For more than 20 years, avid hiker and Cascade Wild founder Jim Hamel searched unsuccessfully for a small, lightweight table that would keep his camp kitchen off the ground while backpacking.
Residing in the wet and muddy Pacific Northwest, he reluctantly purchased the existing, albeit weighty, camp tables on the market. But, packweight was important to Jim, so when it came time for a gear “shakedown” the table was always one of the first items to get pulled.
Then, in 2015, Jim expressed this void to an engineer he met online. He suggested Jim experiment with corrugated plastic, and even made him a sample table using an old campaign sign.
“The design was much different from the Cascade Wild table you see today, but it did get me thinking,” Jim said.
Jim, recently retired from a career in finance, had some extra time on his hands and started tinkering. He got ahold of some 2mm corrugated plastic and the idea of a lightweight and compact backpacking table literally started to take shape.
Photo by David M.
Over the next year, Jim turned the large bonus room in his Oregon home into a workshop.
“The big challenges were figuring out how to fold corrugated plastic down to a reasonably-sized bundle, and keep it together, since [it] wants to rebound back to its original shape,” Jim recalled. “It was a ‘eureka’ moment when I figured out how to fold the table down the middle.”
Nearly 20 prototypes later, Jim took his idea to a U.S. plastics supplier where the tables are now cut. Then, every table is finished by hand back in Oregon. The specific folds are set perfectly, snaps are installed, reflective tape is attached, and the logo is affixed.
The end result is an 8-inch by 12-inch origami-like foldable table that sits a hair over three inches off the ground. It’s strong enough to hold nearly 10 pounds and has a melting point that can withstand spilled boiling water, yet it only weighs 2.2 ounces and easily slips into a backpack's side pocket.
Photo by Steven T.
“Our niche is those cases where packweight is at an absolute premium and the customer would otherwise not carry a table,” Jim said of the unique design.
The innovative design caught the eye of the editors at Backpacker Magazine back in 2018. A self-described “gearaholic,” Jim was delighted to learn that the table was going to be featured in the publication’s annual Gear Guide.
“For 20+ years it has been the ‘bible’ I use to look for new gear. Being in Backpacker Magazine ranks right up there in exciting lifetime achievements,” Jim said.
To date, thousands of tables have been shipped to more than 30 countries.
“It’s incredible to think that people around the world in different cultures found Cascade Wild,” Jim said.
Interestingly, the brand has a larger market in Japan than it does in the U.S. Jim attributes this to the culture being more accustomed to sitting on the ground.
“We have been fortunate to create relationships with people around the world in different cultures speaking different languages, and it has been a richly rewarding experience,” Jim said.
Photo by Steven T.
Photo by Rachel Y
Additionally, Jim takes great pleasure in receiving feedback from customers.
“There is tremendous satisfaction when someone emails saying the table has improved their outdoor experience. The feeling of pride and satisfaction never gets old,” he said.
For now, Cascade Wild remains a small, family-run business. Jim’s wife, Joy, as well as their daughter, Jenny, and son-in-law, Dave, make up the team.
In addition to the camp table, Cascade Wild produces a plastic cutting board that’s perfectly sized and practically weightless to assist with backcountry cooking. “Just producing two products keeps us plenty busy,” Jim said.
At 70 years old, you can still find Jim backpacking in the Cascades, and now he never has to leave his camp table behind.