Gear review : ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer
Slurp, squelch, slide…fall. Bugger. It’s muddy out on the trails at the moment and even the hard packed gravel trails have become impassable for my road shoes. Time to get some trail shoes!
ASICS UK came to my rescue and sent me a media sample of the ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racers to test and review. The FujiElite is a new release and is part of their ‘speed’ range of shoes featuring a racing last. I’ve now done over 100km in them, ranging from 5km races at my local Parkrun to 20+km training runs and have found them to be much more multipurpose than just the ‘racing’ tag-line they are marketed with.
Thoughts on the ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer:
The FujiElite is a great shoe for people looking for a solid, stable off-road racer for use on gravel, woodland and muddy trails. It is a capable shoe across all surfaces including deep mud, it drains well and while lightweight, features many of the benefits of heavier trail shoes.
I found it to have a direct ride, and the hard wearing rubber has seen it work successfully for me as a door-to-trail shoe without much impact on the aggressive tread pattern. Being a racing last and a low heel gradient the shoe would best suit people with a neutral gait as there isn’t much in the way of technology to deal with over-pronation.
- Neutral shoe with natural feel promoting midfoot/forefoot running
- Excellent drainage and doesn’t ‘store’ mud around your toes
- 6mm drop midsole with a firm ride
- Highly flexible in the forefoot, with good resistance to torsion thanks to stiff midfoot
- high-wearing outsole, well suited to unpaved roads and gravel
- Can be used as a door-to-trail shoe if you’re near to your trail head.
- Cool colourways
- Thin laces cut into the foot if done up too tightly
- Some heel slippage early on due to thin padding around heel and a softer heel-clutch than other ASICS shoes
- No second eyelet at the top to allow for tighter fit around the ankle or butterfly lacing
- The square block grip pattern under the heel can clog up when running in heavy clay-based mud
ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer : General info
The FujiElite is ASICS attempt at a ‘built from the ground up’ trail racing shoe. Previous attempts at trail racing shoes always seemed to me to have been designed from the upper down – taking something akin to a road running shoe and trying to plant a trail-based sole on it. This shoe however features items found in specialist trail shoes like a low heel gradient, hot melt gusseting on the upper, rock plate, trail specific ‘one piece’ outsole, anti gravel tongue and a useful lace garage packaged together with an aggressive tread pattern and quick draining upper to represent a truly trail-specific shoe.
ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer : Out of the box
Opening the box the first thing you notice is the striking blue and neon-green colour scheme (the new SS14 version has a ‘hyper’ yellow-on-red scheme) and the distinctive ‘Mt Fuji’ emblem. The ‘single piece’ sole construction looks well thought out, including a raised area under the arch to give room for rocks and roots under the midfoot area. The Hotmelt gusseting looks like paint but closer inspection shows it is actually ‘part’ of the shoe, embedded within the mesh to reinforce the area and provide the anchorage for the lacing. Putting the shoe on I noticed the snug fit of the racing last immediately, along with the slight rocker imparted by the curved last and the stiff Trusstic. The toe box has ample width and the shoe flexes well through the forefoot.
ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racer : The shoe
The Gel-FujiElite is lightweight (my size 8 weighed in at 274g – same weight as my ASICS Gel Excel33 road shoes) and has a direct ride which feels fast. The outsole features multidirectional ‘X’ shape lugs on the forefoot and midfoot, with square lugs in contrasting directions under the heel for better grip going downhill and a little more tread surface for heel striking. The rubber is AHAR+, ASICS famous AHAR high durability rubber, but these shoes feature a ‘blown’ version which enhances cushioning and ride. I’ll have to trust ASICS on that one, as I have no idea what the difference between the two feels like, although I can attest to the very low wear on the soles even after 100km, much of that on gravel trail and about 20km of it on pavement. At the front of the shoe the outsole wraps up around the front of the shoe to provide a toe guard. The toe guard wraps over a small rand surrounding the toe box, keeping out most water when landing in puddles.
The midsole uses ASICS Solyte foam which is lighter than the standard EVA or SpEVA found in their road shoes. It apparently has better cushioning and higher durability which might explain how they’ve been able to reduce the stack height so much while maintaining a reasonable level of cushioning. The removable insole is light, reasonably soft and perforated, saving weight and allowing good drainage.
The upper is where I think ASICS have made the most inroads into true trail-specific design. The upper is a combination of free-draining mesh and a Hotmelt material to provide the anchoring for the laces and some structure to the shoe. The reduced stitching and seams gives less potential for irritation, but I wouldn’t say this shoe would be smooth enough inside to run without socks. The entire upper is made of materials which don’t absorb water, preventing the shoe from getting heavy in wet conditions, and my (almost patent pending) test done at home in the kitchen sink showed that the open mesh had no problem draining huge volumes of water.
Being from the ‘Speed’ range it has been designed with a Propulsion Plate (which doubles as the rock plate) to provide greater spring-off. ASICS say this propulsion plate makes for a stiffer forefoot for greater spring but I couldn’t really notice it – the forefoot is very flexible and I felt most of the boost in push off came from the low heel gradient and swift transition to forefoot.
In these shoes I found the ASICS Trusstic made the midfoot and rear foot quite stiff, with a slight rocker under the midfoot, giving a quick transition into the very flexible forefoot. I think this combination works well because it provides important stability underfoot, or when heel striking going downhill, without sacrificing ‘feel’ under your toes for uneven terrain and when climbing. My only gripe is that the ‘rocker’ imparted too much arch support for me so when I tired on longer runs and dropped into a midfoot/heel landing I started getting some pain under my arch from the compression in the area. The low heel gradient and swift transition also felt easier to get onto the forefoot for faster, more efficient running.
One thing I noted was that the heel clutch on these shoes is a lot lower and softer than that used on ASICS road shoes. This allows for a lower heel cup for less pressure on your Achilles when going downhill, but until the shoes broke in I found the soft clutch counter allowed too much slip around my somewhat skinny Achilles/ankle. However, after about 50km the shoes seemed to have broken in and this stopped being an issue. Butterfly lacing would have stopped this heel slippage (like it does with my road shoes), but the lack of second eyelet at the top of the shoe means you can’t lace this way.
ASICS FujiElite trail racer : On the trail
Out on the trail the racing last and direct ride allow you to go fast. I had no problem clocking road-like speeds on gravel and woodland trails. The grip pattern is excellent and gives you confidence to just splash through the puddles and mud patches that would make you slow down or skirt around them in road shoes. As a test I ran my local Parkrun course (a mixture of gravel, pavement and woodland trail) in the dry wearing my road shoes, and the following week after heavy rain took the FujiElite out on a wet and muddy course, where I was able to keep my time within 15 seconds of my dry-time.
When heading off the firmer surfaces onto grass and mud the grip does reduce, but only on rare occasions did I notice slippage, and this was generally on steep downhills when the rear foot grip is already clogged with mud (probably my only negative comment about the sole design). I’m not sure if it’s the pattern or the flexibility of the forefoot, but for some reason the forefoot just does not clog up with mud, meaning grip under the forefoot is never compromised. Climbing uphill the flexible forefoot allows good ground contact under the balls of your feet and the grip gives you assurance to push off.
In the wet and mud I was able to really notice the excellent drainage of the shoes. There are two schools of thought in trail shoes – keep all water out using goretex, or accept that water will get in and make sure it all gets out. This shoe is in the latter school, and they worked really well. Any water that got in was able to move out really quickly and I never felt that sodden and squelchy feeling you can get in road shoes. Plus points for the ASICS FujiElite there!
One thing that caught me out with this shoe is the tight fit around the mid foot area, probably a combination of the slight rocker and the trusstic. I don’t need much arch support and there is a fair bit in these shoes. On my first run, before the shoes were broken in, I made the mistake of wearing socks that were too thick and the tight fit around my arch area led to cramping in my foot. A quick massage of the area and loosening the laces got me going again and I was able to continue on for another 10miles. Now I always wear a thin trail-specific sock with them and I’ve not had the problem return.
ASICS FujiElite trail racer : Bernie’s verdict – 8/10
Overall the shoe is an accomplished trail shoe and so far has proven very head wearing. There is a small amount of deterioration showing in the mesh around the forefoot area where it flexes between the midsole and forward Hotmelt areas, but this looks to be purely cosmetic and not structural. The sole is virtually damage free even with some road running and some good mileage on gravel shoes. I did have an issue with tightness or pressure under my arch from the rocker and Trusstic along with some heel slippage, however both of these have dissipated as the shoes have broken in. As a trail shoe it is relatively light and the combination of racing design and aggressive outsole mean that it is a good shoe for going fast off-road. I think it would be best suited to fast trails and races up to about 10m/16km, and is a very good ‘go-to’ shoe for a 5km blast along woodland or gravelly trails.
Happy running everyone!
Get Going, Get Running!
Disclaimer: This pair of ASICS Gel-FujiElite trail racers were provided free of charge by ASICS UK, however the thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.