After a few years lost to the fad of favoring comfort over performance, we're happy to see the Brooks Cascadia 16 has been restored to its glory and original purpose as one of the most powerful trail running shoes on the market. This ultra-protective shoe is designed for the rigors of long trail runs, with a powerful rock plate and a more responsive midsole. Where this shoe falls short in terms of sensitivity and overall weight, it makes up for it in terms of stability and all-day comfort. Even though the Cascadia 16 didn't earn any awards, it is one of the highest-scoring shoes in our best Trail Running Shoes lineup and is certainly a fan-favorite among our testers.Editor's Note: We added this review for the Brooks Cascadia 16 to our lineup on May 11, 2022, and included an unbiased assessment of value as well as suggestions for directly comparable products.
Brooks Cascadia 16 Review
Cons: Lack of ground feel, relatively heavy
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Brooks Cascadia 16
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|Pros||Ultra-stable platform, stiff and supportive, deep lugs||Unbeatable fit, fantastic underfoot protection, doesn’t absorb much water, very stable||Ultralight, supportive, uncharacteristically agile||Well cushioned, comfortable fit, sticky rubber grips rock very well, decent price||Affordable, comfortable ride, versatile crossover option|
|Cons||Lack of ground feel, relatively heavy||Expensive, hard to get on foot, must wear above the ankle height socks, hard to stuff laces into garage||Loose-fitting heel pocket, lack of trail feeling||High heel counter, not the lightest||Soft upper is unstable, lacks energy, inconsistent traction|
|Bottom Line||A classic shoe with a stiff platform that is firmly rooted in long-distance trail running||The cream of the crop for trail running shoes delivers fine-tuned long run performance||An ultra-supportive trail runner with an agile feel that is unlike any other HOKA shoe we've ever tested||A very well cushioned shoe that is optimal for heel strikers and makes for a great option for everyday training as well as ultra distances||A comfortable, consistent, and approachable shoe for those looking to crossover from roads to trail running|
|Rating Categories||Brooks Cascadia 16||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||HOKA Torrent 2||Salomon Sense Ride 4||Brooks Divide 2|
|Foot Protection (25%)|
|Specs||Brooks Cascadia 16||Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3||HOKA Torrent 2||Salomon Sense Ride 4||Brooks Divide 2|
|Measured Weight (per pair)||22.5 oz (size 9.5)||21.5 oz (size 9.5)||18.3 oz (size 9.5)||20.7 oz (size 9.5)||21.5 oz (size 9.5)|
|Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot)||29 mm, 21 mm||26 mm, 18 mm||23 mm, 18 mm||27 mm, 19 mm||25 mm, 17 mm|
|Heel-to-Toe Drop||8 mm||8 mm||5 mm||8 mm||8 mm|
|Lug Depth||5 mm||4 mm||5 mm||3 mm||3 mm|
|Upper||Engineered mesh||Anti-Debris mesh with sockliner||Unifi REPREVE recycled mesh, TPU||Synthetic mesh||Mesh, TPU|
|Midsole||2mm Brooks DNA LOFT v2 foam, Ballistic Rock Shield||Energy Save PU foam with Profeel Film rock protection||HOKA ProFly: dual-density foam||Salomon Optivibe||Brooks BioMoGo EVA foam|
|Outsole||Brooks TrailTack rubber||Salomon Contagrip MA||Rubber||Salomon Contagrip MA||Brooks TrailTack|
|Lacing Style||Traditional||Quicklace with garage||Traditional||Quicklace with garage||Traditional|
|Wide Version Available?||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Sizes Available||7 - 15 US||4 - 13 US||7 - 15 US||7 - 14 US||7 - 15 US|
Our Analysis and Test Results
If you couldn't tell by the number attached to this shoe, the Brooks Cascadia 16 is just the newest version in a long line of trail runners. The highlighter yellow is a fun throwback to the first Cascada 1, created by Brooks with Scott Jurek in 2004 to be the "ultimate trail running shoe." The Cascadia 16 receives upgrades that focus on cushion and ride. The rock plate and outsole have cutouts designed to help the shoe mold and adapt to technical terrain, and Brooks claims their new proprietary DNA LOFT v2 midsole is "5% softer and 20% lighter than the Cascadia 15."
We could easily argue that the Brooks Cascadia 16 is one of, if not the most protective shoe in our testing lineup. As soon as you step into a pair, you recognize that this is a specialty shoe designed specifically for the rigors of trail running. That is one of the many reasons why it has remained such a popular option in this field for so long. But its protective shell ultimately comes at the cost of comfort and weight.
The beastly Cascadia 16 sports a thick, 29mm heel that tapers to only 21mm in the forefoot. For some context, a 21mm stack height in the toes is thicker than the stack height in heels of more than a few shoes included in this review. This supportive platform is reinforced and stiffened by Brooks' proprietary Ballistic Rock plate. Although the upper is listed as an engineered mesh, most of the shoe is covered in a durable TPU film. With this shoe on your feet, feel free to tackle the sharpest rock fields without fear.
The grip afforded by the Cascadia 16 only supports the confidence inspired by its overall protection and durability. We weren't kidding about tackling technical terrain like scree fields and rock gardens without fear. The proprietary TrailTack rubber is simultaneously soft, responsive, and tacky, allowing you to bound up slopes at full speed. Even though this shoe is incredibly stiff compared to others we tested, the vertical cutouts of the outsole allow the shoe's base to mold around roots and rocks for added stability in uneven terrain. On hardpack, the reactive outsole is lively and fun. In soft loam, the platform is stiff enough to allow the deep 5mm lugs to dig in and do their job.
There are two sides to every coin, and all of this praise also has to carry some consequence. In the name of trail protection, the Cascadia 16 sacrifices nearly all of its sensitivity and ground feel. While the cutout pattern of the outsole and rock plate is designed to mold to the terrain, this translates to a feeling of increased stability, not increased sensitivity. There were many moments during our test runs when we felt practically severed from the trail. This lack of sensitivity will likely bother some runners — particularly those coming from a minimalist or track background — but is beneficial when you start to stack up miles.
From the stiff midsole and adaptive outsole to the wide toe box and neutral arch support, the design of this specialty trail runner all comes back to stability. This is perhaps the first thing you will notice trying on the Cascadia 16 for the first time: the platform's support and stability are unlike other shoes on the market. So please don't be fooled by the exaggerated 8mm heel-to-toe drop of this shoe — in no way does it feel like you're running in heels. The upper around the heel cup is stiff in a way that compliments the rest of the shoe but padded enough that it doesn't hamper your ability to run quickly cross-hill or through uneven terrain.
The stiffness of the Cascadia 16 right out of the box may irritate many runners, especially those used to plush, modern trail shoes. We completely agree and ask you to give this shoe some time to break in before tackling a major outing. Although it's hard to tell if this shoe is 5% more cushioned than its predecessor, as Brooks claims, it provides a comfortable glide over even the most technical trails once broken in it. The lace pattern includes four holes at the top, a thoughtful design point that allows those with lower insteps to lock this shoe in place better. While the upper includes four mesh ports along the side to improve drainage, most of the mesh upper is covered by a TPU film to improve durability. As a result, these shoes can sometimes be stiflingly hot to run in.
The Cascadia 16 is, without a doubt, a tank of a shoe. Tipping the scales at 22.5 ounces per pair for a men's 9.5 US, this trail runner falls easily within the 90th percentile when it comes to weight. The thick, stiff midsole and hearty upper don't do it any favors on the trail. Although these shoes are far from lead weights, they certainly do not feel as lightweight and airy as other models we tested.
Should You Buy the Brooks Cascadia 16?
The Cascadia 16 is something of a hardcore trail running shoe, designed for a core group of runners who like to push long distances over rough terrain. The stiff rock guard and thick midsole allow this tank of a shoe to take on challenging trails and demanding races, all while offering the support, comfort, and stability necessary for endurance feats. If this doesn't sound like you, that's okay, and don't worry — there are plenty of other compatible options on the market.
What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?
For a shoe that is as technically savvy as the Brooks Cascadia 16 but that is a bit more forgiving, we suggest checking out the La Sportiva Karacal for those with higher volume feet or the La Sportiva Bushido II if you prefer a lower volume shoe. Although not designed quite like the alpine runners above, the HOKA Torrent 2 is an uber-comfortable option that offers a similar level of performance without the added weight or stiffness.
— Aaron Rice
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