Along with exploring National Parks on our trip around the US, we tried to squeeze in a couple factory tours of companies who make the gear that helps us get out there.
Cascade Designs, Inc (CDI) has been making quality outdoor gear since 1972 under their brands MSR (cooking stoves, water filters, tents, snowshoes, etc), Therm-A-Rest (sleeping pads), Platypus (water filters) and Seal Line (dry bags). We've been avid fans of their gear for the last twelve years, and relied on it most recently while backpacking the Tetons. We were excited to shake hands with the folks behind the products.
We met Cathy Burton, Director of QA and Safety, who guided us through numerous warehouses and broke down the manufacturing process on just about every product they make. I'll be honest, it was a bit overwhelming. From beginning design to finished product, Cathy rattled off stats and showed us machinery and tools used in each phase of production.
We watched gigantic blocks of foam padding become sleeping pads; camp stoves being molded and put together with microscopic parts using large magnifying glasses and tweezers; and enormous sheets of metal being laser-cut to make snowshoe frames, to name a few. They even have a space dedicated to allowing their designers and engineers to think outside the box and explore new product ideas.
We were blown away not only by the process of building their products (did you know the Reactor stove has 95 parts??) and how many times they're tested (and then tested again) before heading out of the warehouse, but also by their eco-conscious approach to these processes. For example, when making sleeping pads, a large machine punches out small pieces of foam from each pad. Those small pieces of foam then go through a tube across the facility and are used inside compressible pillows. Zero waste.
But here's where this company goes from cool to awesome. Near the end of our tour, we came upon a large enclosed white room. Cathy explained this was where they kept viruses alive. We were all a bit confused... live viruses? In addition to providing all us outdoor adventurers with quality water filtration systems, they've also teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide clean drinking water to developing nations around the globe. Truly amazing! (You can read more about the MSR SE200 here.)
Our tour of CDI was, by far, the most educational tour we've ever been on. When we got back to the car, the kids and I looked at each other and let out a big breath, our minds having just been bent in so many directions soaking up information. My 14-year-old son Ash said it best, "Wow, mom, I didn't expect to... learn so much in such a short period of time. That was... pretty amazing."
Not all gear manufacturers are created equal. There's clearly passion behind their product, and we think that matters. We were fans of their gear before, but they've made us ambassadors now.