Gear Review: Brooks Cascadia 11

Brooks Cascadia 11
Price: €140

Brooks Cascadia are well known as an all-round, comfortable trail shoe that is slowly but surely improved year on year. In fact I’ve been a big fan of them ever since I got into trail running and bought my first pair of Cascadia 7s. This reputation for reliability took a battering last year – the online forums and discussion among runners was awash with tales of problems – the mesh of the upper coming away and exposing holes.

Version 7, 8 and 9 of Brooks. Each pair gave me around 1500km of harsh trail running without any problems.

In fact I suffered the same problem – after only 50km of running, holes started to appear and by a couple of hundred they were wrecked.

Horrible rips in the upper – a common problem with early version 10s

After contacting Brooks, they replaced the pair without question, stating that:

We realise that our Cascadia 10 model is not as durable as the 9 and has inherent weak point in the upper between the two areas of the 3d fit print material which is designed to give structure of the shoe without utilising stitching. In most cases the problem does not transpire into a full rip but I can see from the pictures you have provided yours have fallen victim to this.

The new pair I received was fine, and after 600km shows no sign of ripping.

So this week I was in my local running shop, the amazing Endurance Shop in Gap. The staff were as friendly and informative as usual and while I was actually looking for a new race pack, I noticed the new Cascadia 11s. The shop assistant told me that they had needed to return 25% of the pairs they had sold of the version 10, but that the new pairs were very good and all of the issues had been fixed. I tried a pair on, went for a quick test run outside the shop, and then bought them.

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The shoe seemes to be a narrower, more snug fit than previous versions. While I’ve found this an added bonus (I felt previous versions sometimes would let my feet slide around, especially when full of water) as it gives extra security and a more confident feeling when running. Others with wider feet might find this a problem, so I’d recommend trying before buying even if you’ve used previous versions of the shoe.

Brooks boast “trail-specific technologies that add a layer of protection” including a ballistic rock shield to protect your feet from debris and stones on the trail. The upper consists of Element Mesh, that Brooks say as well as being breathable, is also more durable and should avoid some of the unfortunate problems encountered with the version 10s.

There’s a 10mm drop, which I find just the sweet spot for long runs.

 

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I’ve since been out for a few runs in them on my local trails here in the French Alps. This time of year each run can throw in a mixture of loose gravel paths, mud, ice, compacted snow, meltwater stream crossing and slick grass – usually all on the same run and so good testing conditions for an all-round shoe.

For the first 50km of running I was getting some heel rub on my left achilles, but this seems to have sorted itself out. The shoes feel stable and give plenty of grip, although as in previous versions are pretty rubbish on greasy rocks (but then most stuff is). The poor handling in greasy/wet conditions is down to the durable rubber compound used in the outsole, the benefit of which is the longevity that Cascadias are known for – each pair I’ve had I’ve run 1000 miles in and the last thing to show wear was the sole.

The inner and outer edges of the upper are waterproof, where joins the outsole. This means splashing through shallowish puddles or running in snow doesn’t get your feet wet, but the upper still stays breathable. I’ve also made a few freezing stream crossings and can attest that the water drains out quickly and your feet warm up again in no time.

Conclusion

Overall, Brooks seem to have redeemed themselves from the disaster of the Cascadia 10s. Only time will tell if the problems with the upper will reappear, but so far so good. The shoe remains stable and reliable, with traction that offers a good compromise between grip and durability. I will still grab a more aggressive shoe for shorter, faster, more technical runs, but the Cascadia remains my go-to, default shoe and my favourite for long ultras.

Problems with Brooks Cascadia 10s?

I’ve been a big fan of Brooks Cascadia trail shoes ever since I got into the sport. I’ve owned a pair of 7s, 8s and 9s and done 1000 miles of rough trails in each pair before retiring them, and even then they still had life left in them. Needless to say I was pleased, so when 10s were released in the Spring, I simply ordered a pair without even thinking about it.

My history of Brooks Cascadias - still going strong after 1000 miles of off-road running

My history of Brooks Cascadias – still going strong after 1000 miles of off-road running

So it came as a bit of shock  that after running the Marlborough Downs Challenge, not only did I get the most horrendous blisters, but small tears started to appear on the front of the shoes (it was hardly challenging terrain either). Over the next couple of weeks the tears got worse and worse. I started to notice that other people on the Social Media were experiencing similar problems as well, so I contacted Brooks customer support.

The tear appearing in my new pair of 10s after just 300km

The tear appearing in my new pair of 10s after just 300km

I very promptly received a reply from a very helpful customer support agent who explained:

We realise that our Cascadia 10 model is not as durable as the 9 and has inherent weak point in the upper between the two areas of the 3d fit print material which is designed to give structure of the shoe without utilising stitching. In most cases the problem does not transpire into a full rip but I can see from the pictures you have provided yours have fallen victim to this.

We have rectified this with an improvement on our Cascadia 11 shoe which will be available from January 2016.

Not only that, once I’d supplied proof of purchase information, they were perfectly happy to send me a new pair. I’m also happy to say that since then I’ve done another 300km in the new pair and there’s barely a scratch.

I wish more companies would treat their loyal customers as well as this.

Qumox Fetch dog harness with camera mount

Qumox Fetch Dog Harness with GoPro Mount

It seems that nobody can make a cup of tea these days without filming it on a GoPro so the whole internet can re-live in first-person POV perspective. Recently though, both GoPro and a few other manufacturers have started to release harnesses so that the cameras can capture a dog’s perspective when mounted onto man’s best friend.

I do so much running with my border collie that I thought it would be fun, so A few weeks ago I bought a Qumox Fetch dog harness with a camera mount – there are a few on the market now but this is substantially cheaper than the ones from GoPro, and since it was just a bit of fun I ordered it from Amazon where you can pick one up for around €22.

A few weeks ago before the snow got really I bad I went for a run. You can see the results above but although the harness is good for a bit of fun, it’s not ideal for long periods of use.

Maybe I’m spoiled with the current (non-camera mountable) dog harness we use in general, the Ruffwear Web Master which has served well for a couple of years. The Qumox doesn’t fit very securely, despite me ordering the correct size, and is reliant on a loop of velcro over the front, which after running in the snow for an hour, gets clogged up and stops sticking meaning at the end I had to take the harness off  and run with it.

There is also a metal loop that sits behind the camera mount, which hits against the protective camera casing when the dog runs, creating an annoying noise which means if you’re not planning to overlay a soundtrack this could be a problem.

The main problem with a dog mounted camera is always going to be camera shake – as intelligent as Eric is, I couldn’t get him to frame shots correctly and hold still at all times – when he leaps into a gallop there’s really not much chance of seeing what’s going on – it is only when he’s trotting a steady pace that the captured footage becomes useable. I would expect this to be a problem on all harness however.

Finally, although the camera mounts fairly securely using the standard fixings you would expect after 5-10 minutes of running it is likely that the camera will have slipped forward in it’s mount, meaning it is more than likely capturing images of your dog’s back rather than the view ahead. This needed constant readjustment out on the trail.

Maybe the official GoPro version is much better – it does for instance have a raised mount which should in theory give a better view, but the extra leverage may exacerbate the camera shake.  However it is significantly more expensive so I think I will manage with what I’ve got for the time being.

 

YakTrax Run – Winter Traction Device

It’s deep winter in the northern hemisphere again and for many runners that means snow and ice. There are many options, ranging from taking an off-season and not running at all, sticking to indoor treadmills, or just braving the elements and hoping for the best. A number of manufacturers have started to develop traction devices for this last group and this review looks at the run-specific YakTrax Run.

Product: YakTrax Run
Price: €38,90
Pros: Easy to fit, spikes work well on ice, rear coils give sureness on heel strike and downhills.
Cons: Expensive, spikes don’t deal with compacted snow on top of ice very well

Note: unless otherwise stated, all products reviewed on this blog are owned by me, and have been paid for myself and so are completely independent.

For the last two winters I’ve been running with the YakTrax Pro which I reviewed last winter. They’ve served me well but unfortunately I lost them somewhere in our barn over the summer – at least I wasn’t able to find them in storage, so I ordered some more, only this time I went for the run-specific YakTrax Run.

I found a retailer on Amazon selling these for around €38, which at currently exchange rates is pretty close to their MRP of $39.99.

YakTrax Run – coils on the back and short spikes on the front for grip when forefoot striking

Both the YakTrax Pro and Run models share the same basic construction. They consist of a rubber outer frame that fits around the heel and toe of your running shoes, and a velcro strap across the toes to secure it in place.

On the sole of the shoe are metal coils that lie flat along the bottom of the shoe and provide the traction. The difference between the YakTrax Run however is a formation of small spikes on the ball of the foot, in place of the extra coils on the YakTrax Pro.

The spikes on the front of the YakTrax aren’t sharp, but are enough to give traction on ice when combined with the force of a forefoot strike. From my previous experience with the YaxTrax Pros I knew that the coil system would offer good grip.

Both the YakTrax Pro and Run can handle short periods of snow/ice free pavement without any obvious damage to the devices, although you wouldn’t want to do this for long periods of time – they can be taken off and put back on in 30 seconds so are not too bad in mixed conditions. They’re also guaranteed for wearing down to ‑41°C, although hats off to anyone who actually does this.

Road Test

We’re in the middle of an Alpine winter up here in the southern French Alps, and that makes running difficult, but would be a great testing ground for the YakTrax Run. This week has had everything – following on from the heavy snowfall of the previous weekend, the roads were ploughed but with sub-zero temperatures they were packed and icy. Later in the week, it was clear and sunny all day and the ice melted, and then would refreeze each night making early morning running very treacherous.

This was topped off by last-night’s huge snow storm and high winds which scattered the frozen roads with drifts of snow, and filled the forest single track with deep powder.

First Impressions

The YakTrax Run in action

The YakTrax Run in action

When I first took out the YakTrax Run it was very icy and the roads where hard packed down. These were perfect conditions and they gripped everything beautifully, both up and down hill. I was able to run with confidence and after a while it was easy to forget how slippy the icy actually was.

Yesterday we had heavy snow, but it was fairly wet and not very cold (just around freezing). This was then cleared and packed down by the snowplough and froze solid overnight to leave a layer of ice on the roads. We had heavy fresh snow overnight on top of this, and 80kph winds blowing in from the north meaning the roads where deep powder one minute, sheet ice the next, or a mixture of both.

 

The road up into our village was sheet ice with patches of deep snow

The road up into our village was sheet ice with patches of deep snow

However the real weakness of the YakTrax Run was the short spikes on the front. When running on roads where there was a real mix of ice and powder, I lost my grip a few times when landing on my forefoot as the snow would grip into the spikes, be packed down but then slide as a whole over the ice. Running with my weight on my heels gave better grip in these conditions as the coils at the back of the YakTrax came into play.

campsite road

This picture shows the road up to the village campsite – grip was good on the ice, but where the snow had drifted to powder on the left I would lose grip as the spikes couldn’t penetrate to the ice – the coils at the rear gave better traction.

Next, after getting off the roads and into the forest there was only deep powder to contend with, and to be honest a traction device makes absolutely no difference here since the compaction of the snow gives all the grip you need.

Once you get into deep powder snow, traction devices pretty much become redundant.

Once you get into deep powder snow, traction devices pretty much become redundant.

Conclusion

Overall these are a good addition to anyone who wants to get outside when it’s cold and frozen, and as the fall I took in December, smashing up my knee and ripping up running tights attested, running on ice without help isn’t a great idea.

As I noted, the biggest weakness here is the spikes at the front of the device – having used the YakTrax Pro in similar situations I would say I prefer them for the kind of mixed conditions I encounter. If you’re more likely to be dealing with ice rather than packed snow, then maybe these would be fine. However I actually prefer the YakTrax Pro for my winter running, which at $29.99 cost significantly less.

 

Product Review: YakTrax Pro

Product: Yak Trax Pro
Price: €29,90
Pros: Light, fit most shoes (including hiking boots), no spikes but good grip so work across patches of tarmac/rocks.
Cons: A little pricey for what they are, can be a bit awkward to fit

The end of November saw the first heavy snowfall of the winter, with around 70cm of snow falling in 24 hours. With temperatures of -15C it wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon so I decided to try out some YakTrax, one of the many traction devices for feet, available for runners.

 

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My wife has been running in these for a couple of winters and I’d always not bothered – generally when it snows it is deep enough to cause some give and give me traction, but the approach roads to the trails can be treacherous, especially just after the snow plough has pased over and we’ve had a bit of thaw/refreeze action.

I’ve been quite impressed so far though – they don’t seem to help much in deep snow, but the give me confidence on sheet ice, especially on the hills and they don’t interfere with my running action too much. Unlike what I’ve heard about spikes, there’s enough give with every stride to not hammer your quads too much, and they handle running across rocky patches or areas of road where there’s no ice.

The only time I had some problems was one session in quite deep, wet snow and they kept sliding off which was really annoying. However that was one run out of maybe 20 so far this winter so it may have just been down to me not fitting them properly.

All in all they’re a good purchase, much cheaper than dedicated shoes with spikes (eg. Salomon Snowcross) and have the added benefit that they will fit your existing trail shoes. They can also be used on hiking boots if you get a large enough size.