Shoe review: Asics Gel-Lyte33 2

Model: Asics Gel-Lyte33 2
Weight: Approximately 7 ounces per shoe/14 ounces per pair (women's size 7.5)
Heel to toe drop: 6 mm
Midsole material: SpEVA

I broke up with Asics years ago, when I needed less shoe and Asics offered too much. Before our split, I'd spent about 15,000 miles with Asics in beautiful places, so when I was offered an opportunity to review a pair of Asics Gel-Lyte33 2 running shoes, I couldn't resist finding out if Asics could still make my feet go pitter patter.

As inevitably as miles pile up, runners develop opinions about footwear based on aches and injuries, the quirky morphology of their bodies, and their own and others' experiences. My biases: I'm a short, light runner with wide forefeet (not unlike duck paddles). I run, hike, and backpack in running shoes between 45 and 105 miles per week depending on season and circumstance, and after breaking a foot years ago when I failed to notice a change in my favorite shoe model, I'm very picky about what goes between my feet and the ground--the less interference there is, the better. I avoid asphalt unless I have to run across it to get to the other side.

At first glance
The "33" in the "Asics 33" series refers to 33 joints in the human foot, a reference to Asics' foray into what the company calls "natural running technology." Out of the box, one thing is clear: While the Gel-Lyte33 2 may or may not promote a natural gait, these are not minimalist shoes. The uppers are made of light, flexible mesh, but, given the shoes' light weight, there's an impressive slab of midsole and outsole between each shoe and the ground. Asics has carefully carved grooves through that slab to allow more flexibility--particularly to allow movement of the subtalar joint--to allow a more natural gait. Asics calls the modification for subtalar joint mobility "revolutionary" and has dubbed their particular groove system "FluidAxis technology."

Viewed from the top, the shoes (let's call 'em GL33-2s to save time) have Asics' characteristic platform: Like a foot-shaped cone, each shoe gradually widens around the perimeter of the heel and the forefoot from the top of the midsole to the bottom of the outsole, offering a wider and more stable landing pad where the shoe meets the ground.

Comfort and fit
GL33-2s have a comfortably wide toebox and a stretchy mesh upper without feeling sloppy. Stepping into the shoes after years of wearing minimalist shoes feels a little like putting huge, warm boxing gloves on my feet after standing barefoot in the snow, with similar advantages and disadvantages. Good: I can't feel the ground. Bad: I can't feel the way my feet interact with the ground. The outsole feels a bit hard and stiff on the lateral sides of the forefeet, even through the impressively cushioned midsole.

Expect a well-cushioned but insensitive relationship 
with Gel-Lyte33 2 shoes.

These shoes drop less from heel to forefoot than many of Asics' other models (6 mm versus about 10 mm) but drop slightly more from heel to toe than minimalist shoes with little cushioning (e.g., the 4 mm New Balance Minimus 10) and considerably more than zero-drop shoes with similar cushioning (e.g., the Altra Superior). As such, they're probably a good shoe to transition into if you'd like to try something closer to barefoot but aren't comfortable in minimal shoes or in zero-drop shoes yet.

Although the increase in heel-to-toe drop in the GL33-2s doesn't feel qualitatively different to me (usually I wear shoes with a zero to four mm drop), these shoes feel less flexible and responsive than anything else I've worn recently, including both the 4 mm drop minimalist shoes I wear normally and a secondary pair of zero-drop shoes with comfortable cushioning that weigh close to what the GL33-2s weigh. My feet feel comfortable, but less responsive and springy on a short 8-mile run on sandy flats, even less springy on another run over gravel and granite in the hills, and well-protected, but far less flexible on the shoes' intended surface of asphalt.

A later informal test--flexing and twisting the shoes by hand--confirms that the GL33-2s are more difficult to bend at the forefoot, twist at the midfoot, or flex in general than either the minimalist shoes or cushioned zero-drop shoes that I have for comparison. While Asics' FluidAxis technology might very well be revolutionary for shoes with more cushioning, a stiffer outsole, and a bigger drop from heel to forefoot, in my case other shoes with thinner, more flexible soles feel closer to my "natural" barefoot running gait and allow more comfortable flexion at the forefoot, midfoot, and heel and ankle.

The upshot
If you're looking for a light, comfortable compromise between the high-heeled running shoes of the past and zero-drop and/or minimalist shoes, these shoes will probably do nicely. If you've already made the transition to minimalist shoes and/or to zero-drop shoes, the Gel-Lyte 33 2s might serve well for short, relaxing training runs on days after long runs.

Available at Sage to Summit

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