Brooks Caldera Review

First Impressions of the Brooks Caldera:

That looks like a beefy shoe! I bet it’s too heavy. The build quality looks good though. Eh, that colorway is OK but they could have done better…then I picked the shoe up and examined it closer…What’s the deal with the Brooks Caldera?

Wow! The shoe weighs less than I was expecting (men’s size 9 = 9.9oz) with the weight well distributed throughout. This shoe has a well-cushioned looking midsole and the quality is on point upon closer examination. Is this going to be my new favorite daily trail shoe?

Brooks Caldera
So fresh, so clean. I admit it, I took a big whiff of that magical new shoe smell.

Now for more details. In this review we’ll break things down in to five areas:

  1. What’s good: the new, differentiating, or simply well designed or built features or aspects of the shoe
  2. What’s decent: the features or aspects that are OK but not particularly new or differentiating
  3. What could be improved: tweaks or improvements that could be made to make the shoe better
  4. When to use it: the situations or scenarios where the shoe excels
  5. How it compares: my current go-to shoes and how this compares

I’ll try to be as succinct as possible. After all, you’ve probably got more running you can do today!

What’s good about the Brooks Caldera?

  • The protection / cushion to weight ratio. I hope whoever designed this shoe received a big, fat Christmas bonus this year and did not get Clark W. Griswolded. They deserved it for really nailing it on this one.

Brooks Caldera

 

Even the overlays and the grey rubber thingy on the instep provides extra protection from pointy stuff!

Brooks Caldera

Not advisable but you could kick a big rock with this toe bumper if you’re in to that sort of thing.

  • Step-in fit. The first trail shoe I ever purchased was the Brooks Cascadia 3. I have fond memories of stepping in to it for the first time. I remember thinking, bring it on Mountain Mist! It was also the last Brooks trail shoe I ever purchased. This shoe brings me back and gives me good vibes. The midfoot wrap is secure with plenty of room in the forefoot for the toes to splay. Overall, it’s pretty much a ‘normal’ or ‘medium’ fit throughout.
  • Overall build quality. It’s really good. The material choices are great. Simple as that.
  • Nifty features: Lace garage? Check. Gusseted tongue (seriously, all shoes should have this by now)? Check. Gaiter-attachment? Check.

brooks caldera

Lace garage = thanks Brooks!

Brooks Caldera

Do you use gaiters? You’re good.

What’s decent?

  • The grip. It’s decent (i.e., it’s fine in most situations). The lugs are not super deep but are made of fairly sticky rubber so in most situations it grips well. Are they going to grip the really wet or the slippery stuff like a more specific soft ground shoe? No, of course not. But the Caldera is not meant to be that kind of shoe either. The overall grip on moderate terrain or even wet rocks or roots is good though and is confidence-inspiring in most situations you will likely face in spring, summer, and fall.

Brooks Caldera

Multi-treads = grips in most situations

  • The durability of the shoe. After about 60 miles of use I’m predicting it will be average in terms of durability. The upper has very little noticeable wear while the outsole is wearing down as I would expect in little areas common of my stride pattern. Given the somewhat shallow lugs I’m predicting the grip will give way before the upper or midsole does meaning this shoe could potentially transition to a road or casual shoe just fine in the future. Said differently, I would be surprised if the shoe doesn’t hold up for 300-500 miles.
  • The heel collar and heel lock in. It’s a pretty darn solid heel collar. I suspect they had to design it this way to support the overlays and the other protective features of the shoe to provide enough structure for everything to work together. Similarly, it’s a kind of ‘normal’ or medium heel fit. Personally, I just prefer less of a heel collar combined with a narrow heel fit to lock things down.

What could be improved?

  • The price. $140 ain’t cheap. But it’s a lot of shoe and when compared to many other shoes nowadays at similar or higher price points so it’s probably comparable, sadly. However, I think a price closer to $120 would really attract a lot more people to this shoe.

When to use it?

  • Long days on the trails where you will encounter a bit of everything. With a 28mm heel and 24mm forefoot the Brooks Caldera has plenty of cushion and then some for long runs or ultras. It can handle pretty much all types of trails well except very steep ascending or descending or slick rocks or snow/ice where something with a more aggressive tread would be better suited.
  • Everyday use. As a shoe geek I cannot honestly say all you need is one shoe in your quiver but if you prefer to stick with a single shoe that does mostly everything well this is a great option.
  • Shoe drop bag. You have a favorite shoe but it can only last part of your race before it beats up your feet too much? Switch in to this shoe.
  • Recovery days. Remember that cush we talked about?

The Brooks Caldera is a great option in these scenarios.

How the Brooks Caldera compares to other trail shoes:

  • Nike Zoom Wildhorse 3: Ah, my benchmark shoe of the past year. This has been my long run shoe of choice and race shoe for anything over 50km. The Caldera is similar in a lot of ways and most notably weight, grip, and ride. Except the Caldera has more forefoot cushioning and a lower heel-to-toe drop of 4mm compared to 8mm for the Wildhorse. Also, the Caldera doesn’t hold water quite like the Wildhorse upper. Toss up for me but I think I may reach for the Caldera more often now compared to the Wildhorse 3.
  • Saucony Peregrine 6: Also, similar in a lot of ways. The Caldera is more plush and thus, more forgiving, but with similar weights, drop, and levels of protection it’s a good comparison. The Peregrine has a rock plate and more aggressive tread but that also makes it not ride quite as smooth on door-to-trail runs, fireroads, or simply smoother trails with fewer obstacles in the way. I like the fit and ride of the Caldera a bit more so will almost always choose it over the Peregrine 6 now.
  • Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3: My preferred race shoe for anything 50km and shorter on trails as well as my preferred shoe for trail workout days. The Kiger 3 is built lower to the ground and thus, has less cushioning, but that also makes it more responsive while at the same time less protective. I’m not sure there is a better upper yet though in trail shoes. The Kiger 3 really nails it. Almost as good as some of the best road shoe uppers out there – I’m looking at you On Cloudflow. Tough call but I see these two shoes as apples and oranges. For faster days or 50km races I’ll still usually stick with the Kiger 3 for now. For everything else I’m going with the Caldera.

So the $140 dollar question – should you purchase the Brooks Caldera?

In a word, yes (or you should at least give it shot). The reason I’m saying this is because the Caldera should appeal to a wide variety of trail runners out there due to its generous cushioning without the added weight, forgiving yet responsive ride, sufficient traction in most trail situations, ample protection, and middle-of-the-road fit throughout. It really is a do-everything type of shoe that I suspect will be on the feet of a lot of ultrarunners this year.

More info on the Brooks site right this way.

Questions, comments, or feedback on this shoe? Please share! 


Meet Your Reviewer: Ben Zuehlsdorf

I am an avid running shoe junkie. When I’m not smelling new shoes I’m usually running or racing around the local trails in Marin County, California or talking shop with the San Francisco Running Company community of friends. I was once a road marathoner but now have transitioned almost exclusively to the trails and racing ultras the last few years. 

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