Hiking/Trail Running Shoes
Brooks Cascadia 12
$130, 1 lb. 10 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: men’s 7-15, women’s 5-12
Lightweight, low-cut, trail-running shoes that cross over well to dayhiking and ultralight backpacking can look similar, but many share the same three shortcomings: inadequate support and cushioning for rugged trails; not enough toe space, especially for longer outings; and uppers that lack the durability for the abuse of rocky trails. Wearing the Brooks Cascadia 12 on fall trail runs of up to 10 miles, and on a 16-mile, roughly 5,000-vertical-foot dayhike of Utah’s 11,749-foot Mount Timpanogos, I found these shoes excel where other models fail at all three of those performance metrics—while still weighing in lighter than many competitors. Here’s why.
With this latest iteration of the popular Cascadia—a neutral-support shoe with a traditional, 10mm drop—Brooks has ramped up the cushioning. For me, the shoes delivered a soft ride that never caused soreness or fatigue even on longer runs or the 5,000-foot descent off Timpanogos. Brooks says that its BioMoGo DNA midsole foam, featuring the company’s proprietary polymer, reacts to a runner’s stride, weight, and speed to provide a degree of cushioning customized to the impact forces created by a runner with each step. A ballistic rock shield—a thermoplastic EVA sheath between the outsole and midsole from the midfoot forward—protects the forefoot by dissipating the impact of sharp objects like rocks.
The shoes also feature what Brooks calls a segmented crash pad, a caterpillar-shaped system of shock absorbers that boost the cushioning and smooth out heel-to-toe transitions. Lastly, the chassis gains stabilization from a wide platform and outsole pivot posts on both sides of the heel and forefoot.
The medium-volume fit has a distinctively spacious forefoot that gave my toes plenty of room and never felt confining, even on longer runs when feet can expand slightly, sometimes making toes hot. The heel cup feels very solid and supportive; and while, as with any low-cut, it doesn’t cover the ankle bones, triangular plastic plates on each side protect the heel and lower Achilles.
The mesh uppers are super breathable—ideal for mild to hot temps, but my feet felt a little chilly when running trails with temps in the low 40s Fahrenheit. They also have strips of TPU overlays to protect the mesh and provide a bit more stability for the foot. Durability is further enhanced by a rubber toe bumper and reinforced fabric that extends to the side walls—farther on the lateral (outer) side on the foot, which typically suffers more abuse.
The widely spaced, multi-directional lugs on the outsole bite well on dry ground (packed dirt, scree, rock), brake securely going downhill, and even performed fine in granular, loose, early-season snow on the upper sections of the trail up Timpanogos (although the shoes clearly are not designed for snow). But the one fault I found was that they were more prone to slipping on wet rock than other shoes I’ve worn. I’d say they’re best for running on trails that are generally dry, which makes sense with the non-waterproof uppers. (Note: My feet didn’t really get wet in the snow, but it was cold and dry and had very low water content.)
The Brooks Cascadia 12 have jumped to the top of my list of favorite low-cut shoes for trail runs of any distance and dayhiking in mostly dry conditions; and they’re a solid shoe for ultralight backpacking, as long as you’re not heading out regularly in wet conditions.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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