Asics GEL-Kayano 20 Design

The GEL-Kayano 20 is the 20th anniversary edition of the shoe line, and has a conservative design, providing stiff support and is targeted for runners with neutral to slight over pronation. The Kayano is a supportive shoe, and has an exoskeletal design methodology in the heel and sides of the midfoot regions.

A stiff exoskeleton near around the heel provides stability in that area, while the GEL Cushioning System in the rear and forefoot absorbs impact shocks while running.

The side of the uppers have stiffening ribs to wrap around and secure the shoe around the foot. The flat tread profile makes the Kayano non-ideal for snow and loose trails, but the performance is good on trails in optimal conditions and on asphalt or concrete city streets.

The large inner volume of the toe box/forefoot allows the foot to easily expand on impact with the ground, allowing natural impact energy absorption as the foot spreads out. At 315 g the Kayano is not a light shoe, but that’s the trade-off when including a lot of damping material for cushioning in a shoe.

As seen in the side profile of the shoe, the FluidRide midsole gives a combination of stiff and rubber and bubble filled semi-translucent polymer. This is basically a close-cell foam with a flexible cell structure.

The advantage of such a material, is that trapped gas in the bubbles provide energy absorption as the bubbles are compressed, but the internal pressure of the gas will allow for natural recovery of the material structure after impact. So, overall, the mechanical engineering and material scientist in me likes the combined materials and structural design of the midsole.

Asics GEL-Kayano 20 Fit

The most important aspect of any shoe for me is the fit. The shoe volume is large and spacious in the front, giving the foot a lot of room to breath and expand around the toes. The mid-section wraps comfortably around the sides of the foot, providing a comfortable cradle, keeping the shoe in place and minimizing slipping between the foot and inner footbed.

The uppers of the Kayano are composed of a stretch mesh and stiffening ribs, with a traditional lacing system. I found no problems with squished toes or hot-spots on the upper foot. The fit between the mid-foot and the sole is not as close as with the Brooks Pure Grit or Cascadia, where the asymmetric uppers design fits very well to the contours of the foot. The stiffening ribs of the mid

The danger with stiffening ribs is that they might bite into the foot, leading to injuries over long runs. I encountered this problem (for my feet) with the Asics Fuji Trabuco. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any problems with the fit of the stiffening ribs through out my testing on the Kayano.

I find the ribs to be well-designed, not too thick or stiff, but still giving structural support to the uppers design through tension connecting the sole to the lacing area.

Asics GEL-Kayano 20 Running Performance

I’ve run on various shoe types over the past few years, from light-weight minimalist shoes such as the Inov-8 RocLite 285 to robust mountain shoes like the Salomon S-Lab Wings 4 or the Asics Fuji Trabuco. I find that the Kayano strikes a good balance between cushioning and stiffness for a supportive shoe design.

Being a stiff and supportive shoe, you don’t feel the specific topography of the ground or trail beneath your feet, but you have good contact and stability when hitting the ground at different angles.

The sole is wide, making the shoe stable on a variety of surfaces, but the flat sole profile lowers the agility of the shoe on difficult terrain. However, I think this is non-issue for people using the Kayano on flat surfaces in urban environments like city marathons or on basic trails.

The stiffness of the mid-foot and heel regions is reminiscent of a robust shoe like the Salomon S-Lab 4, and I would feel quite confident hoping over dry rocks and down large boulders in the Kayanos.

Despite the flat sole, I would actually feel comfortable running a light mountain marathon like the Swiss Alpine K42 in the Kayano if the conditions were sunny and the trail relatively dry.

I would not however, take the Kayano on a more demanding alpine race like the Sardona marathon/ultra, where the shoes would need to dig into loose rocks going up mountain trails, and provide agility descending down steep trails covered in wet snow and mud.

Asics GEL-Kayano 20 Summary

Although I like the supportive nature of the midsection and heel, I would like to have more flex in forefoot region of the Kayano. I feel that increased flex in the forefoot gives a more natural running profile and maintains flexibility in the foot.

I do however, appreciate that the flex point is under the ball of the foot, due to the break in the stiffening pattern on the sole. Over time this flex point would soften, and can also be done by manually flexing the shoe with your hands.

So, if you’re a neutral (or slight over pronation) runner looking for a cushioned and supportive shoe for running on flat ground and basic trails, the Kayano could be for you.

We thank the nice people at Asics for sending us a pair of GEL-Kayano 20 to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.