Brooks Cascadia 8 Initial Impressions

The Cascadia 8 was my first experience running on a Brooks shoe. Since it’s now winter and the Swiss peaks are covered in snow, I ended up testing the Cascadia 8 on snowy mountain trails near Interlaken and the wet, cold forests near Zurich.

This combination included trails of packed snow, soft snow, ice, water, mud and a little asphalt. Overall I was impressed by the Cascadia 8, which offers a good combination of cushioning, excellent fit, and good agility on the trails.

Brooks Cascadia 8 Uppers Design: Asymmetrical Fit

First let’s talk about the fit because that’s the strongest impression I have from the shoes. The uppers are composed of woven microfiber, my material of choice for shoe uppers. As you can see from the close-up image, the microfiber mesh also has thicker threads in a diamond arrangement going through the mesh. These will be stiffer than the mesh and help take the load when your foot slides and tries to stretch the material. Since these high-tension treads are evenly distributed in the mesh, there will be an even pressure distribution…in other words, great design for a comfortable shoe. The Cascadia 8 has an asymmetrical uppers design, and when you look at them from the top you can clearly see a curve to the shoe as the uppers follow the natural curves of the top of the foot.

This is slightly unique in a world where most of the shoe manufacturers use a straight uppers design (from my experience), where the uppers essentially follow a straight line from the toe box toward the ankle. The asymmetrical design of the Cascadia 8 means the shoe forms a close, natural fit over the top of the foot without excess material. Stripes of synthetic overlay material are arranged in triangles along the lateral surfaces of the shoe, enabling the uppers to wrap over the foot.

The mechanical engineer in me likes this because the triangular structure is excellent for force distribution and multi-directional stretching (while using minimal material). The triangular pattern forms a nice cradle to distribute forces naturally over the foot, whereas many manufacturers have uppers where the forces pull in a straight line from the laces to the sole.

Brooks Cascadia 8 Excellent Fit

I find that properly fitting uppers are essential for providing a stable and compliant running shoe fit where good contact between the foot and the shoe is maintained while running. A good fit ensures your foot stays in place instead of sliding around on the sole surface, which is of particular importance on the trail where you must accommodate to different trail surfaces. This design allows for a smooth deformation of the uppers as the foot flexes and I simply love this design strategy.

I’ve used shoes like the Salomon S-Lab 4 or Asics Trabuco where the shoe has a nice sole design, but the uppers follow a straight profile along my foot (or include rigid plastic ribs like on the Trabuco). With these shoes the uppers material has a greater tendency to wrinkle and create hot spots or stress points on my upper foot as my foot flexes while running (for me, it starts to make a difference after 20km). This occurs because the material doesn’t flex and stretch with my foot, but with the Cascadia 8 I feel like the shoe moves with my body.

Another nice design point is that on the Cascadia the laces on the top of the tongue have two loops which direct the laces along the top of my foot in a perfect diagonal cross pattern before I tie them at the top. With other shoes, there is often a tight spot in this area because the laces shift and don’t form a good contact to properly distribute forces and create proper contact with the top of the foot. This small but well-thought out feature maintains proper fit over long distances – awesome design sense.

So to summarize, I consider the Cascadia 8 to have some of the best designed uppers I have yet experienced on a trail running shoe, providing a more natural fit than the Salomon S-Lab 4, Crossmax, Inov8 RocLite 285s, Fuji Asics line, etc. However, a shoe needs a good sole as well.

Brooks Cascadia 8 Sole Design

The Cascadia 8 has a fully cushioned shoe, with impact absorption in the forefoot as well as in the heel. The specific Brooks technologies in the midsole include BioMoGo, described as an earth-friendly technology which includes smart cushioning to create a springy return while running which reduces the use of energy usage. Independent, medial-lateral pivot posts are shaped to minimize ground contact surface area, and thereby reduce the destabilizing effect of trail irregularities. Then, a segmented crash pad gives a smooth heel-to-toe transition and a rock shield is included as a toughened thermoplastic Eva sheath between the outsole and midsole. It has a moderate heel-toe drop, which I like on shoes. Ok, is all that good or bad?

I’ve generally found it difficult to find a good trail running shoe with full cushioning and proper trail performance. If the shoe is highly cushioned in the forefoot area, you may not be able to properly feel the trail, which makes it more dangerous as trail conditions change and you can’t get good feedback as your foot lands. This makes me run slower, unsure if I can trust my foot placements. On the other hand, high cushioning can be a good thing by reducing fatigue over long trails and when you transition to asphalt or hard surfaces (which is inevitable in many races). If a trail shoe has forefoot cushioning, it also needs to have a good stiff rubber on the sole so that the forces from the trail can be felt by your toes. If you can’t feel the trail, it makes it more likely you’ll slip or slide on the trail while going fast or changing direction. Thankfully, the Cascadia performed well in this area.

I’ve found the combination of cushioning and sole stiffness of the Cascadia 8 to be well-balanced. I don’t feel like I’m running on foam block or springs, I feel in-tune with with trail. The well-designed uppers are matched with a robust sole that lets me feel the trail enough to make precision foot placements when needed. At the same time the flat treads on the bottom make for a smooth transition to flat hard road surfaces and back to wet/muddy trails. The treads on the bottom of the sole have flat tops and an interesting pattern, which follows the perimeter of the foot and have a graduated diamond pattern directly below the forefoot. Another thing I like is that the forefoot has a nice gradual curvature as the sole thickness reduces near the toes. This results in a nice natural rolling stride when running on flat surfaces. Again, very nice when transitioning between trail and asphalt.

Brooks Cascadia 8 Trail Performance

I don’t recommend the Cascadia 8 as your first choice for running up snow trails in the Swiss Alps (add a pair of Yaktrax), but they worked out pretty well. The fresh snow got embedded between the treads, but overall I was able to run around without much fear of slipping or crashing on the snowy trails, which is a testament to the stiffness of the treads. The dense microfiber uppers also provided decent protection from the cold. When I was back down in the low-lands of Zurich I ran on forrest trails with a mix of mud and compacted, sometimes icy snow on the ground. The Cascadia glides nicely over small rocks and grips well when transitioning to muddy stretches and splashing through puddles. Cushioning in the heel provided good protection with downhill heel strikes, and the forefoot treads provided good traction when running uphill. Water release seems to be good with the Cascadia as well. The structured uppers provide some barrier to water entry, but the material is open for good breathability and water exit.

Brooks Cascadia 8 Summary

The Brooks Cascadia 8 is a well-designed, good fitting, dependable trail running shoe. For long distances I find them preferable to the Salomon S-Lab 4 soft ground shoe (the high heel-toe drop kills my toes), which is a benchmark shoe for trail running and ultras. The uppers are very well designed, offering the best fit of any other trail shoe I have so far used, and the combination of cushioning coupled with good rubber on the soles makes for good endurance and performance on the trail. It would be better if they were lighter and had slightly more aggressive treads, but overall the Cascade 8 is a solid performer that I look forward to running more with in the future.

We thank the nice people at Brooks for sending us a pair of Cascadia 8 to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.