Brooks Caldera Review

Brooks has been one of the major shoe companies who has been in the trail running game for a long time. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to go to a race or even a group run and not spot a pair of Cascadias. However the Cascadia doesn’t really match today’s trends, leaving a large portion of the market unaccounted for. Enter the Brooks Caldera ($140). The 9.9-ounce Caldera is a higher-cushioning and lower-drop model in its first version looking to appeal to those wanting a softer platform that rides low. A secure upper matched with surprising grip makes this shoe a great all-around option for everything but the nastiest of conditions.

Brooks Caldera Review Transcript

Today we’re going to be taking a look at the Brooks Caldera. This is a 9.9-ounce 4mm drop shoe that is considered, in terms of Brooks, a higher-cushioned shoe. This is probably what a lot of people would have expected the Cascadia to turn into over time. Brooks decided to make a new model of it. This is version one. Let’s get up close and personal and see what this shoe is all about.

Brooks Caldera

The Brooks Caldera. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Brooks Caldera Upper

We can dig into the upper first, and I think when we kind of look around through this, we’ll see it’s a fairly constructed upper, meaning it’s not just simple mesh. There are quite a few overlays and those kinds of things around the shoe. We can start at the toebox. If you look at this and kind of look at the width of it, it’s kind of wider and doesn’t come to a severe point, which I think is good for toe splay and for people who have a little bit of a wider forefoot or want more room for their toes to wiggle. It’s not a big pronounced toebox so you feel like your feet are swimming in it either.

Throughout the upper, we have these overlays, which of course are very common these days in terms of adding structure to a shoe without adding a bunch of stitching. There’s not a lot of stitching through here. Looking at it closer, there doesn’t appear to be any. A lot of this is just the overlay material. You’ll see that coming from these different areas, and then just like we’ve seen on a lot of other shoes, there are anchors here at the laces area, which allows for good grip and locking down of your foot. I felt like this shoe was fairly stable and good at locking my foot down specifically in the midfoot without being too tight and definitely was not a sloppy feel, which is nice because it is a little bit taller of a midsole, so it’s good having that locked-in feeling.

What you’ll notice is a little bit of this mud guard throughout. We can see along here through the lateral side, all the way through the toe, and even here on the medial side is some rubberized material, some cloth, all the way through that really keeps some debris from getting in. The other nice thing about this is it adds a little durability to some of these points that tend to add up and be those stress areas. With that said, though, if you kind of look here in this area and here in this area, you’ll kind of see this bend zone, a little bit of wear and tear that is popping up. In fact, it’s kind of puckering right here above this little rubbery overlay. It could be causing even a little more of that than normal.

Pretty standard lacing, flat laces—one of the things I liked about this is that the lace [holes] are metal up toward the top. I think the laces slide through there a little bit easier when they get dirty. They don’t get hung up. It adds a little more durability to it. Looking at the back, we have a gaiter-attachment area. I don’t use gaiters, but if you do, you’ll be happy to know this exists. In the back, it’s a good medium-cushion heel collar here—not a ton, but again, I feel like this is a good shoe with fairly good stability throughout. We have a lace garage which I have not used, but you can tuck your laces into if you don’t use your laces as much as I do and they’re out flopping around. Then, you have a gusseted tongue that starts right here, just below the fourth eyelet, all the way down, to keep that debris from getting inside of your shoe. So it’s a fairly standard upper, but definitely in terms of the Brooks I’ve worn in the past, it’s definitely a more locked-down feel than those I’ve worn previously.

Brooks Caldera lateral upper

The Brooks Caldera lateral upper.

Brooks Caldera Midsole

As we move our way to the midsole, this is kind of where a lot of other reviews online have talked about this being a max-cushioned shoe. Where there’s more cushion, I don’t know that I’d consider it a max cushion. It’s definitely a medium cushioned or slightly above medium cushioned stack in general throughout the shoe. They use the BioMoGo sole throughout. It is a neutral cushioning, so there’s not any extra blocks or anything like that or area added of density to do something with pronation. It’s a very standard midsole. I felt like it performed well and my foot laid fairly flat or even inside of the shoe. I didn’t feel like it was pronating or supinating one way or another when standing flat. It’s a very nice, responsive midsole. I don’t think there is a trail rock plate in here. I couldn’t really find anything anywhere that said anything about it. It definitely does not feel like there is one inside of here when you feel around. With that said, though, you kind of have enough cushioning and the way that this cushioning is created, unless it’s something really sharp and you hit it really impactful[ly], I didn’t notice anything stabbing. I ran in these on a lot of technical terrain and never felt anything popping through or pushing or anything along those lines. Again, it’s a very responsive midsole with extra cushioning for those people who are wanting a little bit more cushioning but aren’t looking for a fun maximized type of shoe.

Then it has a little bit of this rocker bend. So if you look at it throughout the shoe and especially here at the toe, you see it kind of ramps up. It has that rocker feel that is becoming much more common in the trail running shoes.

Brooks Caldera medial upper

The Brooks Caldera medial upper.

Brooks Caldera Outsole

Then as we roll our way down to the outsole, I’d say this is probably the most surprising part of the whole shoe for me. It’s a very low lug depth, but these were very sticky. So a lot of rain and mud and moss and wetness throughout the Pacific Northwest this year, I wore these a lot even in the snow and felt like traction wasn’t really an issue except in the most extreme conditions. Even though it’s a little lower lug height and it doesn’t even take up the whole shoe—you can see these cutouts for weight savings—these performed really, really well. Again, I was surprised how well these did across a variety of conditions. Looking at the lugs specifically, you’ll notice the common thread that exists on most trail shoes is the uphill climbing lugs that allow for traction up, and as you transition toward the middle, you kind of see them going both ways, which is an interesting tread pattern. Here in the back, we start moving toward the reverse lugs for downhill braking. Then you can see some spots here in the middle where there aren’t any tread or outsole at all. Long term, maybe you have a bit of extra wear and tear in these types of areas, but these shoes have over 100 miles in them, and I’d say in general they’ve held up really well.

Lastly, on the toe-bumper side of things, we have a little bit of this laminate overlay here at the front that is a little bit plastic or vinyl feeling, semi-structured. Of course the outsole wraps itself around giving it actually a lot of a hard point right here at the very tip. Again, stubbing my toes is not something I noticed too much of. With that, let’s go back to final impressions.

Brooks Caldera outsole

The Brooks Caldera outsole.

Overall Impressions 

In closing, this was a really surprising shoe for me from Brooks. I’ve worn Brooks over the years, and they kind of fell out of favor with me because of the ride and some of the other things that just didn’t seem to fit my foot quite right. I think for a first version of this shoe, it’s really excellent. It’s not too tall of a stack height, but it’s also not too low, which means it transitions really well from trail to road running alike—kind of a hybrid type of shoe. Then the traction was surprising. Everything except the most extreme wet and slick type of environments, this thing did a really good job especially for as low as the lug height is. It rides well. It fits well. The only thing I’d say is in my shoes that have 100-some-odd miles in them, as well as talking to some other trail running friends who have worn these, some of them are having a little durability issues in some of these spots. Outside of that, it doesn’t seem to be in any of the major areas. Overall, it’s holding up really well.

Questions or comments? Leave those below the video. Thanks for watching. We’ll catch you next time.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Brooks Caldera yet? If so, what are your overall thoughts on the shoe?
  • What do you think about the traction provided by the outsole? Have you found it to be as good as iRunFar reviewer Travis has?
  • Have you run in recent versions of the Brooks Cascadia? If so, how would you say the Caldera compares to the Cascadia?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Travis Liles

resides in Portland, Oregon where he is a husband, father, and a technical specialist for a software company. In his spare time, he is exploring his new home in the Pacific Northwest, getting more vertical but still not living in the thin air, while producing "Trail Trials with Travis Liles" video gear reviews for iRunFar.

There are 14 comments

  1. Andy M

    So psyched to see the review and stats on this shoe. Was excited a year ago about the Mazama but the narrow forefoot was a dealbreaker. Though a tad heavier and a bit more shoe, the Caldera sounds like a better alternative fit-wise. Thanks!

  2. Mike

    I really wanted to like this shoe but it just doesn’t work for my foot.

    Pros: The cushioning is incredibly comfortable and almost “spring-like”; I don’t feel a lot of energy being lost to the cushion in each stride, and there’s enough structure to keep it from feeling like a marshmallow. The lugs are shallow but offer enough traction for every wet surface and downhill I’ve come across. And it looks great!

    But… the cons: 1) the price. $140 isn’t cheap but it does seem like a durable, high quality shoe. 2) the portion of the upper on the inside of the toe box bulges over the side where the upper is glued to the rest of the shoe. I find that creates a little extra pressure along this part of the shoe and consistently blisters the inside edge of my big toe after 7-8 miles. I’ve run about 100 miles in these so far and it happens every time I’m out there for more than an hour. I appreciate the wide toe box but it seems like there’s almost too much room at that particular spot, allowing the foot to slide and rub. If you have a medium-width or narrower foot, be sure to try it on first if you can.

  3. KEDSKI

    great review as always! cheers.the shoes you are reviewing had some miles in as opposed to some other reviewers (Ginger Runner) who reviews new shoes(or they look like new does he washes them before review LOL)
    my cascadia’s upper lasted 50 miles (UK autumn/winter)-wtf BROOKS!!!

    1. Scott

      GR is pretty diligent about putting mileage in his shoes before reviewing, nearly always references how far he’s done. Sounds like you got unlucky with your Cascadias. My Cascadia 11s have 600km (including 100km at Templiers in France) and hardly show any sign of wear in the upper. I’m hoping to get more than 800km out of them now, they’re an absolute workhorse of a shoe. Running trails and hills around Edinburgh – summer, autumn and winter. If my upper broke down after 50miles I’d get in touch with the manufacturer, tbh.

      Toying with sticking to Cascadias, trying Calderas or maybe Salomon’s new Sense Ultra. My main criticism of the Cascadias is the weight, no doubt they’re a lot of shoe!

  4. Joel

    I tested these for Trail-runner and was initially pretty pleased. In addition to extra cushion and low drop, the toe box is a little wider than most Brooks. I did have a huge problem with the tread cutouts. They all started peeling away and falling off pretty quickly. I’d be interested to hear if others had the same problem or if this was a first production run issue.

  5. Tom Caughlan

    Great review Travis. I bought these on a whim recently after a quest for more forefoot cushioning and a wide toebox. I can’t say enough good things about the cushioning, both in the heel and forefoot. It is pretty soft but this shoe works well at faster speeds. The midfoot lock is lacking, and I think this shoe would be phenomenal if Brooks narrowed that area, or used the Pure Grit band, around the midfoot to keep from sliding forward and difficulty on cambered trails. I’m not sure I’d want to see the shoe narrowed in the midfoot too much just because the nice wider footprint does give some stability.
    That being said, I can comfortably run in this shoe all day, and despite the $140 I paid, I think it was worth it. I haven’t had any issues with the lugs falling off, but I’m only 120 miles into this shoe. The Caldera also works great for road to trail runs and I did a fast road run in them last week without any issues. They also drain fairly well after I spent four hours in the rain and snow in them last weekend.
    If nothing else completely floors me before June, the Caldera will be my 100 mile shoe for Bighorn.

    1. DF

      Tom, I did try these on side by side the Challenger 3s and while I did like a lot about how the Caldera’s fit, I will second the large amount of midfoot volume in them. That is a no go for me without something like a Salomon Endofit to tighten it down.

      1. Tom Caughlan

        DF-
        Hopefully this will be an improvement in version two. I just hope that Brooks doesn’t narrow the forefoot. I actually think the cushioning does feel a bit like the Challenger ATR 3s.

  6. JanG

    Just bought my 3rd pair. I adore them. I wanted to love the mazamas, but, my feet hurt. Enter the caldera. I ran a very Rocky, icy, then slushy, then muddy 40 ish mile race in them. Happy feet! They drained well and I have had no durability issues with the lugs (and that’s on pa rocks), or the shoe itself, till it gets to 300 miles. Then the cushion seems worn out, and I get sad feet. At the price of this shoe almost 50 cents per mile, it’s cheaper to drive ! But I’ll keep buying the shoe, cuz it’s more fun than driving.

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