Last week we posted the first half of our interview with Lightwave and Crux founder Carol McDermott. In the first half, Carol talks about product design in the outdoor industry, why he set up his own outdoor gear companies and his criteria for designing products. This post picks up from where we left off.
Last season saw the release of your Trail range of tents, which saw a big change in design in going from inner pitching to simultaneous pitching; your Hyper range released this year has stayed with simultaneous pitching. What was the reasoning behind this change? Are true inner pitch tents a thing of the past?
It was outright commercial pressure. Making this change was a very big step for me as I had to go against my fundamental beliefs. However, the truth is retailers struggled to sell inner-first pitched tunnel tents when every single other brand and model in the market was pitched fly-first. This wasn’t just swimming against the current, it was trying to swim up a waterfall.
A tent pitched inner-first is stronger, lighter and more stable. There are two clear reasons for this – the poles go into a complete structure (the inner has a floor, a fly does not) and the flysheet has a single purpose, with superior tensioning achievable because you don’t have to work around the poles.
But, tents pitched fly-first are quicker (but only if the inner is integrated with it) and of course “you don’t get the inner wet in the pouring rain”. This perceived assumption is completely wrong – I have sold about 10,000 inner-first tents over the past decade and I’ve had plenty of returns for all sorts of reasons, but not one because the “inner got wet when pitching”. I rest my case on that (ignoring the fact that a lot of geodesics are pitched inner-first and it suddenly doesn’t seem to be a problem). It also doesn’t help that there are gear gurus in magazines who keep perpetuating this myth.
However, once I defeated myself in my internal mind battles and accepted I would never displace Hilleberg as long as the playing ground of consumer expectations was unlevel, I set out to make a superior fly-first pitched tent. This was quite straight forward as it simply meant tackling the weaknesses of fly-first systems (which I am so critical of), and that is the difficulty in achieving tension throughout the flysheet and inner tent. I think the new Trail and Hyper tents are significantly better than my competition in this respect, and their equal in all others.
Is it the end of inner-first pitch tunnel tents? No – I can see me bringing these back when I can afford it. Much as I think the Trail and Hyper ranges are outstanding tents, they are just so complicated compared to the trek/ultra ranges of the past that I yearn for the simplicity of the latter and I am not alone in this.
Your Trail Range of tents were released last year and this year you have released the Hyper Range, to a casual observer they look very similar even though they have different price points. Can you explain how they are different; is it all in the Hypers fabric? Who are they aimed at and for what activities?
There are three differences. First the hyper fabrics are both lighter and stronger. Second the hyper flysheets – made from fabric coated with silicon on both sides – are factory taped. Third, the poles are fully field-maintainable – you can repair a breakage in a minute. But it is the fabric and flysheet seam-taping that makes the hyper tents a lot more expensive. They are aimed at the same user in many respects – it’s a question of how important trekking is to the user and how much they want to invest in their equipment. The hyper is lighter, stronger, and lasts longer but costs more. In performance terms, there isn’t a lot to differentiate between them. Obviously the taped seams will mean the hyper will be that bit more weather resistant, and stronger, in the most extreme conditions.
What have we got to look forward in your upcoming products are their any designs you want to tell us about?
I have quite a lot of products I would like to develop, but I can only afford to carry so many styles (at the moment). So, in some ways I am looking to rationalise the range a bit so I can bring in a number of new products in development (and I’m only talking about tents here, and not backpacks, sleeping bags or down garments).
The most exciting (and I use this word reservedly) are the new single-skin tents from crux (and this, referring to question 6, has been a 6-7 year project!). They are quite conventional as far as design is concerned – it is the fabric that I’m using that is the real story and could potentially revolutionise the perception of, and market for, single skin tents. I believe I have found a cure for condensation!
Lightwave will see the return of the 5-season models – the arctic range (tunnels) and the mountain range (geodesics). These were extremely strong tents, yet after being on the market for 6 years apiece, I had a backlog of small refinements and one major design change in each range that I wanted to implement. They are both the same as before, but different and better.
With all this work do you still get the time to play around in the mountains? Where is your Alpine heaven?
Well, I spoke earlier about project timelines slipping. Alongside the numerous business functions I have to manage, I also spend a healthy amount of time on my bike, or skis, or climbing, or trekking. Of course, living in the shadow of the Pyrenees, it is much easier for me to do these than for most people. Still, as a family we endeavour to do one major trek (at least 7 days) each year (not that we always succeed). Alpine heaven? I don’t know. I love mountains and every range has its own characteristics, personality and beauty, but if pushed hard – and its very difficult not to plump for either Patagonia for its dramatic mountains and wild weather, or the Karakorum for its magnificent scale and harsh aridity – I will always have a soft spot for the Gangotri (in India) where, contained in a small compact area that is remarkably accessible, is a group of stunningly photogenic mountains – Shivling, Meru (Sharks Fin), Thalaysagar and the Bhagarathi group (I, II and III).
I’ve seen you described as an alpinist and would like to ask what are your views on Expedition Mountaineering where climbers have an army of Sherpas to carry tents and kit etc, It has had some negative publicity re Everest deaths and queues recently, is it true climbing?
I’m afraid I’ll come across as being elitist here, but expedition mountaineering for me was really about adventure and self-sufficiency. The mountain was an objective to get you there. These large expeditions, and I assume you are referring to what are predominantly guided ones, are to me the antithesis of the mountaineering experience. I am not going to say any kind of climbing is “true”, nor am I going to make a judgement about people’s motives, nor deny anyone the right to enjoy the mountains, but I do feel sad that this is the sum of so many people’s aspirations. It just seems so mono-dimensional.
Finally, we would like to say thank you to Carol for his time in answering our questions.
You can view our full range of Lightwave Gear here.
If you have enjoyed this interview why not read more from the CheapTents blog, here are a few posts you may enjoy: