2021 is ushering in a whole new crop of max cushion, ultra comfortable, and distance oriented trail shoes. Every brand is doing this and they are all finding a way to accomplish this while also keeping the weight down. Brooks is no exception coming in with the new Caldera 5 which appears to be a solid update to the 4 and while it does have some finicky elements, the shoe overall does live up to its promise. It may not be right for everyone though so read on to find out more.
Quick Details, Specs, and Availability
- High stack distance oriented trail shoe, but not for highly technical trails.
- Weighs in at 10.6oz or 301g for a US Men’s 9, 9.4oz or 266g for a US Women’s 7.
- Features 39mm of cushion and has a 4mm heel/toe drop.
- Retails at $140.00 USD and comes in 2 colors for Men and Women.
The Cascadia has always been the feather in the Brooks cap when it comes to trail running. It has been around for years now, it’s at that cushioning level of just enough but not too much, and it’s always bulletproof in terms of design. The problem is that at longer distances it just lacked a bit of comfort for many people. To that end, Brooks introduced the Caldera and with it, they brought more cushioning and more padding to the shoe. The stack height increased and additional padding was added to the heel. However, it was hard to compete with their flagship and honestly the upper on the Caldera always felt a little sloppy to us. The Caldera 5 improves on that and definitely offers a better overall experience, but is not without a few minor hiccups.
Overall, I can say I am really happy with the updates to the Caldera. I have now taken this on numerous runs at varying distances and the underfoot comfort is tremendous. I also feel like the heel holds me in place really well and is amply cushioned and even at distance, I didn’t notice any friction at all. The toe box has just enough width and is well protected so anything the trails through that me the issue seems to handle really well. The slightly wider forefoot base does improve overall stability and honestly can’t say enough good things about the way the midsole just eats up any debris on the trail without the need of the rock plate.
Where I do have some issues is with the nimbleness of the shoe and this is an issue for many max cushion trail runners. The problem with the Caldera 5 though is the lugs and while Brooks has built a channel system to help move things out from underfoot, I do find myself wishing they had a little more grip and side to side control. Maybe just a millimeter or two more on that outsole or maybe a modification to the lug pattern would help. I also feel like the lace management system is really poorly executed. You barely have enough laces to get it under the loop and they always tend to flop out. It feels like an afterthought and doesn’t even color match the shoe. I would say 9 times out of 10 you won’t even use it. I did also find the shoe took a bit of break-in especially up near the top eyelet. It can actually dig a bit into your foot, but over time this does wear in and go away.
I’ll be honest and say a lot of Brooks shoes haven’t worked for me in a while now. Either my foot is changing or they have done something with the last design, but I haven’t had a lot of success, at least on the road side. However, the Caldera 5 is fantastic and has literally become my go-to shoe every single day. I will wear it on both road and trail and anything in between simply because I find the shoe so comfortable. Maybe because I’m a slower runner I didn’t experience a lot of the same issues in terms of nimbleness or traction, everything works really well. I am not an aggressive runner in any way, so a lot of it may have to do with your style. For me, I feel like I could wear these for miles and would walk in them, run in them… literally, do anything in. They’re that comfortable to me.
I will agree that Brooks could improve the outsole and make it a bit more aggressive. In Portland, when things get a little wet on the trails the shoe does start to lose a bit of its control because things tend to build up and due to the lug nuts being so low, there just isn’t anything there to grip. I would also second the issue with the lacing system, I simply don’t use it at all because it just doesn’t work. I may try to put the laces in at the start of a run, but within a few minutes, they tend to flop out so definitely something that could be resolved. Overall though, I am really really happy with the shoe.
The upper is a mono looped engineered mesh that is accompanied by a rubberized overlay that wraps the toe and extends down the lateral side to the mid-foot offering added protection. The embossed Brooks logo actually serves a purpose adding both protection and side-to-side stability control. They have moved away from an eyelet based lacing system to these loops which still seem to work fairly well. There is a lace control mechanism, but as we mentioned it is too far down the tongue and feels more like an afterthought. The tongue is lightly padded, but the heel and color are very well padded.
The midsole is a nice big chunk of Brooks’ BioMoGo DNA, 39mm of it in fact. It provides a softer overall underfoot experience and does a great job just eating up debris preventing it from impacting the bottom of your foot. There is no rock plate, that additional stack height helps prevent anything from getting through. The grooves on the outsole are supposed to work in conjunction with the midsole to help you adapt to the terrain.
The outsole uses Brooks’ TrailTack rubber but they have also added a groove design which is supposed to channel debris and allow the shoe to adapt to varying terrain changes. The bi-directional lugs are minimally sized and do provide an okay grip on firmer trails or fire roads and also make it a solid multi-surface shoe. Once it gets a little sloppier or technical, probably could use more.
Style & Aesthetics
The Caldera 5 comes in 2 colors for men and women and we would give the styling a B for the men’s and definitely higher for the women’s options. The Cascadia historically has come in an amazing array of colors, so we’d love to see that extended here, maybe a couple more options at least Brooks?
As you may have noticed, we are a little split overall on the Brooks Caldera 5. What we agree on is that from a distance and comfort perspective, the shoe lives up to its offering quite well. If you are a faster runner or on more challenging technical terrain, then it may lack the nimbleness you’re looking for and that is where the Cascadia might be a better choice. Additionally, we think they can do a bit more to improve the outsole to provide better grip across varying terrain. Right now when it gets a little messy, the shoes can feel a little sloppy. This was very similar to what we saw with the New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail for instance and a more aggressive/separately designed lug pattern would obviously resolve this. Overall, a really solid update and if you need a nice easy running distance-based trail shoe, then the Caldera 5 can be a great option.
Check Out Other Reviewers Thoughts
As always, we gather together some of our favorite reviewers so you can get a well-rounded view of the shoe. Here are our favorites.