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Brooks Catamount Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 9.6 oz. (272 g) for a US M9.0/8.8 oz. (249 g) for a US W7.0
  • Nitrogen-infused DNA Flash midsole is a dream
  • Fast shoe on less technical terrain, ideal for trail to road transitions
  • Give us a lily-white upper and we’re going to do bad things to it

DAVE: I just wrote, and will re-write the same exact words that I did for the Brooks Revel 4 review a few weeks ago: Over the past few years, Brooks has started to feel a little stale underfoot, most notably in the midsole department. Personally, not much worked for me, other than the Revel.

Well, there is finally some life coming out of Seattle this year and I’m really starting to like it. From the pure ease and functionality of probably the best “budget” trainer on the market right now in Revel 4, to the quick on your feet Hyperion Tempo with the new DNA FLASH midsole, they are invited back to cocktail hour.

The trail line has always been a mystery for me. The Cascadia was a chunker for what I needed in the trails over the years, and going way back to the Pure series of trail shoes Brooks offered, they were OK, but really started to bottom out 15 or so miles in. I needed a fast, yet smooth and snappy middle-ground shoe, somewhere in between the aggressiveness of the Cascadia and the minimal feel of the Pure line.

Introducing the Catamount.

TAYLOR: Brooks has a deep trail history with the mega-classic Cascadia, and the rest of their trail shoes are basically a slightly altered version of that 4×4-like shoe. But it’s 2020, and lately when I’ve put on a Brooks trail shoe, I’ve been wanting them to step out and discover their full potential in the trail world.

Good news– Brooks is going for it with the all-new Catamount. Aside from the logo on the shoe, the Catamount has almost nothing in common with the Cascadia (woohoo!). It’s a leap away from the company’s normal and, just for that, I applaud them.

The Catamount is a lot more speed-oriented than anything they have made for trails. It contends with some other shoes like the Salomon Sense Ride series, Skechers GOrun Speed TRL Hyper, and Nike Terra Kiger. After taking these through a bunch of miles out here in Colorado, I’m happy to report that the performance and beauty are almost equivalent.

brooks catamount dirty

The Good

DAVE: Let’s talk about DNA FLASH. I don’t know what it is, but I do not want to take this shoe off. It rolls so nicely along the hard-packed dirt of the West Coast, and because we never see any rain here in LA County, it has enough grip along the outsole (TrailTack sticky rubber) to do the job just fine. Imagine a Skechers Razor 3, or if you have had the chance to wear it, the Hyperion Tempo underfoot. (Note: It is a tad firmer ride due to the Ballistic Rock Shield, but this thing cruises along quite nicely!). Great transition and nice spice off of the forefoot. I dig.

In terms of the upper, it’s pretty nice. It’s a tad on the thicker side, but the perforated mesh with really no overlays really sets your foot in there nicely. Overall, it’s a secure fit for a lot of straight running with some mild turns, dips, and drops. It molds the arch well like a lightweight performance trainer would, while providing enough toe box room for those quad-bashing downhills and enough solid flex when climbing some vert.

Let’s talk about the all-white colorway of the upper. This one goes both ways, as far as positives and negatives. Normally, Brooks wouldn’t be at the top of my list casual wear, whether it’s attending a race with one of my athletes, or kickin’ it with the wife at a dive bar on the Sunset Strip. But this white with aqua along the walls, and tan to brown along the outsole is pretty hip. The shoe has a good personality. Looks good on the dirt to the concrete.

TAYLOR: The Brooks Catamount has a lot to love – especially if you love hearing the trees whiz by.

When I first slipped these babies on, I was reminded of my students when they got a new pair of kicks. I leveled up! It’s the type of shoe that makes you feel faster without even running a step. Not only does it feel fast– it looks fast! If one of my students came to school with a pair of shoes as fresh as the Catamount’s bold white and electric glacier blue colorway, we’d stop class for a quick show-and-tell moment.

Full disclosure: I completely wrecked the bleach white upper. There was slight hesitation but I personally think they look even better now. And besides, I didn’t have any socks white enough to wear with them.

So, they look fast and feel fast. Are they fast? I’ll pay homage to my Minnesotan roots with this one: “You betcha!”

DNA FLASH is almost all that you need to know about this shoe. It is a compound that’s already a fan-favorite from shoes like the Tempo and Hyperion Elite 2. Nitrogen (a critical element in things like explosives and fertilizers) is infused into the DNA midsole compound to give it less weight and more pop. Whether that is actually the case or not, the firm midsole sure is responsive. Combine DNA FLASH with a smooth rocker-like roll and a speedy 6 mm drop (35mm to 29mm), and you get a pretty special sensation for a trail shoe. The Brooks Catamount is ready for fast-paced clackin’ along smooth trails and gravel.

In terms of more trail-specific garb, the Catamount is sporting the tried and true TrailTack outsole with 4mm lugs, simple lace garage, gaiter adapters, and a ballistic rock plate for protection.

The combo is aggressive enough to hold its own on most trails (except technical and sandy) yet subtle enough to rip some road sections. I believe the rock plate actually helps with some propulsion too. It helps hold the aggressive form of the midsole and is so dang smooth. Gravel roads, smooth trail, and fire road are the Catmaount’s wheelhouse.

Let’s touch on that gorgeous mesh upper one more time. It wraps this shoe up nicely. Besides overall fit for security purposes, I really wouldn’t change much about it. It’s soft, simple, and comfortable, and holds form well. An integrated tongue comes up with a big assist on the overall fit too.

One last thing– I found out via a torrential 30-minute thunderstorm, where the trails turned into a literal creek, that the Catamounts upper also drains quite nicely!

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brooks catamount upper

The Bad

DAVE: Now to completely contradict what I just wrote above…who the hell makes a white trail shoe? I know it’s kind of trending these days (i.e. Nike Terra Kiger), but if you want to keep ’em pretty, you probably shouldn’t be a trail runner anyways.

Listed on the top of the tongue, rolling along the throat of the shoe, are the words “designed and built for 100 miles of run happy.” Ok, here’s the deal, I wouldn’t run more than 50K in this shoe. It’s going to bottom out on the hard-packed dirt I run. But to be honest, that’s about my max right now anyway. So the shoe does fall into a good mileage category for me.

However, here’s the issue. Brooks needs to stop throwing lines like this out there. They already made quite the snafu with people paying $250 for the Hyperion Elite and then learning it only lasts 50 miles. I can’t imagine that the Catamount will hold up for a 100 miler, especially if you are on some “baller status” terrain.

Let’s talk real trails. You know– the gnarly stuff. Hairpin turns, for starters. The favorite section of single track in your local training grounds that you love to bomb down. In those situations, I found the Catamount to be sloppy. Again, out here in CA, a lot of the dirt and vert is challenging in terms of climbing in altitude, but the trails are either wide or gentle enough that I do not need to worry too much about cornering. But in the sticky situations I have been in so far, the Catamount is definitely a bit wobbly for aggressive cornering. If you are running a seriously tough ultra, or something on the East Coast with a ton of rock and roots, I’m not sure this is the best option for you.

Like back in the day when my high school girlfriend thought partying in the woods was too “hick” for her, the Catamount doesn’t do well in the slop. Despite living in SoCal, I was able to find some mud and slop, and found the outsole to grip pretty poorly. The lugs are just not aggressive enough for that type of stuff.

TAYLOR: The good in this shoe is real good, but the Catamount isn’t all speed and unicorns. There are a few limitations that I hope will prompt a “quick fix” like in the Hyperion Elite series. I do want to put a qualifier out there that these “issues” felt better as the shoe broke in. However, they never went away completely.

One thing that has always been lacking in Brooks trail shoes is that truly locked-down feel. Even though the mesh upper does check a lot of boxes, it causes some hesitation when the trail turns into moderately technical or more difficult, which is almost exclusively what I have to work with here in the Northern Colorado Rockies. Albeit, the overall fit is more secure than any other pair of Brooks trail shoes. Still, my foot had some lateral shift through the midfoot and heel causing me to slow down my roll. This shoe is so fun otherwise that I didn’t want to slow my roll… humph.

The lack of security also made my big toes boycott fast descents– they tended to slam the toe cap going downhill or negotiating more technical terrain. Even though this element settled after breaking in the Catamount, it is still an evident sensation.

Right on the tongue of the Catamount it says, “Destined and built for 100 miles of Run Happy.” While I would love for that to be the case, it’s not a 100-mile shoe at all. The firm DNA Flash midsole proves great for faster running, but it’s a little too harsh for the longer ultra races. Sure, these would work wonderfully for a mostly smooth and speedy 50k or maybe even a gravel road 50-miler. I wouldn’t bet on it for any longer though, especially if there is any amount of technicality in the mix.

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brooks catamount lateral

Brooks Catamount Conclusion

DAVE: This was kind of an all over the place review from me. I’ll admit it. I’m trying to give YOU the reader not only what the shoe can do for me, but I want you to know what it could do for you. Does that make sense? I think that’s how we write a shoe review.

In terms of how the Catamount works, it’s been outstanding for me. But the terrain I am on here in SoCal likes this type of shoe. Now if I were home in upstate New York cruising the Finger Lakes trail system, this shoe may get eaten alive by some mud and roots.

I’d classify the Catamount as a lightweight performance trail shoe/racer. At 9.6 oz. for a US M9.0, it’s a little bit heavy overall, but not that abnormal for a lighter trail shoe. But for myself and probably almost all of you reading, it can be very versatile. Personally, I’d run this shoe up to 50K and I can see it racing well at half marathon to 30K or full marathon in the trails. Can also see this as a great winter training option for the roads.

So there it is. To sum it up. To each their own with the Catamount. If you feel like you have the type of terrain in your backyard that this shoe digs, you’ll fly in this shoe! Hardpack is the best bet, which is why I’m lovin’ it.

TAYLOR: “Exciting” is one of the words that pops into my head when thinking about the new Brooks Catamount. Brooks brings a rarely-found sensation to the trail world with the DNA FLASH midsole. It is a new lead for the Run Happy company. This shoe is fast and flows like butter on a hot biscuit– so smooth and tasty. This isn’t going to be your first choice for ultras, but if you often find yourself picking up the pace on mostly buffed out trails or gravel, the Catamount deserves your attention.

To me, the lack of foot security in a trail shoe is probably the biggest limiting factor. So, I would love to see a more secure fitting upper with this same ride. If that happens, this can be one of the best all-terrain speed machines on the market. If you want to experience that sweet DNA FLASH on the trails, you can snatch up the Brooks Catamount right now (ships August 1) at Running Warehouse for $160.

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brooks catamount outsole

Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultrarunner living in Estes Park, CO, with his wife and daughter. He and his wife both love running the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. When not running, Taylor is a Kindergarten/1st grade teacher, running coach, and youth leader for his church.

4 Comments

  1. Absolutely spot-on review. I tested this shoe for Brooks way back when and had almost exactly the same thoughts as you both. I’ll give you a quick synopsis (as best I can remember) of my experiences with a test version of this shoe:

    -Upon opening the box: “A white trail shoe? Interesting.” The white/blue colorway does absolutely pop though. It looks really good..until it gets dirty..but I don’t care about that.
    -First run: “Wow these feel fast and good on my feet”
    -After wearing them for a few more runs: “Fit is good, if not a tad bit loose on the downhills. Love the midsole. Can definitely handle a race effort”
    -Evening after a hill workout: “My toes are killing me”. Realizing it was, like you all said, the slamming of the toe cap on the downhills.
    -During 10 miler on a pretty technical trail: “I’m not wearing these again. Too much roll and foot is moving around too much inside the shoe”.

    I think your description of the type of course and distance to use this shoe on is pretty accurate. I do think you could get away with it for a 100 miler on a non-super technical course (like Western States…which ironically the course map for WS is featured is the Brooks logo on these shoes) except for the slamming of the toes into that toe cap on the downhills. That being said, I would probably go with this being a shoe for a 50 mile race or less on non-super technical trails that are relatively flat.

    I’m happy to report that they are still in my rotation (for now, as I suspect they are entering their end of their mileage soon). I’ve been using them mostly on hardpack dirt and gravel trails lately and they are still holding up pretty well with about 400 miles on them. That white upper is now a more brownish/gray upper!

  2. Can I just say that I really, really appreciate reviews that aren’t afraid to state issues with a shoe (along with when it can work in a rather nuanced way)? Too often I find that professional reviewers lean way too much into the good and then, when I buy something, I find all sorts of issues… only to then find user comments often raising their own issues. The only other thing I’d mention is that I am not all that wealthy and the price creep of running shoes is something I am guessing (as a normal runner) am not alone in having reservations about. I appreciate all the tech that has come into the game – and, re: the first bit of my comment, I know that shoes are all-around better these days, but I wish some reviewers would recallibrate their overall impressions to keep things differentiated – but $160 is a lot for a lot of people.

    Again, thanks for the well-rounded reviewing!

    1. Welcome, Will. Here at BITR, we’re straight shooters. If it’s good we’ll tell you. If it blows, we’ll tell you that too!

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