Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Saturday, February 25, 2017

GEAR REVIEW: Columbia/Montrail Caldorado II Trail Shoe

By Will Rietveld

As an ultralight backpacker, I wear trail running shoes to lighten my feet for backpacking and day hiking, and I do a lot of off-trail hiking. I do some trail running to condition for backpacking. It is in this context that I review the Caldorado II shoe – fastpacking on rough trails and rugged off-trail terrain.

Columbia/Montrail Caldorado II shoe (manufacturer photo).
For that purpose I don’t go with the lightest shoe I can find, rather I look for a stable, supportive, cushioned, rock-protected shoe with a good traction outsole, which weighs a bit more. This type of shoe performs the best for me over steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

I was a fan of Montrail shoes years ago before it was acquired by Columbia, and loved models like the Hurricane Ridge and Hardrock. Their IntegralFit had a wider toebox which suited my wide feet just fine.  But around 2009 Montrail changed their last and my feet rebelled against them; I couldn’t wear Montrails anymore.

With the Columbia influence, Montrail shoes are looking more attractive to me for hiking and backpacking, so I gave the Caldorado II a test. The basic question addressed in this review is: how well does the Caldorado II perform for hiking and backpacking in rugged trail and off-trail conditions?

Specifications and Features

Caldorado II (men’s version)
Manufacturer specification 10.4 oz (men’s 9); size 12 tested (12.8 oz/shoe)
“Seamless upper, coupled with enhanced collar foam, fully integrated gusset, and reinforced toe cap provide comfort and protection”
“FluidFoam midsole for exceptional cushioning, flexibility and support. Patented FluidGuide technology for enhanced midfoot stability and a smooth ride on the trail. Ride heights: 19mm heel/11mm forefoot” 8 mm drop
“Full length rubber outsole. TrailShield protection plate integrated with forefoot flex grooves. Multi-directional OmniGrip lug patterns provide traction on varied surfaces. 4mm outsole lug height”

Key information in the specifications is that Columbia/Montrail combines all of their latest technologies -- a seamless upper, FluidFoam cushioning, FluidGuide stability control, TrailShield protection plate, and OmniGrip traction – in this latest version, the Caldorado II. Columbia claims this shoe has the “ideal balance of support, traction, cushioning, and light weight”.


I put Columbia’s claim to the test in 10 rugged day hikes and multi-day backpacking trips in southern Colorado and Utah. On this day hike the shoes are brand new. I wore thinner socks in them to get as much toebox width as possible for my wide (E width) feet. The shoes have a snug heelcup.

The insole in the Caldorado II wraps around the bottom of the foot and is well cushioned. It’s much nicer than the average manufacturer insole, so tested the Caldorado II with its original insoles. Photo taken after 6 months of use.

I typically wear short ultralight gaiters over trail running shoes for hiking.

The outsole has great traction on a variety of surfaces, and cleans out well. I wore the shoes crossing a lot of sliderock and scree on steep slopes in the mountains, and on slickrock and sand in Utah

Besides typical backpacking, I wore the shoes on a wading hike on the Muddy River in southern Utah, which lived up to its name. On that hike the shoes got very muddy and washed off many times.

After seven trips, the weak spot in the Caldorado became evident – heavy wear in the lateral fifth metatarsal head area. On other shoes I have worn the stitching in this zone, allowing the seam to open. I really like welded construction of the Caldorado, but this area needs more durable materials if the shoes are to withstand off-trail backpacking and hiking. I patched the wear area on both shoes with Type A Tear-Aid Repair Patches after cleaning the shoes, but neglected to take a photo. No matter, the patches came right off. I patched them again with the same material and got the same result.

This photo shows more advanced wear after 10 trips; the upper fabric is worn completely through. I will next try patching with McNett’s Tenacious tape on the inside of the shoes.


For comfort, the Caldorado II performed really well for me. I have wide feet with a high arch and high instep. My only issue is the wear problem in one vulnerable area, as shown in the photos.

Although I have wide feet I found the Caldorado II to be adequately wide for my feet, wearing thinner socks.

The midsole cushioning in these shoes is superb. I noticed it immediately on my first trip, and grew to love the extra cushioning while traversing rugged terrain. Cushioning on the tongue and ankle are also very good. My feet thanked me at the end of the day.

Likewise, the shoes are very supportive in off-camber terrain. Of course they can’t match the support of a regular hiking boot, but, for me, their support is certainly adequate. I have strong ankles and no particular need for extra support, so trail runners work great for me.

Finally, their traction also met my expectations.


Overall, my testing confirmed that the Caldorado II does have an ideal balance of support, cushioning, traction, and light weight.

However, Columbia doesn’t mention durability. To be fair, my application is “off label” for a trail running shoe; the upper is probably more than durable enough for typical trail running. But for off-trail hiking and backpacking, I discovered a significant weak spot that deserves more protection in the next version.

Aside from the localized wear issue, I am very impressed with the overall performance of the Columbia/Montrail Caldorado II shoe, and it ranks among my favorite shoes for off-trail hiking and backpacking.


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  2. We have similar feet. Wide, high volume, strong ankles. I suffer from "5th Metatarsal Syndrome" too. Wore through a pair of Columbia 'North Plains' (selected because they had a wide toebox) in a couple of long AT trips, starting with that outside toe. Try this: when the shoes are new, before they wear much, thin down some clear silicon sealant with mineral spirits and "paint" on a couple of layers of "patch" over the 5th MT. Almost like having a "printed overlay" reinforcement.