Brooks Caldera 4 Review

The Brooks Caldera 4 ($140) is a maximal, low drop, door-to-trail shoe designed to feel smooth and well cushioned for ultramarathon distances. It also feels like a completely different shoe than its Caldera predecessors as well as Brooks trail running shoes in general.

The Brooks Caldera is a trail shoe that I’ve spent a lot of time running in and pondering improvements and changes throughout its three initial versions. What began as a sleek, but well cushioned road-to-trail shoe (read Travis Liles’s review of version one on iRunFar here) has become more robust and more maximal compared to its predecessors. I was initially very impressed with the smooth transition and fit of the Caldera 3, but it fell out of favor for me after leaving my feet feeling battered after a non-technical 50-kilometer race on smooth trails. The Caldera is a neutral trail shoe which seems to carve out its own niche in the Brooks line by not being so robust and supportive as the Cascadia and not as narrow and nimble as the PureGrit. With the addition of the Brooks Divide to the line-up this year (here’s the review by iRunFar’s Annie Behrend), the Caldera could be perceived as on its way out of the Brooks line. However, there are quite a few differences between the two shoes in terms of price, cushioning, protection, and heel drop.

The Brooks Caldera 4. All photos: iRunFar

Brooks Caldera 4 Upper

When I first unboxed the Caldera 4, I was not impressed. The shoe looked overbuilt and chunky, and I anticipated a stiff Cascadia-like ride. I’m not hating on the Cascadia loyalists; it’s just that the shoe has never fit my foot. Lacing up the Caldera 4 also revealed a fairly wide shoe through the midfoot and forefoot, and I had to work with the standard flat lacing a bit to get a decent midfoot fit. This isn’t the type of fit that I would want on technical mountain terrain, but it works fine for mellow to moderate trails as the width of the shoe provides some stability. The tongue has an elastic strap “lacekeeper” that I don’t often use, and the upper also has gaiter attachments. The heel collar is well padded and most of the upper feels very road-shoe-esque with only the thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) toecap designating it as a trail shoe. However, I found the Caldera 4 to be plenty burly on the moderate trails I run on daily, and the mesh on the upper breathed well and drained decently. I did experience my foot sliding around quite a bit when the shoe was soaked, however this sensation only lasted about a quarter mile.

What I find most intriguing/pleasing about the upper is the width and shape of the toebox which accommodate my feet very comfortably. I can best describe the toebox shape as being similar to an Altra Superior 4.0, but deeper. It’s a little boxy with plenty of room for toe splay, but not so much room that steep downhills bang your toes up. Other aspects of the fit, including the wide midfoot, I wasn’t so happy about. But, once I laced up the Caldera 4, it didn’t matter much on the run.

The Brooks Caldera 4 lateral view.

Brooks Caldera 4 Midsole

Brooks increased the stack height by 5mm in this newest version for a heel-to-toe stack difference of 33mm to 29mm. While this did add almost an ounce to the shoe (10.3 ounces men’s 9/ 8.6 oz women’s size 8), I think that it was worth it. This added protection alleviates the need for a rock plate in the Caldera 4 and also produces a plush and bouncy ride that is reminiscent of a Hoka One One shoe rather than a Brooks shoe. We’re continuing to see BioMoGo DNA foam, but upping that stack height has made all the difference in feeling like your feet are protected and the transition through the gait cycle is smooth like a road shoe. I have just over 220 miles in the shoe currently and I have yet to notice a breakdown of the midsole foam or change in how the shoe rides.

It should be noted that the heel drop of the Caldera 4 is a scant 4mm, and at times I found myself wishing for a bit more heel drop given my sore Achilles this summer. The higher drop can be found in Brooks shoes like the Divide and Cascadia which both feature an 8mm drop, but without the generous toebox fit and plush cushioning of the Caldera 4.

The Brooks Caldera 4 medial view.

Brooks Caldera 4 Outsole

I am not seeing the kind of wear that I would expect on a low-lugged, road-to-trail kind of outsole after quite a bit of running, and this is a shoe that I feel comfortable taking on the roads if the trails are a mess. Brooks uses their TrailTack sticky rubber and I was pleased with its performance, surely a step forward for Brooks’s trail outsoles which I’ve found slippery in wet, rocky conditions in the past. This midsole rides smooth, but provides more confidence in loose terrain and climbs well without getting in the way. Again, there is no rock plate present, but the high stack height of BioMoGo DNA foam negates its purpose.

The Brooks Caldera 4 outsole.

Brooks Caldera 4 Overall Impressions

I have taken my time with this shoe and put a bunch of miles on it, 222 to be exact. This doesn’t count the times that I slipped on the shoes to run an errand or wore them after a run for yard work, and this is usually around the time that shoes lose their luster. The ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) compounds in a shoe can start to feel flat, even those with high stack heights and soft foam. But, I couldn’t help finding myself comparing the Caldera 4 cushioning and ride to that of a Hoka and the upper fit to that of an Altra. For a lot of runners, this is exactly the combination that they have been seeking out for years, and definitely a niche that the company Topo Athletic has recently and successfully filled.

The Caldera 4 is a shoe that will work for a variety of runners, but will likely be most enjoyed by runners with higher volume feet looking for an accommodating toebox and high cushioning. It is a great option for a “do-everything shoe” that you can wear out your door and forget about unless you’re tackling technical and really off-camber terrain.

Call for Comments

  • What do you think of the Brooks Caldera 4?
  • How different do you think this version is compared to the first three iterations of the model?
  • What do you think about the extra midsole? And can you share your thoughts on the TrailTack outsole rubber?

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

The Brooks Caldera 4 top view.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 4 comments

  1. Andy

    Great review! I was so excited when the first Caldera launched only to be dismayed by the narrow toebox . Although Topo and the increasingly wide Hoka options (e.g. Torrent, Speedgoat 4 in wide width) have since won me over, the Caldera might be worth another go.

  2. Kristin

    The 4 no longer feels like the Caldera. I’ve worn the 2 & 3 for years and liked how it had enough cushioning to be comfortable but you felt connected to the ground. The 4 definitely adds cushion and I did like the wide toebox. Unfortunately, the shoe is so shallow that my orthotics didn’t fit. My heel kept slipping no matter how I laced them. You mentioned this show was like a cross between Hoka and Altra. I hate when shoe companies try to be someone else, instead of what made them successful. I avoid Hoka’s because of the cushioning (hurts my knees) and I don’t like a zero drop of the Altra so the Caldera 3 was a good shoe for me. I hope they don’t discontinue this shoe altogether.

  3. Matt

    I wore Altras for several years but had to finally give up on them due to their poor durability. I spent a few months ordering and trying all kinds of shoes and sent them all back because none of them worked for me. I tried the Caldera 4 on a lark and fell in love. For me, the cushion and fit is very good because the toebox isn’t as wide as Altra. (Although I heard Altra toeboxes are getting narrower.)

    I’ve run a 100-miler and 50-miler in the Caldera 4 and they’ve been great. I run a fair amount of pavement and gravel roads (in addition to trails), and the shoe seems to work well for most terrain. (I haven’t used them in very technical, muddy terrain, however.) They’ve handled several 100-mile weeks just fine and I think I had about 500 miles on my last pair. I only wish they offered it in a size 13.5!

    I’ll be sad if the Caldera is on the way out, because I feel like I finally found “my” shoe.

  4. Brett Carter

    I too have issues with my Achilles now and am looking for these characteristics but a greater heel drop. Any suggestions?

Post Your Thoughts