In trad climbing circles, the La Sportiva TC Pro is almost universally heralded as the best climbing shoe ever made. The only real complaint I’ve ever heard is that “it doesn’t fit my foot,” which is hardly a critique of the shoe design, as not every shoe can fit every foot perfectly. If it does fit you, the TC Pro simply does it all: it protects your ankles in wide cracks, it climbs exceptionally well on techy face, and it even fits fairly well into the harder crack sizes (rattly fingers and ringlocks, which for most people translates to cracks that are about 1 to 1.5 inches wide). Most climbing shoes are good at only one of those things. In that way, the TC Pro is sort of like three shoes in one.
For years, for reasons I never understood, there were no real competitors on the market. Now, there are a handful of good-looking high tops to choose from. Having had positive experiences with Scarpa in the past, I decided to try their Maestro Mid. Like the TC Pro, the Maestro Mid is a high top, an Italian shoe and sports a Vibram XS Edge sole. It seemed like a good place to start in searching for a challenge to the TC Pro’s throne.
Right out of the box, I was a little nervous about the Maestro. The shoe is a bit more downturned than the TC Pro, and I could feel the top of my big toenail rubbing uncomfortably against the upper. But like most leather shoes, the fit became more comfortable after a couple of pitches. And while that big toenail issue is still uncomfortable, I wouldn’t describe it as painful. Not even when wearing the shoe for up to two hours straight.
I did my best to put the Maestro through the ringer, which is easily done where I live in Northern Arizona. We have limestone, dacite (a sharp volcanic rock that climbs sort of like a cross between granite and welded tuff) and basalt columns, among other things. Opportunities for splitter cracks and thin faces abound, often on the same wall, sometimes on the same route. The whole point of the TC Pro is its versatility. So, my goal with testing the Maestro Mid was to see if it was equally malleable. By and large, it was.
On splitter cracks, the shoe did well in most sizes. For thin finger cracks, the aggressive shape actually helped dig in for pseudo-jams, and edging on crack “lips.” The shoe was tight in cracks that were about 2 inches wide and fit less well than the TC Pro there, but it was good enough that I didn’t think much of the difference. On the more forgiving sizes of hands and above, the shoe performed great, protecting the ankle in offwidths and providing decent padding when juicing a rest in hand cracks. I can’t strongly recommend the shoe in 1- and 1.5-inch cracks: at least, not as highly as the TC Pro. The toe box is simply too tall: turned sideways, translates into a profile that is too wide to fit into those tough-sized cracks.
As far as face climbing goes, I actually preferred the Maestro Mid to the TC Pro. On vertical terrain, I felt as solid standing on micro edges as I have in any other shoe I’ve worn. On overhanging limestone, the Maestro Mid felt significantly better than the TC Pro. I recently used the Maestro Mid for an incredible overhanging compression route on the local dacite. I found myself toe and heel hooking, and toeing down on positive edges without concern, as if I were wearing a sport climbing shoe. I found this rather remarkable given the overall comfort of the Maestro Mid. The columns around here make for incredible stemming, as well as corner climbing, and the Maestro Mid excelled at both.
Not even the TC Pro is a truly universal performer. All shoes have strengths and weaknesses. All things being equal, I’m not sure which shoe I’d buy if I were about to purchase one. The TC Pro is $9 cheaper than the Maestro Mid, but that’s only a roughly 5 percent difference in price. For the kind of climbing I tend to do most often (facey trad and vertical sport), I think I’d probably be inclined to get the Maestro Mid. That said, before I tried the Maestro Mid I never had a complaint in the world with the TC Pro; it’s hard to want to fix something that isn’t broken.
But of course, the TC Pro fits my foot perfectly. For folks who can’t stand the fit of the TC Pro, I would recommend the Maestro Mid as a solid alternative. I got them one half-size down from my street shoes, which felt like the perfect fit. I wouldn’t want them any smaller for sure, even though they have stretched a little. I suppose I’d be curious to try them a half-size bigger, as well.
Steve Hong once parked the wheels of a truck on the fronts of his shoes to give them a better taper for fitting in rattly finger cracks. In a half-size up, maybe that would be the ticket. But I’d be a little nervous that I’d ruin the shoe. [A Namesake story in Alpinist 53 (2016) documents Hong’s attempts to customize a pair of shoes so that the toes would fit into a difficult crack in Indian Creek that he eventually free climbed at 5.13–without the help of the experimental shoes–and named Tricks are for Kids.–Ed.]
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.
Great face climber
Relatively comfortable for a performance shoe
Excels in thin cracks and wide cracks
Doesn’t perform well in cracks that are 1- to 1.5-inches wide
$9 more than the TC Pro
Not quite as comfortable as the TC Pro, making it a slightly worse choice for all-day missions