Being a crusty trad climber is quite romantic. There is something sexy about scars on the back of your hands, the frayed and mungy gear, and, of course, the nuts. Few climbers are willing to endure a hanging belay. I can’t explain why one would twist their fingers into tiny cracks or grind and thrutch their way up 6-inch offwidth cracks. Trad climbing can be torturous, but I love it. I do not judge climbers on their preferred discipline for moving over rock, but I find trad climbing, especially long multi-pitch routes, provides the most intimate climbing experience.
Like most intimate experiences, one must use some sort of protection and my series of gear reviews aims to help you practice safe trad climbing in Zion. Being a big wall climber here requires a fairly high pain tolerance, and in this installment I will discuss protection for an often abused and mutilated appendage, the foot.
The best climbing shoe is one with a comfortable fit, a stiff sole, and protection for the techniques specific to crack climbing. Shoe construction falls into two main categories: slip lasted and board lasted. The “last” is the form on which the shoe is built. A slip lasted shoe is built on a sock-like form and offers a more flexible and sensitive fit. Board lasted shoes have a stiff midsole that provides greater support and comfort. Most climbing shoes today are slip lasted and the trend is moving more towards small, aggressive, down-turned shoes excelling in small edges and overhanging climbs. These shoes, however, are not so useful for climbing in Zion. Where the climbing is dead vertical, face holds infrequent, and the pitches long, you need a shoe designed for a different type of climbing.
I have used the 5.10 Galileo and La Sportiva Katana for many climbs; while they are designed more for sport climbing, they are fairly stiff, durable, and sticky, making them useful for all-around climbing. On long climbs these velcro slippers are great for thin difficult climbing, but have to come off at belays. The market for crack climbing shoes is growing and more and more shoes feature rubber around the entire toe box to protect your little piggies, high tops to evade ankle gobies, and offset or covered lacing systems. Of the various models, the best shoe I have worn for long crack climbs is the La Sportiva TC Pro.
The TC Pro was designed for Tommy Caldwell on long difficult Yosemite trad lines, and they perform as advertised. With a relaxed fit, stiff but sensitive sole, padded liner, and ankle saving high-tops, the TC Pro is a trad climber’s wet dream. I can go all day in these things, and if you are Tommy Caldwell you can go all night, as well. Now, lame sexual innuendos aside, there are a couple cons that need to be addressed: on the shoe’s upper, the rubber tends to delaminate in a few places; the rubber on the sole is not especially sticky; and these babies are very expensive. I hope La Sportiva will fix these problems in future production, but honestly, even with their flaws, I highly recommend the TC Pro. They WILL help you get your rocks off, and maybe even climb better.
Drop some comments about your favorite crack shoe, and climb on!