Thursday, January 25, 2018

Brooks Caldera 2 Review - All of the Goodness of the Original Caldera with an Improved Upper

Article by Jeff Valliere, Shannon Payne and Dominick Layfield

Brooks Caldera 2
The Brooks Caldera 2 retains all of the positive qualities that made the original Caldera (RTR review here) one of our favorite trail shoes of 2016/2017, but with an improved upper that helps dial in the fit, increases comfort, ventilation and durability.  A top choice for all around smooth comfort and door to trail versatility with enough competency to also handle technical terrain in small doses.

Weight: Men's  9.9 oz/ 281 g  US Women's 9 oz/255 g
Dom: my size US M10 weighed 300 g / 10.6 oz per shoe
Stack Height: 25mm heel/21mm forefoot (28/24 with sockliner), 4 mm offset
$140. Available now.

LEFT: Caldera 1      RIGHT: Caldera 2
Jeff: The new upper of the Caldera 2 is made with Ariaprene mesh for increased breathability, as well as adding a Cordura top mesh for added durability and security.  Fit has also been dialed in a bit, which I find to be ever so slightly more secure without sacrificing comfort or the ability to accommodate swelling or toe splay.  The awesome stretchy woven laces with secure set it and forget it security assisted by the integrated eyelets and overlays remain unchanged as well.  
The Caldera 2 also retains a solid and protective toe bumper, lace garage built into the tongue and velcro gaiter trap on the heel of the shoe.
The heel collar is comfortable and well padded, while providing excellent security and protection.
The gaiter trap on the heel remains unchanged (though I have never used it on either model).

Like the first version, the tongue is a bootie type construction with an inner fabric connecting tongue to midsole. This helps keep the tongue in place and ensures the nice and secure fit/feel.
The tongue retains the same medium padding, comfortable enough to not feel the laces without any excess.
Shannon: The upper seems super tough, and more durable than what is sometimes seen on a number of trail shoes, but it doesn't sacrifice breathability for the sake of durability. As Jeff has already mentioned, the tongue is a bootie to provide a nice, wrapped, snug fit for the foot, but also acts to keep debris from sneaking into the shoe. Brooks seems to also have taken a leaf out of Salomon’s book by adding a lace garage, a great addition to any trail shoe. The added rubber at the toe not only protects against any accidental toe stubs to rocks along the way, but its placement is such that it will also be favored by those runners who tend to create holes in the mesh just above the big toe of their shoes, something very often encountered in the world of run shoe-fitting.

Dom:  Cosmetically, the bright yellow slashes of the upper are a little loud for my taste, but with the overall functionally it’s hard to find fault.  The yellow mesh at the sides is light and breathable, but laminated to a stiffer inner fabric.  Brooks use a different, black laminated mesh for the top of the toe box and around the heel.  The seams are invisibly integrated into the overlays.  Really impressive construction. Everything seems sturdy and well thought-out.  The substantial-feeling laces grip well and tuck nicely into a lace garage, and the well-padded tongue blends seamlessly into a sock liner.  Foot retention is excellent .  The toe box has reasonable width, but seems a little shallow in the vicinity of the big toe, which might cause problems for those with easily aggravated nails.  To be fair, though, I had to look around to find something to nit-pick over: Brooks have done a really nice job with this upper and shoe.


The midsole remains the same, consisting of Brooks proprietary BIOMOGO DNA cushioning, which, in the Caldera 2, is very plush, yet firm and responsive enough for pushing the pace at higher speeds.  Cushion and comfort are ample for all day outings and ultra events.  There is no rock plate in the Caldera 2, which I found through reviewing version 1 and 2 is not an issue despite the rocky trails that I normally run, as the cushioning protects from just about any impact.
Shannon: no rock plate, no problem. There is enough EVA/Biomogo foam beneath the forefoot to negate the need for one of those in the Caldera. Similarly to the Salomon Sense Pro Max, Brooks struck a good balance here between soft, but not mushy. The midsole is cushioned and forgiving enough for any trail and any distance, but also responsive enough for any speed.

Dom:  Like Jeff and Shannon, I didn’t notice the absence of a rock plate.  The Caldera 2 provides plenty of protection.  I never felt any discomfort no matter how hard I tried to stomp down on sharp rocks.  Unlike Jeff, I wouldn’t describe the underfoot feel as “plush”, though.  I thought it was surprisingly firm.  However, I do fully agree that this shoe feels built to handle any distance.


Jeff: Like the midsole, the outsole of the Caldera 2 remains unchanged, consisting of a patchwork of low profile lugs of varying rubber compounds glued to the DNA.  Despite the low profile of these lugs, they provide surprisingly good traction through a wide variety of surfaces.  The rubber compound(s) are reasonably sticky and offer above average traction on rock and in wet conditions.  The outsole is also notably wide, which provides excellent stability, without compromising agility.
In the original Caldera, I had initial concerns about the lugs peeling off if used on primarily technical terrain, but over time durability has been good and I don't expect it to really be an issue with the Caldera 2 (though I do not take this shoe on the most rocky technical stuff and run it on more moderate trails).
Shannon: The great thing about the Caldera’s outsole is that, similarly to its cousin the Cascadia, it's luggy enough to handle reasonably aggressive terrain (and snow as well as I came to find out) but not so aggressive that it can't handle a few road miles en route, to or coming from the trail head, without feeling uncomfortable or showing unreasonable wear. In other words, it's versatile. It's ride is a bit more “poppy” than the Cascadia, with a Hoka-like roll off the forefoot, giving it an exceptionally smooth ride wherever I went.

Dom:  I took the Caldera for a long run in the middle of a rainstorm, and it handled everything the elements could throw at it with aplomb.  The grip was excellent and predictable on wet rock and mud.


Jeff: The Caldera 2 is an incredibly smooth riding shoe.  It is plush but not squishy and offers excellent support and stability.  Response is moderate, as the Caldera 2 does not necessarily beg to go fast, but can easily handle faster paces when pushed.  I have run on a wide variety of trail surfaces, just about anything you can imagine, steep rocky trails, some off trail, dirt roads, pavement, buttery singletrack and found the Caldera 2 to be a wonderfully versatile shoe .  It is protective yet flexible, well cushioned, so well cushioned that I came away from each run with my feet and legs feeling notably fresh.  With the first version of the Caldera, I found that with the extra volume of the upper, I would get a little bit of foot slide when pushing hard in rocky, off camber, technical terrain, but with the improved upper of the Caldera 2, those concerns have been reduced.

Shannon: Again, this is very versatile trail shoe in both the terrain it can handle, as well as the paces it is best suited for. It didn't matter if I was running faster on flat, tame, crushed gravel, or negotiating rocks and scree on a steeper climb. I liked it equally well for both.

Dom:  I fully concur with Jeff and Shannon that this is very capable and versatile shoe.  It doesn’t scream for speed, but it will allow you run comfortably all day long over any terrain.  About my only quibble was that the outsole seemed a little too stiff.  I felt that the shoe lacked ground sensitivity and found that the shoe tended to balance on top of rocks, rather than conform around them, making the shoe feel a little tippy on rubbly loose surfaces.

Recommendations and Scores

Jeff's score: 9.7/10- .3 for outsole durability concerns if used on rocky terrain

The Caldera 2 is quite versatile, making it an excellent door to trail shoe that can hold it's own on most terrain.  I have found that it really shines most on more moderate terrain and less rocky surfaces, fast cruising harder surfaces, fire roads and short stints of pavement.  The Caldera 2 makes a great choice for anyone looking for a well cushioned, stable, high mileage trainer/racer, especially for the Brooks fan who has found the Cascadia to be a bit too much shoe and the Mazama to be too little.

Shannon Score: 9.9/10. The only reason I didn't go 10/10 is because, like employee reviews, a perfect score indicates that improvement is impossible. What a bleak outlook for anything! But I can't necessarily think of any one thing that I would improve in the Caldera. It has everything that I like in a trail shoe: versatility, durability, and I'd use it for any Trail, at any speed. It's simple, and it does the trick for me. It has a great ride, a terrific fit, offers a couple of little bells and whistles with the lace garage and gaiter attachment, and is a wonderful option for anybody who doesn't want to or can't run in a minimal shoe, but wants a “less shoe” type feeling, which is accomplished in the Caldera with a lower drop.

Dom's Score: 9.5/10.  An outstanding, well-designed, well-built shoe that gets just about everything right.  This will take you anywhere you want to go.   Certainly not a short-distance screamer, but built for comfort and confidence over the long haul.  What particularly impressed me was that the Caldera 2 does all this at a very competitive weight, without any part of its construction feeling flimsy.  

My only real criticism is that the outsole is little too stiff for my taste, diminishing ground feel and making the shoe occasionally tip off rocks that I would have expected a softer shoe to conform around.  The excellence and versatility of the Caldera 2 does raise the question of what role the Cascadia serves in Brooks’s line-up.


Brooks Caldera 2 vs. Brooks Cascadia (RTR review
Jeff: The Caldera 2 is lighter, more flexible, more forgiving, has a more accomodating fit, better tread grip (especially when wet), better cushion and better trail feel and response.  The Cascadia has better outsole durability for rockier rougher terrain.

Brooks Caldera 2 vs. Hoka Challenger ATR 3 (RTR review
Jeff: These two shoes feel remarkably similar when I wear one on each foot.  The Challenger is lighter, has more cushion and has a 5mm offset vs. 4mm in the Caldera 2.  The Caldera 2 is slightly less quick and responsive, but perhaps a better pick for longer training days and/or slower paced ultra races.

Brooks Caldera 2 vs. Brooks Mazama 2 (RTR review)
Jeff: The Caldera 2 is not nearly as quick and responsive, but is still quick, at least quick for longer distance pace.  The Caldera 2 is a bit heavier, but worth the weight for the added cushion and protection.  The Mazama 2 however would be first pick for shorter, faster race scenarios, especially for climbing.

Brooks Caldera 2 vs Salomon Sense Pro Max (RTR review)
Shannon: These two shoes felt incredibly similar to me once running. The Caldera does have a better step-in feel however, and is also quite a bit more flexible overall. But both shoes have a springy ride, and a lower drop combined with more than ample cushioning. 

Brooks Caldera 2 vs. Altra Lone Peak (RTR review): 
Shannon: While I do like the Lone Peak, I found the ride of the Caldera to be preferable simply given its lack of “mush” underfoot. While the Lone Peak was softer and squishier, it lacked the responsiveness of the Caldera. I also found that the Caldera fit was better suited to my foot.

Dom:  Caldera 2 and Lone Peak 3.5 seem constructed for very similar purposes.  Personally, I like the squishiness of the Lone Peak over the Caldera, but this is very much a matter of taste.  Both shoes fit my feet well.  Caldera does have the edge in lower weight.

Brooks Caldera 2 vs. Hoka Speedgoat 2 (RTR review)
Shannon: I'm a huge fan of both of these shoes. The Caldera did have a lower-to-the-ground, more nimble feel to it, and it comes awfully close to mimicking the “rocker” feel in the forefoot for which Hoka is known and loved for. Both are very springy, energetic shoes, and when it comes down to it, it's really going to depend on the wearer’s preference as to the amount of shoe underfoot. Both terrific trail shoes, with the Caldera in the end being more versatile.

Brooks Caldera vs. Nike Terra Kiger 4 (RTR review)
Dom: these feel built for different purposes.  Although the stack heights are similar, the TK4 feels lower to the ground, with much more trail feel.  That “trail feel, however, can feel like too much sensation after 50+ miles.   Caldera 2 offers a burlier, more structured upper, a stiffer outsole and more rock protection.  The TK4 feels minimalist in comparison.

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 2d Masters in 2015. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the Colorado 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several. 
Dom Layfield is an accomplished trail runner with a background and PhD in bio mechanical engineering from MIT.  His 2017 achievements include first place in the dead of winter 2017 108-mile Spine Challenger race in the UK, breaking the course record by an hour, first place in the Quicksilver 100K in California, and 14th at the Western States Endurance Run. 
Shannon Payne is a two time winner of the Mt Washington Road Race, was 3d in the World Mountain Running Championships and a 7x All American at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She currently works in running retail.

For Reviewers full run bios see our Reviewers Bio Page here.
The Caldera was provided at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments Questions Welcome Below!

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Unknown said...

Hello! I am a research junkie looking for my first pair of trail runners to use in my upcoming Project Athena Adventure. A 2-day, 25 mile/day hike along the coast of San Diego. I pronate and have plantar fasciitis. I have tried the Hoka Speedgoat 2 and, while I loved the cushion, found it to be too "wobbly". Others I have tried didn't make it past walking around the house so now I am stuck between the Salomon Sense Pro Max and the Caldera 2. I would love to hear your opinions. Thanks!

Telemarker said...

Hi Jennifer. Interesting that you found the Speedgoat 2 "too wobbly". Between the SG2 and the Brooks Caldera 2, the Caldera is definitely a firmer, less squishy, so might suit you better. If you have PF, you may want to take out the supplied footbed and replace it with something that provides more arch support. Personally, I haven't tried the Salomon Sense Pro Max, so I can't comment on how it compares.

Jeff Valliere said...

Pro Max is probably the least stable of the 3, though not unstable. I find the SG2 to be very stable, but stack height could be part of the problem for you. Give the Caldera a go, might be your best bet if fit is good.

Unknown said...

I really liked the feel and ride of this shoe, and in the store I thought the fit was great. Wearing it on real trails though I discovered it slipped a LOT going downhill. Too much to be used. I tried going a half size smaller than usual, but it was too tight.

Shannon said...

Hi Jennifer,
Plantar is the worst! Between the Caldera and Sense Pro Max, I would go with the Caldera. I love running in the Sense Pro Max but don't find it to be at all comfortable hiking/walking around in. It might also be worth looking at the Hoka Stinson ATR. It's beefier than the Speedgoat, but I think it has a more stable feel to it. Hope that helps!

Unknown said...

Thank you all! I currently have them both (Caldera 2 and Sense Pro Max) so I will be giving them both a chance to see which might work better for me. Dom, I think you are right about replacing the foot bed. I was hoping to find a shoe that "did it all" for me but I might need to find the closest and modify from there. Thanks again!

rms said...

My main issue with the C1 is evident when compared with the ATR3, namely the much more filled-in arch area in the mid-/outsole of the ATR3. I tend to overpronate on one foot, with the knee ligaments trying to compensate, leading to knee pain. The squishier midsole -- compared to ATR3 -- doesn't help in this regard either. It's enough of a problem on longer runs that I took the Caldera1 out of my rotation.

Also I feel that the medial toebox last could be straightened out just a bit, as the same issue occurs as with the Speedgoat2: Rubbing of the corner of the bigtoe against the side of the shoe on descents.

Manufacturers only update the last on alternate releases nowadays, and The Caldera2 isn't enough of a change to interest me.

Jeff Valliere said...

Thanks for the feedback rms. I have not experienced the issues you are having with any of these shoes. You are right, the Caldera 2 will probably give you the same trouble as the 1 in regards to the midsole (though fit might be a bit better). Thanks for reading.

Wes Arnold said...

Hi folks. Looking for my next cushioned shoe for dry non technical ultra marathons. Priority for me is a very cushioned missile with roomy breathable upper. Issues with toe box has ruled out ATR. Was thinking maybe this Caldera or La Sportiva Akasha. Would welcome your views on these two options and how they compare. Thanks.

Wes Arnold said...

**should read midsole, not missile - damn predictive text**

Jeff Valliere said...

If you have a good local running shop, then maybe just try a bunch on to see which fits best. Have you considered the Salomon Sense Pro Max?

Wes Arnold said...

I hadn't looked at Salomon but I'll check them out thanks