Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Brooks 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.
Read up on other new trail shoes for spring-summer 2020.
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!]