Friday, February 25, 2011

Brooks Cascadia 6 review

To view the Cascadia 7 review click here.

After nearly 1000 miles on my last pair of Cascadia 4's I decided it was time to buy some new shoes. I looked at several shoes from various brands. The criteria I was looking for was a shoe that has the ability to carry me 2-4 miles on the roads to get to the trails I frequent, and then be able to perform well on wet, steep, rocky, rooty, and muddy terrain, and then turn around and run back home on the roads. The problem with this sort of request from a shoe is that trail shoes that are nubby with good traction tend to wear extremely fast on the roads whereas shoes built to handle more road running tend to be a typical road runner with a more hardy sole but are not meant for hardcore technical trails. This combination of factors is why I have been running in Cascadia's for the last 3 years since they have proven themselves worthy to handle significant road miles followed by extreme trail conditions and long trail runs. The new additions and tweaks to the Cascadia 6 looked great and I decided that was my shoe again. So how did the new shoes holdup to my test?

New Cascadia 6 at mile 0

Maiden Voyage of the Cascadia 6's

First here are the stats of what I have put the shoes through thus far:

Weight: 12.0 oz
Heel-Toe Drop: 11.3 mm
Heel Height: 34.1 mm
Forefoot Height: 22.8

Socks - Injinji
Size - 10
Total weeks I have owned the shoes - 2 weeks
Total miles ran in the new shoes - 86 miles
Roads - 12 miles
Gravel Flat Trails (wet, dry, and snowy/icy) - 12 miles
Steep Dirt/mud Trails (>20% grades) - 15 miles
Steep Rocky Trails (>20% grades) - 8 miles
Varied Single Track (muddy, dry, sandy, flat, rooty, inclined/declined and streams) - 39 miles

I believe that the variability and current mileage I have ran while wearing these shoes has qualified me to make a proper assessment of their performance since I have put them through about everything a typical trail runner might encounter.


The shoes tread has been changed slightly from older models to include additional traction for going up hills and running down them. There is a series of thin linear treads in the arch area of the shoe. Additionally they added what they call a "Caterpillar Crash Pad" in the heel area to aid in heel-striking. They exposed the ballistic rock shield through the sole so you know it is there.

So how did these improvements perform on the various surfaces I tried them on, and how do they compare to previous tread designs?

Roads - The tread on the roads is not the best because there just isn't that much surface area in contact with the road. On wet asphalt there is some slippage as the large lugs search for purchase. Lets face it though, roads are a necessary evil to get one to the trails and to be honest I don't need the shoes to grip the road but instead be able to handle the road until I get to the trail and this is what they do. I have never fallen on the road while wearing any of the Cascadia's and these have been the same. The feel of the shoe on the road is surprisingly cushioned and I have raced up to about a half marathon on the roads with the Cascadia 4's and so I feel the soles are suitable for the roads. Most impressive is how well they wear. They can handle many miles on the road before you begin to notice wear. 2.5/5 for the soles performance on the road

Trails - This is where the sole and tread design of this shoe excels. My first run in them was three 500 foot steep muddy and rocky hill repeats on Mount Doug. When I stepped off the pavement onto the muddy trail I instantly felt the shoe bite through the mud. The lugs are spread wide enough to prevent mud from caking on the bottom, they also don' allow gravel to get wedged (a real pet peeve on gravel trails). They felt much more stable on steep uphill in the mud (I am comparing them to my worn Cascadia's) but they still feel better than I remember the old ones. Once again on the down hill they gripped the muddy slopes well with no slipping. Some of the trails were steep and muddy enough to slide down on your butt but there was no sliding in the shoes. They handled sand and gravel well also with no complaints. As for wet rocks they did as good a job as you can expect a shoe. There always seems to be some slipping on wet rocks but they really felt stable and I was confident enough to turn up the speed a bit faster than normal. They hug dry rock extremely well and the ballistic rock shield eliminates the shock from sharp roots and rocks. Total score for tread off the road is 4.5/5 (to get a perfect score from me they would have to find a way to improve wet rock traction but I haven't found a shoe yet that can handle the wet slimy rocks).

Cushioning/pivot points/caterpillar crash pad

The new Brooks Cascadia 6 has incorporated the new Brooks DNA into the mid sole. This non-newtonian substance is supposed to give each runner a new tailored ride. Additionally they have added a 4th pivot in the front medial side of the shoe. The pivots are meant to take the shock of stepping onto the side of your foot on a rock or root and prevent ankle rolls.

Roads - The cushioning on the roads is great. I couldn't notice the cushioning at all which I feel is a great compliment to the shoe's cushioning. If you notice cushioning then that means it is too soft or too hard. The shoe absorbed the shock from the hard asphalt and concrete really well. During forefoot striking they really were smooth. The heel strike in the new shoe is actually much improved. For those who over-stride you will notice that the "caterpillar crash pad" is not just a gimmick but that it does make a smoother transition from the heel to toe compared to the past model and is a great addition. I think that the DNA feels great, like I said earlier the shoe is hardly noticeable on the road and this must mean the DNA is doing its job. I give the cushioning a 5/5 on the roads.

Amendment: After running several longer 3 hour runs since writing this review I have noticed some hot spots on the balls of my feet and I feel this may be due to the cushioning. If this issue persists I will most likely drop the score for the cushioning. I will have to see if the shoe really is harder or if I am just breaking it in a bit or because I haven't been running many 3 hour runs lately my feet are just more tender as they adapt to the miles.

Trails - Everything said previously about the cushioning on the roads applies to the trails but even improves slightly more since the added softness from the trails makes the impact even less noticeable whether you are mid-foot striking or heel-striking on rocks to mud. Where the cushioning in the mid-sole makes the biggest difference is the pivot points on uneven terrain. I don't feel I appreciated this feature until I started to pay attention to what it does. The new point added to the medial toe actually saved me from a possible roll just the other day. I was cruising down a steep hill and stepped right onto a sharp rock right on my right ball of my foot. Under normal circumstances a rigid sole without the pivots would have been thrown to the right and a painful roll and fall would have surely happened. This was not the case. I felt the shoe deform around the obstacle and I was stable enough to keep in control and not get injured. It was perhaps the most noticeable example of this feature helping in preventing ankle rolls I can think of. The shoe definitely gets the full 5/5 for cushioning because of the pivots, the DNA, and Caterpillar Crash Pad that all work together to give you a custom, stable, and hardly noticeable ride.


The upper has several adjustments as well, including an adjustable piece in the eye row, suede overlays and hydrophobic foam improvements.

Roads/Trails - The upper has worked really well and perhaps the most noticeable feature/improvement was the adjustable eye piece that flexes and changes across the bridge of the foot. What makes this feature so great is felt the shoe held much snugger in the arch when I need arch support but it flexed and eased up on the bridge or top of my foot during toe-off so that I had a better fit on the arch without pain on the bridge of my foot from being too tight to achieve the same effect. Running in the snow this week and rain last week the shoe can go from completely water logged from stepping in a stream or puddle to dry in about 20 steps so that the shoe really expels water once it gets in there and even seems to draw water out of the wet sock and move to the outside of the shoe. This is key for any long runs that have high probability for getting your feet wet. The shoes upper receives a 4/5 The reason I gave it a 4 is that I have had some issues tightening and adjusting the laces towards my toes. The laces also come untied easily and I had to use triple knots with the occasional stop and retie. The laces could really be improved. I did have some fit issues in the toebox as well. My toes were sliding forward slightly on the steep downhill running and resulted in small blisters on the tips of my toes. This seemed to occur during the first 20 miles I wore the shoe and now as the stretch is removed from the shoe and it is molding better to my foot it feels much more secure in the toe box. The shoe is an ounce lighter from the last model and is a step in the right direction (more bang with less weight). I love the bold colors Cascadia uses. I don't want a color that blends in the road or trail making it seem like I am hiding the fact that I am a trail runner. I want something that punches you in the face when you see it and says "I run hard gnarly trails and I am proud of it!" The lava red is awesome!

Overall I gave this shoe a total 21/25 (2.5 of those points are deducted from the grip on the road so the score without that category would be a much higher 23.5/25) and I feel any shoe over 20 is a top notch shoe. If I was to use the same grading system on the Cascadia 4 it would get several points lower. I feel all the improvements, although seemingly minor, all add up to make an improved ride and each new addition is not just a gimmick but serves a purpose and makes a difference for each step which adds up after millions of steps. I would recommend this shoe for the runner who could be running on a track one day and running down a steep mountain the next, the versatility of this shoe is impressive. There was little to complain about this shoe and I feel most people would be well off training and racing in this shoe.

I am posting a recent video of a run while I was in Utah in June. The run is up Bair Canyon and is part of the Bairgutsman trail race. You can read more about the run here.