I’ve been running on the Asics Fuji Trainer trail running shoes, part of their trail runner Fuji line. The Fuji Trainer is a wild styled blue beast, and my first experience with Asics and the Gel tech that differentiates them from their competitors. I was mainly running on the Trainers in the hills of Kanton Zurich behind my house, which is primarily loose trail with small rocks, a little asphalt, tree roots, running up and down tree cover paths, and about 300m of elevation gain over a 10km run (on average).
Asics Fuji Trainer Initial Thoughts
I like shoes that look cool, can’t help it, and the Fuji Trainers have an appealing aggressive style. That doesn’t mean they’ll be good for running with, but it makes a nice impression when you open the box for the first time. One of my favorite shoes of all time the Onitsuka Tiger, specifically the Ultimate 81 style. That shoe hugs my foot like a glove and has just a enough room in front of my toes to be comfortable and functional. I consider the Ultimate 81 10.5 US to be my near perfect shoe size, and it’s a shame they’re not running shoes. Asics was founded by Kihachiro Onitsuka, so I might have expected the Asics Fuji Line to be the first running shoe that fits me as well as my Tigers. The fit of the Fuji Trainer is very comfortable for my foot, my heel fits securely and my toes have some wiggle room while the sides of my feet are wrapped securely in the uppers of the shoe. I don’t feel like there’s any extra material around, the shoes fit as they should.
The lacing system is the old-skool type with laces that need to be tied at the top. There’s a stretch pocket to tuck them into so they’re not flying around (similar to the lace pockets on Salomon shoes). After running on Salomon with the Kevlar speed lace system, I’m happy to run on a pair of shoes with traditional laces. You can easily tighten or loosen them and there’s no stress points, which can occur with the thin Kevlar system.
Asics Fuji Trainer Uppers and Sole
The uppers of the Fuji Trainer are constructed of the wonderful open 3D weave that I love in trail shoes, similar to the Inov8 RocLite 285 (one of my favorite off-trail aggressive shoes). The 3D structured nylon weave is the best material I’ve seen so far to give structure and breath ability to a running shoe. This means your feet keep cool when it’s hot and water drains quickly. The weave is durable in high-stretch areas, and naturally stretches with an equal stiffness in three directions due to the hexagonal structure. I consider it to be one of the best materials to use for a light-weight trail shoe. The sole wraps up over the toe area, providing a stiffness buffer to frontal impacts, and there is minimal protection around the frontal toe region.
The sole of the Trainer is flexible and stream-lined, as you would expect on a minimalist design. You don’t have edges sticking out of the rear heel or on the side of the sole, a design philosophy employed on shoes like the Salomon Crossmax XR and Mission trainers. I still haven’t figured out exactly why the extended edges are used, I think the idea is that it somehow helps the shoe grip the ground during the heel strike. I like a streamlined design philosophy for a trail shoe because there’s less surface area around the edge of the shoe to randomly catch on rocks or roots if I’ve descending fast down a trail.
Asics Fuji Trainer Tread Design
The forefront treads are angled along the direction of the foot, while below the heel they have a more circular, radiating pattern. I think it would be nice if both the fore and heel patterns were circular, giving the runner better directional control when going fast down a loose trail and increasing agility control. There are little bumps all over the sole, like Goose bumps on your skin. Although these look nice in an alien sort of way I don’t see their function, long term they will likely be worn down quickly, and I think they’re just there for looks.
The tread pattern is pretty important on a trail runner, it can mean the difference between dancing along a trail and sliding off of it. The treads of the Trainer are not particularly deep, and flat on top. This is a nice design for a trainer because you have sticky surface to make good contact with large rocks or flat streets, but also the ability to dig into look dirt on soft trails. On a muddy trail you would start to slide around, but for an average weather shoe, the trainer looks good. When you transition to the road, the flat treads provide good impact force distribution. If you wear an aggressive trail shoe like the RocLite 285, you’ll likely find them at least slightly uncomfortable on asphalt as the spike treads lead to impact force concentration points on your feet. You won’t notice this on the trail as then the treads penetrate into the soft ground and give secure grip.
Asics Fuji Trainer Heel-Toe Drop
The Fuji Trainer is a minimalist shoe, with a low heel-toe drop. If you follow trail shoe design trends you might know that various companies, including Salomon with their new S-Lab Sense have gone to a low heel-toe drop design. I have been running mainly on Salomon shoes like the Crossmax XR Neutral and S-Lab 4 Softground, which employ a high heel-toe drop of 10mm and 12mm respectively. Recently I’ve started running on minimalist trail-specific shoes like the La Sportiva Vertical K and Inov8 RocLite 285, but the Fuji trainer is the first shoe I’ve run on which combines minimalist sensibility with good on and off road function. For example, the Inov8 is great on soft trail, but the aggressive lugs on the sole can be uncomfortable for extended runs on hard asphalt. The Fuji trainer has a small heel-toe drop, but it retains cushioning Gel in the heel. I like this for long descents on moderate incline trails where I’m taking long strides and doing heel strikes.
Asics Fuji Trainer Minimalist Thoughts
I like running in minimalist shoes because I feel light and I have a natural stride. Running on trail you can expect to feel small rocks at the fore and mid-foot of the shoe while the thicker Gel heel absorbs them. This allows you to feel the trail more, and become a little bit more one with the world. For my personal perspective, a large heel-toe drop can have some advantages on technical trails such as when I’m running or fast hiking up to a pass, where the high heel-toe drop can improve climbing efficiency. Running down a steep rocky trail I’m often balancing on my front foot and bending my knees a lot without putting a lot of force on my heels. However, on road a large heel-toe drop design disrupts my natural biomechanics, often resulting in damage to the nails of my second toes on both feet. I think the toe damage is also related to the flex point of the shoe. My Salomon shoes have a fore-front flex point in front of the balls of my feet, concentrating forces in the nails as my feet flex while running. Shoes like the Inov8 are designed to flex at the ball of the foot, and reduce the torque on my toes.
The Fuji Trainer with its flexible sole lets my foot flex more naturally and I feel that this minimalist design reduces the tendency for toe damage for me. My impression is that I run with a natural stride when running with the Trainer, in particular when switching from a steep incline to a flat road. Conversely when I do the same type of run with a high heel-toe drop shoe, I fee like the front of my feet and slapping against the road surface, and my frontal calf muscles become strained. The light-weight, flexibility of the sole, allows my feet to flex in a more natural state, and low-heel toe drop make the Trainer comfortable on hard flat and trail surfaces. I feel Trainer design could be improved by pushing the flex point towards the natural flex point of the foot (near the ball), but overall I like it.
Asics Fuji Trainer Summary
If you’re looking for capable off-road trainer, the Fuji Trainer will be a good choice. It’s light, flexible to give a natural running stride, and the low heel-toe drop won’t modify your natural biomechanics too much. It transitions well between trail and road, and breathes extremely well, plus they look pretty cool. Until you run a season on a shoe it’s hard to make any overt statements on material or design durability unless you have failure early on. The Fuji Trainer will serve well as a shoe to take on wooded trails but I probably wouldn’t take it on more extreme runs like the SwissAlpine marathon, but that’s not the design intent of the shoe.
We thank the nice people at Asics for sending us a pair of Fuji Trail Runner to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.