Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Brooks Running Caldera 3 Review

Article by Jeff Beck, Dom Layfield, Hope Wilkes, Dave Ames, and Jeff Valliere

Brooks Running Caldera 3 ($140)
  • Updated upper gives a little more room up front and has no overlays 
  • Outsole has better traction, especially on rock, than previous model.
  • Excellent cushioning and all day comfort.  
  • Fairly soft outsole rubber gives the shoe good road manners
  • Gaiter attachment points welcomed to keep out debris.
  • Mid foot hold on the most technical terrain at speed has suffered a bit in the tradeoff for more upper comfort with no overlays.
  • Thin laces.
  • Somewhat shallow lug depth may limit use to drier more groomed trails and rock surfaces.
  • Only one color way, so far, so if you have a moral opposition to the choices they’ve made you will miss out on a great shoe.
Official Weight: men’s 9.3 oz / 264 g , women’s 8.5 oz /241 g
US M10.5 D 10.6 ounces/300 g
US M10 Sample: 10.0 oz / 283 g (Dom)
Stack Height: 28/24 (without sockliner), 4 mm offset

Tester Profiles
Dom Layfield 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.
Jeff Beck Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup. As a middle-of-the-pack runner, his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs both roads and trails throughout North Phoenix, and at the start of 2019, he began training with Dave for his first ultra marathon.He enjoys running desert trails as well as the road, and is trying to get his 5K time to sub-twenty.
Michael is his 20’s and is a 1:07 half marathoner. He runs 50-60 miles per week, generally in lightweight trainers or racing flat at around 6:00-6:30 minutes/mile.
Hope is in her 20’s and after several ultras is now more on the road. She has a marathon PR of 3:47. She trains about 50 miles per week with many of her runs in the (broad) 8:00-10:00/mile range. She is happy to hit 7:30 miles on tempo days.
Dave is 2 weeks to 37 and the Owner and Founder of Ame For It Run Coaching, a worldwide run coaching service working with runners of all abilities from 5K to Ultra.  He tries to maintain Sub 3 hour marathon shape, while making a transition to Ultra running and being a professional full time run coach. He runs roads and trails and prefers lightweight, snappy trainers and trails shoes.

First Impressions and Fit
Jeff Beck: Initially I was disappointed with the Caldera 3. For all the upper changes Brooks made from the Caldera 2, the toe box looked similarly pointy, and that was my main issue with the C2. However, once I slipped on my true-to-size 10.5, my worries were gone. The difference is probably best measured in millimeters, but that just goes to show how close last year’s model was from being great.

Jeff V:  I have reviewed both the first Caldera as well as the Caldera 2 and really enjoyed both shoes, finding them to be a well cushioned and protective door to trail shoe that can perform very well on the roads, as well as most trails without much compromise (though with the minimal tread, really technical trails, off trail and wet/muddy/snowy trails is where the Caldera limitations will become evident).  The Caldera 3, while at first glance shows obvious signs of Caldera lineage (midsole and outsole), the upper has been completely revamped. If you can look past the blue/grey/white camo look, this is actually a really great shoe!

Michael E.: This was my first time in the Caldera line, and while I’ve run in some trail shoes over the years (Brooks Pure Grit, Nike Wildhorse, etc.), I don’t consider myself to have all that much experience. So! I hit the trails, and the roads, in an attempt to see how the Caldera 3 fared for me. The result? I was immediately impressed by how “normal” it felt. Somehow, I had expected it to feel like walking in a ski boot, or a track spike - uncomfortable except in its specific purpose. Fortunately, that was not the case; over (unfortunately little) snow, mud, grass, sand, cement, and concrete, I found a comfortable and versatile ride that was not unfamiliar from an everyday road shoe.

Dom:  I’d previously run in the Caldera 2, and was interested to see what changes Brooks had made.  The sole stack looks to be unchanged, but there is a completely new upper. Version 2 offered an impressive amount of cushioning and protection for the weight.   To my delight, Brooks have shaved off a good amount of weight in version 3: 35 g / 1.2 oz per pair (US M10). This takes the shoe right into a very competitive weight class, similar e.g. to the Hoka Torrent.  The other thing that leapt out of me was the controversial blue/gray camo colorway. I didn’t care for it at all, but when I asked my wife for a second opinion, she said she liked it.

Hope: I can probably count on one hand the number of different trail shoes I’ve had over the years. I’m a roadie, but I like to race on trails from time to time, so I have a little bit of experience. Upon first look, the Caldera 3 looked a lot like a road shoe to me, but with slightly more aggressive traction. It is surprisingly lightweight for a trail shoe, but has a stiff flex that is evidence of its true calling. (I got my start racing trails in the heavy-duty Cascadia 7, so I tend to think of trail shoes as being inevitably MUCH heavier than road shoes.)

Dave:  This will be my first rodeo in a Caldera and in fact, my first runs in a very, very long time in a Brooks trail shoe.  I don’t know what it is, but Brooks really never struck me as a trail company, making the ever so basic, cinder block of a trail shoe, Cascadia.  But when you slide the C3 on, it fits pretty well. My size 9 is spot on, however the last of the shoe is too “flat” in the midsole. There is too much excess upper going on in the midfoot hold to really allow this shoe to mold to my more narrow of a foot  I did not notice this initially, but as I ran longer in testing, it began to cause some hot spots. Note: Most of this worked itself out and I have had no issues since. Wanted to note since this as when you “initially” wear the shoe things may be different than longer term.

Jeff Beck: The upper is the main shift from the Caldera 2 to the 3, and Brooks absolutely nailed it. First, the incredibly obvious. The C3 introduces a front gaiter attachment, as well as changed up how the rear velcro gaiter attachment worked. For someone who’s never owned a pair of gaiters, the changes are obvious, but I can’t speak to their effectiveness. I will say the added loop at the back was a nice touch. Brooks killed the lace garage that lived at the top of the tongue of the Caldera 2, which is a bummer. Not that the C2 lace garage was any good, it was very poorly positioned (I was only able to utilize it if I tied the shoe while it wasn’t on my foot so I could demonstrate its value to my less-than-enthused but incredibly patient wife) but I would have preferred they made it better instead of axing it. But that’s about my only complaint - because Brooks retooled the toe bumper, and in doing so it made the Caldera 3 roomy up front. Not Topo roomy, but enough that I could run ten miles in the shoe and have zero complaints, while the Caldera 2 had a five to seven mile limit before hotspots threatened to turn into blisters.
You may notice from the comparison photos that the C2 isn’t laced all the way down; that was the result of me trying any way to give that shoe a little more room up front. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.
Jeff Beck: The new upper is much more straightforward, with a consistent mesh pattern, with none of the complicated overlays the previous version had. As a result, the shoe is very breathable, but it isn’t a pushover. The stack is high enough that I wouldn’t do many overly technical trails in it, but that isn’t due to a lack of foot hold, the Caldera 3 kept my foot planted.

Jeff V:  The new upper is an improvement over previous versions, with a more consistent mesh without the external welded overlays seen previously.  The result is a much smoother look without compromising foothold and is very comfortable (though I never had comfort issues in previous models.
Fit is true to size, though the forefoot is a bit more roomy which is great for runners with wide feet and those looking for room for swell/splay on longer runs where snug foothold is not paramount.  That said, I did find foothold to be very good on all but the most technical trails at high speeds, where the Caldera 3 upper held my foot comfortably snug on the shoe with only the occasional wobble or sense of instability when pushing hard.  The times where my foot would slide some in the shoe and feel a bit unstable I would attribute to the lack of midfoot overlays integrated with the laces as in previous versions, combined with the more roomy forefoot.

The loss of the lace garage is inconsequential to me, as I never remembered that it was there on previous versions and thus did not use it, but do like the new lace loop in the middle of the lacing to hold your tied laces in place, as it is obvious enough to remind me and easy to employ with no futzing.
The toe bumper is very sturdy, but not at all intrusive.  
The heel collar is comfortably padded and the heel counter is protective and secure with great heel hold.
I also appreciate the gusseted tongue that provides a slipper like fit and keeps the moderately padded tongue nicely in place (reminiscent of Salomon EndoFit).

Michael E.: Reading the spec sheet, I thought the overlays and “features” (front and rear gaiter attachment, water drainage systems) of the Caldera 3 would result in a clunky-feeling upper, or, in the “best case,” something heavy. Fortunately, I was wrong on both accounts: the upper is even throughout the shoe, as described above, and downright comfortable. It does feel more firm and “plastic-y” than something like the Ghost 10, which has a softer quality, but it’s not unpleasant to wear.
Dom: The new seamless, overlayless upper is excellent in almost every way.  Lighter and stretchier than its predecessor, the shoe nevertheless feels similar.  
The shape of the shoe is unchanged: with a medium-width but snug fit in the forefoot, and an old-school pointy toe.  
The only failure of the new upper, in my opinion, is that midfoot retention has regressed.  On steep descents, I found my foot sliding forward, and toes hitting the end of the shoe. This toe bang was not a problem in the Caldera 2.  I attribute it to the stretchiness of the upper fabric and the lack of reinforcement between the sole and the lace web. (Compare, for example to Hoka Clifton 6,which adds stitching in this critical location or Hoka EVO Mafate which weaves in Kevlar threads.)   Otherwise, I thought the laces were on the flimsy side: which is ironic, since I’m ecstatic about the light weight of this shoe.  
Hope: I don’t know why some of the guys are ragging on the camo pattern on the upper. It hides the mud on a shoe that’s meant to get dirty! I’m not going to try to make a fashion statement in shoes that I used to tromp through the woods. I love how soft and accommodating the overlay-free upper is. The Caldera 3 passed the toughest challenge I could throw at it: I took it for a long run when I already had a massive blister from running in another shoe (I’ll protect the guilty and not name names). I didn’t feel any irritation. I’m a big fan of the toe cap. It’s thin enough and unobtrusive enough that I don’t have to worry about catching my toenails on it, but it seems stiff enough to protect me from any rock kicks (I’m dedicated to thorough testing, but I wasn’t about to kick rocks to test that theory.) My one gripe with the upper is that it could be better at keeping out debris.
That might easily be solved by wearing gaiters for which heel and lace attachment points are provided.  
Dave:  Other than the upper from the get go not molding well (which worked itself out) there is nothing too fancy about it.  It just plain works. This is a general trail cruiser for me. Nothing fancy and I do not see myself racing 50K or 50 miles in it. It’s more door to trail.  Very similar to the way I feel Brooks has approached trail running in general. Like Hope, I kind of dig the camo. We’ve seen Brooks get a little more “new school” in their approach to uppers with materials and design in 2018 and into 2019 and this is not bad at all!  Gaiter attachment? Yeah, won’t be needing those in SoCal! I’d rather get bit by a rattler.

Jeff Beck: The Caldera 3 midsole continues to utilize Brooks’ BioMoGo DNA cushioning, which is a more traditional cushioning. There is enough underfoot to provide plenty of protection from rocks (even without a rock plate of any kind) and it has a very comfortable ride balancing between plush and responsive. Maybe not the shoe to race a trail 10K in, but I would bet your average 50K will have a number of runners sporting the Caldera 3. For most of my runs in the Caldera 3 the shoe disappeared underneath my foot, and I really don’t know a better compliment I can pay to a shoe. Initially I thought the Caldera 3 had a firmer midsole than the 2, but after bringing the Caldera 2 out of retirement, I can confirm the midsole is incredibly similar, if not identical.

Dom:  The sole stack of the Caldera 3 is stout.  Stack height is nominally 24 mm in the forefoot, which would typically considered ‘moderate’ for a trail shoe,  but the amount of cushioning and protection squeezed into this is startlingly good. I didn’t feel any discomfort even when jumping vigorously directly onto sharp prominences.   The midsole has a nice amount of squish to it, while remaining reasonably responsive, and avoiding a ‘mushy’ feel. This shoe has enough cushion and protection for really long events in difficult, rough terrain.  I can’t imagine wanting more underfoot.

Michael: If you’re run in one BioMoGo DNA shoe, you’ve run in them all - it’s the same material used in the Pure series. The cushioning on the Caldera is adequate, if lackluster - you’re certainly not feeling the same energy return of a BOOST or Zoom X (for example), but your legs aren’t taking an extra pounding, either. In an age of next-generation materials, it’d be fun to have a really high-end cushioning system on a trail shoe, but that’s not really what Brooks wants out of the Caldera - instead, you get a well-cushioned, well-balanced, and generally pleasant ride. Nothing more, nothing less.

Hope: I think Michael said this exactly right. The BioMoGo DNA midsole isn’t paradigm shifting, but it contributes to a soft, comfortable feel. I might prefer a bit less midsole if that could get me a bit more groundfeel, but I’m happy to have sufficient protection to get by without a rockplate. I would probably really appreciate the leg-saving softness for an ultra-length effort.

Jeff V:  The BioMoGo DNA midsole of the Caldera 3 is deeply cushioned and protective and while not notably responsively quick and inspiring, I feel as though I can crank up the pace on uphills without the shoe balking too much and can really keep fast paces on smooth steady downhills either on dirt or pavement.  The Caldera 3 is definitely not a dedicated speedster, but more of a steady and reliable all day trainer that can occasionally rise to the task of moving fast. There is enough cushion here for all day running on just about any surface density without feeling too beat up.
Dave:  As mentioned above, I most likely wouldn’t race an Ultra in these babies, but it is a fine training shoe for sure.  The BioMogo DNA feels snappy, the C3 moves right along from heel strike to toe off and my legs feel pretty fresh after some longer runs.  I got in 20 on the trails in it and left the run feeling fresh as a daisy. Again, it’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done!

Jeff Beck: The Caldera 3 introduces Brooks’ TrailTack rubber compound, and it seems to do the trick. You can see from the comparison photos that the outsole design has not changed from last year, but it really feels like it gets better traction. I encountered several slips while running in the Caldera 2, but I have yet to be anything but sure footed in the 3. Again, I wouldn’t go after really technical stuff in this shoe. There’s good grip, but it isn’t legendary traction, and the lugs are relatively low profile. I noticed on several out-and-back trail runs that I could barely see my tracks, even on trails with minimal traffic. As a career Clydesdale runner, that’s a somewhat foreign experience for me, and really speaks to how grippy the new rubber is.
Dom:  My biggest criticism of the Caldera 2 was that the sole felt a little too stiff, so that ground feel was limited, and the shoe could feel ‘tippy’ in technical terrain -- rolling off rocks, rather than conforming around them.  The Caldera 3 feels much the same. Beyond that criticism, however, I found that traction was generally excellent, and the new outsole rubber is noticeably grippier in the wet.

Michael: Here’s where the Caldera is fun. The new TrailTack outsole is like glue on your shoe, at least on the terrain I covered; I didn’t encounter a single slip or slide on any number of corners. Now, one fault of Chicago is that I didn’t cover many hills, so I couldn’t handle any really technical descents, but what I did go up (or go down) was comfortable and not-terrifying, which is about the praise I can give to a trail shoe. Ice was the most challenging terrain to cover, I thought, and while this certainly isn’t a dedicated ice-shoe, it did well enough, especially on ice-covered grass or mud, where you get that lovely cold slush. Brr!   

Hope: My experience was similar to Dom’s: There’s not enough ground feel, so I found myself rolling off some small rounded rocks when I landed on them on the midfoot, but I thought that the outsole rubber seemed soft. I ran in some truly deep mud and the soft, shallow outsole lugs weren’t all that quick to shed what they’d picked up. I’d compare it to the way a silicone ice cube mold has to be peeled away from the ice while a hard plastic ice cube tray can be flexed and the ice will fall out: the lugs are so soft that they flex with any dirt they pick up, so it takes longer to clear. Even so, grip was excellent and I never felt like I was slipping. My preference would be to use the Caldera 3 on dry and/or buffed out trails, but I’m not a regular trail runner, so more experienced runners may feel comfortable in the Caldera 3 in sloppier conditions. I’ll also note that the soft lugs contributed to great road manners for the Caldera 3. I’ve run on roads in trail shoes with lugs so firm that  it feels like I’m running in cleats. The Caldera 3 is buttery smooth and pops nicely off pavement.


Jeff V: I find the newly formulated TrailTack outsole to be an improvement over previous versions, with excellent grip on rocks (wet or dry) and on non-technical, semi soft compliant surfaces.  With the very low profile lugs however, the Caldera 3 struggles a bit on gravelly surfaces with hard pack underneath and can skate out from under you when the trails are muddy, snowy or on steep loose off trail chaff.  The outsole definitely suits more civilized running on less technical trails under good conditions, but this low profile outsole is also what helps it to be a great door to trail shoe, it just depends on your run terrain preferences.
Dave:  I feel a bit far too “protected” in the C3.  I like to feel the trail a lot more and it’s quite noticeable when rounding corners that the support is there to not roll over, but like mentioned above, I like to pop off rocks and roots when cornering and the C3 kept me much more conservative, especially when flying down downhills from altitude (above 8000ft)  For the type of trail running I do in SoCal, the outsole works just fine as we really don’t get into any nasty stuff here. I can also see this shoe being solid on the roads in the winter back home in Central NY.

Jeff Beck: The Caldera 3 has a very smooth transition, likely a result of a rubber outsole with lots of flex-grooves built in. The midsole is on the firm side of plush, which works really well on the rocky trails of North Phoenix. You won’t confuse it with a Mizuno, it isn’t that firm, but just enough to keep miles of miles of small rocks from beating your feet up. All of my Caldera 3 runs were zero drama, and as I mentioned earlier, the shoe really disappeared on my feet. They run as expected for what I think of as a mid-weight trail shoe. There’s lighter trail shoes out there, that don’t provide the same level of protection, but the heavier shoes I’ve run in this year haven’t provided much more protection. The Caldera 3 seems to punch above its weight class.

Dom:  Excellent stuff.  The Caldera 3 runs really well on a wide variety of surfaces, including (to my surprise) the road.  As Jeff remarks above, it really punches above its weight class, with heavyweight underfoot cushion and protection in the middleweight category.  

Hope: I found the Caldera 3 to be pretty soft, even on the road. Not soft or a road shoe, but certainly soft relative to what I expect from a trail shoe. Otherwise, I completely agree with Jeff B. and Dom: the Caldera 3 has a smooth transition and a plush feel.

Michael: Smooth, smooth, smooth. Looking at this shoe - the semi-clunkiness of the midsole and outsole combination, the rugged treat - you may be inclined to think you’re about to run in hiking boot. Fortunately, you’d be wrong. As the others have said, the balance here between comfort and protection from rocky trails is sublime. Even on a smooth concrete path, the ride here is pleasant and even.

Jeff V:  The Caldera 3 is super smooth and predictable, striking a nice balance for those looking for an ultra distance/long distance trainer to comfortably put in the miles without feeling beat up, a lot of shoe in a reasonably lightweight package.

Dave:  Smooth feel.  Snappy midsole and just plain gets the job done.  Great training shoe for Ultra for those 10-20 milers for me.  Maybe even trail marathon.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff Beck: 
I really enjoyed running in this shoe. I didn’t review the Caldera 2, but I did run it, and had issues with the upper as well as limited traction - complaints that I no longer have about the Caldera 3. If I had spent a month holding a sign outside of the Brooks headquarters demanding changes to the Caldera, the result would have been the Caldera 3, and likely me looking for new employment and personal relationship opportunities. Brooks has been hit and miss for me this past year (check out the Glycerin 16 review against the Ricochet review), but the Caldera 3 is an absolute home run for me. If you are looking for a well-cushioned, but not that heavy trail cruiser, give the Caldera 3 a look.
Jeff Beck’s score 10/10
I didn’t expect the shoe to go this way after the first few runs seemed fine, but nothing remarkable. After the most low-key ten mile run of my life, I realized that nothing remarkable is what makes this shoe remarkable. I really cannot find a fault with the Caldera 3. The midsole is very comfortable and protective without being overly stiff, the upper is roomy in the right places and locked down my midfoot, and the outsole has plenty of grip, but still runs just fine on the road. If I had to come up with something negative, I’d go with the shoelaces are very soft and thin. But they stay tied, and so far have been very durable, so that’s not really a knock. Well done Brooks.

Dave: Kind of your overall “get it done” trail trainer.  I think this is a great pull in a run shop for the runner of any ability level, especially those who want a confident trail shoe, with good cush who are maybe venturing into trail running.  But those who need a workhorse trainer for Ultra, don’t sleep on it either.
Dave’s Score:  8.90/10
-.5 for poor wide laces (continually needed to stop and re-lace)
-.5 for excess materials in the midfoot area
-.10 for $140 (far too overpriced) - - It’s perfect in the $120-125 wheelhouse.  If I’m going to spend $140 on a trail shoe, it’s not going to be Brooks!

The Caldera 3 offers a lot of cushioning and rock protection in a surprisingly lightweight package.  It gets just about everything right and feels highly competent on all the surfaces I tested. You can run (and race) just about any distance in this shoe, except perhaps short, high G-force efforts.  
Dom’s score: 9/10
-A really excellent shoe with amazing performance for the weight.  The shoe’s only real weakness is lack of midfoot hold that becomes apparent in steep terrain.
-As with the Caldera 2, I thought that making sole a little softer would make the shoe more forgiving and improve ground feel.

I had a lot of fun in the Caldera 3. It can go road-to-trail beautifully and is soft enough to keep me comfortable for long efforts. There are probably better short-distance trail racers out there, but for general cruising and long runs, the Caldera 3 is hard to beat.   
Hope’s Score: 9.75/10
-.25 for “tippy” feel from thick midsole

Michael E: 
The Caldera 3, my first introduction to the Caldera line, was overall a pleasant one. Is it the softest, or most comfortable ride available? No. The newest technology? No. But a striking balance between road and trail, weight and cushion, pop and bounce? I’d say so. The Caldera 3 stands out in all the ways it doesn’t stand out. Running on the sidewalk? It’s no problem. A rugged technical switchback? The Caldera 3 can handle it. There are better road shoes; there are better trail shoes. The Caldera 3 is all about balance, and I think it finds that sweet spot nicely.
Michael’s Score: 9.0 /10
-I appreciate the looks (hey, it’s different, right?) but the laces have come undone on me more than once.
-If you really need a technical trail-only shoe, this may not be enough for you.
-Most notably, the midsole and cushion technology are very last-generation, and it shows.

Jeff V:  I really appreciate the Caldera 3 for it’s fit, cushion, versatility and all day comfort, all in a reasonably lightweight package.  Slotted between the Cascadia and the Mazama, it fills a niche where it is lighter and more agile than the Cascadia and much more cushioned and protective than the Mazama, though not nearly the all around bomber durability of the Cascadia, or the speedy response of the Mazama.  I think the Caldera 3 is a great choice for those looking for all day cushion and comfort on moderate to mellow trails and door to trail versatility. For my use and preferences, I would love see a more toothy outsole and a little better foothold for steeper, more technical trails, but I do realize that the Caldera 3 is not made for that.
Jeff V’s Score: 9.5 /10
-.1 for thin flat laces
-.2 for traction limitations
-.2 for foothold when pushed
-.1 for limited colorway (would love to see some better styling here, as the mottled blue camo look is a bit out there).

Room for Improvement
Dom:  For me, there was one standout issue with this shoe that held it back from a stellar score, and that was the lack of midfoot hold.  The upper is a little stretchy and lacks reinforcement in the midfoot. On steep descents, I found my foot sliding forward, and toes hitting the end of the shoe.

Hope: I might like to see the a somewhat thinner midsole for better ground feel. The Caldera 3 suits my needs well as-is.

Jeff V:  Mentioned above with the foothold and traction limitations of the Caldera 3, Brooks has not yet made a trail shoe that really fulfills my mountain running requirements.  The Mazama is a really fast shoe, light and crazy responsive, particularly on uphills, but foothold, traction and cushion are lacking. It is great for going as fast as you can uphill, but is limited beyond that.  The Cascadia falls on the opposite end of the spectrum and while I recognize why it is so popular with it’s protection and durability, I find it to be sluggish, heavy and stiff for real running. The PureGrit and Caldera 3 fill out that middle ground, lighter and more agile than the Cascadia, more protective than the Mazama, but still not ideal for fast spirited running in technical terrain where traction, secure hugging fit, flexible yet protectively cushioned midsole are paramount.  I do concede that none of the shoes mentioned, including the Caldera 3, check all my boxes for a competent mountain running shoe, but I think with an aggressive tread and a bit more dialed foothold, the Caldera 3 would come pretty darn close. Brooks makes excellent, high quality shoes, yet I still see a gap in the trail line.

Dave:  Better lacing system.  Wide laces never work well on a trail shoe for me.  Or any shoe for that matter. Keep the cush, but give me more feel underfoot. I would also like to see more toe flex.


Brooks Caldera 3 vs Brooks Caldera 2 (RTR review)
Jeff Beck: This is the matchup that shows just how close some shoes are great. The Caldera 2 didn’t have great traction, the upper didn’t breathe well, and the toe box was just a hair tight. A new rubber compound gives the 3 better traction, and a new upper design solved the problems. The two shoes run very similarly to each other, so if you don’t have toe and traction issues, you could look at the 2 as a very good shoe, but for me, the changes were immense.
Dom:  Caldera 3 is lighter than its predecessor and now very competitive in terms of cushion-per-gram.  On the foot, I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference between Caldera 2 and 3. Caldera 3 has better wet traction and a more comfortable upper.  The downside is that midfoot retention is worse than before.
Jeff V:  As Dom says, not a huge difference in overall feel, but the Caldera 3 is lighter and more breathable, with a slightly more voluminous upper, which might be an advantage for longer slower runs, but foothold when pushed is slightly compromised over the Caldera 2.  I also find the rubber compound on the 3 improved over the 2. Colorway on the 3 might be tough for some to accept.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs Nike Wildhorse 4
Jeff Beck: Both great shoes for me. The Wildhorse 4 has a slightly bigger toe box, a little less cushioning, a rock plate, and a little more traction (at least dry traction, I’ve yet to experience the fabled wet traction SNAFU that is widely reported), while the Caldera 3 is lighter, has a little more cushioning, runs a little smoother, and is better on the road. Easy trail cruising? I’d favor the Caldera, but if things technical the lower stack height of the Wildhorse is my choice.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs Topo Athletic UltraVenture (RTR review)
Jeff Beck: Similar lineup with a few subtle changes. The Topo has a bigger toe box, more traction, a softer ride, and a softer upper, while the Brooks gives you much more protection underneath the foot and a more solid hold on the midfoot. While they have similar weights and stack heights, the firmer cushioning in the Caldera 3 keeps your foot protected, while the UltraVenture smooth cushioning unfortunately lets those rocks through. Lots of smooth dirt trail miles? I’d take the UltraVenture, virtually anything else, I’ll take the more versatile Caldera 3.
Dom:  Stack height and drop are similar.  Caldera 3 has more cushioning and protection underfoot.  Ultraventure has a more secure upper. Caldera 3 slightly lighter (by about 40 g per pair).  Caldera midsole is a little squishier. Ultraventure forefoot is wider.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 (RTR review)
Jeff Beck: This is the hardest Sophie’s Choice I’ve faced this year. Nearly identical weights, the Hoka has the cushioning and protection advantage, and (I cannot believe I’m saying this) in the 2E width wins the toe box war. The Caldera 3 is a smoother running shoe, and the upper holds my foot better. The Hoka outsole works a little better on the road, but I would call the traction very similar between the two. Gun to my head, which one do I pick? The Hoka, but just barely.
Jeff V:  I find the Challenger ATR 5 to be a more spirited and responsive shoe.  Even though they are the same weight, the ATR 5 feels lighter and more agile, with more firm, yet ample cushion for all day running.  Fit is similar, leaving room for swelling and splay, yet a slight compromise in foothold in technical terrain.
Dom:  Like Jeff said, this is tough choice.  Stack & weight very similar. Both shoes get almost everything right.  Neither is a great choice for muddy, slippery conditions. Personally, I prefer the ATR because sole is more flexible: Caldera 3 (like 2) is a little too stiff for my taste.
Dave:  Challenger ATR5 is my go too!  Caldera cannot compete.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs Skechers Performance GoRun Maxtrail 5 Ultra (RTR review)
Jeff Beck: Very comparable weight and stack height, the verbosely named Skechers was ripped in the review for upper issues, but I didn’t experience that. I did however, find the lugs, while pronounced and provided lots of traction, were too pronounced on my runs and introduces instability when things got a even a little technical. It is quite a bit bouncier than the Caldera 3, but that isn’t always a good thing. Much like the UltraVenture, if things are pretty smooth sailing and not that rocky, the Skechers shoe would work well, but for most runs, I’d take the Caldera 3 and not think twice.
Jeff V:  The GoRun Maxtrail 5 Ultra feels faster and much more responsive, but the upper is really unstable and struggles on high speed cornering or in technical terrain.  The Caldera 3 is a better pick for overall versatility and predictability.
Dom:  Both lightweight, max cushion shoes, the Maxtrail 5 Ultra’s is comfier, with a very stretchy upper.  Its sole is more flexible. So if you plan to run mostly in a straight line on mellow terrain, opt for Skechers.  Otherwise Caldera’s better lateral stability makes it a better choice.
Dave: I feel a heck of a lot smoother in the MaxTrail Ultra 5, simply because my foot loves Skechers and has for years!  M Strike is my jam. C3 corners better as Skechers has always struggled in the trail department with lateral stability.  Lacing is poor on both.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs. Salomon Sense Ultra Pro (RTR review)
Jeff V:  Both shoes offer a more roomy upper, generous cushioning and all day comfort, though the Ultra Pro holds my foot more securely for better control in technical terrain and has far superior traction with deep lugs and contagrip.  The Caldera 3 is a good bit lighter, but the added weight does not really make the Ultra Pro feel any slower.

Brooks Caldera 3 vs. Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 (RTR review)
Jeff V:  Hands down the Speedgoat 3 works better for me with a more dialed in and secure upper and an aggressive tread, coupled with maximum cushion and great stability, though if running slower paces on less technical terrain, some may appreciate the added room of the Caldera 3.
Dave:  Speedgoat 3 is the best trail shoe I have run in in the last 3 years.  Done.
Dom:  Very different shoes.  Both offer lots of underfoot protection, although SG3 has even more.  The biggest difference is the upper. SG upper has almost no stretch and clamps foot far more securely to the sole.  Consequently SG feels way more reassuring in technical terrain. Caldera 3 is more comfortable, and significantly lighter by almost an oz per shoe.  (54 g / 1.9 oz per pair in US M10).

Reviewers' full run bios are here
Photo Credits: Dom Layfield, Jeff Beck, Hope Wilkes, and Michael Ellenberger
The product reviewed in this article provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

Sam or kid and I like the Caldera a bunch for just throw fun run training. She has been using it for offseason XC training as well. What would be the Brooks road version of these -- soft, bouncy, fairly stable and easy to run in? Any ideas?

Curt said...

Any interest in reviewing the Inov8 TerraUltra 260? Either the Graphene or non-Graphene variants? They look to be an interesting comparison to the new Superior.

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'd point you toward the Glycerin 16 (or maybe the upcoming 17). Very similar stack height, more traditional cushioning, and comfortable upper. You could look at the Ghost as well, even though it has a few less millimeters under foot, there's a pretty substantial amount of cushioning there too.


Telemarker said...

Hi Curt,

Personally, I'm highly interested in the Inov-8 TerraUltra 260, particularly the graphene enhanced version. I like that it's light and had a wide forefoot. Not to mention my geeky curiosity to discover whether the graphene is hype or has real benefits. I'm teetering on the edge of buying a pair to try.

However, I think the biggest strength of RTR is the multi-tester review, which yields a variety of contrasting opinion. For that to happen, the manufacturer (or US distributor) needs to provide multiple sample pairs, which is expensive for them. I don't know whether Inov-8 have the marketing budget in the USA.

I'll discuss with Sam to see if we can make this happen.

-- Dom

Curt said...

Thanks again Dom. Between this and the Superior, we've definitely got similar shoe interests. I will add though, that Seven Hills Running in Seattle tried both the Graphene and non-Graphene versions and actually recommended the non-Graphene variant for it's slightly softer, more flexible feel. I believe they posted about it on their Instagram. I'd love to hear your thoughts on both if at all possible!

Anonymous said...

So I wear a Men's 10 in the Lone Peak 4 and and a 10.5 in the Hoka Torrent. What would you recommend for sizing in this? I think the width of the Altras allowed me to go to my TTS while I still needed some mid foot width in the Hokas, hence the 10.5

Jeff Valliere said...

If size 10.5 Torrent works for you, a 10.5 Caldera 3 is sized similarly and should work.