Therm-a-Rest, the manufacturer of camping gear since 1972, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. SGB Media talked with Brandon Bowers, product manager at Cascade Designs, the company’s long-time parent, about how Therm-a-Rest got its start, its longevity and its latest innovations.

How did Therm-a-Rest get its start? A major layoff at Boeing prompted two laid-off engineers to consider product ideas for a company. One of their friends, John Burroughs, owner, Therm-a-Rest, who still had a job at Boeing suggested a better way to sleep outdoors.  The love of the outdoors was something they had in common. Sometime later, Jim Lee, one of the two who were laid off, realized that the weeding cushion he kneeled on re-formed itself after he stood up. He started thinking about how this characteristic could be used to solve the problem of sleeping more comfortably on a backpacking trip. He came up with the idea of capturing open cell foam with airproof fabric and a valve to control the air in the device. Push the air out and ‘shrink’ it for carrying…Open the valve and let the air fill it up when you are going to sleep on it, close the valve before you get on it. He built prototypes on a sandwich press back in the early ‘70s. The three friends created Cascade Designs and the rest is history. Jim Lee moved on in the 90s. John Burroughs is still the owner.

What do you attribute Therm-a-Rest’s success or longevity to? Therm-a-Rest created an invention that also required the invention of manufacturing techniques and expertise. As the products evolved, so did the manufacturing technology. This recipe has sustained the Therm-A-Rest brand to this day.

What is the Cold Chamber? The Cold Chamber at Therm-A-Rest is a way to scientifically measure the insulative properties of materials/devices. Having this tool allows Therm-A-Rest to not only measure but research materials and devices for improved performance.

Sleeping pads are often called out for being comfortable, lightweight, warm, compact, durable, etc. What’s ultimately the biggest purchase driver? What’s become more critical over the years? It’s so specific to what a customer wants to do outdoors. Two key characteristics are the biggest drivers—compactness and weight and comfort.

The American Heart Association recently listed a good night’s sleep as a key component of CV health and we’ve seen mattress companies, headphone makers and apps/watches all playing into the importance of sleep quality. Does Therm-a-Rest take advantage of the broader interest in sleep quality? You can bet that we’re following the home bedding industry in case a project makes sense for Therm-A-Rest.  We are excited about the new technology to help people sleep better.

What are Therm-a-Rest’s latest innovations in the sleeping pad space? In 2023, we’re launching our best backpacking mattress to date, the Xlite NXT, building in more thickness, Thermal protection and quiet construction for sound sleep.

Where is Therm-a-Rest finding the most success outside of sleeping pads? One of our key products is the compressible pillow. Therm-A-Rest built a following when an employee suggested we fill a ‘compressible design’ pillow case with foam remnants upcycling the foam. This created a supportive pillow that compressed down for backpacking. We’ve since added recycled fabrics and continue to sell the popular product.

Where do you see Therm-a-Rest 50 years from now? The products in 50 years are going to be as good as we currently have in our homes now.

Photo courtesy Therm-a-Rest/Brandon Bowers, left, Jim Marson, right