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Brooks Caldera 3 - Women's Review

A super comfortable shoe that offers exceptional performance on non-technical surfaces
Brooks Caldera 3 - Women's
Photo: Brooks
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Price:  $140 List | $99.95 at Amazon
Pros:  Super comfortable, responsive, versatile fit, durable construction, great for cross-over terrain
Cons:  Expensive, slips and slides on loose and slippery surfaces
Manufacturer:   Brooks Running
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 29, 2019
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71
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot protection - 20% 7
  • Sensitivity - 20% 6
  • Traction - 15% 6
  • Stability - 15% 8
  • Comfort and Fit - 15% 8
  • Weight - 15% 8

Our Verdict

If you appreciate a comfortable ride, the Brooks Caldera 3 is a wonderful choice. From the mountains to the roads in and around the San Juans, we tackled over 60 miles of trail. After exhaustive testing, we've learned this shoe performs best on less technical trails and offers fantastic road running capabilities. While the new outsole is stickier in wet conditions than the Caldera 2, it is not aggressive enough to provide trustworthy footing on super steep or slippery surfaces. The fit is neutral with a wider toe box that offers a versatile fit for both narrow and wider footed runners. The ultra-comfortable ride will keep you chugging for miles; it's an excellent option for short or long distances, including marathons.

New Model Released

Brooks has come out with the 4th generation of the Caldera. Check out the specifics of the new shoe below.

March 2020

Our Analysis and Test Results

Caldera 4 vs Caldera 3


Since our test period, Brooks released the Caldera 4. This latest model has updates to the mesh upper to provide breathability in strategic spots, a redesigned midsole and outsole with the intent of more stability, and an updated TPU toe cap and mudguard. Compare the Caldera 4 (first photo) to the Caldera 3 we tested.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

We're now linking to the Caldera 4, but as we haven't tested the updates ourselves, the review below refers to the Caldera 3.

Hands-On Review of the Caldera 3


The Brooks Caldera 3 is an all-around average yet super comfortable trail running shoe. The cushioning is firm yet springy and responsive for longer runs on less technical terrain or even roads. This is an excellent option for the budding trail runner or for those who stick to less technical terrain.

A super comfortable trail shoe for dirt roads and rolling terrain.
A super comfortable trail shoe for dirt roads and rolling terrain.
Photo: Amber King

Foot Protection


This shoe offers an average level of foot protection, utilizing 24 mm of cushioning in the forefoot with 28 mm in the heel. The cushioning itself is responsive and springy without any "mush" factor; it does feel like running on air. The Caldera protects from underfoot hazards, but some of the sharper rocks and sticks can still be felt underfoot with a direct impact.

The toe cap isn't that protective and quite flexible.
The toe cap isn't that protective and quite flexible.
Photo: Amber King

The toe cap is pretty tough and not super flexible, and provides an excellent level of protection from stubs. The overlay is fairly breathable, doing a decent job keeping out trail debris.

A look at the breathable and quick to dry upper.
A look at the breathable and quick to dry upper.
Photo: Amber King

The level of protection is adequate, but not as protective as harder trail shoe options.

This shoe offers comfortable cushioning for a smooth ride. It...
This shoe offers comfortable cushioning for a smooth ride. It functions well for either short or long distances due to this responsive midsole.
Photo: Amber King

Sensitivity


The Caldera offers decent sensitivity; you can feel underfoot hazards while still being protected. Given the level of cushioning, it's not the most sensitive shoe out there, making it a good option for longer distances, as well as short trail adventures.

You can detect most stuff underfoot, allowing you to feel the trail.
You can detect most stuff underfoot, allowing you to feel the trail.
Photo: Amber King

Traction


The outsole in this new iteration is loaded with a new rubber composite that is meant to be stickier than the previous version. During testing, we were traversing over rocky and wet terrain and were able to stick to wet surfaces.

A look at the less aggressive outsole that lends to its great...
A look at the less aggressive outsole that lends to its great performance as a cross-over shoe.
Photo: Amber King

The outsole itself isn't super aggressive and doesn't do incredibly well while climbing up or down steep hills as it slips out on rubble and rocks. Over mud and debris, this material gets gunked up on the outsole and can cause less traction with muddy surfaces. As a result, it's not meant for super-technical terrain; instead, we'd recommend it for hard-packed single track trails or even dirt roads. The lug didn't wear down much after 60 miles of testing on both road and trail, making it a great cross-over option.

The lugs of the Caldera 3 are composed of a sticky rubber that does...
The lugs of the Caldera 3 are composed of a sticky rubber that does well on both wet and dry rocks. However, they aren't deep enough to combat super-soft surfaces.
Photo: Amber King

Stability


Stability is average, with the outsole and midsole encapsulating trail hazards and pushing off them. The sole offers lateral flexibility, which absorbs some of this impact, allowing you to correct your body position. While it's not the most stable shoe out there, its performance is adequate and will keep you safe on most terrain.

They do offer a nice and stable ride.
They do offer a nice and stable ride.
Photo: Amber King

Comfort & Fit


We adore the comfort elements of this shoe. The cushioning is super responsive and springy with sleek and well-constructed materials. On the run, it provides a smooth and even ride, and keeps you going strong for long distances.

A look at the fit around the ankle. The collar is thin and...
A look at the fit around the ankle. The collar is thin and breathable with comfortable material on the tongue for all-day comfort.
Photo: Amber King

The fit is regular and is ideal both wide and narrow fit. The lacing system is unique as well, detaching from the tongue and wrapping the foot for a precise fit. This precision ensures there isn't any toe bump on the downhill (your front toe doesn't bump against the front) and keeps the heel in place. There is also a touch of arch support, which adds to the fit. The 4 mm drop is low profile and a good option for both forefoot and heel strikers.

A handy pull tab to help you get your shoe on!
A handy pull tab to help you get your shoe on!
Photo: Amber King

Weight


It weighs in at 9.1 ounces, which is lighter than most technical trail shoes. This lightness makes it a great option for longer trail races over less technical terrain.

This shoe is lightweight. The weight of a size nine women's shoe.
This shoe is lightweight. The weight of a size nine women's shoe.
Photo: Amber King

Value


Eeek! This shoe is expensive for its function. If comfort is a priority, and you've had good experience with the Brooks brand, we recommend you try it. After wearing for over 60 miles, we haven't noted any serious signs of wear and tear, which bodes well for this contender. That said, many contenders cost less that offer a similar ride at a lower cost.

Less technical terrain, smooth single track, dirt roads, and paved...
Less technical terrain, smooth single track, dirt roads, and paved roads are a great place for this running shoe.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


The Brooks Caldera 3 is super comfortable trail runner that's average across the board. Its plush, responsive cushioning offers an exceptional ride, but it isn't the most protective or rugged option out there. The outsole is sticky but limited to performing on less technical surfaces, making it a great option for those just learning the art of trail running or appreciate sticking to the hills and the roads.

A lightweight and non-technical trail running shoe that works well...
A lightweight and non-technical trail running shoe that works well for a variety of foot shapes. The toe box offers ample volume and comfort for all-day wear.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King