Brooks Caldera 6 Review: A Bouncy Trail Beast
TAYLOR: Look out folks! Another titan has risen from the depths. It’s a big one, and it’s coming with some new stuff that we haven’t seen on the trails yet.
If the Hoka Stinson ATR 6 is Godzilla, and the Altra Olympus 4 is King Kong, then the totally revamped Brooks Caldera 6 is the Nicki Minaj guest track on Kanye West’s “Monster.” It’s that big.
This newest update brings the Caldera series to a whole new level in terms of tech and stature. It is higher, wider, and lighter than before. Let me tell ya– I haven’t been this excited to step into a Brooks shoe for a long long time.
MICHAEL: Ever since Brooks developed the first edition of the Cascadia alongside trail legend Scott Jurek, it’s safe to say the brand has followed a pretty standard formula for its trail shoes: take a standard BioMoGo EVA midsole, slap a great upper on it, maybe throw in a rock plate, add a decent outsole, and send it to the market.
The results were great for a while, but some point, the Cascadia’s history of aggressive traction and trail protection began to fall behind the new world of maximally cushioned, stable, and relatively lightweight ultra trail shoes. (Basically Hoka trail shoes.) Brooks responded, giving versions 4 and 5 of the Caldera some rather Hoka-esque stack height. Unfortunately, that stack was still the same boring BioMoGo EVA foam — until now, that is.
The new Brooks Caldera 6 is totally revamped from top to bottom with a new midsole and outsole, and it sits on a wider, higher, and more supportive platform. Brooks is really going up against the max-stack titans with the Caldera, and boy, am I excited.
TAYLOR: Settle in for this one, because there’s some real goodness to cover. The Caldera has been in the mix of high-stack options for the last few years. I thought it had been a decent road-to-trail option. Now, it enters into the true max-cushion category, and I’d elevate it as a very good road-to-trail shoe.
Compared to other shoes in its category, the Caldera 6 steps out as being more uniquely cushioned, more responsive, more versatile, more secure, and lighter weight (11.9 ounces for a US M10.5). Think of both the Stinson (12.9 oz.) and Olympus (12.2 oz.) as being the current champs in this arena — in my opinion, they’re about to be smashed by this young buck.
The most interesting story of the Caldera overhaul is what’s happening underfoot. DNA Loft V3 can’t even be compared to the DNA Loft V2 found in the previous Caldera. This new, nitrogen-infused midsole first appeared in the Brooks’ Aurora-BL last year and is featured in the upcoming Glycerin 20. In short, it’s lighter and bouncier and it’s instantly one of the most fun foams available, especially in the trail world.
The DNA Loft V3 really does it all in one foam. Let’s start with the obvious: there’s just huge amounts of foam for cushion. The sidewalls of the external foam aren’t actually much higher than the footbed. Running Warehouse reports the heel at around 40mm (6mm drop) worth of stack. Since the foam is medium to soft with a rockered geometry, look for this midsole to last a while. It feels like a firmer, more cushioned version of the Salomon’s Ultra Glide or a slightly softer Speedgoat 5. The best part about this midsole is that it literally feels bouncy. DNA Loft V3 is more responsive than Floyd Mayweather in a bar fight. The nitrogen-infused foam isn’t a gimmick, as it feels protective, airy, and springy at the same time.
For a max-cushioned runner, this one has some of the smoothest rolls around. The tacky, and aptly named, Trailtac outsole has both multidirectional, multi-shaped, and moderately deep lugs that allow for a smooth transition on a variety of surfaces, including pavement. Again, the rocker and foam come into play heavily here. Like the Aurora-BL, the midsole is broad underfoot and slightly bubbled to add some very natural-feeling stability. It’s a Hoka-esque move for sure, but it works very nicely on smooth surfaces and up to moderately technical trails.
Wrap this one up with an engineered mesh that provides high levels of comfort and security, and this package is starting to feel like an outstanding one. The mesh is no surprise for a Brooks shoe, as comfort is just part of who they are. I was pleased to feel how much more secure the shoe felt because of the gusseted tongue (not new) and the cockpit-like step-in feel. The Caldera’s sidewalls reach around the foot throughout the shoe. Another big player is a heavily padded heel collar. In all past iterations, I’ve had some significant heel slippage. I’m happily waving goodbye to that!
For those looking to the Caldera as a potential ultra shoe, be assured that the upper fit is also a bit wider than previous models. Again, it’s secure, but will accommodate some swelling in the mid/forefoot.
The Brooks Caldera 6 fit is secure enough to tackle a variety of terrain with confidence. I’d take this on rough terrain long before I’d take the other aforementioned giants. Subtle adhered overlays at the juncture of the midsole and upper and a TPU toe cap really cinch this one up nicely.
Let’s not forget to mention the true trail specs. A Velcro gaiter attachment in the heel and lace garage gives the Caldera 6 some options to play around with.
MICHAEL: While I could go on for a long, long time in this section, I’ll try to keep it brief. Like Taylor mentioned, the new midsole is simply fantastic. The new DNA Loft v3 compound is light, airy, responsive, and boy is there a lot of it. It’s safe to say this is one of the most exciting new foam compounds in the trail scene. I’d also expect this midsole to be incredibly durable, given the super-critical construction. I don’t see this one breaking down prematurely — the Brooks Caldera 6 is built for the long haul in every sense of the word.
While the foam compound itself is probably the most noteworthy update to the Caldera midsole, the rocker geometry and stable construction truly allow the new foam to shine. The bathtub-like construction keeps the foot stable on long descents. While stability was an issue that worried me about previous years of the Caldera, I never once turned an ankle in the Caldera 6.
Normally, I find myself reaching for lower stack trail shoes for my faster runs, with the idea being that a lower stack height provides me with a lower center of gravity for turning corners quickly. While I will still reach for shoes like the Hoka Torrent 2 for racing, technical turns didn’t feel at all sketchy in the Caldera, even when leaning into them at 6:30 pace and faster.
In addition to the bathtub design, the rocker geometry helped the midsole roll through the stride and make up a bit for the lack of flexibility. I always felt like I was running with fantastic form in the Caldera. When the miles take a toll on your legs, this cruiser will be right there with you to help support and promote an efficient stride, and the 31/25 stack of premium foam will keep the legs feeling fresh.
Hot take incoming: the Trailtac outsole on the Caldera 6 is the best in-house developed outsole compound from any major shoe company. The rubber is fantastically sticky, and, while I don’t know that it would be very durable over sustained miles on the tarmac, that’s not what the shoe is intended for. Instead, I found myself running with a surprising amount of confidence on slick, moss-covered Alabama sandstone.
For shoes in this category, I imagine it would be tempting for designers to cut corners on midsole construction including the use of large amounts of exposed midsole foam and shorter lug heights to save weight. This isn’t the case on the Caldera 6. I so appreciate Brooks including a massive footprint of full coverage rubber and the 5 mm multidirectional lug depth had me confidently attacking long technical descents. Without this rugged configuration, I think the shoe would lose some of its PTR (A technical term: ‘Propensity To Rip’) and versatility. It really allows the shoe to shine in my opinion over more mellow trail cruisers with mediocre outsoles (I’m looking at you, Nike Peg Trail 3).
Despite the less-than-great fit (to be discussed later), I found the feel of the engineered mesh upper to be quite pleasant. It has just the right amount of stretch, and the simple welded overlays and gaiter attachments add additional levels of trail-readiness.
I’m a huge fan of the Brooks Caldera 6’s flashy sci-fi styling, reminiscent of the Aurora BL. While the shoe may not serve double duty as a trail ripper and hip grocery-getter, I think the styling is fun and bright, just like the character of the shoe itself.Shop Brooks Caldera – Men Shop Brooks Caldera – Women
TAYLOR: Believe it or not, I’m not going to pick on weight for this one. Sheer size is the culprit. This thing is huge underfoot. It doesn’t feel it while running, thankfully.
The biggest, and really only, issue that I came across was that the footprint is huge. The higher grade of technicality, the more specific foot placement needs to be. With the Caldera 6, I would find myself snagging the edge of a rock or a root or something else that I wouldn’t have normally with a more “average” profiled shoe. This could have the potential of clipping a toe or landing awkwardly which are two ingredients for injury. So, the Caldera comes with that warning. Moderate level technicality and lower is going to be this one’s wheelhouse.
In that same vein, stay away from the really sloppy stuff. While the Trailtac outsole showed some promising grip on a variety of surfaces, it did hold onto some mud and caked gravel. An already heavy-ish shoe can get even heavier in a hurry in this case.
MICHAEL: Personally, I found it difficult to get a secure midfoot lockdown in the Caldera 6. I was a bit surprised by this, as I’ve come to expect a fantastic upper fit from running in past versions of the Cascadia and other Brooks trail shoes. This, in my opinion, can very easily be fixed by changing the eyelets of the shoe from an open horizontal loop to a tight, gripping hole, allowing you to work the lacing up the foot and adjust tension for each lace individually.
*Personal Rant Alert* It’s a pet peeve of mine when shoe companies design a lacing system that forces you to pull all of the tension for the forefoot of the shoe from higher up in the midfoot or even throat of the shoe. I’m not sure if that made any sense, but all that to say I wasn’t able to achieve the level of lateral forefoot security I normally desire for ripping rocky, technical descents. I believe this lack of security also resulted in some heel slippage for me, even after tying the runner’s knot for extra lockdown.
While the upper shortfalls aren’t significant enough for me to not recommend the shoe (especially if you have a higher volume foot or don’t like your lacing super tight), they’re issues I’d love to see remedied in version 7.
I’m struggling to find anything else to put in this section, but, like Taylor, I found the outsole to be lacking in terms of mud shedding. That being said, these past few weeks in Huntsville have been notorious for mud that easily cakes on outsoles, and I haven’t found a shoe yet that truly handles it well.Shop Brooks Caldera – Men Shop Brooks Caldera – Women
TAYLOR: Get out your shovels, folks, because you’re gonna dig this one. The Caldera 6, like its cousin the Cascadia 16, has received a massive overhaul this year. It was needed. Brooks did an incredible job basing this shoe on a DNA Loft V3 foam — tons of it. It has everything you’d want and more from a truly max cushioned shoe. Underfoot cushion, protection, smooth, responsive, natural stability, comfort, and foot security are all high notes in the Caldera 6 package.
It’s a dreamy shoe for those looking for a well-rounded daily trainer, an all-day trail runner, or for those who’ve ever wanted to bounce upon a cloud. The Caldera 6 will be very modestly priced at $150 and should be released in April (hopefully).
MICHAEL: For those seeking a maximally protective, supportive, and cushioned daily trainer to soak up miles on miles of terrain, look no further than the Caldera 6. Apart from the fun, springy ride, I could easily see myself picking up a pair of these prior to a large training block, just on the basis of stability and injury prevention alone. While I can’t recommend them for ultra racing due to the weight, I think these shoes excel at their intended purpose: providing miles and miles of joyful DNA Loft v3 bliss.
Currently, I find myself hard-pressed to recommend any other shoe in this category. With its responsive and dreamy midsole, it beats out the Altra Olympus, Hoka Stinson ATR, and Hoka Mafate Speed 3. With its tacky and supportive outsole construction, it beats out the Nike Trail Pegasus 3, too. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves a winner.
You can pick up the Brooks Caldera 6 for $150 in April 2022 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Brooks Caldera – Men Shop Brooks Caldera – Women
Have something to say? Leave a Comment
Thanks for the review!
I love the references to other competitor shoes, though further comparison info would be appreciated (similar to the Comparison section at the end of each review in RTR site)
One reads reviews from different shoes and finds some that seem great, but which one is greater? At the end many of us only buy 2/3 pairs per year (road/trail) so we need to choose.
I had Caldera 6 home but were not too impressed. I am leaning towards the Caldera 4 is a better trail shoe. Lighter, more than enough shoe, easier to run in.