Montrail Caldorado Review

Ah, Montrail. You made the first trail running shoes I ever purchased back in 1997 and the shoes I ran my first several ultras in—the Vitesse. I was true to the Vitesse until I could no longer find it deeply discounted but still ‘fresh.’ I’ve dabbled in the Mountain Masochist I and II and the Bajada as well with some positive takeaways, but the true ghost of Vitesses past lives on only in my memory.

A new offering for Spring 2016 is the Montrail Caldorado ($120) (9.1 oz women’s/11.0 oz men’s). In a nutshell, I felt like this shoe takes the breathability of the Bajada and combines it with the protection and all-trail ride provided by the Masochist with a bit of the old Vitesse mountain spirit mixed in for good measure. In technical jargon, they’ve combined their newer FluidFoam and FluidGuide technology with a TrailShield protection plate to create a shoe that provides excellent protection while still maintaining a relatively responsive, well-cushioned, and marginally flexible all-trail shoe. It has an 8mm drop and sits at 11mm in the forefoot and 19mm in the heel, so though it might look a bit stacked, I didn’t feel like I sat high in the shoe at all.

It’s winter here in Colorado, which means lots of miles on snow ranging from postholing and fluff to packed hard like a highway, ice, occasional mud, and some hard-packed dry dirt thrown in. Luckily, I had a lovely long-ish holiday in the rocky, dusty, sandy, hard dirt trails and rock paths of the Arizona desert where I was able to really put my Caldorados to the test. They really shined in this environment in almost all aspects. Back in Colorado, they performed as well as any similar-treaded shoe on the snow. I wear microspikes for the ice, and they hold up well to the tension and pressure of the metal and rubber contact points. As for performance on mud, I still prefer my well-lugged shoes, but again, they performed adequately for short stints in our moon-boot-forming clay. My guess is they’d be a little slippery in the wet muck of the Pacific Northwest, but I didn’t get to travel there during this testing period.

Montrail Caldorado

The Montrail Caldorado. All photos: iRunFar/Kristin Zosel

Upper
The upper is seamless with overlays bonded medially and laterally to provide more stability to the layers of mesh that allow for excellent breathability while still keeping the sand, rocks, and cholla cactus out of the shoe. While you can feel the bonded overlays from the inside with your finger, I never noticed them while running and hiking over uneven rocks or while running on smooth connector dirt roads and singletrack. The mesh layers of the upper also worked well to prevent low-moisture Colorado snow from building up around the exterior of the shoe despite the fact that the shoe has no waterproof membrane. (Montrail does make a version of the Caldorado with their OUTDRY waterproof-breathable membrane, but I didn’t test that.) I felt like the shoes dried rather quickly after snow runs as they were always dry the next day. The gusseted tongue extends to just before the most proximal two lacing holes nearest your ankle and provided standard protection from laces and brush. Again, I had no trouble with any debris getting in via this route despite not bringing any gaiters to the desert.

The heel cup is quite firm and supportive and extends forward a bit further than more flexible or minimalist shoes. This enhanced stability in the off-camber terrain. The padded ankle collar and Achilles notch was perfect for protecting my foot and ankle in the rocky sections but wasn’t noticeable when I was running smoother lines. The Achilles notch was unobtrusive on sharp downhills as well. A relatively firm and protective rubberized toe cap protects the sides and front of the toes distal to the ball of the foot. I really liked this, again, where rocks were uneven and sharp things abounded. With all the abrasions these shoes received in the desert plus the miles with microspikes strapped on, the upper has held up very well. I see no signs of wear and tear at the junction with the midsole or anywhere else except for one tiny divot out of the toe cap rubber. I can say that the divot was well earned up on the Peralta Trail in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains; it saved my toe and my run that day.

While I really appreciated almost everything about this upper and its ability to handle the various environments, I had one major challenge for about the first 70 miles. The mesh layers are stiff enough in the toe box that on push off, they fold directly onto the top of my great toenail and on across the forefoot. This actually caused noticeable soreness and pressure in the great toenail the first several runs. After it was ‘broken in,’ I no longer noticed it; however, I’ve come to expect that I shouldn’t have to break in my running shoes, so this was a disappointment. I’m curious if this would be even more uncomfortable with the added OUTDRY membrane. If you do get these shoes, have patience with them in the first few weeks and perhaps consider not wearing them out of the box to your next ultra.

A note on fit among brands and models, I find these sizes to be comparable: women’s size 9 in the Montrail Caldorado, women’s size 9 in the Pearl Izumi Trail N2 v2, women’s size 8.5 in Salomon Speedcross, and women’s size 9.5 in La Sportiva Mutants.

Montrail Caldorado lateral upper

The Montrail Caldorado lateral upper.

Midsole
Again, I felt like these shoes needed a bit of a break-in period as when I initially wore them on local trails, the whole shoe tended to tip medially or laterally when I’d run on frozen mud and ruts in the first few weeks I had the shoes. Once the torsional stiffness softened a bit, I felt like my ability to conform to sharp unevenness improved. I didn’t notice this as much when I took the shoes to Arizona, but I think that was more likely due to having more miles in the shoe. The cushion provided by the midsole was rather comfortable as I ran my daily desert miles. These were the only pair of shoes I took and they were as comfortable on day 9 as they were on day 1. The FluidFoam is the responsive foam Montrail blends with the FluidGuide higher-density foam to give a smooth ride with just enough support to help the foot and ankles remain neutral as you run over more technical terrain.

I was repeatedly thankful for the TrailShield molded rock protection plate as well as the flex grooves integrated with it. I ran 80-plus miles in the rocky desert without any stone bruises or soreness on the bottom of my feet. I would say, if you’re used to a fairly flexible shoe like the Pearl Izumi N2 Trail version or something even more flexible, this shoe might feel a bit thick or unresponsive. I tend to prefer more protection to less even if it sacrifices ground feel, so I didn’t mind it. I also felt the shoe rolled along well on the smoother dirt-road connectors.

In the snow, I appreciated the protective ride of the Caldorado as I played the every-step-forward-slides-a-half-step-back game on the uphill somewhat-packed-snow sections. My toe flexors were never overextended on push off, and when I did wear my microspikes, I didn’t feel sore from the pressure of the metal underfoot. The foam of the midsole has thus far maintained its responsiveness despite temperature swings from 15 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit as well as the very low humidity it’s been subjected to over the past 150 miles.

Montrail Caldorado medial upper

The Montrail Caldorado medial upper.

Outsole
If I lived in an area where I’d be running lots of slickrock, these are the shoes I’d wear. The outsole consists of 5mm square lugs arranged in triangular patterns or clumps with directional ridges at the distal forefoot and final aspect of the heel to help with push off and heel strike. The traction provided by the sticky rubber on rock and angled hardpack (especially slickrock) is outstanding. If you add a layer of grainy sand or water, the shoes still keep you upright and confident about your path even if you’re cautious like me. The lugs have some difficulty shedding clay mud but work fine in wetter dirt as long as the depth of the muck is shallow. They are not deep lugs, so don’t expect deep-lug performance in the greasier gunk. In the 150 miles I’ve run in these, the tread shows very little wear and tear. I’m rather impressed with this given the terrain they’ve navigated, and I look forward to seeing just how long I can run in these especially after we get more dry trails in our area.

Montrail Caldorado outsole

The Montrail Caldorado outsole.

Overall Impressions
The Montrail Caldorado is a solid shoe on the ‘sturdier’ end of the spectrum, once you get past the first 70 miles or so and the mesh on top of the forefoot softens up. This and the initial torsional stiffness, which also took 70 to 80 miles to loosen up, were my only two complaints about the shoe. If I was heading to Moab, Utah for a spring race on slickrock and dirt roads or down to Colorado Springs, Colorado for one of the runs in Palmer Park, the Montrail Caldorado would be my likely shoe. What is sacrificed in responsiveness and flexibility is more than made up for in the rock protection and stability over rocky and technical terrain. This isn’t a minimalist shoe, nor does it try to be. I think Montrail is on the right track with this shoe, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you tried the Montrail Caldorado? What are your overall impressions of the shoe?
  • Under what conditions has the outsole best performed for you?
  • Have you found there to be a break-in period for the shoe on your foot, too?
Kristin Zosel

is a mom, wife, ultrarunner, physical therapist (on sabbatical), and transcriptionist for iRunFar.com. Her love of steep uphills, high mountain environments, and Swiss “lovely cows” keep alpine visions dancing in her head and strong cappuccinos in her mug.

There are 15 comments

  1. Kim Neill

    Kristin: thanks for the great review of the Montrail Caldorado. I’ve been curious about these shoes. I’d like your feedback on the shoe tongue, if you can comment. I loved the Bajada, but because the tongue was not gusseted or attached, it constantly slid to the side and cause rubbing, to the point I had to stopped wearing the shoe. How is the Caldorado shoe tongue?

    1. KristinZ

      Hi, Kim. Thanks for the feedback! The tongue here is fully gusseted to just before the most proximal two lacing holes nearest your ankle. I’ve never adjusted the tongue at all once I put them on. It also kept desert sand and rocks out + no snow build up. While this has some features and the look of the Bajada, this is not as flexible and light as the Bajada… Overall, though, I think it might be more durable.

  2. Mark

    I, too, have been a Montrail afficcionado for years now – no matter what other shows I try, they never quite work as well for me as the Hardrocks and Sabinos have. Curious how you’d compare the Caldorados to those models?

    1. KristinZ

      I don’t have experience wearing the Hardrock or the Sabino, but these were Montrail’s true, beefy stability shoes. The equivalent road shoe in my mind would be something like the Brooks Beast. The Caldorado is not a true stability shoe. It’s more like half way between the Brooks Adrenaline and Glycerine. Montrail used the FlexGuide in addition to the FluidFoam which provides, in my opinion, more gentle guidance if you’re tired or on really uneven ground but retains the cushion without being boggy or marshmallowy. I have a neutral foot–rigid and towards supinated–and I have no issues with these Caldorado shoes from the amount of “guide” included. If I wear a true stability shoe, I get knee pain and discomfort on up the chain. Does that help?

      sorry to mix in the road shoe comparisons, but Brooks has the most defined levels of stability/cushion to me. :)

      1. Mark

        Helps a ton, thank YOU! In fact (bingo!), I’ve been wearing the Beast for more than a dozen years because it just plain works for me – that comparison is spot-on. So, widening the conversation from Montrails, in your experience, what shoe out there works best off road for Beast wearers? (in my case, room for orthotics and a wide toebox are key in addition to the shoe’s ride/cushioning, etc.)

        1. KristinZ

          Hopefully some other Beast wearers can chime in here. What kind of terrain and distances will you be running? Perhaps the New Balance Leadville Trail would work? The Montrail TransAlp as suggested might be a possibility. What about the Brooks Adrenaline ASR Trail? I’d be careful doing any zero drop shoes since you have orthotics and etc. If you did, you’d want to chat about it with your orthotist/PT/etc and adjust very, very slowly.

          1. Mark

            Will look into the NB Leadville, as well, thanks. I’ve covered a variety of terrain like WSER & UTMB, so I prefer shoes that work great across snow patches and river crossings alike for 1-2+ days with a single shoe-tying – OK, double-tying :)

            For shorter outings, I’ve experimented with some Altras (great toe box, but too squishy – feet feel battered past 2.5 hours) and Hokas (Challenger has been the only one with a wide enough toe box, plus they wear out after 200-250 miles, a travesty at that cost)…

  3. Jeff Valliere

    Great review on the Caldorado. I agree with most of what you said, however, I did not experience a break in period and for me where great right out of the box.

    Either way, a great shoe, evidence that Montrail is on the upswing.

    Mark, if you liked the Hardrock, check out the Montrail Trans Alps (http://www.roadtrailrun.com/2015/12/review-montrail-trans-alps-top-tier.html). They are similar in spririt to the Hardrock, but much much better in my opinion.

    1. KristinZ

      Thanks, Jeff! I’m glad you didn’t experience the break in period. That’s how it should be, in my opinion. Thanks for the link to the Trans Alps as well for those who are interested in further comparisons.

  4. DF

    Have a pair of the Fluidflex 2s and love em but would like something with more protection (more rubber, rock plate) for mountain runs and these look like a good possibility. I agree with Montrail’s outsole; the one on my shoes is close to 300 miles and I’m impressed with how well it’s holding up! Still one of the grippier soles in my lineup.

  5. BP

    I wore a pair of these this weekend in the PNW on Orcas Island and I was enthralled by them.

    For the extremely short time I have been trail running I kind of fell into the marketing and reviews of the hyped up, of the moment, brands and styles. While they all have their virtues, they also have some short comings. I couldn’t seem to find a pair that had all I wanted.

    Never would I have tried these on without the insistence of a good friend, but thank goodness for the Caldorado Outdry!

    I wore them on an eight miler the first day I had them and we encountered everything from mud bogs, to slick top surface mud, to roots, rocks, you name it and this shoe took it all. In my previous shoes, had I been running in them, I would never have had the confidence in running full speed in the muck and mire…especially on the downhills.

    I wore them the next day on a seventeen mile sweeping run and hit more of the same trail conditions plus snow, and again, they took it all in and spat it back out.

    And today, I took them out for nine more and had a one mile section of pretty technical downhill with just under 900 ft elevation loss and again, these shoes were up to the task.

    I am not sure I could run every race or training run in them but I will always have them with me as an option. Color me impressed.

  6. Luke

    Thanks for the review. Like some other commenters I started running in Montrails almost by default back when they were the big name in trail shoes. But since then about once a year I’ll branch out to another brand and sometimes this works ok, sometimes I hate them, but overall I just can’t find anything else I like as well for all condition everyday running.

    I really liked the Rogue Racer but moved on to the Bajada for most of my longer runs. I will see if I can work a pair of Caldorados into the rotation sometime.

  7. TJ

    Hated these shoes for running. Took them for a ten miler out of the box on a mix of rocky trails, old railroad beds and fire roads; rolled ankles the whole way. I felt like the rock plate was a brick tied to my feet, and swore I’d never wear them on a run again. It was miserable. I love the Montrails Fluid Flex for shorter distances on mixed road/trail surfaces but was looking for something with more protection for ultra distances and hoped this would work out, but it didn’t. On the upside, they make for a fairly comfortable and decent-looking hiking and casual around-town shoe.

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