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Global Outdoor Gear Brand, Cascade Designs is the parent company of some of the best outdoor gear brands on the market including MSR and Therm-a-Rest. Their European headquarters is based in Midleton in County Cork!
Therm-a-Rest has been making high-quality sleeping mats for 50 years and they have been doing so in Midleton since the 1980s! To celebrate this milestone we took a visit to the European HQ where, each year, over 200,000 sleeping mats are manufactured, tested, packaged, and shipped all around Europe to campers like you!
As an outdoor brand that specializes in sleeping gear, Therm-a-Rest is world-famous for its high-quality, reliable, lightweight, and comfortable sleeping mats. On our factory tour, we got to see behind the scenes how the different mats are made and the incredible amount of technology that is crammed into these ultralight sleeping mats.
The factory and production line are incredible to see firsthand, there are lots of automated processes that the many expensive machines carry out. Sean Raleigh, the Director of Engineering in Midleton, took great pride in showing us the machines at work. Cutting the fabric to size, bonding the many internal layers together, as well as heat bonding the mats are all tasks that are automated. This ensures that each mat remains consistent in every possible way. That being said, there are large parts of the manufacturing process that cannot be automated, for example, the assembly and attachment of every single component of the new Winglock Valve that Thermarest introduced in 2020 is done by hand!
Perhaps the most important procedures in the factory that cannot be automated are the strict quality control protocols that every single mat goes through. Every mat is:
If you have ever owned a Therm-a-Rest mat you will be able to attest to its durability and reliability. As if this rigorous quality control wasn’t enough already, all Therm-a-Rest mats come with a lifetime warranty! However, the ethos goes much further than this. Even though normal wear and tear is not covered by warranty, if possible, Cascade will repair non-warranty damage at a fair rate.
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On our visit to the factory, we also got to meet Tina and Ciamha from the warranty team who told us that they routinely receive and successfully repair mats that are over 20 years old. On our visit, there was a mat being mended that was over 35 years old!
Many of the products that Ciamha and Tina tackle are non-warranty cases and most are extremely ‘well loved’ – mats that look like they have been in steady use for 20 years or more (many have), snowshoes that look like they’ve tackled endless Alpine peaks (many have) and camping stoves that are battered and bruised. Undeterred, they work their magic with a welder, drill, glue, sewing machine, and ingenious workmanship. If they are defeated – a rarity – whatever can’t be reasonably repaired is replaced at a fair cost.
“Oh I can fix anything,” laughs Tina, one of the warranty team in Midleton who has worked for the company since it opened here in 1985. “Well, nearly anything.” Her tone is not boastful. It’s one of determination and belief. And judging by the ‘thank you’ emails that the pair has received over the years, they really can fix anything! I’m shown them by one of their colleagues and they are glowing. “Like new now” … “Excellent support and warranty service” … “You are a legend” … “…the customer service support from MSR is the best I’ve experienced in the outdoor industry”.
It is incredible that such a large global brand is continuing to operate in Ireland when there are undoubtedly other places in the world where manufacturing costs are far lower, however, Cascade recognizes the quality of work that comes out of the factory in Midleton. It goes without saying but keeping manufacturing jobs like this in Ireland is of huge benefit to the Irish economy.
As well as manufacturing excellent gear and mending gear the factory in Midleton also has some pretty admirable sustainability practices. The pillows that we used on our overnight camp after our factory visit are filled with cut-offs from the foam out of their self-inflating mats which limits waste and upcycles the high-quality excess materials that are not used in the mats.
It’s comforting to know that if you choose a Therm-A-Rest mattress (or indeed pop up your MSR tent or take a slug from your Platypus bladder) you’ll rest easy not just because your mattress is incredibly reliable, warm, and comfortable but also because this is a company with a conscience supporting 122 Irish jobs.
Following our factory visit, we were fortunate enough to be able to put some of the kit to the test. We used NeoAir mats the elixir MSR tents well as the Thermarest Questar sleeping bag and Coros quilts.
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We were particularly impressed by the Topo NeoAir mats that we used.
“The Topo Luxe is a recent addition to the NeoAir range for Thermarest and after seeing all the technology that is packed inside it it’s fair to say that I slept well. The recovery tracker that I wear every day recorded the highest score I have ever received after spending the night on the Topo Luxe! 98%! Fair to say I was not expecting that!” – Matthew
By Matthew McConnell
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