Hands-on Gear Review

Brooks Caldera 2 Review

A trail running shoe for those who value cushioning above all else.
By: Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 8, 2018
Price:  $140 List  |  $139.95 at Backcountry
Pros:  Very protective, wide forefoot, comfortable, relatively light for such a burly shoe
Cons:  Expensive, poor shallow traction, not very stable or sensitive
Manufacturer:   Brooks
59
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Foot protection - 30% 9
  • Traction - 20% 3
  • Stability - 15% 4
  • Comfort - 15% 7
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Sensitivity - 10% 3
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  • 2
  • 3
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  • 5

Our Verdict

The Brooks Caldera 2 is a new release that is comfortable and offers an exemplary amount of foot protection. Sadly, this protection comes at a cost, as this is one of the least sensitive or stable shoes in our fleet. For years we have reviewed the Brooks Cascadia, following it through countless iterations, but finally decided to switch things up as the Cascadia seemingly got less and less enjoyable to run in every year. We firmly believe that the Caldera is an improvement over that shoe, and is an impressive first-year debut. However, in this selection and review of the best trail running shoes available today, it didn't stack up as one of the very best, and despite many worthy attributes, falls at the bottom of our review.

Update for Summer 2018
Brooks has come out with an updated version of the Caldera this season. Most notably, the Caldera 2 has seen changes to the upper. Brooks designed the new upper with intentions of providing an enhanced fit, more protection, and better drainage. The updated model comes in new color options as well. Scroll down for a more detailed comparison.


Our Analysis and Test Results

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The Caldera vs. Caldera 2


The newly designed Caldera 2 is visually quite similar to the previous model. There are, however, a few changes that have been made with the intention of improving the Caldera's performance in wet conditions and overall fit. The upper on the Caldera 2 is made of extremely breathable mesh with the objective of shedding water easily. Previously, we had issues with the placement of the rubber protective overlay in the upper, which caused hot spots over time. The new model has a redesigned upper with slightly different seams and patterning, which is meant to provide more comfort and improve the overall fit. The tread and midsole remain the same with the new model, as does the price.

Check out a side-by-side comparison of the Brooks Caldera 2 on the left and the previous version on the right.
Brooks Caldera


Here is a summary of the key changes made in the Caldera 2:
  • Water Resistance — The new version is designed to shed water more effectively than the previous model
  • Comfort — The upper has been redesigned with a more comfortable fit in mind.

Since we haven't logged any miles in the Caldera 2 yet, the following text references the original Caldera

Hands-On Review of the Brooks Caldera


Sporting midsole stack heights of 28mm in the heel and 24mm in the forefoot, the Brooks Caldera seems to be a direct competitor to the maximal cushioning trend exemplified in this review by the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4. While it doesn't appear to have as thick a midsole as that shoe, the stats would say otherwise; it also features a similarly low 4mm heel-toe drop. The comparisons don't end there, as the Caldera is impressively light for such a beefy shoe, and taking another page out of Hoka's playbook, quite expensive. The remarkable amount of foot protection, low weight, and overall comfort are certainly things to love about this shoe, but we found that these positive attributes were offset by its meager comparative score when it came to stability, sensitivity, and traction. While we thought this shoe was far more comfortable and enjoyable to wear than recent iterations of the ever-popular Cascadia, it was tied with the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 as the lowest scorer in this year's review.

Testing the Caldera on the summit of 14er Mt. Lindsay in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. This ascent saw us wading through flooded meadows  running up rocky trails and scree  and eventually scrambling of steep ridgelines. With such awesome terrain and inspiring views  what is there not to love about trail running?
Testing the Caldera on the summit of 14er Mt. Lindsay in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. This ascent saw us wading through flooded meadows, running up rocky trails and scree, and eventually scrambling of steep ridgelines. With such awesome terrain and inspiring views, what is there not to love about trail running?

Foot Protection


Foot protection is the strong shining point of the Caldera, and we had it ranked right up there as the best in this entire review. For reference, the very firm New Balance Leadville v3 and the ultra cushioned Hoka Challenger ATR 4 were the other shoes that also offered a similar amount of foot protection. Compared to those shoes, it felt like a middle ground between the two. While it naturally features a very hefty amount of foam cushioning underfoot, it is firmer and not quite as springy feeling as the Challenger ATR 4. And while it may have some integrated rock plate or stability posts sandwiched in the midsole (the information on Brooks' website regarding the midsole construction is frustratingly vague), there is no doubt that it offers more energy return than the Leadville v3.

In our underfoot protection testing, where we ran back and forth across sharp talus, we were able to feel minimal protrusions in the forefoot, and nothing in the heel. This excellent underfoot protection is paired with a firm toe bumper and rubberized overlays on the interior sidewalls that each do an adequate job at protecting your foot. Those who value cushioning and foot protection above all else will be happy with this shoe. 9 out of 10 points.

Here you can see the large amount of midsole foam cushioning and the rockered shape of the Brooks Caldera. Also visible is the black rubberized overlay beneath the orange mesh fabric that does a good job protecting the side of the shoe and the foot  but also caused some rubbing on the inside of the ball of our foot.
Here you can see the large amount of midsole foam cushioning and the rockered shape of the Brooks Caldera. Also visible is the black rubberized overlay beneath the orange mesh fabric that does a good job protecting the side of the shoe and the foot, but also caused some rubbing on the inside of the ball of our foot.

Traction


From the good news directly to the bad — this shoe had the least effective traction in our testing. Its outsole is comprised of many closely spaced and very shallow multi-directional lugs positioned throughout the sole in separately glued on patches. We prefer single piece outsoles as they have much less tendency to rip off as the shoe wears over time. Regardless, this shoe performed lower than average when it came to traction on steep dirt and grass, and very poorly on rock and wet rock, compared to the competition. It scored lower than the Lone Peak 3.5, which still managed to grip dirt and grass well despite its poor grip on rock, and also gripped less effectively than the somewhat similarly patterned Challenger ATR 4. While we feel like the outsole of this shoe is plenty adequate for standard dirt trail running, we wouldn't recommend it for off road adventures.

Showing the traction pattern on the outsole of the Caldera. It is made up of many separate glued on pieces of rather closely spaced  shallow  and firm rubber. They will get you to the top of the mountain and back  but were the lowest rated outsole in this review.
Showing the traction pattern on the outsole of the Caldera. It is made up of many separate glued on pieces of rather closely spaced, shallow, and firm rubber. They will get you to the top of the mountain and back, but were the lowest rated outsole in this review.

Stability


When it came to stability, this shoe was not the worst, but it also wasn't good. We noticed that the lacing system did not do a very awesome job at locking in the midfoot, and there was a significant amount of slop in this pretty wide fitting shoe. Combine the sloppy fit with one of the largest stack heights in this review (28mm under the heel), and we found that this shoe certainly had a propensity to roll laterally. The instability has been particularly noticeable to us on a steep off-trail mountain descent we made on Fortress Peak in the San Juan Mountains but was also backed up by our comparative side-hill testing. That said, we still found it to be slightly more stable than the similar Hoka Challenger ATR 4, as well as the Salomon Speedcross 4, which has an enormous amount of padding under the heel. 4 out of 10 points.

When we test a shoe for traction and stability  we are sure to really test it to its limits. While we had a fun day shown here on the North Ridge of Mt. Lindsay  a 14er in the Sangre de Cristo range of Colorado  we enjoyed the lower approach trails in this shoe more than the final summit scramble.
When we test a shoe for traction and stability, we are sure to really test it to its limits. While we had a fun day shown here on the North Ridge of Mt. Lindsay, a 14er in the Sangre de Cristo range of Colorado, we enjoyed the lower approach trails in this shoe more than the final summit scramble.

Comfort


Initially, we were very impressed with the comfortable feeling of running in this shoe. It fits true to size and has a wider than average forefoot. This wideness persists on back through the midfoot, where we experienced extra space and a bit of a sloppy fit due to a lacing system that didn't grip and tighten around the foot in a manner similar to the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4. The elastic inner liner found on the New Balance Vazee Summit v2 is also notable.

In our water bucket test, we noticed that this shoe was more absorptive than all but three other shoes, but it made up for that slightly by shedding the water weight fairly effectively. If we have one complaint, it is that we experienced points of rubbing on the inside of both of our feet, near the ball of the foot, corresponding to the where the rubber protective overlay is on the outside of the upper. This created hot spots for us that prevented us from going truly long while wearing these shoes but may not be an issue for most users. In the end, we gave it 7 out of 10 for comfort.

Despite not being one of the highest scorers in our review  we still found the Caldera to be a comfortable shoe for long trail runs.
Despite not being one of the highest scorers in our review, we still found the Caldera to be a comfortable shoe for long trail runs.

Weight


Our pair of men's size 11 shoes weighed in at 21.6 ounces, which was the same weight as the similarly cushioned Challenger ATR. It is impressive that such a burly and bulky shoe could weigh so little, and it received a better than average score of 6 out of 10. At 21.3 ounces per pair, the best overall trail running shoes, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4, weighed almost the same amount, despite being far more low profile.

Sensitivity


Much like its highly protective counterparts, this shoe suffered greatly in the sensitivity department. The huge amount of thick foam in the midsole certainly divorces your foot from the feeling of the trail. As such, we could only give it 3 out of 10 points, the same score as the Challenger ATR, but a smidge higher than the Leadville v3. We figure that runners attracted to this shoe will be psyched about the cushioning and willing to deal with the inherent lack of sensitivity, but if you are a runner who values an intimate connection with the running surface, we recommend you look for a different shoe.

Taking in the surroundings while testing out the Caldera with trail gaiters (it has specially designed velcro flaps on the heel to hold gaiters in place).
Taking in the surroundings while testing out the Caldera with trail gaiters (it has specially designed velcro flaps on the heel to hold gaiters in place).

Best Applications


The Brooks Caldera is a maximally cushioned shoe that does a good job of absorbing the impact of trail running, but also suffers from instability. Considering this, it will be best used strictly as a trail runner and is probably a good choice for ultra races that don't feature too gnarly of terrain. Because of its relatively poor traction and instability, we don't recommend it for much off trail usage.

With a ton of cushioning and underfoot protection  the Caldera is ideally suited for running on trails  such as the West Fork of the Cimmarron Trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
With a ton of cushioning and underfoot protection, the Caldera is ideally suited for running on trails, such as the West Fork of the Cimmarron Trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Value


This shoe retails for $140. Why? It is the most expensive shoe in our review, and as the lowest scorer, we, of course, do not think that this presents a great value.

Conclusion


The Brooks Caldera is an interesting new shoe that seems designed to directly compete with the maximally cushioned standard set by Hoka One One. While it does not appear to have such a fat midsole (maybe a good thing?), it has a very similar 28mm stack height under the heel combined with a minimal 4mm heel-toe drop. It also suffers from similar issues such as poor stability and sensitivity for the trail. While we think it is a solid and comfortable shoe, it scored near the bottom of this review.

The Caldera is a maximally cushioned shoe that is ideal for on the trail running  and is a bit unstable in terrain such as this ridge on Fortress Peak in the San Juans.
The Caldera is a maximally cushioned shoe that is ideal for on the trail running, and is a bit unstable in terrain such as this ridge on Fortress Peak in the San Juans.

Andy Wellman

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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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