Shoe companies are somewhat notorious for discontinuing successful models, or revamping them to the point where they’re no longer attractive to the same runners who made them successful to begin with.
On the other hand, some companies know their audience, identify what works well for them, and have enough wisdom (and restraint – designers can be impulsive folks) to leave a good thing alone. One of those companies is Brooks.
Exhibit A in this discussion is the Cascadia 5, in which Brooks took one of its most beloved and award-winning models, and decided to just tinker a bit rather than overhaul the previous model. The majority of the shoe is identical to the Cascadia 4, with a few modifications for improved comfort and performance. In fact, I could probably condense this shoe review to one sentence: If you loved the Cascadia 4, you'll love the Cascadia 5 even more.
(But if you'd like to learn more, by all means, read on ... )
Cascadia’s ultrarunning “creds” come from none other than Scott Jurek, the 7-time Western States champion who works with the Brooks footwear design team on all steps of the design process from reviewing the first sketches to wear-testing the finished product. Jurek has had such a strong influence on the development of this model that the Cascadia 4 had the Western States course profile printed on its insole, along with Jurek’s course record time. They’ve replaced the design for the Cascadia 5, but the sentiment is still there.
(And this seems like decent enough justification to show this picture of me and Scott Jurek again. It really doesn't take much.)
Considering that the Cascadia 5 is more of a refresh than a reboot, let’s start the review with things that haven’t changed. In particular, the low profile midsole and outsole remain unchanged from the previous version, so the same ride and feel that users loved in the Cascadia 4 is preserved.
Cascadia’s midsole features Hydroflow viscous fluid units in the heel and forefoot for cushioning and shock absorption, and a Ballistic Rock Shield of thermoplastic EVA that spreads out the impact distribution from sharp objects. A pivot posting system uses independent medial and lateral pivot points which enable the foot to stay in a neutral position on uneven surfaces.
The most attractive feature of the midsole is Brooks’s patented BioMoGo EVA, the first-ever biodegradable running shoe midsole material. Introduced in 2008, BioMoGo is currently used in nearly all of Brooks’s performance running shoes, with the intent for 100% of their footwear to use this material in the near future.
I’ve turned the spotlight on eco-responsibility quite a bit over the past year, so it’s worth noting that Brooks was winning awards for environmentally sustainable innovations as far back as 2006. That commitment was the impetus for BioMoGo, a truly remarkable material that decomposes 50 times faster than traditional EVA. Biochemistry geeks will love the way this works: BioMoGo incorporates a non-toxic additive within the compound that encourages anaerobic microbes to feast upon the sole once it hits the landfill, causing degradation into reusable byproducts within 20 years.
Click to enlarge; medial and lateral pivot posts are also visible
The Cascadia’s environmental friendliness extends to the outsole, made of a compound called HPR (High Performance Rubber) Green that is derived from sand instead of petroleum. It’s also a very durable material that provides great wet-dry traction for skid resistance. It’s not as knobby as some other trail dogs, but I’ve worn these on some fairly muddy romps over the past several weeks, with very little noticeable slippage through sloppy patches.
To this point, I haven’t described anything new about the Cascadia 5 – so it’s time to look at the upper, where almost all of the updates from version 4 are apparent. Most noticeably, the midfoot wrap has been improved with a more snug overall feel, and a better connection between your foot and the midsole. This modification makes for greater stability on downhills and technical trail sections. Like the previous model, stability is also enhanced by an asymmetrical lacing system which allows the tightness of the forefoot to be relaxed for wider feet, or increased for narrower feet.
Cascadia’s mesh uppers are comfortably breathable and drain easily after puddle stomping or stream crossings. They feature Element hydrophobic microfibers for weather protection that also help pull moisture away from the foot for rapid drying time. In other words, there really aren’t any conditions this shoe can’t handle.
Apart from its technical highlights, I found the Cascadia to have a very soft, comfortable overall ride. At 12oz, it’s not the most lightweight shoe out there, and it doesn’t have the ground feel of the more minimalist shoes I’ve been trending towards recently, but there’s nothing about it that feels clumsy or cumbersome either. It would make a great all-conditions trail shoe regardless of your skill level – whether you’re a newbie or a Western States champion.
The Brooks Cascadia 5 retails for $100 from the Brooks website (link above) as well as from Amazon.com (with free shipping) and other online vendors.
*product provided by Brooks Sports, Inc. **See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.