A16 National Park Road Team September 15, 2016

Posted by Adventure 16 | 09.15.2016

SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

A Visit to Cascade Designs
by Jordan Gardner, A16 San Diego store Assistant Manager


Thermarest & MSR Logo

Main entrance to MSR Cascade Designs

                Traveling around the country has allowed the road team to visit a lot of local attractions
and vendors. In San Jose we got the opportunity to visit Western Mountaineering to see the
care and attention they give each of their sleeping bags. While in Seattle we were afforded the
opportunity to walk through the Cascade Designs U.S. factory. Cascade Designs is the parent company of MSR, Therm-a-Rest, Platypus, SealLine and PackTowl. The factory in Seattle did not disappoint and is the location where a large chunk of their MSR and Therm-a-Rest products are made.


Jordan and Fletcher standing by the history area

Jordan standing outside the history area with Fletcher


            We were met at the door by Fletcher Andrews, the west coast sales manager, and escorted into the history area where he taught us about the company being founded through the need for a better sleeping pad. The first prototypes created are in a display case next to the original waffle iron that was used to produce them. Also in display cases were original MSR carabiners they had tested, original splint kits for ice axes, and many other prototypes and generations of their stoves, water filters and other MSR “firsts.”


Display case of prototype products

One of the display cases housing prototypes and original product


                After learning a bit about the company’s history and viewing some the prototypes and testing equipment, we were led down to the MSR factory floor to see what was going on. The MSR portion of the Seattle factory is enormous and contains a lot of purpose-built machinery. It does everything from CNC machining of small stove & snowshoe parts, metal snowshoe frames cut using laser, to punching out other snowshoe parts and crampons with a half-ton Minster press so powerful it shook the building the first time it was run.  This was addressed by pouring a 10’ deep slab of concrete and isolating the press from the building structure.  

            We moved on to another building to check out the water lab.  The microbiologists from the water lab are a very important group of people because they are the ones who do much of the research to make sure the MSR and Platypus water treatment devices meet the proper standards.  They work on filters that are designed to focus on removing protozoan parasites (like cryptosporidium and giardia), and bacteria, and purifiers that remove the threat of bacteria, protozoa and the tiniest class of waterborne pathogens, viruses.  After learning about the process in which they test their filters, we were shown some other government and funded R&D  projects being worked on by the microbiologist group, such as a Bill Gates foundation initiative that they are participating in.

Head Microbilogist at MSR

Head microbiologist at MSR


Crossing the train tracks, literally, brought us to the Therm-a-Rest side of things. Here they cut
foam for the self-inflating pads, cut the fabrics, and laminate the materials together to produce final products. One of the neater machines at work there was the foam cutting machine that cuts out the foam from the mattresses then suctions it across the room through ducts into massive garbage bags taller than me (and I’m 6 ft). These foam cut outs are used to stuff the Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillows. It was also neat to see the machines used to produce the famous Neo Air sleeping pads. . Probably the neatest thing about all of MSR and Therm-a-Rest is that each product they produce is made by custom machines built by engineers in-house.

Completed thermarest pads inflated to 4 times the recommended inflation

Completed pads fully inflated to 4x the recommended inflation


The other companies under the Cascade Designs umbrella are SealLine, Platypus, and PackTowl. Together they offer almost every accessory you could ever need for the outdoors. Cascade Designs is an all-around company that takes pride in the quality of gear they produce. Holding true to the original company mission, CDI continues to make products that are of the highest quality because customers often depend on them in challenging situations.

Some other things to note while you may be traveling through Seattle, WA is that there are
many other outdoor companies based out of there. Right down the road from the Cascade Designs factory is the Outdoor Research headquarters who has an amazing factory store there.

One major shout out I need to give is to a small store called Second Ascent in the Ballard neighborhood. It’s an awesome shop that sells both new and slightly used gear. The footwear 
manager Brennan gave me some advice on where to visit Mt. Rainier and try to get away from
the crowds which came in handy. He also pointed in me the direction of some awesome Scarpa
Zen Hi Top GTX boots in size 11 2/3 which he had special ordered but the customer didn't like…
score one for me!!

Store front second ascent in ballard seattle, washington

            Store front to Second Ascent in Ballard Seattle, WA


            Another great retailer in the Seattle area is Feathered Friends who has an amazing shop, not only selling their great down products but also whatever else you may need to conquer the
local mountains.

Feathered Friends Retail Store

Exterior wall of Feathered Friends Retail Store