Brooks Catamount Review | Light & Fast Trail Running Shoes
The Brooks Catamount is designed to hit a niche in the trail running shoe market. Currently most trail shoes are one of two extremes; trail shoes designed for softest, muddy ground with long studs and a minimal level of cushioning or must more softly cushioned training shoes. These extremes were created because trail running races were almost non-existent and trail running was more for recovery. The races were found on fells, cross country or over mountains. Well studded minimal shoes were the best footwear for this kind of racing. In recent years the number of trail events on offer has grown and with it the interest in moving quickly on the trails. This is exactly what the Brooks Catamount is designed to be used for.
When you slip your foot into the shoes you are aware that the upper is very thin and lightweight. The light mesh is designed to not take up any water and let any water that comes into the shoe out easily. There is a thin TPU that runs around the base of the upper to protect the mesh from abrasion. This reinforces the light feel of the upper. The tongue of the shoe is gusseted and attached to the midsole of the shoe not the upper. It has a degree of stretch to it and this gives the upper a snug fit around the midfoot. The shape of the shoe is as you would expect very similar to other Brooks shoes. The toe box isn’t quite a point as the Ghost or GTS but, it hasn’t been a lot more roomy either. The padding of the tongue is adequate to reduce any pressure points from the laces but, not excessively padded so it won’t absorb any water. There is a piece of elastic part the way down the tongue which is handy to slip any excess lace into. To prevent it getting untied as you run through the undergrowth.
The heel to forefoot drop is 6mm, which make the Catamount accessible to the heel strikers and the midfoot strikers a like. The midsole is made from DNA Flash which is nitrogen infused to give a highly responsive feel. When you put the shoes on the lightness of the upper, firmness of the midsole and the curve to the sole in the forefoot just make the Catamount feel like a fast shoe.
There is a rock plate in the midsole to protect the foot from any sharp rocks, thorns, or routes. Usually, rock plates make the shoe stiff but, the rock plate isn’t noticeable in these shoes. The outsole is Trailtack which is a sticky rubber designed to grip well on wet surfaces but still be durable enough for the firmer ground. The rubber on the outsoles of trail shoes is always a compromise between durability and stickiness. I found that I could cross streams standing on wet stepping stones in these without issue. However, I didn’t get the feeling that I was glued to the rock like I do in the La Sportiva Mutants. However, the outsole on the Mutant is a very soft sticky rubber that if used on hard packed tracks or tarmac will wear down much faster than the outsole of the Catamount.
The lugs on the outsole are a flat stud designed to allow a good surface area to be in contact with the ground. So, you get good traction on smooth wet surfaces. They are 4mm deep which gives enough of a bite to cope with greasy single tracks but, isn’t deep enough for the wet sloppy mud that is currently covering most of the UK after the snow has melted.
At 300 grams for a Men’s UK 9 some would argue that the Catamount is a little heavy for a fast shoe. However, weight isn’t everything. The midsole is 35mm in the heel and 29mm in the forefoot. The midsole is dense and designed to give a firm and durable ride. More to the point the Catamount doesn’t feel heavy. It feels light and responsive.
I first started running in the Brooks Catamount while we had snow and ice on the ground. The outsole offered good traction on compacted snow and was sticky enough to prevent falling when stepping on icy patches. Grip on wet tarmac and frost was equally good.
The curve of the shoe helps to increase your cadence and almost goads you into running faster. This was very evident in the first few runs in the shoes when they felt quite stiff. However, since then the forefoot has flexed up a bit more and the ride of the shoe feels a bit more natural. The shoes still feel fast but, it feels more like I am in control rather than the curve of the shoes.
The cushioning is good but, firm. I prefer firmer feeling shoes and so I was happy doing slow recovery runs in the shoes but, I think that a lot of runners would find the Catamount cushioning a little too firm when running slowly. Once you increase your pace the curve of the sole and the firmness of the midsole make the shoe feel light and fast. I have used them on road tempo runs while the snow was melting. So, I had the grip on the patches of snow and slush that was still around. I found apart from a slight ‘clip cloppy’ sound from the outsole the ride was as good as my road shoes.
I found that the Brooks Catamount really came into its own on fartlek sessions run on mixed terrain. The shoes respond well to the speeding up and slowing down. The grip is versatile enough to be used on every surface except the muddiest. As trail shoes tended to be previously a bit soft and cushiony I would often use a road shoe for this type of session and just take a bit more care on the wetter or rougher trail sections. Not anymore.
The one downside that I did notice is that the upper doesn’t have a good hold of your foot. So, on really broken ground the combination of this and the firm midsole means that your foot moves around a bit in the shoe. This was only noticeable when cornering at top speed. Usually while descending.
Brooks designed the Catamount originally to be used by their Elite runners in the Western States 100 miles Race. This is why it says ‘Designed and Built for 100 miles of Run Happy’ on the tongue. Western States is mainly dry dusty fire roads. So, the grip and make of the shoe are perfect for this. Although I think that the firm responsive cushioning might be a bit to firm for all but, the very efficient runners. I think for most runners these shoes would be best used for Marathon Distance or maybe a bit further.
As conditions at home have been so slippery due to the snow, I found that I ran 70 miles in the Catamount in the first week of testing. They have now done about 200 miles and apart from being a little bit more flexible and a bit grubby there isn’t a mark on them. So, it looks like the DNA Flash midsole and the Trail tack outsole are a good durable combination.
In summary, if you want a speedy trail shoe then the Brooks Catamount is definitely one to consider.
Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle
As mentioned at the start of this review the Brooks Catamount is quite unique. There aren’t many trail shoes designed for running fast on the trails. However, here’s a couple of alternatives to consider:
Scott Kinabalu Ultra RC: These are the most similar shoe on the market. A trail shoe designed for running quickly in. The Kinabalu Ultra RC has a slightly softer ride which makes it a better option over distance but, not quite as snappy.
Hoka Torrent: Similar grip level and a firmer ride than most other Hoka’s. A narrower fit than the Catamount. It’s not a softly cushioned plodding shoe but, you don’t really get the thirst for speed that the Catamount offers. Here is our Torrent review: