It’s been quite awhile since I posted a shoe review, close to a thousand miles since the last one, I’d guess. That’s a lot of missing shoe talk. And since the last post, I’ve started working as a Fit Specialist at Fleet Feet Sports here in Myrtle Beach, so needless to say, my shoe knowledge, as well as shoe nerdiness, has grown exponentially. I have about a dozen shoe reviews lined up to share, some brand new releases, some wildly outdated in the ways of “breaking blog posts”…but I’m going to share those anyway. And today I’d like to start with the shoe I’m currently the most excited about, the one I find myself reaching for daily, whether it be for trail running, casual wear at work, or even road running:
The Brooks Caldera.
Among my trail arsenal in our closet right now I have the Brooks Cascadia 11 and the Brooks Pure Grit 5 (shoe review coming soon), two other popular shoes in the Brooks trail running line up. I wasn’t incredibly excited about either pair; the Cascadia is a bit too stiff and supportive for me, and the Pure Grit 5 so wildly narrow it nearly made my toes cry (the high maintenance phalanges like their space. Rumor is this issue has been fixed on the Pure Grit 6). But when our friendly Brooks rep came to visit and let me try on a pair of Calderas (I am conveniently a sample size…a men’s sample size that is, but it still works.) I immediately knew I had to have a pair to test.
At first glance, this is a bulky, high volume shoe. Fortunately, it feels anything but. I hate comparing one brand to another in shoe reviews, but my immediate thoughts pre and post test is that the Brooks Caldera most closely reminds me of something you would expect from Hoka One One. The midsole, consisting of Brook’s BIOMOGO DNA cushioning, is incredibly plush and flexible, yet still moderately responsive, similar to what I love about the Hokas. The stack height measures in at 25 mm at the heel and 21 mm in the forefoot (4 mm heel to toe drop) bringing the Caldera about 5 mm shy of a typical Hoka. And for what it’s worth, the similarly colored midsole and outsole blends in with the upper, giving it less of that “Hoka” appearance.
But enough Hoka talk, let’s get back to the Caldera.
The foot bed, not just the forefoot, is wide on the Caldera. So much so that the first few runs I had to keep stopping to tighten the shoe (I admittedly have a very narrow mid foot). Once I finally got the lacing dialed in, my feet were absolutely thrilled with the room and the space for happy toe splay. Toe space is such a deal breaker for me, and I don’t even have very wide feet. I really don’t know how so many runners are able to jam their feet into more narrow, traditional shoes. I guess we all have our preferences…and my preference is for space. The Caldera does not disappoint.
Speaking of lacing, there is a fantastic little lace pouch on the tongue that comes in handy in preventing the shoe from coming untied. I’ve had no issues with the laces untying, the woven material seems soft enough to not slip. The pocket is a neat feature nonetheless.
The double mesh upper provides protection and stretches for a smooth, seamless feel. The overlays on the shoe are not only stylish (anything that reminds me of a mountain gets extra bonus points) but help the upper remain secure, hugging the midfoot, while still maintaining flexibility. Admittedly it is winter here in South Carolina, so I cannot attest for the ability to keep the foot cool in the scorching heat and humidty we will face come summer. But for now, the double mesh upper appears incredibly breathable…not to mention lightweight. According to Brooks, a women’s size 8 Caldera weighs in at 9 ounces.
The reinforced toe guard is actually a rubber overlay rather than a separate piece that often comes with an irritating seam. I find this to be wildly relieving when I’m 20+ miles into a run and my toes become more sensitive. There is also a very small strip of reflective overlay over the toe area.
The outsole is not overly aggressive, making it absolutely PERFECT for our trail conditions here in the South (i.e. sand, and lots of it). There is no rock plate, however the thicker midsole certainly prevents me from feeling any ill effects from rocks or roots underfoot.
The gusseted tongue is very effective at helping to keep debris from entering the shoe, but if you need or prefer to wear gaiters, the Caldera is equipped to handle them with built in Velcro gaiter traps. This is a feature I’ve only previously seen in Altras. The only downside is that there is no ring at the forefoot for the front of your gaiter to attach to (as seen in shoes such as the Saucony Peregrine 6), so you’ll have to use the bottom of the laces.
Many reviews, and the Brooks website itself, claim the Caldera is a stability shoe. As a neutral runner who normally cringes at the immediate feel of a stability post in the arch, I’m honestly not noticing any blatant “stability” features. Maybe the slightest additional firmness under the medial arch, as the cushioning used in the midsole wraps up a few centimeters above the platform to provide added suport. That’s not to say this isn’t a stable shoe, I believe it definitely gives more support than something like the Brooks Pure Grit. But the wide foot bed does allow for a bit of movement within the shoe; if your ankles aren’t up to the task supporting themselves on the quick turning, often varying terrain of the trails, this might not be the shoe for you.
The Brooks Caldera retails for $140, which is slightly on the higher end for comparable trail shoes, but for a shoe with all of the features it provides, the price is justifiable.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a shoe I’d want to run fast, shorter miles in, as it is a little on the bulkier side. It is, however, absolutely a contender for long, slower distances over more tame, less technical trails. I’d recommend this shoe for someone who enjoys a softer feel in a slightly more built up shoe, and prefers a wide forefoot. Personally, the wide forefoot combined with the soft yet flexible cushioning and overall lightweight feel of this shoe make the Caldera one of my favorite go-to sneakers for the longer monotony and physical abuse of ultra training and racing.
Disclaimer: Brooks provided me with a pair of Calderas for review at no cost to me. All opinions expressed are solely my own.