Brooks Cascadia 15 Review

Anyone plugged into the thru-hiking or lightweight backpacking scene has encountered the Brooks Cascadia.  They’ve either worn a pair of these trail runners themselves or followed the distinctive tread pattern for miles at a time.

Before this review, the last time I hiked in these shoes was in 2015 when five pairs of Cascadia 9s (pour one out for my one pair of terrible 10s) carried me NOBO on the PCT.  At that time, it felt like 1,000% (at least) of thru-hikers were wearing Cascadias, so whenever I encountered a confusing junction, all I had to do was look at the dirt.  There were always Cascadia tracks to show me the way, and it worked every single time.

The market for quality trail runners is more robust five years later, and I’ve found myself distracted by the exciting array of colorful kicks.  Meanwhile, Brooks has been improving their flagship model to keep it a top contender in the footwear genre it helped pioneer.  I had the pleasure of reviewing the latest iteration, the Cascadia 15s. I was impressed by the improvements that Brooks has made while my head was turned, but I also found that they still felt familiar.

Five years later, with another thru-hike under my hip belt, I’m sure that I’ve changed too.  At our core, the Cascadias and I are close to our 2015 versions, yet we are undeniably different.  I like to think that most of the changes have been for the better.

Brooks Cascadia 15 At-a-Glance

Model:  Brooks Cascadia 15
MSRP:  $130
Style:  Lightweight trail running shoe
Intended Purpose:  Trail running, hiking
Stack Height:  23mm forefoot / 31mm heel
Drop:  8mm
Weight (pair):  1 pound, 6 ounces (men’s size 9)

Circumstances of Review

The Colorado Rockies gave me a chance to test the Cascadias off the beaten switchback.

I tested my Cascadia 15s on widely varied terrain in Oregon and Colorado.  While COVID shut down my most ambitious backpacking targets, I managed to log roughly 150 miles with a 50-50 split between running and hiking.  Sand, gravel, grass, dirt, duff, mud, pavement, pointy rocks, rounded rocks… these shoes have seen it all.

Short visits to the PCT and CDT gave me insight into how they will fare in a thru-hike setting.  While I would still like to put the durability to the test with some more pack-on miles, the Cascadia 15s have shown me what they’re all about.

Full disclosure: my tastes in trail runners have shifted since the PCT to the wide toe box and zero-drop of Altra Lone Peaks.  As I expected, it took some getting used to the traditional fit and 8mm drop of the Cascadia 15s.  If you’re unsure about heel-toe drop or other footwear considerations, check out Hugh’s informative article.

Brooks Cascadia 15 Features

New Mesh Upper:  The big update for this model manifests itself in the new upper.  Specifically, monoloop mesh works in tandem with added mudguard slots to improve breathability and drainage over previous models.  I went out of my way to test these claims by jumping in every puddle or creek I could find and was pleasantly impressed by the dry-out time. I know good breathability when I feel it, and these Cascadia 15s breathe as well as any of them.  Upper durability is always a huge question mark when it comes to thru-hiking footwear.  With only 150 miles on my pair, the jury is still out.

Gaiter Traps:  I think gaiters are stupid and unnecessary, but I might just be a stubborn outlier.  If you do like gaiters, you’ll be happy to hear that these shoes have a hook loop at the toe of the laces and a Velcro pad on each heel.

TrailTack Outsole:  The TrailTack rubber outsole is the same as that found on the previous model.  Between the lug pattern and whatever proprietary rubber blend Brooks is using these days, the Cascadias have excellent grip.  I noticed some slip on a permanently damp wooden bridge and slimy rocks, but other notoriously slippery things (roots, wet rocks, steep gravel, etc.) weren’t as treacherous as I remembered.  For comparison, I think Altra’s outsoles are barely passable regarding durability and grip.  Adidas sets the gold standard with their Continental rubber.

Pivot Post Stability:  Ever wonder if those two colorful triangles on Cascadia midsoles do anything besides look cool?  Yeah, me too.  Turns out they are the Pivot Post system, which adds stability on uneven terrain.

Protection:  A Ballistic Rock Shield combined with the familiar Brooks BioMoGo DNA cushion prevents those pointy rocks and roots from bruising your soles. Whether you’re trail running or backpacking, this is important.  I carried a pack over miles of pointy basalt on the PCT rather mindlessly and didn’t bottom out once despite my lack of care.  The cushion of the BioMoGo (I could say that all day), is noticeably firmer than that of the Altras I’m used to.

Notice the amazingly different designs of this Hoka Challenger ATR 5 (left), Brooks Cascadia 15 (middle), and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (right). Also, notice the red Pivot Post triangles.

Durability

When it comes to using trail runners for backpacking, I’m satisfied if I can get 500 miles per pair.  650 miles?  Thrilled.  900 miles? I’ll talk about those shoes longer than anyone is willing to listen.  On the PCT in 2015, I coaxed one pair of Cascadia 9s to 650 miles and retired the others after 500 miles.  Last year on the CDT, 650 miles was the turning point for my Altra Lone Peak 3.5s.  A pair of Adidas Free Hikers carried me 900 miles before I chucked the smelly things into a Yellowstone dumpster.

What about the Cascadia 15s?

As far as the Brooks Cascadia 15s are concerned, I have no doubt that they have what it takes to carry a hiker at least 500 miles.  Sure, there might be a hole or two in the mesh (largely dependent on terrain), and the lugs will be worn, but they’ll make it.  With 150 miles on my pair, the uppers look great with no signs of wear, even at the notorious toe crease.  The outsole is just a millimeter smoother under the big toe and heel.  The firm midsole has softened a little bit, but it is still stiffer than a pair of Lone Peaks out of the box and thus, I expect them to last longer.

They may be a little dirty, but otherwise, 150 miles hasn’t done much to degrade the upper mesh.

Comfort

When it comes to shoes, comfort is largely a matter of personal preference.  I will always recommend that someone try before they buy.  That said, two things jumped out at me about the Cascadias on our first jog around the block:  the traditional toe box and the firm midsole.

The first won’t surprise anyone familiar with Brooks or most running shoe brands.  The narrow space across the toes (relative to Altra) provides benefits for trail running or off-trail scrambling where precision foot placement is required or side-hilling common.  For backpacking on trails, whether it’s for one night or five months, I value toe room over precision, but I did enjoy feeling nimble while running curvier trails.

The BioMoGo midsoles felt significantly firmer than my Altra midsoles.  I expected this to change after a short break-in period, but the firmness remained.  From a pure comfort perspective, I prefer a softer midsole, but foresee the slightly harsh Cascadia ride to benefit long-term durability and foot protection.

I tested this firsthand on a punishing 30-mile overnight out of Cascade Locks.  My feet were well protected from the rocky trail despite my best attempts to seek out the pointiest points.  Even with 20+ miles hiked on day one and over 4,600 feet of descent on day two, the soles of my feet still felt pretty darn good.

Notice the toe box shape of the Cascadia 15 (middle) versus the Hoka Challenger ATR 5 (left) and Altra Lone Peak 4.0 (right). It is the narrowest of the bunch.

Pros

Traction: The Cascadia’s outsole grips better than what I’m used to (read: Altra).  No doubt about it.  It might be the rubber, or it might be the lug pattern, but the result is a shoe you can trust to stay planted on all but the slipperiest of surfaces. Definitely adequate for trail and boulder hopping.

Stability: Even with the moderate stack height and fat heel, these Cascadias felt laterally stable and never tippy like I sometimes experience with Altras or Hokas.  Is this thanks to the Pivot Post system?  Beats me, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

Secure fit: My narrow feet felt locked in without needing to overtighten the laces, which can create pressure points.  My feet felt supported and there was no slop.  No hot spots either, even with my permanently sweaty socks.

Protection: The rock shield and BioMoGo did their job.  Even after long days on rocky trail, my soles felt fine.

The BioMoGo midsole and rock shield did a great job of protecting my feet on rocky trail.

Cons

Firm midsole: While the stack height of the Cascadias is similar to that of Altra Lone Peak’s (23mm vs. 25mm), the cushioning felt stiffer, resulting in a harsher ride.  This was not much of an issue while hiking, but I thought it was significant while running. As I said above, I prefer a softer ride (my knees would agree).  However, it is totally possible that the stiffer cushion will prove more durable over the long run.

Narrow toe box: My lone point of discomfort while using these shoes was a blister that formed on my right big toe where it got jammed against my, uh… second biggest toe.  This validated my bias toward the wider cut of my Altras.  Fellow Altra fans will feel restricted in the Cascadias, which may or may not be a deal-breaker.  For everyone else, the traditional fit of these shoes will feel unremarkable.

Chunky heel: I like zero drop.  Call me an Altra homer (3rddefinition) if you want, but I don’t like a high heel on my hiking shoes.  The 8mm drop felt OK hiking uphill (decreased gradient) or running on the flat (reduced calf fatigue), but it annoyed me while hiking downhill (increased gradient).  However, if you’re not on the zero-drop bandwagon, I doubt this will be an issue.

Overall Impressions

Brooks Cascadias are good at what they do. In this case, they excel at looking good.

Brooks Cascadias have been a major player in trail running and lightweight backpacking footwear for as long as anyone can remember.  While they might not be the lightest, most protective, or cheapest trail runner on the market in any given year, they remain a common sight in the backcountry. Brooks has created a perennial favorite and the Cascadia 15s stick with the successful formula.

Updates to the upper promise increased breathability and durability over the outgoing model.  The heart of the shoe (outsole, midsole, fit) remains the same and will be pleasantly familiar to anyone who knows the brand.  The result is a stable, well-protected, breathable shoe with good traction that works well for trail running and backpacking.

I wish that I could provide more data regarding long-term durability, though I have seen no red flags at this point.  I expect these to last as long as anyone can reasonably expect from a pair of trail runners. The 8mm drop and toe box are not my favorite features, but they’re in line with industry norms.  Depending on personal preference, these will be exactly what a lot of folks are looking for.  So try them out if you’re interested, and make sure to listen to your feet.

Shop the Brooks Cascadia 15 at REI

Shop the Brooks Cascadia 15 at Amazon

Similar Trail Runners

Altra Lone Peak 4.5

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Weight (pair):  1lb 5oz

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

MSRP:  $145
Stack Height (forefoot, heel):  28mm, 32mm
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Brooks Divide

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Saloman XA Pro 3D V8

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This item was donated for purpose of review.

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Comments 3

  • Dottie : Aug 27th

    Owen, surprised you didn’t include Inov8s. I’m back to those after Altra Lone Peaks. Love the gripping soles of Inov8s & the toe-box his now wider, which I loved about Altras.

    Maybe it’s good for my feet to change my shoe brand now & then, certainly a lot to chose from. I believe the “key” is to know one’s foot.
    Dottie “.com”

    Reply
    • Owen Eigenbrot : Aug 27th

      Thanks for the suggestion, Dottie! Inov8 has never been on my radar and admittedly, I can claim zero familiarity with the brand. If I’ve seen them out on the trail, then I haven’t noticed them amongst the tidal wave of Lone Peaks. However, per your recommendation, I will make sure to check them out.

      Do you have a specific model that you favor?

      Reply

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