The Best Asics Running Shoes
Asics make products for dozens of other sports. They're a massive brand but they are synonomos for their running line. From their inception, they've always been inventive; trying to find answers to real running issues. Their popularity rocketed during the 80's where they became one of the dominant running brands, a position they maintain today.
We've reviewed the range - here are the very best Asics running shoes of 2020
BEST CUSHIONED TRAINING SHOE - Gel-Nimbus 22
We think that the Nimbus 22 is an improvement on the 21st version. It is more comfortable and offers a smoother slightly softer ride. The Nimbus 22 is a neutral but stable high mileage trainer - not a huge amount has changed over the years and it is all the better for it.
- The best Nimbus yet
- Light, smooth and responsive
- Great retro styling
- A little bit pricy
BEST SHOES FOR MARATHON - Asics DynaFlyte 4
A versatile shoe that's great for training and racing. The Flytefoam cushioning offers a smooth ride that always feels good; short intervals or long steady runs. One of the brand's best shoes this season, it's helping to elevate the brand again to one of the best around. The Asics DynaFlyte 4 is simply one of the very best lightweight training shoes on the market today.
- Light and responsive
- Good cushioning at low weight
- Great fitting upper
BEST FOR LONG DISTANCE - Asics Gel-Kayano
The king of stability shoes - once again asics delivers the best support shoe on the market justifiying the price tag - just!
- New updates are good and work
- New midsole is smoother and more responsive
- Upper is supple and very comfortable with an excellent heel counter
- Feels bulky compared to newer running shoes
- Could look better for the money - design details are missing
BEST FOR STABILITY - Asics GT 2000 8
One of the brand’s best-selling models the GT2000 updated for this season uses familiar technologies and foams, re-configured for a smoother ride. Always solid and dependable and stable enough for most over-pronators.
- Best version yet
- Great new engineered upper
- Familiar performance makes it a safe choice
- Nothing at the price
BEST FOR LIGHTWEIGHT CUSHIONING - Asics Gel-DS Trainer 25
A great blend of light weight, firmer cushioning and support. It makes the Gel-DS Trainer a very versatile shoe. Lovely to go for a gentle training run in when you don't want the bulk, perfect for faster days and for long races if you're not super-swift.
- Racer-like feel
- Good support
- Excellent traction
- A little firm for some
ASICS - TECH TALK
ASICS - anima sana in corpore sano or ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ – was formed in 1977 out of some much older corporations with some cool beginnings…
It was 1949 when Kihachiro Onitsuka started his company, Onitsuka Co., Ltd in Kobe, Japan. His aim was to make shoes. A tough ask of a man who had no experience in shoe making but he was inspired by Japan’s post-war use of sport to revitalise the country’s teenagers.
The company’s first shoes were basketball boots, a sport that would remain important to the brand in the early years and they were extremely innovative from day 1. Onitsuka was inspired by the suction cups on the tentacles of Octopus so used this thought to develop outsole grip! The commitment to sporting advancement was reinforced in 1951 when his running shoe, the Tiger Marathon Tabi featured a synthetic upper, he called Vinylon, with a band to support the arch. Hardly wow-factor innovations by today’s standards but in 1951… Onitsuka upgraded his shoes through the 1950’s concentrating on distance running.
In 1956, Onitsuka had developed a shoe using synthetic rubber – the Rubber Sponge Shoe! Bizarre as it may seem, but this was a major step forward as the material was flexible, prevented water from being absorbed and was much lighter than the standard rubber of the day. With a spongey tongue and a full leather upper, the shoe became the benchmark and Onitsuka was on his way. The shoes were even made available for the Japanese team going to the Melbourne Olympics.
Blisters were always a problem back then for all marathon runners so Onitsuka required some inspiration to solve the problem and it came in the form of air-cooled motorcycle engines! A shoe he called the Magic Runner, featured small holes around the front and sides of the shoe to create a sort of venting system. This air flow allowed the foot to stay drier and had some success in the form of Japanese marathon runner Kenji Kimihara, who wore the shoes to win silver at the Mexico Olympics in 1968.
The Japanese have always had a love of long-distance running and the marathon has always been held in high esteem. During the 1960’s and 70’s, Onitsuka focussed his running line making long distance running shoes. They had also caught on in the USA where, in 1966, nearly two thirds of all the runners in the field were wearing the brand.
The company then launched the first spiked shoe with interchangeable spikes. Until then, all spike had fixed length spikes, invariably long and often uncomfortable, especially on firmer cinder tracks. He called the range the “Run Spark” line. It allowed all track and field athletes the opportunity to change the length of the spikes depending on event and weather conditions. Cinder tracks would require a longer length spike if it had rained.
It was also in 1966 when the first Asics logo, as we know it, appeared on shoes. Following a competition within the design team, the ‘Mexico Line’ was devised (the Mexico Olympics were only two years away). The two longer lines depict the lines on a running track and are intersected by two near vertical lines which help support the midfoot.
Shoes were still either leather of synthetic leather but in 1967, the brand launch and nylon twill upper on a marathon shoe called the Marup Nylon SP. The reason why this was important was that the nylon upper had three layers: a nylon twill, a polyurethane foam and a nylon tricot. It made the shoe much more comfortable on-foot yet remained breathable. This layering was adopted by other brands, but it was so popular that it was adopted as the unofficial footwear of Japanese youth selling more than 400,000 in a year.
Midsoles were gradually moving towards the sort of heights that we know and run in today. ‘Tigers’, as the brand was affectionately known, were known for their their low midsole models such as the Mexico and the Cub. The Cortez (later called Corsair) was launched in 1969 in conjunction with some input from their US distributors, Blue Ribbon Sports. Featuring a full-length foam midsole, this shoe would begin to revolutionise the running shoe industry and at the time, it didn’t know it.
Onitsuka would move away from Blue Ribbon Sports in 1971 when it appointed other distributors. Blue Ribbon Sports took the shoe, tweaked it and launched their own Cortez under their new brand name, Nike.
In the early 70’s the running market was changing. The running boom had just started in the USA and things like tartan tracks were invented meaning that shoes and in particular, running spikes needed to adapt. The beautiful Tiger Paw spikes were released to meet the demands of the new surface and EVA was on the horizon. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is the material in a midsole used over decades, right up to the present day. It’s been treated over the years, manipulated to form different, lighter, more responsive foams but its DNA is still EVA. EVA is lighter than straight forward rubber sponge and in 1975, Asics use it for the first time in their OHBORI marathon shoe.
Onitsuka Co was expanding aggressively into other sports and into other markets. They moved into the USA in the early 70’s and had set up a European office in Dusseldorf in ’75. Your editor once visited the Dusseldorf office. It was in 1987 and I had just signed for Asics but the spikes were not as good as the benchmark, Nike Zoom. Eager to please, they flew me to Dusseldorf and asked me to stand on a table when they measured my feet. The personalised shoes arrived days later. Beautifully made and close enough to the Zoom!
1977 was a big year. Onisuka Co Ltd merged with an athletic apparel manufacturer called Jelenk and fishing & sporting goods company called GTO. The amalgamation led to the creation of a new company – ASICS was born.
Based on the Corsair, the first ASICS running shoes were launched. The MONTREAL II road shoes and the ENDURO cross-country shoes were released.
In 1981, Asics launch marathon racing shoe in the SORTIE series; a series of shoes that exists to this day. The shoe featured flex holes in the midsole, and this was quickly adopted by their designers and featured in other shoes such as their first stability shoe, the X-Caliber GT. These shoes featured a block of much harder EVA which acted as a brick wall to your foot rolling in. Your editor remembers these well – they were rock hard!
In 1985, more tech followed. Asics release the lightest marathon shoe in the world under the Sortie banner. It weighed 100g and was designed for and worn by the worlds best marathon runners. It featured a rip-stop taffeta upper and something they called RB Dulite in the midsole.
1986 was a huge year in Asics’s history. Asics GEL was launched. The gel is a silicone traped in a pad that can be positioned in the heel, forefoot or both, and the first shoes launched with it were the GT-11 and the FREAKS.
Asics had found something special in their Gel. The combination of its shock absorption qualities and its stability led Asics to pursue Gel as a new direction for cushioning. It is half the weight of the same size piece of EVA foam and has a reported 10 percent more durability and has 20 percent more shock absorbing capabilities.
New models were launched yearly but the early 90’s spawned some absolute classic models. The Gel-Kayano was launched in 1993 to deliver comfort & protection for runners who need support. It was their flagship model and designed for the high mileage runner. It was an instant hit and remains at the forefront of their best shoes today. By the way, it was named after Mr. Toshikazu Kayano who was the model’s designer – a nice touch we thought.
The Kayano was rapidly followed by another classic – the GT-2000 – another shoe that remains in the line today. I remember working in a running shoe store when this shoe was launched and other than the Nike Pegasus, we sold nothing else. The GT-2000 was the Kayano’s little brother (or sister) and offered great cushioning with support but was less bulky and lighter than the Kayano.
The brand had not launched any real midsole innovations since Gel but in 1999, SpEVA midsole shoes started to appear. The shoes offered customers some noticeable benefits. They were more cushioned and more resilient, so they also lasted longer.
In the same year, another classic, the Gel-Nimbus was released in 1999 and aimed at the neutral runner wanting fantastic cushioning. If you’re interested, the name is derived from the cumulonimbus cloud which evokes thoughts of lightness and softness. We had to wait until 2006 until the next major shoe development. Asics had developed a new foam called Solyte. It was incredibly light, said to be half the weight of traditional EVA whilst increasing impact cushioning by 20%. The material found its way into a number of models including the flagship Kayano model.
In the same year, the Gel-Kinsei is released. A shoe with significant impact protection and stability, this new model was a shoe that took three years to develop and it featured new construction methods. It also featured the new Solyte material so was lightweight.
In terms of uppers, Asics had developed what they term Biomorphic Fit. It’s all about form fitting while the shoe is in motion, i.e. the shoe fits your foot while flexing. Sounds weird but most shoes are designed and fitted to the foot in a lab while the foot is in a static position. Asics worked out that the foot changes shape during the running gait and that the upper of most shoes did not replicate the shape of the foot. Biomorphic Fit moulds to the foot to support areas that change drastically though the gait and other areas that only change slightly. The technology was incorporated in to the line.
Tweaks to all models were made over the years but the next big advancement came in the form of the MetaRun launched in 2015. Asics call it their most innovative ever and it’s another shoe that took three years to develop. This is a shoe that was launched carrying 5 new shoe technologies all formed to deliver against core running pillars: cushioning, stability, fit and light weight.
Asics Gel has evolved no less than nine times since its inception. Gel sacks have grown which has meant that they absorb more shock, they are now stronger and therefore more durable, they have different pressures so can be softer or firmer depending on position in the shoe... In 2016, Asics introduced fuzeGel; a combination of foam units and gel which reduces the total weight of a gel shoe.
FlyteFoam was also unveiled in 2016. Asics’s new material was another significant innovation. The lightest midsole material in their history. Using nanofibers between the air bubbles, FlyteFoam is 20% stronger and 55% lighter than their standard EVA but although lightweight, the foam delivers great cushioning and exceptional durability; two features welcomed by every runner.
Check out our Best Shoes of 2020 guide to see what Asics shoes made the cut.
Asics go from strength to strength and in recent years, have launched some really innovative new products. We can't wait to see where they go next.