I was looking forward to testing the Brooks Cascadia 15 as I had seen a version of the shoe in action back in 2015 when I ran for a day on the Appalachian Trail in New York state with my friend, ultramarathon legend Scott Jurek, when he broke the record this summer – 2,189 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes! I haven’t run that many miles on the Cascadia, but after testing the latest iteration of the shoe for several runs and about 30 miles total, here are my thoughts.
How I tested
I tested the Brooks Cascadia 15 against criteria recommended by experts for the 2020 SELF Certified Sneaker Awards. You can read more about their criteria here. I’ve used the shoe on a variety of terrains and surfaces, from non-technical hardcover dirt in a city park to rolling hills where steep climbs and sharp descents brought different elements of design to bear.
Because trail running speeds are so different, it̵
The fit of the shoe is standard. In many ways this is a good thing as there are no surprises like a complex lacing system, compressed upper, or redesigned outsole tread pattern that might turn out to be “too much” on the trails. Sometimes you only need one running shoe to be a running shoe, and this is perfectly competent footwear for trails – emphasis on perfect.
However, the Cascadia 15 has a handful of features that set it apart as a trail shoe rather than a daily road rider. The all-terrain tread of the outsole comes as no surprise, and I was delighted to see the sturdy lugs retain their shape and shape after repeated drubbings where a softer rubber may have worn or torn off. At the top, the mesh upper is breathable and dries quickly after getting soaked, whether from sweat or jumping through a puddle or creek bed. The upper material is also edged with a layer of thin but tough material that offers protection from stones and roots and keeps your feet dry when wet. While the lacing is straightforward, it has an elastic band on the center eyelets that provides both comfort (reducing pressure on the foot) and a more personalized, snug fit. After all, it’s the little things: a nylon loop on the heel is the key to getting your shoes on and off, whether they’re soaked, muddy, or just tired after a run.
Shape of the shoe
If anything, the Cascadia 15 runs far in the forefoot. It’s still a standard approach to shoe design, however, so it’s not as liberal in the toe box as a radical zero-drop shoe. But if narrow feet find it a bit roomy, you should be able to lock things into place with the lacing system. Brooks also offers a wide 2E version of the shoe if you need more width.
Feeling of the shoe
Ride the Cascadia 15 made me feel safe, which is vital on the trails as you don’t want to be worried about falls all the time! The midsole is well cushioned without feeling dull or too mushy, and the shoe has an internal tool to add stability without adding a lot of weight in return. Even so, I found such a sturdy shoe to be responsive when I needed it and safely handled changes in direction and terrain – both when ground conditions moved from one surface to another (e.g. dirt to rocks) and when climbing and descending downhill. The Cascadia 15 is a skilled climber, but also safe and stable on steep descents.
How my body felt during and after the activity
To be honest, at first sight I expected the Cascadia 15 to make me sluggish during a session, and I thought features like a rigid ride and a standardized upper would make me feel overheated. I’m happy to report that this was not the experience in my tests: the shoe was neutral and responsive in motion, which says a lot for a trail shoe. Trail running is mostly about expecting the unexpected – changing terrain and surface, changing weather – and the Cascadia 15 drove through all the conditions that gave me more confidence over the course of the test sessions. Comfort and confidence in shoes are keys to finding out how much fun exploring trails can be.
Company’s right of return
Brooks offers a 90-day return policy with no shipping or restocking fee, even if you’re walking in your shoes. Unless you’re buying directly from the brand, be sure to check the return and exchange policies of the retailer you choose.
The bottom line
The Brooks Cascadia 15 is a straightforward, no-frills, all-purpose trail shoe with design and features that make it a great choice for a range of runners, from people new to the trails on a weekend camping trip to experienced runners looking for an epic Planning adventures and looking for trustworthy footwear that will work without any bugs or malfunctions. The combination of an internal stability system, stone slab and quick-drying / drying mesh upper material makes the shoe a lightweight alternative to a hiking shoe or shoe. Ultimately, both the design and the drive suggest that this could be an ideal option for a weekend warrior preparing for extreme OCR challenges like Tough Mudder or Spartan races.