The Big Idea
During Seattle’s economic downturn in 1971, a pair of out-of-work Boeing engineers were given a friendly challenge for their downtime.
“I wanted a better mattress,” remembers John Burroughs, a fellow climber who was fed up with the day’s thin, closed-cell foam pads. A better night on the ground would mean more energy for the trio’s adventures in the mountains.
One day, while gardening, Jim Lea had a breakthrough moment. After hearing the air escape from his leaky, foam ground cushion, he saw an opportunity. By rigging a sandwich press to suit his needs, Lea sealed open-cell foam with fabric. By adding a valve to the pad, the mattress could expand.
The rest is history as they say. By 1972, Burroughs had dubbed their final prototype the “Therm-a-Rest”.
Over 40 years later, the Therm-a-Rest self-inflating mattress is still made right here in Seattle, but we’ve since outgrown that original sandwich press.
Our Seattle factory cranks out roughly 1,000 to 1,500 self-inflating mattresses a day, converting giant foam bricks into award-winning sleeping pads.
Locally sourced foam is where it all begins
The process starts with the core of the mattress: the foam. We source our foam locally to ensure quality and reduce energy use. It arrives in 40”x 80” x 100” bricks, which we place into our foam slitter, which slices them down into one of eight different thicknesses based on loft-sizes of our mattresses.
Next, we use a machine dubbed the “Foam Blanker” to punch the foam into one of our 17 different mattress types. Most of these foam silhouettes are then molded, cut and expanded into a strong and lightweight core that has been meticulously designed for backcountry camping. A few are left blank for our solid core foam pads used in our luxurious outdoor beds such as the DreamTime. A future Trail Lite, on the other hand, will be passed to another machine that will through punch the foam with diamond-shaped holes, or star-shaped if it’s destined to become, say, a LuxuryMap.
If the foam is destined to be a part of our ProLite series, then the foam is cut with diagonal holes that close up to trap warmth once you lie on them. Each little piece of foam punched out of these mattresses is then recycled and used in our Compressible Pillows.
The Modern Day Sandwich Press
Next, they are sent to our production presses which use heat to bond the foam with our PU coated fabric, just like that old sandwich press in the 1970’s. These presses have up to 24 different tool-configurations to churn out the many shapes of our award-winning line of self-inflating sleeping pads.
Once the mattresses are heat-bonded, they need to cool, so we lay them on racks positioned over a series of fans. After 2 to 3 minutes, install one of our valve tubes.
Trimmed by Hand with Love
If you were to visit our Seattle factory, you’ll notice that the excess fabric on the edge of each mattress is trimmed by hand with a team member holding a pair of scissors while carefully inspecting the mattress for any flaws.
The Final Test
Before each mattress leaves our production floor, we fully inflate each one of our pads for roughly 24 hours. The following day, we inspect each mattress before packaging and sending it out into the field for you to use during your camping adventures.