Sunday, December 13, 2020

Brooks Running Caldera 5 Multi Tester Review

Article by Renee Krusemark, Jeff and Allison Valliere, and Jeff Beck

Brooks Caldera 5 ($140)


The Caldera is Brooks’s mainstay more cushioned trail runner, which can also serve as a door to trail shoe. It gains some weight, and some stack height for more cushion, narrows its platform based on our measurements, and gets a more technical trails focused upper. Read on to find out what our testers thought.


Renee/Jeff V/Allison V: grippy, versatile outsole

ReneeJeff V/Allison V: stable for its height

ReneeJeff V/Allison V: well-fitting upper

Jeff B/Jeff V/Allison V: lots of cushioning and good rock protection

Jeff B/Jeff V/Allison V: comfortable upper with decent width toebox

Jeff B/Jeff V/Allison V: outsole provides more traction than it appears


Renee: narrow forefoot 

Jeff B: minor platform tweaks from C4 are problematic, especially around forefoot 

Jeff B: surprisingly heavy

Jeff V/Allison V:  neither of us can really come up with any complaints


 Official Weight:  men's 10.6 oz / (US9)  /  women's 9.4 oz / (US8)


men’s 10.4oz  / 296g (US 8.5), 11.7 oz. / 332g (US 10.5), 11 oz / /311g (US 10) 

women’s: 8 9.26oz/262g (US 9)

Caldera 4 tested men’s samples:10.5 oz / 298g  US M10 , 10.9oz / 309g US M 10.5D, 

Caldera 5 Stack Height:

Total Stack Height (Midsole + Outsole + Strobel + sockliner): 35mm Forefoot – 39mm Heel

Midsole + Outsole only: 28mm Forefoot - 32mm Heel. 

4mm drop

Available Feb 2021. $140

First Impressions and Fit

Renee: The Caldera 5 is my first Brooks trail shoe, and after liking a few pairs of Brooks road shoes for running country roads, I expected a durable, comfortable ride from the Caldera 5. 

Overall, the shoe delivers a quality option for a high-stack, cushiony “beefy” trail shoe. I tested a women’s size 8, my usual. I found the length to be a bit shorter than other comparable high-stack trail shoes in the same size. I don’t think runners need to go a half size up, but runners between half sizes should consider the longer of the two sizes. I had only one major issue with the Caldera: the forefoot ran too narrow.  

Jeff B: I’m coming to the Caldera 5 with the opposite experience of Renee, I’ve run or reviewed the Caldera 2/3/4 as well as the Brooks Catamount. At first glance the Caldera 5 is a minor rework of the Caldera 4 - of which I was a huge fan. However, listed spec changes to the stack height from the Caldera 4 made me curious, and after busting out the digital calipers, it is clear that Brooks has done some tweaking of the platform. 

The 5 is just a few millimeters taller than its predecessor, which seems just fine, but I too had the same issue Renee experienced - the forefoot is narrower and is just a little too narrow for me, right around the ball of the foot. Fitwise, I found they were right on true-to-size, and the toe box wasn’t bad, but it is very clear Brooks has made Caldera 5 slightly heavier and narrower than the Caldera 4.

Left: Caldera 4 Right: Caldera 5

Jeff V:  I have run in every version of the Caldera.  Versions 1,2 and 3 were nice shoes, all very similar and with mostly minor upper tweaks along the way, but the updates in 4, were a transformative rework from the ground up.  More cushion, more bounce, a new outsole, a wider last and very refined upper.  The 4th version, with the wider last and more forefoot room is great for longer days and for those who have wider feet and want a bit more wiggle room.  

The 5th and latest version shares the same outsole and midsole materials, although as Jeff B mentions, has a bit more cushion.  The upper is the biggest change here and for some (like me) is a huge improvement.  I found the Caldera 4 to be great for casual use and running on moderate to less technical trails, but when I run on technical trails and especially when fast running/cornering on that kind of terrain, my foot would waver a bit.  With the Caldera 5, Brooks has dialed in the fit, taking out any excess space in the toe box ceiling, making it more precise, while still maintaining the upper width that so many liked about the Caldera 4. This has helped me tremendously with foothold on technical terrain, leading to a newfound relationship with the shoe.

Allison V:  I agree with Jeff on fit. On my thin/narrow foot, it fits me perfectly and is an improvement over the Caldera 4, which has been one of my favorite trail shoes ever.  

Fit is true to size and the toe box/forefoot still feels roomy and wide enough, while I am able to dial  in the fit just enough to not feel constricting, yet at the same time the fit provides improved foothold and security over the earlier version.  The upper of the shoe looks similar upon first glance, but closer inspection reveals a more refined upper that is more comfortable, softer and more breathable.


Renee: The upper is comfortable overall. The toe box appears pointy, but I did not think it was narrow (again, for runners between half sizes, go with the longer of the two sizes). The mesh is breathable (perhaps too cold in below freezing temps) and comfortable while also being secure. The overlays/bumpers provide protection from moisture entering the shoe from the toe box, across the midfoot, and in the heel. The tongue is thin, but it balances well for the overall fit of the shoe. The heel and heel counter have a good amount of padding. I thought the laces provided good security adjustment. 

Jeff B: Brooks reworked the upper from last year, using a slightly looser mesh but incorporating a little more structure in the way of overlays. It holds the foot a little better than last year, but the biggest upper change for me is in the toe box. The Caldera toe box has always been a little awkward. Looking back at the 2 or 3, and it is very pointy, even though it wasn’t necessarily narrow. The C4 resembled more of an Altra/Topo toe box than just about any other on the market, and the 5 tightened it up some, and made the toe bumper far more prominent. Brooks kept the mid-tongue and rear gaiter attachment points, and gave the gusseted tongue just a little more padding than the previous year - but don’t expect anything too thick or plush.That said, I did experience more lace pressure than anticipated at the top of the tongue, and I didn’t have my pair locked down to generate that pressure. Once I stopped using the top eyelet (the only one that is a simple hole rather than a loop of cloth the lace runs through) that issue went away. Not a huge issue, just something to be aware of.

Jeff V: Jeff B and Renee describe the upper well.  The monoloop engineered mesh upper has a less dense weave than previous which is more supple and soft to the touch.  While I had no trouble with the previous version, the upper of the 5 is slightly more comfortable, flexible and breathable.

The toe bumper has also been expanded and bolstered, a bit thicker and wraps further around the toe box for a near continuous rand.

The tongue is similar to previous in thickness, gusseting and overall design, but with a slightly more supple feel and with less stitching (maybe an improvement if you run sockless or with very low below ankle socks.

The heel counter feels the same, though heel padding has been increased and is equally, if not slightly more secure and stable.

The toe box width and shape feel about the same to me between the two, but the (minor) excess folding/bunching of the upper material above the toe box on the Caldera 4 has been eliminated and I think the more sturdy and expanded toe bumper/rand may also play a role in Jeff B and Renee’s discomfort there with the Caldera 5.

Allison V:  As I mentioned above, the upper has been improved for better security, breathability and is a little softer and more comfortable.  For my foot, I appreciate that Brooks seemed to have eliminated any excess material above the forefoot where I experienced a slight bit of folding of the excess material, but that is no longer the case here with the newer version.  I do not run particularly fast, but have noticed the improvement in foothold, especially on rocky, technical terrain.


Renee: The midsole delivers a soft, cushiony ride. The Caldera would be a great choice for a long run shoe, and because of the security of the upper, the Caldera could be a race-day shoe for an ultra. There is no rock plate, but given the protective 35mm stack height up front, I had no issues feeling thick gravel underfoot. Mountain runners might disagree. 

Jeff B: The Caldera 5 midsole is very similar to last year’s version, especially in the midsole. While there is a LOT of material under foot, it isn’t that soft and is borderline firm - at least for the stack height. Many maximal shoes skip the rockplate and think it is more than adequate, and I while I usually disagree with that, in this case the midsole/outsole combination are more than up to the challenge of muting rock hits. It is definitely a long, easy run type of shoe, or as Renee pointed out, it could be a great ultra race day shoe.

Jeff V:  The BioMoGo DNA midsole, while it generally feels the same as previous, feels slightly thicker than the previous version, but I wondered at first if that was just compression from more miles on the older version, but now that I have equalled and even surpassed the mileage of the previous version, it still feels that way and Jeff B’s caliper measurements confirm.  

While not necessarily a fast race shoe, I find the midsole here to offer a nice bit of bounce and response.  I think much of this perception, at least for me, comes from the new and improved upper holding my foot better and thus feel I can push the shoe harder than I could previously.  

If I were going to run the Grand Canyon RRR or Pikes Peak Marathon, where all day comfort, security and cushioning are paramount, I think the Caldera 5 would be in a strong contender for me.  

Additionally, the thick BioMoGo DNA integrates and works well in unison with the large flex grooves that run most of the length of the shoe (with a cross groove spanning the width under the midfoot).  

While certainly not a shoe for maximum trail feel, I think the Caldera 5 with it’s adaptable cushioning, has a welcoming amount of flex to help feel better in tune with the terrain and does not not feel blocky, awkward, tippy or uncertain. 

Allison V:  I agree that the cushioning here is a nice soft cushioned ride with a lot of protection for long days, or just when you want all of that for any length run. Response feels good.       Although I am not that fast of a runner, for my daily runs, whether it be flatter or rolling, or up and down steep mountains, they feel surprisingly lively.


Renee: I loved the TrailTack outsole. I could feel the grip immediately. The traction was great on the dirt and gravel roads, providing confidence going fast  up as well as down hills. On slightly muddy dirt, the outsole performed great, and through thick mud worked also worked well. 

The lugs are lowish and narrow, which allows for mud to fly off after a few steps after moving to a less-muddy surface, which is a quality I look for in a trail shoe. Even on some ice and through snow, the outsole performed very well. 

Jeff B: I’m still shocked that a shoe with that much flat rubber has that effective traction. There aren’t that many lugs, and they aren’t super aggressive in style or design, and yet, they work really well. My initial run was in and out of mud for the better part of 10 miles, and I didn’t experience any drama. Following runs were drier, but still, no grip issues whatsoever. There is a decent amount of exposed midsole, but it is done in a way that won’t cause durability issues. Don’t discount this shoe as a real trail shoe because of the outsole, it came to play.

Jeff V:  I agree with Jeff B and Renee, the outsole is surprisingly grippy and versatile given the low profile lugs.  The TrailTack sticky rubber outsole does a great job striking a balance of maximal surface area on the ground with effectively shaped and positioned lugs for decent bite.  The lugs are low and essentially imperceptible on hard surfaces, rocks, roads, etc…., but are enough to dig into loose ground, light mud and semi packed snowy conditions.  

The rubber compound is sticky and works well on rock, slab and even on moderate bits of ice.  While the outsole has remained the same from version 4, I feel like it performs better, which I am sure is entirely because of the fit of the shoe working better for me and that as a result I can push the shoe a bit more.

Allison V:  Agreed again with everyone, traction is very good on all but the loosest off trail or snow, but for everything else, the Caldera 5 sticks well and often surprisingly so.  With the shorter lugs, I find that mud flakes off easily and thus stay effective because they get less caked with mud.  Durability so far is very good, with over 100 miles and very little wear and my last Caldera, the 4, is multiple times that in mileage and still holding up well.


Renee: Overall, the shoe rides well. I did start to feel the weight when I ran faster than an “easy pace.” My biggest issue with the ride is the narrow forefoot. The shoes do not feel narrow on foot until I start running. When running downhill and striking hard and fast on my forefoot, I started to get hot-spots and blisters on the medial side. The upper has enough “give,” but the platform itself was too narrow specifically in the forefoot area for my foot. The ride is smooth otherwise, without a pronounced rocker, which I likeI If not for the narrow forefots easily a well-performing shoe for four-hour (plus) runs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take it longer than two hours. Removing the insole gave some space, but still not enough. I don’t have a wide foot nor do I own any “wide” version shoes. Surprisingly, I found the shoes to be stable on uneven surfaces, which I think is a result of the well fitting upper. 

Jeff B: I don’t know how many runners are going to echo this, but my experience was 100% in line with Renee’s issues. The shoe rides well, and really excels for long easy days, but the 2-3 millimeters Brooks trimmed from the width of the shoe are just enough to cause issues for me - starting around mile 6-7. My foot is slightly wider than a D, but not nearly a 2E and I tend to mid foot strike but there’s just enough of my foot overhanging the platform on the medial side, right around the ball of the foot, preventing me from making this a real long day shoe. It isn’t a massive change from last year’s shoe, literally anywhere from 1-3mm narrower from the heel all the way to the toebox, but it is just enough to cause blistering issues.

Jeff V:  I’ll offer a dissenting position here, as I find the ride of the Caldera 5 to be outstanding.  Very smooth, reasonably quick, agile, predictably stable, with just enough flexibility and surprisingly responsive given the 11oz. weight in my size 10.  Again, this is no race shoe, but response is ample enough for the intended long distance intent for this shoe.

Allison V:  The ride is smooth and cushioned, great for any distance and various pace.  The weight never bothers me, but I am not a racer, just a more casual runner/hiker and they are perfect for my use.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Renee: I like everything about this shoe but for its one major issue: the narrow forefoot. The outsole performs great on dirt, mud, slush, some ice, and snow. The ride is soft and the upper is comfortable . Initially trying tem on, I thought they might be my new favorite easy day, long-distance trail shoe. Unfortunately, the forefoot issue is a deal breaker for me. If the forefoot platform was a bit wider in the forefoot, then perfect (maybe lose a bit of weight too). 

Renee’s score: 8.4/10 

(-.25 weight, -1.35 for narrow forefoot)

Jeff B: A super stable, easy day/big mileage shoe, the platform narrows just enough around the medial forefoot to cause issues on any run that lasts much longer than an hour. But runners with slightly narrow feet are in for a treat of a comfortable shoe with great traction.

Jeff B’s Score: 8.1/10

Ride: 8 (30%) Fit: 7 (30%) Value: 9 (10%) Style: 9 (5%) Traction: 9 (15%) Rock Protection: 9 (10%)

Jeff V:  I found the Caldera 5 to be a big improvement over the 4, as the upper fits my slim foot better and the more secure foothold transforms how I run in the show, allowing it to perform much better than the previous.  I can better negotiate reasonably technical trails at higher speeds without any trepidation.  The Caldera 5 is a great pick for those without preferences for a wide platform and widish fit shoe, excelling as a long distance trail trainer or as ideal door to trail shoe that does very well at either.  I would dare say if you are not deterred by the slight bump in weight, an Ultra race shoe for all but the front of the pack.

Jeff V’s Score: 9.2/10

Ride: 9.5 (30%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 9 (10%) Style: 9 (5%) Traction: 8.5 (15%) Rock Protection: 9 (10%)

Allison V:  The best for cushion, comfort, protection and all around versatility, the Caldera 5 just eclipsed the Caldera 4 as my all around any day, any distance shoe.  Durability is excellent and I find them to be a great value due to their all around performance and longevity.

Allison V’s Score: 9.8/10

Ride: 10 (30%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 9.5 (10%) Style: 9.5 (5%) Traction: 9.5 (15%) Rock Protection: 9.5 (10%)


Brooks Caldera 4 vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size. The 5 got a little more serious upper, gained just a couple millimeters in stack height, but also gained 0.7 oz of an ounce and developed a fatal flaw in the narrower platform. No question the Caldera 4 is the better trail cruiser for me, and if your feet have much width to them, you might be better off with the older model.

Jeff V:  If you have read this far, you will see Jeff B and I have compared in detail (though have differing experiences about the forefoot given our different foot shapes), so if you have a narrower foot, liked the Caldera 4, yet found it a little too roomy in the forefoot, you will love the new revisions to the upper of the Caldera 5 (though I still find the Caldera 5 to be a wider type fit on my narrow foot and roomy while providing excellent security).  If you have a wider foot, simply prefer more room and found the Caldera 4 to be just right, find them on closeout and stick with what worked for you.

Hoka Speedgoat 4 vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Renee: Alas, both the Speedgoat and the Caldera 5 were narrow for me, but in different areas. The Speedgoat felt too narrow in the toe box and the Caldera 5 was too narrow in the forefoot. I do not have a wide or voluminous foot, but I do like a roomy toe box and enough room in the forefoot area. Neither of these shoes worked for me. The Caldera 5 has a more breathable upper with more give, and both shoes are stable for their stack height. The outsole of Speedgoat might be better for super technical terrain, but I did enjoy the Caldera 5 outsole for my terrain. I wore a women’s size 7.5 in the Speedgoat and a size 8 in the Caldera 5. 

Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size for me. The Speedgoat has a more offroad feel to them, and Renee is right, the Hoka toebox is tighter while the Brooks forefoot is narrower. That said, I’ve put hundreds of miles in the Speedgoat with minor issues, against much more problematic blister problems in the Brooks before I got to mile 10. The Speedgoat is the gold standard for many trail runners, and in this case, it is the no brainer.

Jeff V:  I find both to be great shoes.  The Speedgoat 4 however is more tapered and narrow in the toe box, compared to the Caldera 5 which I find to be a bit more wide, rounded and generous.  Speedgoat is more responsive and overall a faster shoe, with better security and a more speedy feel, much of that though is attributed to the Meta Rocker outsole.  Speedgoat also has better traction.  For faster running, more technical terrain or where traction is more important, Speedgoat for sure, but otherwise, for less technical and longer distances and more forefoot room, Caldera 5

Salomon Sense Ride 3 vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  SR3 and Caldera 5 are comparable in fit, with the edge to SR3 for just a better conforming fit over midfoot.  The SR3 is firmer, less plush and less responsive, though has slightly better traction, especially in looser terrain.

Saucony Mad River TR 2 vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  The MR2 is firmer and less responsive, although is has a more rugged, grippy outsole and more protective feel for rocky terrain and bushwhacking.  For longer, less technical days, Caldera 5, but for more rugged terrain and shorter distances, MR2.

adidas Terrex Two Boa vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff V:  The adidas has a similarly plush midsole with great protection and similar response and a comparably versatile and surprisingly grippy outsole (considering the lower lug height).  Caldera 5 has a clear advantage with a more conforming, friendly and secure upper. While the BOA is convenient, it does not provide the customizable foothold and conforming fit over the top of the foot the Caldera 5 delivers.

New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail v1 vs. Brooks Caldera 5 (RTR Review)

Renee: The More Trail is currently my favorite “beefy” trail shoe. The More Trail has a voluminous upper, probably too much for my foot, but it is comfortable. The Caldera 5 upper will provide a more secure, tuned-in fit. The toe box of the More Tail is wider and overall the shoe has a wider fit. The rocker/roll feel of the More Trail is more pronounced, which is not always a quality I like in a shoe, but it works in the More Trail. The outsole of the Caldera 5 is more trail friendly whereas the More Trail works better for buffed out surfaces. The More Trail is also lighter. I wore a size 8 in both shoes, with more length in the More Trail. 

Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size. The More Trail reminded me of Bizarro World Speedgoat, and similar to the Speedgoat it really shines against the Caldera. The uppers and outsoles are very similar, as is the midsole giving plenty of good cushioning, but the narrowing of the Caldera 5 platform is a fatal flaw, and make me lean heavily toward the New Balance.

Saucony Canyon TR  vs. Brooks Caldera 5(RTR Review)

Renee: The Canyon TR is heavier and feels heavier. The midsole is not as soft as the Caldera 5 and the ride of the Canyon TR is more traditional as compared to the Caldera 5. My feet hit the ground like a brick in the Canyon TR, so the Caldera 5 is a better option for faster paces. That said, I liked the Canyon TR for slow days. The Canyon TR has a decent outsole and a rock plate, which I thought was very versatile, although so is the Caldera 5 outsole. For a lighter, somewhat faster option, the Caldera 5 is probably better. Both are stable given the weight and stack height. I have a good fit in the Canyon TR whereas the Caldera 5 was too narrow in the forefoot, so the choice for me is with the heavier Canyon. I wore a women’s size 8 in both and found the length to be fairly comparable. 

Jeff V:  I agree with much of what Renee states above, however, I had no issues with fit for the Caldera.  While I like much of what the Canyon TR has to offer, I also found the stiffness of the Canyon to make the shoe tippy in technical terrain and I felt really out of touch with the terrain underfoot something I do not experience with the Caldera 5.

Nike Pegasus Trail 2 vs. Brooks Caldera 5(RTR Review)

Renee: The weight of the shoes is basically the same. I had a better fit in the Caldera 5 upper. The Trail 2 had too much volume and length. I wore a women’s size 8 in both, although I do think a size 7.5 in the Trail 2 would have been better. The Trail 2 might run a half size longer as compared to the Caldera 5. The Trail 2 is better for buffed out surfaces, although the Caldera 5 is not a bad choice either. I found the Trail 2 to be unstable on uneven surfaces, whereas the Caldera 5 was not. Ultimately, the Caldera 5 was too narrow in the forefoot for me, so I would choose the Trail 2 for that reason; otherwise, for trail running, the Caldera 5 works better as it seems more stable and has a well performing outsole. 

Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size. The Pegasus Trail 2 weighs nearly the same, but runs much lighter. Perhaps due to the thinner midsole, it doesn’t offer nearly the protection of the Caldera. I much prefer the nature of the PegTr2 upper, and how it wraps the foot, but I prefer the Caldera for more technical trails for the added protection. Ultimately the PegTr2 fits my foot much better, and doesn’t cause blisters around the ball of the foot, so that’s what I would lean toward.

Tester Profiles

Jeff V.   runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

Allison V. is a 5th generation Coloradan who is passionate about the outdoors and has been hiking, backpacking, skiing, snowshoeing and running in the mountains since she was young.  She has completed all but 5 of the Colorado 14ers (a dozen or so in winter), has many hundreds of year round ascents of 14ers, 13ers and other peaks in Colorado and the West.  Allison has also traveled the world and trekked to over 18,000 feet in the Himalayas, to high altitudes in Ecuador and has worked for the National Park Service mapping plants in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California .  Her almost daily routine involves runs/power hikes in the foothills above Boulder, or 4-5 mile flatter runs at 8-10 minute mile pace.  But what really keeps her on her toes is working as a labor and delivery nurse and taking care of her 9 year old twin daughters who are also growing to share her love for the outdoors.

Renee is a former U. S. Marine journalist, which is when her enjoyment of running and writing started. She isn’t that awesome of a runner, but she tries really hard. Most of her weekly 50-60 miles take place on rural country roads in Nebraska, meaning mud, gravel, dirt, hills, and the occasional field. She has 2020 PR’s of 1:35:44 for the half marathon and 3:26:45 for the marathon.

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39. In December 2019 he raced his first 50 mile trail ultra. 

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The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Jeff Valliere said...


Grant Humphrey said...

Jeff, Stimson ATR 6 and challenger 6 comparisons? Mafate Evo maybe?

Christopher Colangelo said...

Any comparison to the Saucony Xodus 10?

Jeff Valliere said...

The Xodus 10, while well cushioned and runs well on road for great door to trail, excels even further on more technical terrain with more precise/secure fit and superior traction.

Tripp Knightly said...

I’m occasionally running on some Caldera 2s. They have grown me a lot and I recently crossed the 300 mile mark. I cannot believe how much more stacked the present-generation Calderas are. They may be great but it’s ridiculous they kept the same name. It’s gotta be a totally different experience!