. Wasn’t that a ride!?! We saunaed for several hours and couldn’t stop smiling!

NorthUp Sauna, ready for deployment

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery” but it sure sucks when you’re trying to make a living and some yahoo knocks you off. What’s your take on how to be a good guy, as you are, but also keep the yahoo’s at bay with your NorthUp Ultralight sauna? 

This is a great question and I’ve put significant time, energy, and capital into the answer. First of all, the Urban Wing NorthUp is patent pending and I have major gratitude to my patent lawyer for the support and vast knowledge he provided to me throughout the intellectual property and filing process.

Secondly, being a DIYer myself, I know there are many awesome DIYers out there who might be inspired by this sauna and I would truly be honored if NorthUp helps them in any way with their build. Lastly, I’ve already started the process to sell and distribute NorthUp to regions outside of Minnesota, however opportunity remains to partner with those who have an appetite to sell this type of sauna. I would love to talk with anyone who might have this type of interest.

Editor’s note: Darin is taking orders here for his NorthUP mobile sauna. If you mention SaunaTimes, you will receive a discount on your purchase, for a limited time.

PS: Darin is also the creator of the patented Urban Wing sauna vent!

Infinite Cedar sauna vent / chute cover slider
Urban Wing sauna vent
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6 thoughts on “Founder of NorthUp ultralight sauna shares his creative journey”

  1. Hi Glenn/Darin,

    This is a really neat sauna trailer. Out of curiosity how many logs do you use when doing a normal session? It seems like it would use maybe 1-2 logs more.

    I will probably contact Darin directly via his website, as I’m curious about the different tints available and using it as a “camper” as well.

    Really cool!!

  2. Hey Darin,

    As an aficionado of tent and mobile saunas, I love this design a lot. Kudos! Wondering if you did any research into the impact of heat on the plastic? Any concerns with off-gassing or anything similar?

    Keep up the good work,

  3. Hey Corey! Great question!

    In warmer temps it actually requires less wood. Why?
    1) it acts much like a greenhouse, so it’s also solar-assisted. When the sun it up it runs warmer than the outside temp. Much warmer in direct sunlight.
    2) it has less thermo mass than traditional t&g saunas, so it there is less mass to heat up.

    For example, I started my unit at 9:05am today with the outside temp being 32F, and hit 175F in 35 minutes using 3 medium sized logs. Its cloudy so there isn’t much solar assistance happening.

    As the outside temps get cooler, it does need more wood, but I haven’t seen it “eat” more than a traditional sauna. It’s pretty efficient.


  4. Cool idea for a hot item on the market. Would love to see and feel it in action. Will you be at the next sauna days at the north shore of Lake Superior? See you one day in the future. MS

  5. This sauna is amazing! Totally unique. Looks like some sort of plastic sheeting for the shell? Is it up to the task of handling sauna-level heat without off-gassing?

  6. Tom:
    Darin has gone down the road of service temp. spec ratings for this material. You can reach out to him for more.. it’s a good question.

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