In early 2020, my search for the trad climber’s holy grail–the perfect high-top climbing shoe–continued when I got a pair of Acopa JBs (“JB” as in climbing legend John Bachar; more about that later).
I was looking for something better than the La Sportiva TC Pro. Not because there’s anything wrong with that shoe. I consider it to be the best high-top climbing shoe ever made. But what if there could be something even better? That’s what I was wondering when I reviewed the Scarpa Maestro Mid for Alpinist‘s Mountain Standards in 2019, and I was still asking that question when I grabbed my JBs.
I don’t know why I am so hell-bent on finding a TC Pro replacement. Aside from their price, there’s really nothing wrong with them (unless they don’t fit your foot right, which is a common complaint I’ve heard, though I’ve not experienced this myself). But when I saw that Acopa–the Mexican shoe company that went under in 2010–was back in business and sporting a fresh new pair of high tops that looked just like the TC Pro, my curiosity overtook me.
I have now worn the Acopa JB on and off for more than half a year now. At first, I would use them only on easier routes, then pull out my TC Pros for hard redpoints. But I stopped doing that on the day when I literally forgot which shoe was which, threw one of each into my pack, and couldn’t tell the difference when climbing at the Waterfall–a steep basalt crack climbing crag in Northern Arizona (ancestral homelands of Pueblo, Sinagua, Hohokam, Western Apache, Hopi, Pueblo, Western Apache and Hohokam, among others, according to Native-Land.ca and other sources).
The JB and TC Pro are equal, in my humble opinion, in almost all the ways that matter. They both edge on a dime, they both crack climb well through the whole range of sizes, and they both are comfortable enough to wear all day long. In this last regard, I feel both are superior to the Maestro, which has a slightly more aggressive shape, and gets uncomfortable after wearing for a while.
The major ways in which the JB and the TC differ is in the ankle coverage and the cushioning. The ankle covering on the TC Pro is rounded and swoops conveniently up and over the entire ball of the ankle. The ankle covering on the JB, on the other hand, curves down from the top of the laces to the back. The leather is still high enough to cover the ball of the ankle, but it just felt kind of weird to me, and inefficiently designed. You have extra coverage at the top of the foot where you need it less, and less coverage at the ball of the ankle where you need it more.
The TC Pro also features more padding on the tongue and on the sides of the shoe (particularly nice around the ankle) than the JB. I found that this padding not only added to the comfort of the TC Pro, but also to the snugness of the fit. I can’t think of many cases where this would matter; but if you were partial to offwidths, you might find the JB a little too minimal for your tastes.
On the other hand, I prefer the lacing system of the JB, and the laces themselves. The lower part of the laces are more effectively hidden on the JB than the TC Pro, which helps prevent abrasion in cracks that are 2 inches or wider. The laces are also beefier on the JB. Both of these attributes lead to greater lace longevity. Again, not a big deal, but that’s one point in favor of the JB.
The biggest issue I had with the JB was a delamination problem. Not where the rand meets the leather (both the JB and the TC Pro have this issue, which is easily solved with seam grip); but where the sole meets the rand. I had a major blowout on the JB right in the worst spot (see the photo), which is kind of a big deal. I have worn La Sportivas for a long time, and never in my recollection experienced a similar problem.
In spite of the delam problem on the JB, I have still been able to climb as hard in them as I ever climbed in TC Pros. I have not noticed any performance issues with the shoes, or with the rubber (which seems every bit as durable and functional as the TC Pro’s Vibram XS Edge rubber).
If I were shopping for shoes, I’d say it’s a toss-up whether I’d buy the JB or the TC. The TC Pro is cheaper (at $190), but not by much; and it’s probable that after all these years in the game Sportiva has figured out the delamination problem better than Acopa has. That said, Acopa is a small climber-owned company that supports the climbing community of Northern Mexico.
I was further sold on Acopa when talking to Dario Piana about the company’s history. He started the business with Ernesto Vazquez in 1997 and it’s somewhat miraculous that they exist at all, given what they’ve been through. In 2006, Acopa was an up-and-coming shoe manufacturer in the climbing industry. But on the way to the airport from the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, Acopa executives John Bachar and Steve Karafa Jr. suffered a car accident that killed Karafa and injured Bachar. Then Acopa lost one of their top athletes, Michael Reardon, a year later when he was swept out to sea by a rogue wave in 2007. Bachar died in a free-soloing accident in 2009. After such a tough run, I think it’s great to see Acopa back up and running.
If you’re like me, that may be reason enough to tip the scales in favor the JB the next time you are buying a pair of high tops for your trad climbing adventures.
As many climbers are aware, each brand and model of shoe tends to have its own particular nuances with sizing. My street shoe is a European size 41 (US men’s 8.5); my JB size is 40 (US 8); and my TC Pro is a 40 (US 7.5).
Chris Kalman is a former Alpinist intern, an editor for the American Alpine Journal, and the author of As Above, So Below: A Climbing Story. You can find more information about his work and climbing endeavors at chriskalman.com.
Edges very well
Great in all crack sizes
Major delamination issue on the toe where the rand and rubber meet
$9 more than the TC Pro
Less padding than TC Pro