Shoe ReviewsTrail

Columbia Montrail Caldorado III Performance Review

You more experienced (okay…older) trail runners may recognize Montrail as the originator of trail-running specific shoes in the US. Their model, the Vitesse, was one of–if not the first–dedicated trail runners to come out and is still the stuff of legend. Shit, if you’re a real shoe head you probably have 3 pairs decomposing in your attic right now next to the half-assembled Bowflex that you’re going to finish putting together any day now, and an old juicer you’ve been meaning to clean. Montrail was purchased by the Oregon outdoor behemoth Columbia about 10 years ago, and more recently was rebranded “Columbia Montrail” in what I’m guessing was a desire to retain loyal Montrail customers and create a somewhat uglier logo.

My first Montrail was the original Bajada, which came out about 7 years ago, and in some ways, their designs have changed a lot since then; but, in other ways, they’ve remained true to their roots. Is this good or bad? Read on to find out…

Columbia Montrail Caldorado III

The Good

Sometimes you slip on a shoe for the first time and you know you’re going to enjoy running in it. The Caldorado III is one of those shoes.  The upper feels more like a smooth, comfortable, stretchy sock than anything else. It holds the midfoot securely, but still stretches nicely to accommodate higher volume feet, and provides enough height for your toes to not feel cramped. I don’t think I’ve tried on an upper this comfortable in a while, and I’m including the Salomon Endofit system. The material is also extremely breathable and dries very quickly.

The lacing system is really simple and works well, and I was able to get the perfect tension through my ankle and midfoot, while still leaving the forefoot looser where my foot tends to widen out. The tongue is padded but not bulky, and gusseted from about the first eyelet, so it keeps debris out and doesn’t move once you dial in the lacing. I have to give a special shout-out to the insole, which is very comfortable, doesn’t slide forward, but has a slightly built up heel cup that hugs the foot and provides some extra lateral stability (not stability against over-pronation; more terrain-specific stability). It also dries pretty quickly after your foot’s been submerged. The heel collar is padded, but not overbuilt, and conforms perfectly to my heel. The toe bumper is low in height and doesn’t interfere with the tops of your toes, but really does its job, deflecting impact from various trail obstacles you might kick on your journey.

The midsole features Montrail’s FluidFoam, a compression molded EVAl. Montrail has been using this foam since the first Caldorado (and earlier) and I like it a lot. It’s soft but not mushy, feels responsive at faster paces, and there’s enough it to last for truly long efforts. The foam is implemented using Montrail’s FluideGuide technology, which allows them to graduate the firmness of the foam throughout the midsole, to provide softer cushioning where comfort is prized, and firmer cushioning where stability is needed. As a result, the shoe feels inherently stable on off-camber terrain, and I felt really confident with foot placement regardless of the angle of the terrain. Even just for walking around, the Caldorado III is a delight, which isn’t always the case with trail shoes.

The outsole features the pixelated lug pattern we’ve come to expect from Montrail, and despite its unconventional looks, it works. The lug height is only 4mm, but the rubber is sufficiently grippy to adhere to a variety of surfaces, and it handles rocks pretty well. I don’t think it’s their “Gryptonite” compound that they feature in their more technical shoes; however, it did the job and seems like it’s lasting well. I didn’t get to use them during a long outing with wet rocks, so I’m still reserving final judgment; but, overall I was pleased with the outsole, which transitions well from the trail to paved and gravel roads.

Best thing I can say about this shoe: I used it for the first 25 miles of the Georgia Death Race 74 miler this year, and while it isn’t an extremely technical course, it does feature extreme changes in terrain grade. My foot felt well protected transitioning abruptly between steep uphills and downhills, as we made our way across the ridgeline. The FluidFoam midsole helped mitigate some of the pounding of the downhills, but didn’t rob me of sensation; and, the forefoot flexed well on the uphills, helping me climb efficiently (or as efficiently as I could, considering I was marvelously undertrained).

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Columbia Montrail Caldorado III

The Bad

Part of what makes the Caldorado’s upper so comfortable is it’s smooth, stretchy fabric; however, it’s also a serious weak point for the shoe. I would have happily worn them for the entirety of the Georgia Death Race, had a brush with a rock not opened up a hole in the upper, right by my toes, requiring me to change shoes later in the race (or risk my shoe filling up with trail crap). Now tears can happen, even in burly uppers–sometimes it’s just bad luck and you scrape a rock or root in the wrong place. In this case, I feel like the material used is what’s to blame (so it’s not a manufacturing defect) as while it’s supremely comfortable, the feel of the fabric is closer to the thickness of apparel than what I’m used to seeing in a trail shoe. Don’t get me wrong, this upper is an improvement in fit and feel over the last version; however, if it’s not going to stay together after a few scrapes on mildly technical terrain, it doesn’t inspire that much confidence. Maybe they need to use some strategic, printed overlays in this area to reinforce the otherwise great upper. This might be a shoe you want to reserve for those buffed out Cali Carpet style non-technical trails; or, keep some duct tape handy with you for on-trail repairs.

I ran in the original Caldorado, which came in a subtle, nuclear fallout orange color. The latest version has a much more streamlined silhouette, but the colors are still pretty ugly. The Caldorado III comes in what they’re calling “Steam” and “Zour”; or, as I would call them, “Who care’s grey” and “Fuck me, that’s yellow”! It wouldn’t be hard to make this a much better-looking shoe by simply choosing better color combinations. Montrail: holler at your boy.

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Columbia Montrail Caldorado

Columbia Montrail Caldorado III Conclusion

I think Columbia Montrail is a bit of a sleeper brand and represents a good value. The Caldorado III ticked so many good boxes for me (road to trail ready, good grip, wide toe box but narrow heel, good on a variety of terrain, light, breathable, etc.) but did leave me feeling a bit shook, as the upper tore open a bit easier than I’d expect during a race. Despite the tear in the upper, I’m still finding myself digging these shoes as they disappear on my feet, and can handle a real variety of terrains and keep me comfortable on long outings. I just wished the upper didn’t also disappear so easily.

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1 Comment

  1. How different is the fit between the first Caldorado and the Caldorado iii? Is it wider, narrower, or about the same?

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