La Sportiva TC Pro Review: The Best Trad Climbing Shoe?
By most accounts, the La Sportiva TC Pro is the shoe to beat in the trad climbing world. La Sportiva bills it as “the ultimate technical, big wall, free climbing shoe,” which is a bold (though oddly specific) claim. The climber who bestowed his initials on these shoes famously used them to send the Dawn Wall.
So do they live up to the hype? Many testers think so, although the TCs have also drawn their fair share of online ire. To settle the score, I put my pair of TC Pros through the wringer on as much terrain as I could manage.
This shoe deserves most of its accolades. It won’t solve hunger or create world peace, and in certain arenas it will struggle. But for its intended terrain and uses, it’s hard to beat. The TCs remain our top pick for best trad shoe, and even as the competition improves, these shoes offer a unique package.
- Weight: 8.71 oz (per shoe)
- Last: PD 55
- Fit: Tech with medium-high asymmetry
- Upper: Leather/Vibram rubber
- Lining: Underfoot – unlined; Foot – Sentex; Tongue – PU Foam/AirMesh
- Midsole: P3 with 1.1mm LaspoFlex
- Sole: Vibram XS Edge
- Sizes: 33-46
- Color: Sage
These shoes are monsters on edges. This is exactly what Tommy Caldwell needed them to do up on El Cap, and it shows.
It’s a little shocking how comfortable this shoe can be while out-edging most shoes on the market. It’s mostly down to stiffness: “They’re so insanely stiff,” said a friend of mine who climbs in the Pros. “They have such good support that even when they’re worn in, they still edge well.”
The stiffness allows you to trust your toes when you can fit them, but the TCs aren’t the pointiest of shoes. The relatively rounded toe doesn’t lend itself to small or narrow pockets, although you have to get onto some pretty specific terrain before it really becomes a problem.
The TC Pros are surprisingly good at heel hooks. They have Sportiva’s usual wide stripe of rubber up the back of the heel, and it’s as effective as ever. The stiffness of the shoe allows you to crank pretty hard on heels without any deformation. The heel isn’t the narrowest or most precise instrument, but it gets the job done just fine.
You’d have to be pretty far out of the TC Pros’ strike zone to be doing any serious toe hooks. To no great surprise, it’s not one of the shoe’s strong suits. It will do fine for the occasional stabilizing hook here or there, but for anything extreme or overhanging, you’ll want something else.
Again, this is not the TCs forte. The stiffness of the shoe means all-day comfort on tiny edges, but it also means that you’re going to sacrifice some feedback through the sole.
It’s nothing ridiculous — I have yet to encounter a situation where I couldn’t trust the shoes because I couldn’t feel what was going on. Plus, because of the shoe’s edging power, you learn to trust it on pretty much anything. But if you’re looking for a soft and sensitive fit, this is not it.
This is another area where the TC Pros are paradoxical. For such a big, comfortable shoe, they’re almost surgically precise. You can toe down on miniscule edges and have complete faith in your rubber. The toe isn’t excessively pointy, but the shape is still effective at concentrating your power onto small footholds.
This is the one area where other trad shoes can claim a small victory. The TC Pros are good — but only good — at smearing. They’ll do fine on most things, and you have to get to pretty slick terrain before you’ll notice any real difference in performance. But the stiffness of the shoe means that you don’t get as much feedback on smears, and they’re just a hair less confidence-inspiring as a result.
This is a departure from many of the classic trad shoes of the past. Shoes like the Mythos and Moccasym are smearing champions, often at the expense of face climbing and edging. The TCs are a lesser compromise in the other direction. They provide divine edging power in exchange for slightly less smearing confidence.
This is another TC Pro specialty, and they’re nearly perfect for crack climbing in most cases. The only time the Pros struggle on is thin finger cracks, where the higher-volume toe means that you can’t get quite as much into the crack.
On everything else, these are exceptional shoes. The flat toe and stiff last let you jam and wedge your feet every way you can think of, and the extra ankle protection is welcome on wider cracks. Here as well, it’s remarkable how comfortable the TC Pros remain while climbing hard. I would never call crack climbing “comfortable,” exactly, but these shoes are probably as close as it gets.
You might want a more specialized shoe for thin projects, but for just about everything else crack-related, these shoes shine.
Steepness (Slab to Slightly Overhung)
The TC Pros are excellent slab shoes: as mentioned above, they’re more than adequate when smearing and excellent at edging.
They’re still pretty excellent on vertical or slightly overhanging face climbing. As the angle tips back, the Pros hang tough until things are a bit more than vertical (unless you’re climbing cracks, in which case go as steep as you like).
At the point where you start needing to really toe down on steep footholds, these shoes naturally start to lag. They’re flat and they’re stiff — these are not the shoes for the Red River Gorge. Still, I’ve worn them on overhung sport climbs in Ten Sleep, and I’ve seen plenty of people boulder in them. It’s not ideal, but it’s also not terrible.
Sizing & Fit
I have fairly narrow feet, and La Sportivas tend to suit me well. The TC Pros are on the mid-narrow side, although they’ll fit a reasonable range of foot shapes. If you have wide feet, make sure to try them on beforehand, as they might not be your best fit (here are our favorite climbing shoes for wide feet).
I size my TC Pros one full European size down from what my street size would be. In my case: an 11.5 US street shoe translates to size 45 Euro, so I wear my TC Pros in size 44. At this size, my toes are touching the end of the shoe but almost entirely flat. I think this is the sweet spot — I can wear these shoes literally all day, but I lose none of the edging and face-climbing magic.
I’d say the heel is a fairly typical La Sportiva heel, which means that it fits a reasonable variety of foot sizes. I also appreciate the lacing system on the Pros — you can dial in a perfect fit and cinch the laces down when you need a little extra security.
These guys can definitely take a beating. As mentioned above, they’ll continue to edge well even after seeing a lot of pitches, and the leather upper is burly enough to withstand plenty of abuse. I’ve scraped mine up all kinds of wide terrain, and I’ll admit that my footwork sometimes gets sloppier when I get desperate. They still perform extremely well.
The XS Edge rubber gives its typical blend of performance and durability. It’s a slightly stiffer rubber, which means good durability and excellent edging. The lack of softness in the rubber might contribute a bit to the difference in sensitivity while smearing, but I think overall it makes for a better shoe.
The seam where rand meets leather has been known to delaminate on TC Pros. This happened on my first pair. It’s easy enough to fix with a few drops of glue or seam grip, and Rock & Resole fixed it for me (at no charge) when I sent the shoes in for a resole.
On that note, these shoes resole quite well. Getting a good resole on softer shoes can occasionally be hit-or-miss, but a fresh layer of rubber on the TC Pros will have them feeling like new. With even a modicum of shoe care, the TC Pros will last you a long while.
As I’ve mentioned, this is one of the best parts of owning a pair of TC Pros. The guy who first taught me to trad climb once told me: “You essentially want couches on your feet.” This is often true — when you’re wearing your climbing shoes for many hours on a long, multipitch trad climb, you’re going to want shoes that don’t leave your feet feeling broken after a few pitches.
The TC Pros are the business. At the end of a long climb, I take these shoes off with none of the sighs of relief and ecstasy that might accompany, say, removing a pair of Five Ten Dragons. Even the shoe that (for me) poses the closest threat to this one — the La Sportiva Katana Lace — doesn’t match it in terms of all-day comfort.
In my eyes, this is the chief benefit (and it’s a big one) of these shoes: you can size them comfortably and still expect exceptional performance. A friend compared them to the Anasazi Blanco (the shoe Kevin Jorgeson worked the Dawn Wall in): “In the Blancos, you have to get them sized kind of tight…You can get [TC Pros] kind of loose and they’ll still maintain their structure and edge well, just because of their stiffness.”
Like most of La Sportiva’s top shoes, performance comes at a price. To buy a pair of TC Pros at MSRP, you’ll need to shell out some cash.
I got mine at a steep discount, which is recommended — shop sales and demos to find a deal, and check out our thoughts on where to score cheap climbing gear.
For what it’s worth, I do still feel like these shoes may be worth the money. There’s nothing else out there quite like them (and La Sportiva knows it). If you have the means, you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re serious about climbing long, hard trad routes, this might be the best shoe out there. There are other good options, and if you don’t need quite this much shoe or you’re willing to compromise in specific areas, other shoes may be cheaper.
I hear the Five Ten Quantum and Scarpa Techno X are excellent trad/face shoes, although I haven’t had the chance to try them myself. But for top-of-the-line performance mixed with all-day comfort, you probably can’t beat the TCs.
When the rubber really meets the road (or the…rock), I’ve been glad to have these on my feet. My partner and I both wore TC Pros while climbing the Diamond on Longs Peak this year, and we were glad to have shoes that were supportive but confidence-inspiring.
If you need any more proof, here’s Alex Honnold staking his life on TC Pros. If they’re good enough for Tommy and Alex, they’re probably good enough for us.