Crux and Lightwave Founder Carol McDermott Interview

© Crux
Carol McDermott  © Crux
Carol McDermott
© Crux

Carol McDermott founded Crux in 2002 to design, manufacture and sell gear developed purely for climbers, and Lightwave to do the same for backpackers. His aim was to create high-quality, functional and honest equipment uncluttered by unneccessary extras. In a market increasingly characterised by complex design features, Crux and Lightwave stand out and are already possessing that coveted status of brand for those 'in the know'. Here, Carol McDermott talks about the philosophy behind the brands and introduces some key products.

Carol has plenty of experience both in the mountains and in the industry. A New Zealander now living in France; he is an alpinist who has climbed all over the world with ascents including Shivling, Gasherbrum II, Ama Dablam (solo) and Mount Cook (a dozen times) as well as some epic, unsupported treks in the Karakorum.

He has also worked on the design teams for several British brands. While designing many highly successful rucksacks for other companies, he became increasingly frustrated by the fact that he wasn't developing the truly specialist products that reflected his own passions and ideals. As a result, Carol set up Crux and Lightwave.

We make no compromises for the sake of satisfying a wider market, nor do we have any desire to make product for the sake of it. The market for these products is relatively technical and small – not an obvious recipe for commercial success, which is why so few brands today are truly specialist.
Carol McDermott
More info on the:

Crux website

Lightwave website

Interview with Carol McDermott

What was the first product you designed?

The first product I designed for my own brands? The Crux X2 Storm tent – and this I still consider to be my 'masterpiece'.

X2 Storm (£450)  © Crux
X2 Storm (£450)
© Crux

AK47 (£140)  © Crux
AK47 (£140)
© Crux
Rucksack design has just become over-engineered and over-featured over the years and I wanted to return to the simplicity of products from 20 years ago.

Crux and Lightwave founder, Carol McDermott

How did you come up with the design for the AK47?

I never came up with the 'design' of the AK47 – I always had the image of my first climbing sac (a 1983 Macpac Torre) in my mind – it was beautifully simple. Rucksack design has just become over-engineered and over-featured over the years and I wanted to return to the simplicity of products from 20 years ago. I developed fairly 'simple' climbing sacs whilst at previous brands which were reasonably successful, but it was only when doing it for my own brand (Crux) that I had the freedom to completely strip the product right down to the bare essentials.

The AK47 itself is not the original design – that was the A50/AK50, which had a floating lid (the A = alpine, K = Kevlar) and the only negative feedback I had was people preferred a fixed lid. This I did, but it reduced the volume slightly, and this was reflected in the name AK47. Of course, once I'd done that, then people said they wanted the AK47 with a floating lid (grrr!!) – and so the AK50 came back as the AK-47X.

I've used the Crux AK47-X for the past two years and found it to be totally bombproof. It doesn't have any unnecessary extras that clutter/add weight/irritate, and is the perfect size for just about everything. The addition of a back support allows heavier loads to be carried with a relative degree of comfort (but they're clearly still heavy).

Rob Greenwood, DMM Northern Area Sales Representative

How long did it take you to develop the sack?

The original A50/AK50 (the only difference was the fabric) took about 15 months. However, the AK50/AK47 design continued to evolve with refinements over a period of about 5 years.

What did the design, testing and development process involve?

The design revolved around three key elements – the patterns for the one-piece fabric body and one-piece back panel, the technique for joining the two together, and the development of an ultralight alloy frame. As far as the fabric body was concerned, this was a simple iterative procedure of sampling and making changes until the size and shape were right. The technique for putting the front and back together was fundamentally a communication problem as the factory simply hadn't made a rucksack in such an unconventional way before, and involved lots of paper models showing the sequence in which to close the sack. It was fiendishly difficult, and although the end result was elegantly simple, it created problems in maintaining consistent stitching quality at a large-scale production level.

I'm a great fan of good design and simplicity and Carol is the master of stripping away the 'fluff' that many manufacturers seem to keeping adding. My X2 Storm tent stood up to a raging storm in India that left every other tent on the col completely flattened and the AK47X is by far the best rucksack that I've ever used.
Paul Lewis, Peak Mountaineering
This was ultimately modified to a simpler and more conventional method after a couple of years when we moved into what we call the 2nd (and current) generation. Every production run for the first few years was slightly different as the design/construction was tweaked – although for the last 3 years or so there have been no changes at all. The frame – unchanged since its conception – was developed with my tent-pole supplier and even after 10 years has only been copied by a couple of brands.

Most brands are deterred by the price of the frame as it requires tooling, shaping at high temperature and then heat treatment through the various cooling processes – expensive but the result is a stunningly light frame. All the testing was done by myself – I knew exactly what I wanted and what was most important is that the sack carried well, and despite its deceptively simple back system it actually works very well.

Rob Greenwood wearing the AK47 on Indicator Right Hand (V, 5), Ben Nevis  © Adam Booth
Rob Greenwood wearing the AK47 on Indicator Right Hand (V, 5), Ben Nevis
© Adam Booth

Shok Jacket (£320)  © Crux
Shok Jacket (£320)
© Crux

There are some brands out there that are superb but not enough people have heard about them. From what we've seen Crux looks like one of them: sharp and well-designed.

Iain Whitehouse, Beta Climbing Designs General Manager

How did you decide on the final fabric and design?

Originally, it came down to two fabrics, both from Schoeller in Switzerland. One was 'Dynatec' and the other a 'Keprotec' with Kevlar in it. The latter was substantially more expensive, but it had a stiffness and robustness and the 'handle' a climber would expect from a climbing sack. In the end I launched two models – the A50 and AK50 in the two different fabrics respectively. Although the AK50 was a lot more expensive, it sold substantially better and I dropped the A50 after the first season. Both fabrics were perfectly suitable for the job, and yes, the Kevlar is more robust, but I was happy to leave the decision to market forces.

What's it like when you see someone wearing one of your products?

I always hope it is the right product for them and they are happy with it – so many people buy on the basis of aspiration that they often buy product that is inappropriate, unsuitable or simply what they do not need.

What inspires you to create new products?

I have a very clear vision on what kind of products I want to produce, and being an engineer it is all about performance – function, simplicity, reliability, durability and longevity. I have no inspiration – simply a desire to make the best products for the intended mountaineering/climbing use.

For more information visit Crux

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30 Jun, 2011
I use Crux rucksacks, the Flak Jacket and Event Trousers, the Crux Plasma jacket (waterproof down jacket) and rate them all. As Carol says in the interview they are simple, bomb proof, uncluttered and the Ron Seal of outdoor kit - they do exactly what they say on the tin. With daily use the Flak jacket has withstood 3 years of abuse and still remains waterproof and is one of my all time favourite pieces of kit.
1 Jul, 2011
I think Kev reviewed that one for UKC and noted the hood isn't helmet compatible. That struck me as odd - particularly considering otherwise everything is so designed for climbers.
1 Jul, 2011
2 Jul, 2011
For some reason instead of the pictures I did see of the gear eg Tent, Pack etc I now see large UKC placement banners
4 Jul, 2011
Have you tried force refreshing the page? (ctrl F5 on a PC) S
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Product News at UKC presents climbing, walking and mountaineering equipment posts that will be of interest to our readers. Please feel free to comment about the post and products on the associated thread.
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