Gear Review: Brooks Caldera 4 Trail Running Shoe
Do you love the trail but your knees don’t? You’re not alone. Whether your joint pain stems from a chronic condition, injury recovery, or just long days on trail, a maximum cushioned trail shoe could be right for you. The Brooks Caldera 4 is a max-cushioned trail runner now in its fourth iteration, perfect for hikers with nagging injuries, foot pain, or anyone who wants to do bigger miles or go farther while taking it easy on their joints. The new model features the return of some old favorites such as the integrated gaiter attachment, four mm drop, and lace catch while boasting a completely redesigned midsole, three millimeters more cushion, a wider toe box, and more durable upper.
Brooks Caldera 4 At-a-Glance
Model: Brooks Caldera 4
Weight: 8.9 ounces (women’s size 8)
Style: Maximum cushioned
Stack Height: 27mm forefoot
Circumstance of Review
I tested the Caldera 4 under a range of conditions in Western North Carolina. From the rocky granite slabs of Looking Glass Rock, to the dry scree of Linville Gorge, to the wet and muddy trails of Joyce Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness. I was able to get around 150 miles on the Caldera 4 at the time of this review.
Brooks Caldera 4 Features
The Caldera 4 combines the best features of the Caldera 3, like integrated gaiter connectivity and a lace catch with new features such as a completely redesigned midsole, a much wider toe box, and a more durable upper with TPU toecap.
Integrated Gaiter Connectivity
Like its predecessor, the Caldera 4 has gaiter connectivity on the rear and front of the shoe. I want to highlight this feature because it took me a minute to figure out how to attach my scree gaiters to the front of the Caldera 4. It’s a great low-profile design that prevents the hook from coming unattached while hiking through mud, brush, or scree. The design is so low profile, however, that I found a review that mentions the lack of a front gaiter notch on the Caldera 4. No worries, folks. It’s there and better than ever.
Brooks also brought the lace catch back for the Caldera 4. While the lace catch didn’t hold my lace train perfectly through multiple water crossings, it is a convenient perk to have when you’ve got extra laces from cinching down the midfoot. This is especially handy with the new, wider toe box.
Completely Redesigned Midsole
The reengineered midsole on the Caldera 4 is going to make it one of those love-or-hate models. I happen to love it. The stack height on the Caldera 4 is 3mm taller than the previous iteration of the Caldera, but it is more responsive than previous models, which feel a tad more plush. What does that mean? When I’m hiking in the Caldera 4, I don’t feel like I’m hiking in a max-cushioned shoe, I still feel a high energy return, which makes me feel more stable on trail. While I love the stability, the Caldera 4 may feel stiff to some hikers. For the already initiated max-cushioned crowd, the Caldera 4 feels more like the Speedgoat 4 or than the Stinson ATR-5.
Redesigned Toe Box
I was sent a size 7 instead of the 7.5 I usually wear. It’s the first time in the dozens of pairs and six years of wearing Brooks shoes that I’ve been anything but a 7.5. The half-size smaller is spot on because of the redesigned toe box. The new toe box is meaningfully wide, a boon for hikers who can’t do Altra’s signature zero drop, or Hoka One One’s narrower models.
Redesigned Upper with TPU Toecap
The upper on the Caldera 3 is surprisingly durable, but the Caldera 4’s redesigned upper is one word: beefy. I was a worried that what the new upper gained in durability would be lost in breathability, but I took the Caldera 4 through about eight thigh-deep water crossings and was impressed both at how well it dried and shed water. The TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) toecap is the icing on the cake, though; no stubbed or squished toes, no matter how rugged the trail.
Caldera 4 on the Trail
Hikers will either love or hate the newly redesigned midsole of the Caldera 4. I love it. I find the responsive cushioning more durable than other, more plush max-cushioned shoes, where the foam seems to collapse after a few hundred miles. The redesigned toe box is roomy and the midfoot is secure. Overall an incredibly comfortable shoe.
The upper on the Caldera 4 looks great even after 100 or so miles. In my experience, Brooks uppers (even on the Cascadia) seem to wear out before the foam. I’m impressed with the durability 150 miles or so in, especially combined with the breathability.
Brooks TrailTack outsole performs well on dry surfaces, but despite high surface-area lugs, it’s a little slick on wet rock and mossy logs. This level of traction is pretty standard for Brooks trail shoes.
Maximum Cushion for Maximum Comfort
Cushioned shoes started to explode in the athletic shoes market just one year after the minimalist running craze spurred by Born to Run. Although Hoka One One was the first on the maximalist shoe scene, the popularity of cushioned shoes has exploded, and many brands have at least one cushioned model on their trail running lineup.
I’ve worn every iteration of the Caldera and witnessed the evolution from a road-to-trail cushioned shoe to full-featured trail runner. The new features of the Caldera 4 are even more sharply suited to fit a gap in the market.
The Caldera 4 maintains a 4mm drop as in other iterations of the shoe, but its new wide toe box calls to hikers and runners who would love a wide toe box, but can’t do Altra’s maximalist but zero drop Olympus. The completely redesigned midsole is 3mm higher than any previous model, making it a true maximalist shoe with a wide toe box that isn’t zero drop. That’s something HOKA hasn’t managed to do even after four iterations of the Speedgoat (the Speedgoat 4 GTX is my winter hiking shoe).
If you can’t do zero drop but still want a maximalist shoe with a wide toe box, the Caldera 4 is for you.
Brooks Caldera 4 Pros
There is a lot to like about the Brooks Caldera 4. It’s got cool features like the integrated gaiter attachment and the lace catch, but the best feature is the well thought out redesign. 3mm more cushion, a more stable ride with a responsive midsole, more durable upper with a rock-proof toecap, and a toe box that won’t make you pine after a pair of Altras.
Brooks Caldera 4 Cons
I’m not crazy about the color. The palette in both women’s and men’s versions are dusky and subdued. Combine this color palette with a thick midsole and you’re a couple of Velcro straps away from looking suspiciously like an orthopedic shoe.
Overall, I love this shoe. The Caldera 4 has all the best features of the Caldera 3 with some home-run upgrades—just remember to check your sizing and be prepared to order up to a full size down to accommodate the wide toe box.
Comparable Trail Runners
Hoka One One Speedgoat 4
Topo Athletic MTN Racer
This item was donated for purpose of review
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