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Brooks Cascadia 12 Review

  • Day Hiker
  • Ultralight Backpacker
  • Wilderness Backpacker

Brooks Cascadia 12 Overview

Known for crafting quality running shoes and apparel, you might be surprised to learn that Brooks is also highly regarded in the thru-hiking community, and it’s all because of their most rugged line of trail runners— the Cascadia.

Now in its 12th edition, the Brooks Cascadia 12 is a callback to its original form. Designed for jogging along rock-laden trails, these trail-runners are equipped with durable Hex lug patterned soles that offer ground-gripping traction and a rock plate — called Ballistic Rock Shields — that softens the impact of stepping on loose stones or branches.

The sturdy construction of the Brooks Cascadia 12 can support a lot of weight, including your overly stuffed backpack, and their iconic tread has being leaving footprints on dusty trails for over a decade. They are part of the reason modern hikers are giving up their heavy boots in place of lightweight, supportive trail running shoes.

While we often give out awards and Picks for gear, we won’t be for shoes. After testing many shoes and finding the right fit for each member of our team, we realized that a shoe is simply too subjective to unequivocally recommend to anyone.

Our advice is to know what brands of shoe fit you generally by trying them on in store, and then look for excellent models, which we review here. Look in our specifications table to see if the shoe generally fits wide, narrow, or standard-sized feet. There are a lot of differing elements among shoes, but this is the one that matters right off the bat.

Read below to see the full Brooks Cascadia 12 review.

Cascadia 12 Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 12.1 oz (343.0 g) Men’s, 10.5 oz (297.7 g) Women’s On the heavy side for trail runners. They are lighter than hiking shoes or hiking boots, but won’t feel like air on your feet.
General Fit Standard The Brooks Cascadia tends to fit standard-width feet.
Cushion High The Cascadia 12 has lots of cushion for long distances on tough terrain.
Stack Height 27 mm heel, 17 mm forefoot This stack height indicates a well cushioned shoe with a fairly normal heel-toe drop.
Heel-Toe Drop 10 mm A 10 mm heel-toe drop is standard for most shoes, but a bit high for trail runners. This will feel like a boot or hiking shoe.
Arch Type Neutral (Normal Arch) Normal arch means it’s meant for most people.
Rock Plate? Yes Brooks uses the Ballistic Rock Shield rock plate, and it works very well. That plus the cushion means your feet will be well protected.
Lace System Traditional (Flat) These laces are tied by hand, and are fairly flat for a secure fit.
Sizes Available 7.0-15.0 for Men, 5.0-12.0 for Women, with half sizes Pretty much all sizes for both genders.
Manufacturer Warranty 300-500 Miles When used for its intended purposes, Brooks footwear has a life expectancy of 300 to 500 miles or three to six months for most runners. Get in touch if it’s deteriorating before then.
Retail Price $130 A high price for a high-end trail running shoe.
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Gear Review of the Brooks Cascadia 12

Origins: Easing You In

I’ve never been much of a runner. High school track meets were boring, and as an adult I consistently find new ways to injure myself whenever I go for a jog.

As you may expect, running gear is not my forte, which is why the first time I learned about Brooks was when I was researching gear in preparation for my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike. Trail bloggers had varying opinions on the different editions of the shoe at the time, offering deep, thought-provoking insights such as “the 6s are the best, but I hate the 7s”, and “I wish I could find another pair of 8s but REI only carries the 9s now”. The overwhelming consensus was that the Brooks Cascadia line was the thru-hiking shoe; I only needed to figure which version was best.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-hiking-in-mono-lake
Which version of Brooks Cascadia is the best? Hard to say definitively, but the Cascadia 12 is up there.

The Cascadia 9 was my choice for that thru hike, and they were awesome. One pair lasted me over 1300 miles, which is an insane longevity for a trail runner.

In the years since I have worn a few different editions of the Cascadia line, each with a unique design that had its own benefits and drawbacks. The first time I laced up the Cascadia 12 I could already tell that it was one of the best versions yet.

After a few local day hikes I got a feel for the shoe’s cushion and support. I tend to walk on my toes, especially when going up or downhill. The fairly large 10 mm heel-to-toe drop noticeably supported the way I walk, cushioned more than I expected, and braced my foot’s arch nicely.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

The big test for the Cascadia 12 was the road trip my wife and I took down California’s scenic Highway 395. We planned out a couple weeks to enjoy all of the National Parks, Monuments, and Forests along the way, capping the trip off with a few days of hiking in Death Valley National Park.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-hiking-up-to-telescope-peak-death-valley
Hiking to Telescope Peak in Death Valley. If you look hard, you can see me on the trail.

Though many miles were hiked throughout that journey, our first stop at the Lava Beds National Monument had some of the most toe-twinging, ankle-busting trails on the trip. The views were astounding, but fields of lava rocks and dark caves filled with boulders don’t make for an easy walk in the park.

Yet I escaped that volcanic wonderland without a scratch. The 3D Hex design of the Cascadia 12 soles molded around the craggy volcanic rock, holding tight as I explored both above and below ground.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-caves-at-lava-beds-monument
Emerging from a cave.

The uppers survived as well. Some trail runners have little more than a mesh layer that rests on top of your foot, but the Cascadia 12 has much more than that. A durable plastic coating has been applied to the lower half of the upper, strengthening it, and even that is reinforced more so near the toe box with an additional layer of resilient material.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-wearing-shoes
The Brooks Cascadia 12, laced up and ready to tackle volcanic rock.

This was the trail-worthy durability I expected from the Cascadia line, and the 12 delivered.

Digging Deeper

These bad boys continued on from the Lava Beds and trudged through the mud in Yosemite National Park, got soaking wet near Mono Lake, and then braved the coarse sands of Death Valley.

After all of that adventuring we did there are almost no signs of wear. They feel hardier than any other Cascadia shoe I’ve ever worn.

The drawback to all of this added strength is the shoe’s breathability. In previous iterations of the Cascadia I could literally feel the breeze on my feet through the abundance of breathable fabric. A portion of that mesh has now been covered for the sake of strength. They’ll still ventilate your stinky feet and dry out in the sun, just not as fast.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-walking-in-lava-beds-national-monument
It’s harder to feel the breeze through your toes in the Cascadia 12 than previous iterations.

At 12.1 ounces per shoe, they’re not the lightest trail runners on the market. They don’t feel heavy by any means, especially for a rugged hiking shoe, but compared to other trail running shoes they’re going to tip the scale.

Fit

My average-sized feet fit well into these shoes, but folks with very wide feet will likely find the Cascadia 12 to be a bit too cramped. It’s a snug fit when the laces have wrapped everything down tight. This is good, though, as it helps to prevent chafe. Imagine hiking up a granite mountain in a pair of roomy Crocs. Yikes.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review
Snazzy.

Durability

Durability is what this shoe is all about. If “Ballistic Rock Shield” doesn’t sound strong enough then go buy a pair of cement blocks for your next overnight trip.

Soles

I find it fun to see what shoe treads are imprinted in the dirt on the trails I hike. The Cascadia 12 sole pattern is becoming one of the most common types I find, and for good reason. The soles have great traction and are made of a durable material.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-sole
The sole of the Cascadia 12 is distinctive on the trail. You’ll see it if you start to look.

The shoes have enough supportive cushion for the trail — 27 mm to be exact — but it’s a little too rigid for pavement. Avoid road walking whenever possible. Due to the 10 mm drop in this shoe, we think it will work for folks used to “normal” hiking shoes and boots. It’s a far cry from zero drop or even 4 mm, so note that when looking at what kind of shoe you want.

Uppers

Stronger than in years past, but a little less breathable due to that strength. I love the look of these shoes, though, don’t you?

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-side-view
Sexy trail runners are kind of a thing now.

Trail Running vs Backpacking and Hiking

The strength and versatility imbued within the Cascadia 12 is first and foremost intended for trail running. Grip is even more important when you’re jogging down a dusty hill with loose pebbles lying in wait to slide your feet out from under you. The Cascadia 12’s Hex lug soles with pivot posts dig into the dirt like tent stakes, keeping you very stable.

Brooks-Cascadia-12-review-day-hike-to-telescop-peak-death-valley
Run or hike, the Cascadia 12 will get you there.

Runners will also find that the Cascadia 12 provides adequate cushion on trail, enough to soften the impact of each step without sacrificing the durability needed for off road travel.

Grievances

I’ve had a lot of experiences with the Cascadia line of shoes, and have seen some issues over the years. While the Cascadia 12 is a beastly shoe, there is one main flaw: breathability.

So much of the fabric is covered up by other, more hardy materials, that it just doesn’t breathe the way it used to. Your feet will get a little sweaty, but they’ll be safe from all of those pokey twigs!

Final Word

Brooks has somehow managed to create an iconic hiking shoe without intending to, and they won’t even admit it. The Cascadia 12 is supremely well designed for trail travel no matter your pace. Run over the hills, walk through the woods, wander around the sand dune, march across the river, slog through the swamp, waddle over the ice…you get the picture.

Where to Buy Brand Name + Product Name

We tested the Brooks Cascadia 12 Men’s. This shoe is also offered in a women’s model, and the construction is the same except for fit and color. Brooks also offers this shoe with a Gore-Tex lining, the Cascadia 12 GTX Men’s and Cascadia 12 GTX Women’s, which keeps water off your feet. While this works for some people, hikers often turn to trail runners for breathability, and this stifles that even more.

Compare Brooks Cascadia 12 prices below.

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arthur mcmahon outdoor gear reviewer

Arthur McMahon

Arthur loves to walk. It's as simple as that. Whether it be in the mountains, on the beach, or along the city streets -- he believes walking is the best way to experience the world. Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was his first backpacking foray, and he hasn't stopped since. He and his wife chronicled their journey in their book Adventure and the Pacific Crest Trail. They now regularly travel into the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest seeking new trails to hike. Follow his adventures on Instagram. Arthur also hosts the Better Hiker podcast & blog where he discusses trail wisdom, philosophy, and historic adventures.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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