If I was awarding points simply for looks I reckon the Cascadias would win. They look like something Spiderman would wear. Slick, low to the ground, racing-red, textured mesh, black webbing reinforcing and a gold flash. They look fast. I have always wanted to run in them but the earlier models were too narrow in the forefoot so I never got out the store door. But given the chance to put the latest version to the test, I simply couldn’t resist.
Pull them on and they even feel fast. While clearly not in the realm of the latest ultra lightweight brigade, they are still light and low to the ground. But amazingly they still feel cushioned and protective all in one. There is a protective plate beneath the outsole that does a good job of protecting against sharp stones. The tread pattern is a good mix: down the middle are geometric shapes that look like they will drill into any surface; around the perimeter are flat, straight lugs; and under the arch a band of tight deep fins. These fins are a great addition in an area usually left devoid of tread and often where you strike a root or rock. The combination is awesome on nearly every surface I tried. I was rock hopping on a narrow rock-ledge from the get-go with confidence. Steep scree and loose dirt: no problem. Slippery mud: as good as any of my other trailies. Possibly the ultimate test: a narrow fresh duck-poo covered treated pine plank with no trouble. There is great feel for the trail. I almost felt cat-like, no matter which way I ‘fell’ I always landed on my feet. I guess that must be the Spiderman influence.
The #6 model is definitely a little wider than its predecessors but I can still feel the sidewall pressing on my little toe. There is a scalloping of the upper over the little toe, which reduces the space. But as a plus all this combines to make for a snug fit, which eliminates any movement of the foot within the shoe. Less movement means less friction and less blisters. It does mean less room for foot swelling in ultras though and those that like a bit of freedom for their toes won’t like the trapped feeling.
The flat laces pull the uppers in snug. The tongue is webbed to stop debris sneaking in. An extra tiny loop-hole on the tongue helps stop any tongue slippage. The uppers are plush and very comfortable. They drain and dry well after creek crossings. As an added bonus Brooks claim all sorts of eco-friendly techniques and materials are used in the production of the Cascadias.
My favourite measuring stick for judging a trail shoe: would I run a 100 miler (160km) in them? Initially, the narrowness of the toe box convinced me that this was unlikely. But I still liked them so much that I actually wondered if I could get my little toes surgically removed to fit better. That’s how good I think these shoes are. After putting more miles in them my toes feel surprisingly good. I fear for me, though, the toe box is still too narrow for 100km+ where there will be foot swelling. But I’m getting tempted to try.
You know a shoe designed with input from Scott Jurek is going to be good. And theses babies don’t disappoint. If I sound overly enthusiastic it’s for good reason. Forget all the gimmicks and trends: these are a born-and-bred fantastic trail shoe.
Great for: you name it, any sort of trail, technical, rocky, soft, loose, hard.
Not so great for: runners with wide forefeet.
Test conditions: mix of trail including loose sand and dirt, hard compacted firetrail, loose gravel and stones, hard rock (wet and dry), creeks, technical singletrack, mud, puddles. Total test distance: 70km.
Tester: Andy Hewat – ultrarunner with 15 x 100 milers including 3 x Hardrock, 1 x Western States, 5 x Great North Walk and 5 x Glasshouse. Race Director for Great Ocean Walk100s (https://sites.google.com/site/gow100s/home) and Bogong to Hotham (https://sites.google.com/site/bogong2hotham/).
Tester mechanics: Mild over pronator with fairly wide forefoot and low arches. Major arthritis in big toe joints of both feet so appreciate protection.