Caldera Crushers: Minimalism is dead? We’re unsure – maybe it’s still on life support waiting for its own next big breath of fresh air (although read If These Shoes Could Talk, final page of ED#22 Trail Run Mag printed edition, and you might argue otherwise). Regardless, the big boys in trail shoe land are certainly putting the max factor back on the table following the tidal wave of fat-bottoms that Hoka had gumption to float into the market with. And – especially among the ultra distance crew – they shouted down the naysayers with stratospheric shoe sales. Point well made.
And with cash registers ringing it’s no wonder that other brands are eyeing off the territory, including main players Salomon (its new Sense Pro Max about to hit the scene) and Brooks with its all-new Caldera, already on market.
Now, Brooks’ mainstay trail offering, the much-loved (including by this correspondent) Cascadia is in its eleventh iteration with #12 about to hit the shelves. So something brand-spanking, as opposed to ‘just improved’, is a revelation. And a risk.
Let’s stay with the ultra thematic here, because cushioning is all about the long run, in my opinion. It’s where the additional pillow comes into its own – the long day (and night) of pounding, the eventual flagging of form, the tending to non-technical nature of most (but not all) ultras. Take Australia’s Glasshouse as an example – lots of hard but flat fire trail. Even something like the Alpine 100, as rough underfoot as it can be, has long stretches of predictability on the trail. This is terrain that the Caldera will eat up.
A light shoe (283gm) for its visual bulk, the Caldera is silk and plush at first put on. A quick trot around makes you swoon just a little. Now, the upfront caveat is the horses for courses one: if you’re a minimalist or low ride runner, you’ll not like these off the bat. You’ll feel inches taller, but a tad unstable if you are used to your underfoot being closer to the earth. For those who run more traditional to maximalist shoes, continue swooning.
Perhaps where the Brooks edges out the traditional Hoka somewhat (not including the Speed Instinct reviewed in the last edition) is in it being not a super stretch away from a traditional shoe and so there’s less to get used to in terms of altered ride. If you’re a Cascadia fan but want more cushion, these could be for you.
I’m more a 4-6mm, low ride fan, but even I was enjoying rolling these through the bush on first wear test. Perhaps that’s because they ARE 4mm drop, with a nice rocker for a good transition through the strike, with excellent bound.
Inside the midsole, the Caldera is well-heeled with BioMoGo DNA, which is the Brooks technology designed to provide a noticeable energy return. It certainly helps keeps these spritelier underfoot that you’d think.
The all-new last is snug in the midfoot and wider in the fore. This is the root of the shoe’s double edged sword: great for fatter feet, as plenty of room to fill up front, and even for those less chubby planks, an ultra will have your feet swelling so it’s good to have the room. The downside is that forefoot space matched to a higher stack (25mm heel, 21mm forefoot) means there is opportunity for lateral movement if you don’t fill the hold, which is partly why on technical twisty trails, there is opportunity for some disconcerting roll over, particularly when cornering tightly.
The all-around outsole features semi-soft rubber with 3-3.5-mm multi-directional, hexagon-inspired lugs, which perform best on rocky surfaces and hard packed ground. Even with the fat underneath, the shoes are responsive although obviously the earth-feel is dulled to a degree with the maxi-cushioning. No getting away from that if this is the style shoe you want.
Small add-on features include a lace garage, true gussets, and a rear gaiter tab – these being a good choice for those long hard desert ultras that require protection. A double mesh upper keeps the grit out but has enough breathability to not cook your feet.
The Caldera is what I’d call a versatile, everyday maximalist shoe ideal for long running, on terrain that tends more to the predictable (read not too tight and technical). Ultra runs where the pace is down and the course is less liable to bite at you – perfect. Short, sharp speed trail races where the course twists, turns, and rips up at your feet with roacky, rooty stuff? These aren’t the ideal choice with some stability issues up front. That said, if the next iteration lowers the lace cage down the foot a little, allowing a more secure hold of the forefoot, and somehow makes the forefoot squish a little more stable, these could also eat up that technical terrain.
Great for: ultras, maximalists, heel strikers, hard deserts, multidays, (long) road to trail
Not-so-great for: minimalists, tight cornering, technical trails
Test Conditions: mix of singletrack, technical, fire roads, approx. 45km
Tester: Chris Ord, Trail Run Mag editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot striker, tends to more technical style running
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by Brooks Running