Brooks Cascadia 16 & GTX Performance Review
TAYLOR: If you’re any older than me, the Brooks Cascadia was likely your first trail shoe. It quickly became the standard as it was one of the few readily available shoes to meet the needs of long days on rugged terrain… and then new kids moved into the market.
The once trail king became a relic. It started drinking, gained weight, and, out of denial, told stories of the days when it was/still is the king of the trail. To be completely honest, the Cascadia 14 and 15 were the rare trail shoes that I did not like at all. They felt totally washed up compared to many other shoes out there.
But disregard all that because we’re talkin’ sweet sixteen! Brooks clearly put their own feet in the Cascadia and hit the trails again. Simply put, the Cascadia 16 is an all-new shoe. It feels completely different in all the right ways and still maintains its dignity as a supportive structured trail shoe.
A focal point of the Cascadia’s rebirth is the underfoot feel. A new midsole, updated outsole, and ballistic rock plate paves the way for the Cascadia to become a relevant shoe again.
STEF (GTX): I mostly ran in these during bagging season here in the Rockies, when the trails are no longer a mudslide after a very wet and snowy spring. Even when I’m just running my usual neighborhood jaunt (a mix of dirt and paved back roads), I’m still in trail shoes – thus is life at 8,000 ft where we often see snow through May. This funky transition period is the perfect time to test out the latest iteration of a tried and true trail shoe: the Brooks Cascadia 16 GTX. Let’s dive into this OG.
KYLE: Can you remember a time before the Brooks Cascadia was a staple of trail running footwear? People duct-taped aunt Jemima syrup bottles to their hands and out-ran horses in white leather New Balance shoes. Men and women would run 100 miles in the Rockies fueled by little more than pride and the searing regret they’d feel if they lost their drunken wager to crazy Rick at the local pub the night before (that still happens).
Ok seriously, you really can’t remember a time when the Brooks Cascadia wasn’t a part of the lexicon of trail culture, can you? That’s because, sixteen years later, it really is kind of the OG of modern trail running footwear. I’ve admittedly had a bit of a roller-coaster relationship with this “tank of the trails” over the years. Initially, I loved the secure, structured (if a tad heavy) ride, but gradually became less than enamored with the firmness of the midsole and narrow toe box during the “middle” years. That was then, this is now. How does Cascadia 16 stack up? Let’s get into it!
TAYLOR: At its core, the Cascadia 16 is still a sturdy shoe. It’s always meant to provide runners with a stable and protected running experience. That hasn’t changed! What has changed is how they go about achieving those means.
This shoe is stable in all the right ways. It is so obvious that they burned obnoxious medial posting that literally resisted any sort of speed. Instead, a wider base provides a natural form of stability.
It is a page straight out of HOKA’s book, but the Cascadia doesn’t feel like a HOKA underfoot. An updated version of the ballistic rock shield also seeks to provide more fluid lateral movements while adding to the structure/stability of the shoe. The combo is protective, stable, and much more free-flowing! I feel that this update alone would have been enough to make this shoe feel brand new, but Brooks did not stop there!
A brand-new DNA Loft v2 gives a lot to be excited about for this shoe. For starters, a couple more millimeters of stack makes a difference in long-distance cushioning here (31 mm to 23 mm – 8mm drop). DNA Loft is a mixture of EVA, rubber, and air. No doubt, this foam is much softer than previous models but it is still on the medium-to-firm side of the pendulum. The midsole can actually flex a little in the 16! On the trails, that translates to a solid amount of underfoot protection, a slightly softer feel, and a little bit of responsiveness in this case. Add in a slightly tapered toe and the Cascadia can finally ride smoothly over a variety of trails. I would definitely take this out on a long run through moderate and even rugged terrain.
More changes occurred on the topside. One of the few things that the Cascadia has always done well has been the upper. Another version of a comfortable engineered mesh is used. Breathability and durability are equally available. A few heat molded overlays around the toe and juncture of midsole and upper will ensure they maintain form.
It seems that the overall fit has been altered too. The Cascadia fits a lot like the Catamount but with a better upper. Maybe these two shoes can trade notes (Brooks take note: this is the kind of upper needed to make the Catamount a more viable all-around racer). There is a nice hug going on. It is snug enough to be the most secure Brooks’ trail shoe that I have worn and remains accommodating in the forefoot. Here’s another major improvement point that, if done alone, would be a huge update for the Cascadia.
Rounding out the 16 are all the fixins for giving runners the option to access more rugged terrain in comfort. A lace loop across the midfoot securely fastens the laces to prevent untying or being snagged on a branch. Extra eyelets are punched for adjusting fit to your likings. Attach gaiters easily with a Velcro gaiter trap on the heel. Boom. Most everything you would want to get wild on the trails.
STEF (GTX): Coincidentally, this is the first trail shoe I ever owned way back when. I raced my first 50-miler in the Cascadia (I will hold off on the model number in order to shield my age) so it was nostalgic to hop back into Brooks’ original trail shoe. It’s just as stable as I remember, with a fairly neutral 8 mm midsole drop. I took it on a variety of rocky, rooty Colorado single track and felt that stable, grippy ride with each step I took. Brooks updated this version with “release grooves” in the midsole and outsole that are meant to mold easily with the ground and enhance stability. I didn’t feel a single rock in these either, thanks to the updated ballistic rock shield.
While I wouldn’t say that I put these guys through the most extreme weather that would normally have me reaching for GoreTex, my feet remained completely dry through multiple puddles, and at the same time, my feet weren’t sweating up a storm either. I have a wider forefoot and a narrow heel and I feel like Brooks hit the sweet spot in terms of toe box width (though extremely wide forefeet may feel slightly pinched – due to the GoreTex upper, there’s just not as much give as something like the Brooks Catamount) without feeling like you’re slipping around in the shoe on turns and descents. Shape-wise, I would say it’s extremely consistent for Brooks – my Adrenaline GTS 20s that I wear for work feel identical in the forefoot.
KYLE: Out of the starting block I was looking forward to slipping this version on, as the upper seemed so much lighter and more breathable than some of my previous Cascadia encounters, and honestly, that’s what they felt like. The upper breathed well, drained well, provided a nice heel lock, and generally just excelled at staying out of the way––until it didn’t. More on that later.
The midsole of the Brooks Cascadia 16 features full-length DNA LOFT v2 technology and claims to be 10% softer and 20% lighter according to the tech sheet, and my experience running 30 miles of beautiful Ashland, Ore., mountain trails backs that up completely. The ride was a rewarding sweet spot between forgiving and snappy. It even felt smooth and surprisingly natural on roads. On another note, I got a nice little dopamine hit when my initial ocular thiccness assessment was proudly confirmed by the specs listed on the tech sheet: “We added 2 mm of foam to the midsole for added comfort.” I mean who doesn’t like a little more cushion for the pushin’? No. 16 is embracing a little of that THICC BOI magic we all low-key desire.
Sticky when wet! That’s right, these are the opposite of your favorite Bon Jovi album, and as you might expect; that’s a good thing! (Ok you Garden Staters, I’m just cutting up a little, relax!). The “Trailtack” sticky rubber outsole did a fantastic job on slippery rocks and pavement, while the moderately spaced and raised lugs kept me vertical on some pretty rugged Oregon trails. All good stuff. I also loved (and have missed) the presence of a genuine rock plate! Ever since HOKA started its squishy revolution on running footwear, midsoles have trended thicker and thusly have necessitated less underfoot protection from sharp things. Brooks has kept the rock plate alive and I love them for it––hell they’ve even updated it with vertical striations that help it flex laterally (which really did handle and corner those switchbacks quite well). I’m catching a visual of a headband-laden Scott Jurek proudly swinging that awkward but accomplished gait over all manner of burly terrain in the couple of Copper Canyon Ultramarathons he raced during the release of Born To Run over a decade ago. He’s smiling and gorgeous as ever. These are the good ol’ days. Yeah, I miss me a rock plate.Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Men Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Women
TAYLOR: In past iterations, I could have written anthologies for this section. This time around I only have a singular complaint: weight. Everything else has improved so much!
It’s hard to be displeased if this is the only notable negative about the Cascadia. It has lost some weight from past iterations. And, because it rides so much smoother than previously, it simply feels lighter underfoot. As miles go on, there’s no hiding the fact that the Cascadia still weighs in at 12.1 ounces (men’s 10.5).
STEF: I’ll start off by disclosing that I am the size of an average 12-year-old boy (maybe), so for me, the weight of the Cascadia 16 in the GTX option was just too heavy, coming in at 10.2 oz for the women’s version. That said, they aren’t marketed for picking up the pace so I don’t want to throw too much shade. It should be noted that this year’s version is 20% lighter thanks to Brooks’ DNA Loft v2 technology. I’ll be honest, I was expecting a bit more of a cushy feel based on the added 2 mm of foam in the midsole and the use of 10% softer foam (DNA Loft v2), and I just didn’t feel it. The entire shoe felt pretty stiff to me and reminded me of a good shoe to recommend to my patients that have hallux rigidus (arthritis of the great toe joint). I just didn’t get that flex and adaptability that was described for this model – perhaps the shoe just needs some more time on my feet to further break ‘em in.
KYLE: My only real issue with Cascadia 16 was that I struggled to accomplish anything close to a good over-the-foot lockdown going. which is so important in trail running. I was literally reduced to cursing as I yanked them off at the end of a 20-mile mountain haul to get them to cool down and stop aching.
I’m not flat-footed, nor do I possess arches Ronald McDonald would salivate over…like…if he were into feet like that. ANYWAY, I just could NOT get my instep to feel secure no matter what I did. I laced and unlaced, leaned on the snugger side, then leaned on the looser side; my foot was either sliding fully forward on the descents or causing literal bruising on the bones on the top of my arch: nothing in between. Maybe a little more volume in the mid-foot would solve this unfortunate bummer of an issue?Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Men Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Women
TAYLOR: Sound the alarms! We have a SERIOUS update alert! The Brooks Cascadia 16 has taken its recent disasters of trail runners and has turned the ship around. From the ground up, this shoe has been completely overhauled with a new DNA Loft v2 midsole, ditched posting, wider base, and a secure fitting upper. I believe it has achieved its goals of being stable (via a wider base) and sturdy for a variety of trails and conditions. Besides being on the heavy side, the Cascadia 16 really has become a contender for being one of the better stability-oriented trail shoes.
STEF: I think Brooks did a great job of delivering what they have continued to promise year after year in the Cascadias with their 16th version. I would have liked a bit more of a softer ride, knowing these are meant for going long and far, but at the same time – I did feel totally protected from the terrain underfoot. The shoe is extremely stable and a great option in my opinion for trail runners that need to feel supported without an actual beefy, built-up medial arch. I could also see them functioning well for fast packing or hiking (for folks who don’t require the stability of a boot). I do feel there are potentially more ideal options out there for going long that strike a better balance of flex within the shoe as well as cushion and lighter weight – essentially making them a more versatile shoe. However, I can see religious wearers of the Cascadia appreciating the slight tweaks made to this year’s version while keeping that trusted stability, protection, and grip on the trails.
KYLE: While I had one moderate (and admittedly potentially personal) gripe in the fitment department, the Cascadia 16 mostly brought me back an era when Brooks was the state of the art of trail running. A time when Sage Canaday did form tutorials in the “Pure” Project lineup and the Ginger Runner was just gearing up in all the neon the early 20-teens could muster. Yeah the OG Trail runner may not be headed for that last Day Glo sunset anytime soon. And that’s a good thing.
You can pick up the Brooks Cascadia 16 for $130 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Men Shop Brooks Cascadia 16 – Women
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The hype surrounding the 16 release made me give it a try. Unfortunately I didn’t even make it to 30 miles. The toe bumper is so stiff and if you feel this when trying it on know that it won’t break in or soften. This gave me a blister. The upper is very nice. The heel cup is low and may not work for everyone. I was slipping out and it rubbed my left heel. The stiff lugs perform great on technical mountain trails. But if your run is a mix of smoother trails, fire roads and tech trail there are better options out there. Go with the Exodus, Speedgoat or Ultra Glide.
I use mine on fire roads, railroad tracks, light trails & hills. They work really well at that. I would hike mountains in them if it was all I had and I’m sure they would be capable of that. ….but (I prefer a hiking boot for that activity). The Gore tex version of the cascadia 16 is my go -to winter running shoe, good grip on icy roads and my feet stay warm and dry. I really like the DNA loft 2 cushioning. It makes the shoe feel responsive. My New Balance Hierro V6 fresh foams feel too spongy on the trails. Different shoes for different terrain and purposes. Its nice to have choices. I will still give the Cascadia 16’s 5 stars overall for an affordable, rugged, capable, package.