Extreme Bathing – Myth or Reality


I am a real water person and spend much of my time in water, whether it is scuba diving or swimming.  And, of course, my favourite way to unwind after a long day is by soaking in a hot bath, with some candles around me, a good book in my hand, bubbles up to my chin and preferably a glass of wine in my other hand.

My husband often jokes that if there really was such a thing as extreme bathing, I would get the gold medal.  Believe it or not, there is actually such a thing as extreme bathing and more and more people are seeing it as an extreme sport.  Ok, it is not a valid sport at the Olympics (what extreme sport is?), but it is something people who like to feel adrenaline coursing through their body are engaging in.  This made me wonder:

  • What is the history of extreme bathing?
  • How did extreme bathing become an extreme sport?
  • Where do I travel to if I want to have a go?

The History of Extreme Bathing

What we now call extreme bathing started off as being regular bathing in Alaska.  In areas where there is almost constant frost, it was very difficult to bathe regularly, particularly in the days before running water.  People would often heat water over a fire and pour it in a wooden tub and bathe outside.

Bathing in that manner has been shown to have some great benefits for the skin as well.  It is comparable in a sense to ice swimming, which is a national sport in many countries.  Jumping on the bandwagon, specialists have declared that ice swimming should be called “cold therapy”.  Cold therapy is said to be very good for muscle strains, flushing out harmful substances that cause inflammation and pain out of the body.

History has shown that native inhabitants of colder countries, such as the Inuits and the Vikings, as well as native Indian tribes in Alaska, do seem to have stronger physiques and suffer less from pain and injuries.

How Extreme Bathing became an Extreme Sport

Extreme bathing became an extreme sport when a mission statement was created.  This mission statement says that someone who participates should try to bathe in a spot that is as picturesque and precarious as possible.

What the funniest part of this story is, is that National Geographic ran a story in April 2009 on extreme bathing, using fake photographs of someone bathing at the top of a volcano (which should have given the game away, as this had erupted several years previous to this picture being “taken”) and claiming the existence of an extreme bathing society.  It turned out to be a big April Fools prank.

However, all of those who enjoy extreme sports know that the next extreme sport is just waiting to be invented.  National Geographic did such a good job of globally distributing its April Fools prank that extreme sports fanatics picked up on it and asked themselves – why not?

Of course, it is not possible to carry a huge tin bath to the top of a mountain (well, there might be some who would try), but extreme bathing can be applied to everyday life, which is exactly what has happened.

Basically, extreme bathing as an extreme sport means that people are finding places where you would normally want to stay out of the water, mainly because of the cold, and bathe there and it is particularly popular in colder countries, like Alaska, Greenland and Finland.  It goes a step further than ice swimming, which is known throughout the world, and involves participants diving in icy water, swimming to the other side and getting out again as fast as they can.  Extreme bathing, however, is about finding the relaxation a bath can offer in some very extreme conditions.

Where to Go to Take Part in Extreme Bathing

All you really need for extreme bathing is a nice area in nature, preferably a cold one, and the time to relax.  Alaska and Greenland are great places to go.

However, you could also do some extreme bathing with opposite temperatures: there are plenty of hot springs that you could go to, which are basically volcanic springs (you will be able to smell the sulphur, so don’t go there hoping to bath and come out smelling of roses), which can be found in some really interesting places, my favourite being Burundi in central eastern Africa.

Extreme bathing, thanks to the National Geographic prank, has become so popular that bathtubs have been designed to give you an extreme bathing experience in the comfort of your own home.  These bathtubs have been designed by looking at the galaxy, with soft curves and comfortable pads.  They also have little lights all over the baths, making you feel like you are floating on a cloud among the stars, particularly if you leave the lights off.

As extreme bathing develops more and more as an extreme sport, people are coming up with innovative ways to turn National Geographic’s prank into a reality.  They have been known to take inflatable swimming pools up to high mountains and fill them with water to be able to bathe in picturesque and precarious settings.

Whether or not you think extreme bathing counts highly in the ranks of extreme sports, there is something magical about lying in a bath at the top of a mountain, watching the world go by whilst being comfortable in natural surroundings.  The beauty of it is that you don’t necessarily have to do it in extremely cold water, if you have the time and means to heat the water up, that’s fine as well.

Whether or not extreme bathing will become one of the more popular extreme sports is unclear.  It isn’t incredibly popular yet and not many people can say they have done it.  But just for giving us all the idea, I must say: “National Geographic, I salute you!”

Creative Commons photo by Adam Russell