Therm-a-Rest is an American outdoor product company specialising in camping mattresses, sleeping bags, camp chairs, hammocks, cots and pillows. Therm-a-Rest began as a line of self-inflating camping mattresses, invented in the early-1970s by two former Boeing engineers and avid backpackers. The company was initially named Cascade Designs, which is now the parent company of Therm-a-Rest and additional outdoor brands.
The first self-inflating camping mattress was invented by John Burroughs, an engineer at the Boeing Company aerospace corporation, and two friends who had just lost their jobs from Boeing – Jim Lea and Neil Anderson – throughout the now-legendary Boeing layoffs that brought Seattle to an economic standstill in the late-1960s and early-1970s. As a project, John suggested that Neil and Jim focus on designing the more lightweight, comfortable and durable sleeping pad for camping.
The "Ah-Ha!" moment struck Jim one day while gardening. As he shifted his weight on his foam ground cushion, he heard the air escaping a closed chamber. A deduction was made that if open-cell foam can be secured in an airtight chamber, a valve could control internal air pressure. The combination of foam and air would protect and thermally insulate campers, keeping them warm and comfortable; plus, the tendency of open-cell foam to rebound would allow the pads to self-inflate.
A year and much field-testing later, they had reached a design that offered far superior comfort and performance than anything that had existed before. John dubbed it the "Therm-a-Rest", a patent application was filed and, by 1972, the Therm-a-Rest mattress was on its trajectory to fitting an integral piece of gear for millions of outdoor enthusiasts.
In response to growing European demand, 1984 brought the opening of a Midelton, Ireland production and distribution facility.
A Therm-a-Rest self-inflating mattress consists of an airtight nylon fabric envelope filled with a sheet of low density, open-cell polyurethane foam. When a valve is opened the foam expands and draws air into the mattress. When the mattress has fully inflated, the user simply closes the valve. To increase firmness a few breaths of air can be blown into the mattress. To pack the mattress the valve is opened and it is rolled up tightly to force the air out, whereupon the valve is closed to prevent re-inflation.
By 1986, "Therm-a-Rest" had become a household name to adventurers around the world. In that same year, they revisited the closed-cell pad that prompted the founders' original efforts, developing the RidgeRest® mattress. It uses traditional thermally-formed peaks and valleys to produce a lightweight pad.
In 1994, Therm-a-Rest introduced the world's first-ever integration of mattress and sleeping bag. These sleeping bags were only available for a few years, but a large number of years after refining the concept, Therm-a-Rest began to offer system-based sleeping bags and quilts again.
Through the turn of the century, ongoing introductions like die-cut mattress foams, pressure-mapping technology, outdoor seating, and the first women's-specific mattress kept the now 30-year-old company at the forefront of innovation.
The NeoAir® insulated air mattress was released in 2009. Combining two patent-pending technologies, the NeoAir mattress has been recognised with over a dozen awards and remains peerless in its ability to deliver more warmth per ounce than any additional air mattress.
In addition to over 18 top-level independent product awards, Therm-a-Rest was the first of two brands awarded Backpacker Magazine's Editor's Choice Gold Award. Their readers additionally voted the Therm-a-Rest self-inflating air mattress as one of the five best outdoor inventions of all time, and Outside Magazine added it to an impressive list titled "The Most Influential Gear of All-Time."