'Lightbulb Moment' That Grew into Thermarest
Posted by Nicki | August 07, 2012
When the U.S. Congress stopped funding research into a supersonic airliner in the early 1970s, Boeing’s aerospace and defence corporation based in Seattle in Washington State was forced to make 80,000 redundancies.
It was the start of a serious recession in the airline industry….but a Godsend for campers and backpackers all over the world.
Casualties of the Boeing cull included engineer Jim Lea, who with two other colleagues brought a passion for backpacking to a new business idea based around their shared experiences in the backcountry.
A Spot of Gardening
Lea had been doing a spot of gardening, using a foam cushion on the hard ground, when he shifted his weight and had a ‘lightbulb moment,’ realising that the cushion’s open-cell design could be incorporated into a sleeping mat for outdoor enthusiasts.
The seeds were sown for the creation of one of the biggest revolutions the camping and backpacking world has ever known…the self-inflating Thermarest air mattress.
Lea, fellow engineer Neil Anderson and electrical specialist John Burroughs spent a year field-testing their prototype, which was based on an airtight chamber with a valve to control internal air pressure – working on the premise that the combination of air and foam would thermally insulate those sleeping outdoors. The open-cell foam would, they surmised, allow the pads to self-inflate.
The result was the foundation of Cascade Designs – a company which now incorporates Thermarest and Platypus, specialists in hydration systems also aimed at outdoor pursuit enthusiasts.
Day-to-Day Testing Ground
Named after the towering, snow-capped peaks above Seattle, Cascade began manufacturing Thermarest mattresses in a local industrial park, using the mountains on their doorstep as their day-to-day testing ground.
Initially, the $27 price tag proved an obstacle in convincing people of Thermarest’s benefits – even though their airbeds were a dramatic improvement over anything else on the market. But eventually, quality – and warmth – won over, and today Thermarest mattresses are sold all over the world, beloved by campers, backpackers, fast & light adventurers and high altitude mountaineers everywhere.
All Thermarest’s self-inflating mattresses work on a simple valve design. When the valve is opened, polyurethane foam expands and draws air into the mattress – when the valve is closed, the air intake stops.
Simply open the valve to release the air, roll the mattress up tightly, and squeeze flat. Once all the air is expelled, the mattress can be compressed and packed away into a rucksack – taking up the same amount of space on some models as around the size of a one litre water bottle.
Picture source: Compfight/Gear-Zone
Check out our range of Thermarest at Gear-Zone, including their Basecamp Self Inflating Mattress, the Neoair Trekker, Prolite and Prolite Plus, and take a look at their innovative range of Compack Chair kits which will add a little touch of luxury to any trip by turning a sleeping mat into a comfortable chair to help you rest and relax after a long day.