As an experienced mountaineer, John knew that the thin, closed-cell foam mats of the early 70’s left a giant opportunity for the creation of a mattress that offered greater comfort. He also knew that demand would be strong for such a solution, but more importantly, he wanted to help people better enjoy the mountains and the wild places that he loved.
Left to right: Jim Lea; John Burroughs on Mount Adams in the early 70’s; John, Tex and David Burroughs in 1985
At the time, John was an engineer at the Boeing Company aerospace corporation. His two friends, co-founders Jim Lea and Neil Anderson, had just lost their jobs in the now-legendary Boeing layoffs that brought Seattle to an economic standstill in the late 60’s and early 70’s. As a project, John suggested that Neil and Jim focus on designing the more lightweight, comfortable and durable sleeping pad of their dreams.
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 could 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.
The original press used to make the first prototype mattresses and the original
Therm-a-rest production mattresses from 1972.
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 becoming an integral piece of gear for millions of outdoor enthusiasts.
In fact, in response to growing European demand, 1984 brought the opening of our Midelton, Ireland production and distribution facility. This addition of an „in-market“ hub allowed us to efficiently meet the needs of a rapidly growing customer base, while also maintaining the exceptional quality and customer service that allow us to stand behind every Therm-a-Rest mattress with a warranty that’s second to none.
By 1986, „Therm-a-Rest“ had become a household name to adventurers around the world. In that same year, we came full circle to revisit the old closed-cell pad that spurred our founders into action and came up with the RidgeRest® mattress. Its thermally formed peaks and valleys turned this most basic of mattresses into something special. So special in fact that it, along with the more compact Z Lite™ mattress introduced in 1989, remain staples in gear closets throughout the world.
In 1994, with a nod to the future, we introduced the world’s first-ever integration of mattress and sleeping bag. Though the idea was ahead of its time, we would spend many years refining the concept, culminating in our current offering of system-based sleeping bags and blankets.
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 our now 30-year-old company at the forefront of innovation. Simultaneously, some humbling recognition began to flow in. In addition to over 18 top-level independent product awards, we were the first of two brands awarded Backpacker Magazine’s Editor’s Choice Gold Award. Their readers also 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“.
With an insatiable drive to innovate, we released the NeoAir® insulated air mattress in 2009 – the single greatest innovation in outdoor sleep comfort since the original Therm-a-Rest mattress. Combining two patent-pending technologies, the NeoAir mattress has been recognized with over a dozen awards and remains peerless in its ability to deliver more warmth per ounce than any other air mattress.
Most recently the 2012 acquisition of LuxuryLite® ultralight cots again allowed us to introduce a product that redefined an entire category, and the release of our new sleeping bags and blankets–integrating bag and mattress into a cohesive, comfort-boosting system–are poised to do the same.
Today, we can confidently say that Therm-a-Rest remains the worldwide leader in outdoor comfort, offering the broadest and most innovative assortment of outdoor comfort products available.
In many ways, we now operate in much the same way we did over 40 years ago. Not far from where we began, in the SODO district of Seattle, John Burroughs still comes to work every day. And though we are bigger, we’re proud to maintain a single-minded commitment to quality and innovation by designing every product from a wealth of personal experience and producing the majority of what we sell with our own hands.
Maintaining these founding values has allowed us to consistently achieve what John Burroughs set out to do those many years ago – to help people make the most of their precious time outdoors.