Monday, April 24, 2017

Brooks: Caldera Review

If you haven’t tried trail running yet, then I suggest that you give it a try. I never realized how much fun it was until I tried it last year and I have to say that after my first trail race last October, I was hooked! Within just few months of training on trails, I did my first Ultra Marathon couple of months ago and that really got me interested in reviewing trail shoes. Brooks is no stranger to trail running but I never had the chance to test any of their trail shoes, so I reached out and they sent me one of their top notch shoes, the Caldera.

The Caldera is Brook’s newest addition to their trail running line up that was launched early December of 2016. It is taunted as the “diet” version of the Cascadia11. The Caldera is more responsive, stable and cushier than the Cascadia 11.  

It seems that the Cascadia 11 became a launching pad for the Caldera. Brooks built the Caldera to fill in the gap that was left by their trail shoes line up. I’m training again for my second Ultra Marathon this coming May and the timing was just perfect to test this shoe. I racked some good mileage and boy did it perform better than I expected. It’s a well-balanced shoe that offers great stability and moderate cushion.

Interestingly, the shoe looks beefy in plain sight but you’ll be surprise that it only weighs 9.9 ounces for men size 9 and 9.0 ounces for women size 7. Remarkably lightweight for a trail running shoe. The heel and forefoot drop measures 4mm for both men and women for greater stability and balance. The shoe I tested was a size 10 and it really feels true to size, something that Brooks is very consistent with when it comes to sizing

There are five key features that these shoes are known for:
1.)   BioMogo DNA Midsole Cushioning
2.)   Protective Midsole
3.)   Integrated Gaiter Tab
4.)   Double Mesh Upper
5.)   Rugged Outsole

The upper is very well constructed with a durable material that is made to protect the entire perimeter of your feet. It has a double mesh construction but breathable enough and still lets air thru to circulate for better ventilation. It has a seamless construction which prevents the foot from any unwanted rubbing that could potentially create the unwanted hot spots. Brooks also put some rubber along the medial side of the shoe to provide added protection from mud and accidental brushing from sharp objects and rocks.

At the very top of the shoe is a toe cap that is solidly built to protect your toes. Brooks went on using a “flat and wide shoelace” that has enough stretch to give you a better hold and constant pressure on top. It has a gusseted tongue which prevents any debris from getting inside the shoe, this is really beneficial when you’re not wearing a gaiter. Also, at the top of the tongue is a lace pocket (lace garage) where you can stuff the remains of the shoelace so it won’t be flying around as you cruise the trails and prevents it from getting snag.

Brooks added some thin rubber material that wraps around the perimeter of the heel cup to give you a better hold of the heel and locks the foot in place. That thin rubber is extended and connected to the last three eyelets. You’ll definitely feel that secure hold when you start pulling the lace. It has decent amount of padding as well along the collar for a comfortable feel. One great aspect that Brooks put into this shoe is the built in Velcro gaiter trap. Most gaiters in the market today have Velcro attachment, this way you can easily snap them together and securely hold the gaiter in place.

If you’re a minimalist type runner, then this shoe might not work for you…otherwise keep on reading. The outsole has some beef and muscle on it. The heel height measures 25mm and forefoot is 21mm, giving you a 4mm drop which I found to be a good balance when running on trails. You’ll definitely feel an inch taller with this shoe but stable enough to keep your feet planted on the ground. Brooks still incorporates their BioMogo DNA, which is a combination of plush and firm which gives you the “return energy” upon take-off.

Despite the lack of rock plates, the thickness of the sole is enough to give you the protection you need against sharp objects and protruding rocks. The multi-directional lugs which measures around 3 – 3.5mm performs great on variety of terrains and soil conditions.

The Ride
Testing and putting this to the grind is the most rewarding part for me. The lugs may not be aggressive as the Salomon Speedcross 4 but it works great even on the steep downhill with loose soil. The lugs just dig into the ground providing a good braking power and grip when ascending a steep section, no slipping and sliding at all. On hard pack soil is where I found the cushiness of the sole. Be advised that each shoe company has their own ways of measuring the cushiness level of their shoes. Brooks level of cushion tends to be firmer in comparison with other shoes like the Hoka. It may not be a cushy as the Hoka Challenger ATR 3 but it’s decent enough to give my feet some TLC it need especially for long distance running like the Ultra.

Trails offer a lot of varieties when it comes to terrains and you may find yourself crossing a mile-long gravel section or pavement. This is where some shoes tend not to be so great because of the stiffness of the sole and the aggressiveness of the lugs make it hard to balance and you get the feeling of “running on bricks”...well, not with the Caldera. Their BioMogo DNA sole helps absorb the uneven landscape of the trails you’re running into so you feel more upright and stable.

My Verdict
I have tested quite a few trail shoes from Salomon, North Face, Hoka and I have to admit that Caldera is equally good and better in some aspects. The Caldera is a very well rounded shoe that really performs well on varieties of soil and terrain conditions. It’s very supportive, responsive to every twist and turns and superb cushioning that your feet will surely appreciate.

Trail shoes could really get expensive sometimes because it is built differently from road shoes. The price tag of $140 is very reasonable in my opinion especially for trail shoe this great and will not set you back. Negatives? Honestly I couldn’t find any. Even the color and design scheme looks great and pleasing to the eyes.

Give it a try. You can purchase the Caldera directly on their website or at retail stores near you.