While at University, I made my own rock climbing "chocks", and the bug to create better gear began.
My first big foray into commercial climbing gear design was a big wall hammer, and a new nut based on a sphere and grooved wedge, which later manifested in the "ball-nuts" and "monkey paws". I then went on to form A5 Adventures, which became a global melting pot of new ideas and products in the realm of lightweight specialised equipment for remote expeditions. Then I studied a bit more engineering and architecture, and had a series of professions in design, writing, and teaching.
A5 revolutionised the tools for Big Wall climbing in the 80's and 90's: A5 PORTALEDGE PHOTOS ON EXTREME WALLS
Old A5 Catalogs! Download the 1996 A5 Catalog which shows innovations that helped foster a huge breakthrough of big wall standards in the 1990's. You can also download the first A5 Catalog (1988) and the second A5 Catalog (1989) which have some fun stories and gear tips. Some near-correct history here.
A5 Portaledge Development: A5 Portaledges enabled a huge boom in big wall standards in the 1990's because for the first time, climbers were able to withstand Himalayan type storms. From 1986 to 1999 there was continuous innovation of the A5 Design. The innovation was picked up again in 2017 with the new D4 Portaledge Design.
A5 Haulbags --all current haulbags "borrow" ideas from the original A5 design, including the "tuckaway" shoulder straps (an A5 first), the waterproof closure, the offset clip-in, and many other features now standard on many modern packs and haulbags.
A5 designed a range of new equipment, a lot of our designs have since been copied and become standard tools. A5 design was an alternating process of field testing and building prototypes in the shop.
Above are Middendorf's notes written on a back page of a book he was reading during an ascent of El Capitan with new ideas. But A5 was a team effort--here, the 1995 team and the original A5 "credos" on the shop wall.
Left:John Middendorf's ultra-lightweight single portaledge featured in the Flexibility exhibition in Turin.
Also featured in Abitare, an Italian design magazine (PDF)