The Hitchhiker (IV+ 5.11c) sweeps up clean walls of complex granite on the sheer southeast face of South Early Winter Spire in the North Cascades of Washington. To climb it requires nearly every technique: thin smearing, steep jamming, delicate liebacking, tricky edging and offwidth thrutching. This 10-pitch trad route in my backyard is a long and technical early season classic–a great place to test gear. It’s here that I first discovered the comfort and versatility of the TC Pro, a new but retro-styled shoe from La Sportiva.
The TC Pros were stiff and snug out of the box but began to loosen up after just five pitches on The Hitchhiker. Higher up, on Pitch 9, I found myself pumped and scared. I shook, searching desperately for a foothold. The shoes held tight as I committed to a tricky highstep.
After six months and scores of pitches on alpine granite and limestone, the TC pro has earned my respect as one of the most versatile and comfortable rock shoes I have ever worn.
As its name suggests, Tommy Caldwell helped design this big wall, free-climbing shoe. They edge precisely and smear with the sensitivity of a sport-climbing shoe; however, Tommy’s design is nothing short of brilliant when it comes to crack-specific features.
Padding in the ankles, tongue, toes and upper make jamming with these shoes extra comfortable. The high-cut leather also protects and supports ankles–often the scarred casualties of crack climbing–without climbing like a clunky rock boot. Like other La Sportiva shoes, leather near the toes encases the laces, shielding them from abrasion too.
La Sportiva uses a new Vibram rubber compound called XS-edge in the TC Pros. The technology is supposed to deform less and stick well on micro edges. I thought this less malleable rubber would decrease sensitivity–until that first scary moment on Pitch 9 of Hitchhiker. No matter the terrain, the TC Pros have given me enough confidence to roll my foot onto even the smallest holds.
The shoes also utilize Sportiva’s P3 system (Permanent Power Platform) designed to maintain the shape of the shoe even after years of use. These shoes will last much longer than six months, but so far they’ve held up extremely well given intense testing.
I had a few minor gripes with the design of the TC Pro. The tongue often pushed into the toe box along with my foot. Unless I loosened the laces completely, I had to deal with this nuisance every time I put on these shoes. Additionally, after several months of use, I began to see some of the rubber rand peeling away from the sides of the shoe. This was mostly an aesthetic issue as it did not effect their performance, but is worth noting.
Another note to buyers: the TC Pro is lined (except underfoot). Linings often make shoes warmer and sweatier, but ventilation holes on the tongue and the along the rand help these shoes breathe. Lined shoes also keep their shape better than unlined shoes, making fitting easier.
Overall, the TC pro is undoubtedly one of the best traditional climbing shoes I have ever worn. They are comfortable, offer great protection while jamming and edge powerfully. However, because these shoes lack the sensitivity and aggressive shape of a sport-climbing shoe, face-climbing bolt clippers might not be impressed.
I own at least five other pairs of rock shoes, but none of them have seen a sliver of light since that long day on South Early Winter Spire. I look forward to many more months in the mountains with the help of these extraordinary trad machines.
Pros: Comfortable; edge well; padded for jamming; ankle protection for wide cracks; durable.
Cons: Tongue gets pushed down while putting shoe on; not as sensitive as a slipper or sport-climbing shoe; expensive.