The TC Pro is a shoe that many will recognise for its distinct 'high top' design, but also because of the fact it's featured on the feet of some of the most filmed and photographed climbers in recent years - namely Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. In spite of the PR around these shoes, their popularity has far from kicked off in the UK. Partly this is due to their relative lack of availability, and perhaps that's down to the fact that in a UK context they seem pretty niche. We don't have any big walls here, and whilst we do have cracks there aren't many that are either that long or that pure compared to the likes of Indian Creek. I always wondered whether the TC Pro was relevant to a British audience. With this in mind I was unsure what I'd make of it, but in the event I found myself wearing the TC Pro more and more, as they bedded in and became more comfortable. I now really, really like them. This shoe is nowhere near as niche as I was expecting, and far more relevant to the UK than I could have anticipated.
I'll exclusively focus on use in the UK, partly because UKC's gear review budget didn't extend to sending me to Yosemite, but also because this is 'UK' Climbing, and whilst I've read a lot about the shoe's use elsewhere in the world I've seen very little (if anything) that focuses on their performance on our small and quirky island.
Whilst I always thought they'd be great for trad, they were also something I found myself reaching for whilst sport climbing and bouldering
The TC Pro is designed first and foremost for comfort over many, many pitches. This makes it massively appealing for long mountain routes or multi-pitch sea cliffs, where a little bit more support and protection goes a long way. Even for smaller outcrops such as gritstone or sandstone they have their place, despite this being about as far from a big wall as you could possibly get. What gritstone and sandstone share in common with granite big walls is that these rock types tend to have their fair share of cracks and chimneys, which require you to scrape and squirm your way up. Furthermore, because of the relatively diminutive stature of these short outcrops, you tend to do a fair few pitches in a day, so the TC Pro's support and protection is a positive for all-day use.
However, the words 'comfort' and 'support' are infrequently associated with performance, and something I was intrigued about was whether or not these shoes were going to be better at a more accessible grade, but then quite limited once you began to push beyond that. Whilst I'm aware that people such as Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell have performed superhuman feats in the TC Pro, I viewed these largely as anomalies, and was intrigued to see how someone of more modest abilities might fare.
Interestingly the TC Pro performs quite differently depending on how worn in they are. Out of the box they're incredibly stiff, and offer little (if any) sensitivity. This is when they're at their edging prime, not least because of the full length 4mm Vibram XS Edge sole; however, they're also at their weakest as far as sensitivity is concerned (which probably won't come as too much of a surprise). At the early stage I'd be lying if I said it was love at first sight, because to me they just felt a little too stiff, at the cost of everything else. Great for edging and cracks, but not so much for the rest.
After a bit of use they start to limber up and it's at this stage they're at their best, because rather than being a one-trick pony, they become much more of an all-rounder. Granted, they're still extremely supportive, but the give means that they also flex and offer a surprising amount of feedback for a such a sturdy shoe. You don't necessarily feel each crystal beneath your feet, but the style of climbing you tend to adopt is to look at that crystal, place your foot on it, then believe it can hold, because they're a hugely dependable shoe.
Whilst the TC Pro is undoubtedly most at home on trad, this isn't to say it's not capable of doing other things, which leads us to two other disciplines: sport climbing and bouldering.
Climbing, much like life, is about having the right tool for the job you're looking to do. In the case of the TC Pro, its suitability towards sport climbing largely depends on what your own expectations and ambitions are. If you're looking for something sensitive, look elsewhere, but if you're after something that's great at edging, but also supremely comfortable, then despite sport climbing not necessarily being what the TC Pro was designed for, it does a seriously good job of doing it.
Part of the reason for this that a lot of the UK's sport climbing is quite vertical and crimpy (think Malham, Portland, and almost all of the Peak District), which is the gradient that the TC Pro excels at.
Whether or not you like the TC Pro for bouldering largely comes down to the sort of bouldering you're looking to do. If it's outright performance on steep or overhanging terrain, then you're realistically going to look elsewhere, because the TC Pro would not be appropriate. If, however, you're looking for a comfortable loafer to lounge about a few problems with, it could fit the bill. If that sounds like you, then there's a distinct chance it'll work across all three disciplines.
Whilst this is potentially the environment to which the TC Pro is least well suited, all of the above still stands, and if that sounds appealing then they could be the shoes for you. If not, they'll probably be your worst nightmare!
While there is no women's-specific or lower volume version of the TC Pro, the 'mens' model comes in a good range of sizes from a pretty small 34 to a pretty large 46.5 - though that does exclude anyone with larger feet than this, who's looking to match their usual shoe size.
The TC Pros are definitely at the narrower end of the fitting range, although perhaps a more medium-narrow than outright narrow. This is compounded by a relatively low volume forefoot, which upon first impressions can leave them feeling quite tight for those who - like me - have a wider, higher volume foot. In light of this, I'd anticipated them being a write-off for me, but the key to the TC Pro is to persevere. If you buy them a little on the snug side, then the uppers do stretch, to eventually provide you with an extremely comfortable and supportive shoe. They definitely take a bit of breaking in, but once broken in they don't feel like they bag out, and volume can easily be adjusted by the full length lacing that goes from top to bottom of the shoe. The heel itself is typically La Sportiva, which is to say it's narrow and extremely well crafted.
When it comes to sizing La Sportiva often feels like a bit of mystery. In my street shoe size I'm a UK 8.5, but with some shoes in the La Sportiva range I've gone down to a fairly absurd UK 6. With the TC Pro I've dropped to a much more reasonable UK 8, which felt snug upon first acquaintance, but became pleasantly comfortable within the space of a few outings.
The high-top ankle of the TC Pro is what makes them instantly recognisable, but the design itself is more intricate than just a higher cut - it also contains padding designed to protect your ankle. Whilst protection is valuable, another benefit from a climbing perspective is the comfort it brings. Anyone who has worn crack gloves will know it's not just about the grip, it's about reducing the pain! The high top, when combined with the padding, means that even those hideous/glorious pebble-ridden cracks at Ramshaw will feel a little more reasonable than they once did.
To further boost comfort, padding has also been added to the top of the toe, which has then been further protected by the rubber rand running round onto the top of the shoe. This, combined with the shoe's lateral support, provides your foot with an extremely comfortable, stable platform either whilst edging or jamming. La Sportiva have also added a green leather sleeve to protect the laces from wear, which runs throughout the first two eyelets on the instep. I was unsure whether this was best on the instep or outstep, or whether or not it'd be better on both, and having looked elsewhere online opinion seems to be similarly divided, although Tommy Caldwell's angle is that the instep is best.
The tongue has also had a redesign and is less prone to folding than its predecessor, with plenty of padding to give it a nice, luxurious feel.
Whilst this isn't necessarily a feature, one major selling point of the TC Pro is the fact that it is - without doubt - the most durable climbing shoe on the market. It's built to last; its 4mm XS Edge sole will last as long as any, while the upper is of such a high quality that it would happily take repeated re-soles. Naturally, the catch is that it's also one of the most expensive shoes on the market, coming in at £160.
The TC Pro has been one of the more surprising products I've reviewed in recent times. They weren't a shoe I immediately fell in love with, as they felt a little too tight, stiff and insensitive. As time went by this initially frosty impression thawed, as the shoe became more comfortable, and developed into much more of an all-rounder than I'd expected. Whilst they're undoubtedly a natural edging shoe, and amazing in cracks, they're also remarkably good on smears - you've just got to learn to trust them. If it's all-day comfort you're looking for, or you just want a more supportive climbing shoe, then the TC Pro has a lot going in its favour. Whilst I always anticipated that they'd be great for trad, they were also something I found myself reaching for whilst sport climbing and bouldering, not necessarily on days when I was looking to climb my hardest, but where I just wanted something that little bit more comfortable.