Since Asics debuted their natural running line – dubbed the “33” line – in 2011, they’ve been somewhat lost in the shuffle of other natural running shoes. This year though, it seems that they’ve come at their 33-line with a trio of shoes aiming to bring natural foot movement and a more level platform to a wider audience with the introduction of three new models – the 33-M, 33-FA and the 33-DFA. Today, we’re going to be getting down and dirty with the Asics 33-FA which we were thrilled to see when it was sent to us.
The Asics 33 line gets its name from the 33 joints in the human foot and the outsole of the 33-FA is the first place we can see evidence of this name. Made from AHAR+ (Asics High Abrasion Rubber) compound, this shoe carries a full-contact outsole design with no substantial cutouts save for the flex grooves. About those flex grooves, the 33-FA has four major and six lesser flex points seen in the below image (depending on how you count them). As far as coverage goes, the 33-FA has AHAR+ covering pretty much every conceivable part of the outsole that might see some friction and, if they were into trying to shave some weight from the shoe, they could probably do a bit of intelligent redesigning and use even less if needs be. As it stands, however, the durability seems to be very good and depending on the cleanliness of your gait, mileage should be quite good.
The major flex grooves I mentioned are a part of Asics’ FluidAxis technology which is meant to allow more rotational freedom of the ankle (both pronation and supination, depending on the runner). The added bonus of this is the flexibility it affords the shoe which is definitely a good thing for this particular model since its flexibility is somewhat limited by the midsole material. Coincidentally, all but 2 of my testing runs in this shoe have been in varying amounts of rain and I can tell you that from my experience, the road traction on these shoes is very good – even in the rain.
Until now, the Asics 33 line had varying net drops of anywhere from 10mm to 6mm depending on the model. With the 33-FA, Asics has come down in their drop to a very nice 4mm. Not only will this make many natural running snobs (like yours truly) happy, but it also keeps the shoe more in line with the precepts of the 33 line itself by putting the foot in a more natural, level posture. In case you were wondering, the stack heights at 20mm in the heel and 16mm in the forefoot.
The midsole of the 33-FA is constructed from two layers of stacked foam; the bottom layer is a more firm EVA material with the second layer made from a much softer foam. When combined with the FluidAxis structure of the harder foam, this softer foam isn’t simply cushy, but rather allows a more responsive ride without dampening the ability of the foot and ankle to act naturally.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect going into running in the 33-FA. Based simply on the feel of the softer foam I expected it to be a bit squishy, but (and I’ll get into this in the “ride” section below) that was not the case at all. In addition to the cushioning provided by the top layer of midsole foam is a strobel board topped with Asics’ Conformdry foam. This, especially when further combined with the air foam (think Ortholite) would make you think you were about to step into a hyper-cushioned shoe, but to me it doesn’t do that, rather, it adds a reasonable amount of cushioning – without being squishy – to a really quite responsive ride.
Over the past several years we’ve seen engineered mesh become the go-to material for many shoe uppers. In the case of the 33-FA the mesh is a dual-layered construction with the top layer having the appearance of being engineered. The interior of the shoe has a more closed mesh backing that still manages to be plenty breathable while keeping out debris. In fact, to me it seems that the engineering of the mesh is limited to making things breathable and strong as opposed to flexing in different places as some other mesh’s do.
All the foam on the upper is present but perfectly stuffed for my taste. There is no overstuffing going on in areas that could be uncomfortable over time. The heel counter – well, there really isn’t one. The heel counter area of the 33-FA is completely malleable which is going to make those with particularly sensitive achilles areas happy. A new addition to this shoe as far as Asics uppers go is an internal bootie-like construction. It function so that the area which would normally be tongue gussets attach to the backing mesh of the shoe which truly enhances the “moving-with-you” feel. Overall the upper is extremely flexible and molds well to my foot.
In the 33-FA Asics has used an oblique last which, on the medial side is very straight and on the lateral side – particularly in the front third of the shoe – curves gently inward toward the toe. For me the fit of this shoe from a feeling standpoint is excellet with the only exception being that I’d like to see the lateral side of the forefoot give a touch more clearance for the little toe. With regard to sizing, I’ve fit very well into my size 11’s with no problem but I’ve read where some others have felt that it might be a good idea to go up a half size so do take that into consideration when buying (though many retailers – even online retailers – have solid exchange policies).
I don’t really say things like this often as it tends to sound like it’s bordering on hyperbole but… I was genuinely shocked by the ride of this shoe. It’s not that the ride was the greatest or most responsive thing ever, it’s just that based on the construction, materials and setup of the 33-FA I expected it to be squishy and kind of, well, dead. Neither of those things is the case. You see, if you remove the sock liner and press on the strobel you’ll find that underneath the Conformdry foam you can feel a very firm base of structure for the shoe. To be honest, the construction and the feeling I got are an odd kind of paradox that works out to much more firmness and response than I was expecting without eschewing the cushioning that a lot of people look for. In terms of response, the 33-FA gave me much more action that I was expecting which to means it rides like a solid daily trainer that can hand you some speed when you ask for it.
As I said above, the Asics 33-FA is a good high-mileage running shoe whose construction seems to belie it’s feel. People looking for cushioning will get it but won’t have to sacrifice a more firm ride and those looking for response will find it with cushioning to take them long without being marshmallow-y. At $110 (and as low as $89 in some of the links below) the 33-FA is in the middle of the other two 33 line models and is priced right with its peers. If you’ve held off on Asics for whatever reason, I think that this shoes may be surprising to you and is worth trying on.
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Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).