The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Thermarest Sleeping Pad


The original Thermarest

The original Thermarest     Photo: Courtesy of Cascade Designs

Seattle aerospace giant Boeing laid off 50,000 people in 1971, and among the newly jobless were engineers Jim Lea and Neil Anderson. At that time, camping air mattresses were cold and prone to leaking, while closed-cell foam pads were bulky and uncomfortable on long expeditions. One day, when Lea was doing yard work, he noticed that the gardening cushion he was kneeling on expelled air as he shifted his weight and that the open-cell foam it was made from had memory. He and Anderson began working on a mattress prototype, sealing open-cell foam in an envelope of airtight fabric with an old sandwich maker, creating a bond that was leak free, and finally adding a valve. It was Cascade Designs’ first product.

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