The Asics Gel-Kayano 21 has mastered the design of comfortable running shoes. This shoe virtually eliminates any break-in period with the generous upper and supportive cushioned sole. The many iterations of the Kayano have polarized loyal wearers with recent changes to the fit and support. Expect a tighter fit and softer cushioning compared to earlier models.
Asics Gel Kayano 21 - Women's Review
Cons: Low responsiveness and breathability, heavy, expensive
Our Analysis and Test Results
Our first impression of the Gel-Kayano 21 was that it felt very much like a warm house pet curled up around your feet. Soft and snug, the Kayano cradles your foot in what can sometimes feel like an overly constraining hug. Luckily Asics does make this shoe in three widths to accommodate a wider range of runners. The Kayano is designed with a stiff sole and guidance for over-pronators. In comparison to the other stability shoe in our lineup, the Mizuno Wave Inspire, the Kayano is plush with premium cushioning, which also means it feels heavy and less responsive. The Mizuno Wave Inspire sits on the other side of the spectrum offering lightweight, responsive stability that feels firm and stiff. Both shoes run hot and would work well in cooler temperatures.
Asics utilizes their middle density SpEva 55 technology in the midsole of the Kayano to increase responsiveness without being too stiff or overly cushioned. However, when combined with the generous gel cushioning system and the plush insole, the Kayano does more for shock attenuation and comfort than it can for creating a responsive ride. If you need more responsiveness in a stability shoe, we would recommend checking out the Mizuno Wave Inspire.
The Gel-Kayano 21 earned a solid 9/10 in landing comfort, coming in right behind the Hoka Conquest. The famous GEL cushioning and premium materials felt amazing underfoot and required zero break-in time, unlike the Conquest. Asics women's running shoes account for the generally lighter female runner and feature a more compressible midsole for easier compression. Asics also adds 3mm of heel height in the women's version of this shoe to help to alleviate achilles tension. Regular high-heel wearers can rejoice.
We've described this shoe as "silly comfortable" in the past and that is a fair assessment. The Heel Clutching system combines a visible "exoskeletal" heel counter with two layers of memory foam to secure the heel in place. It works. We saw one review describe the offset eyelets as a manufacturing error but this feature is purposeful and accommodates bone structure to distribute pressure more evenly over the bridge of the foot. The padded oval shoelaces and cushioned tongue increase this effect. The upper is wrapped in a plush ComforDry S-40 sockliner that surrounds the foot in a layer of cushioning. We removed one point in this category because this layer does create a more sung fit then we would have liked with less room in the toe box for our foot to splay. This is far and away the most comfortable stability shoe we reviewed.
The Gel-Kayano 21 offers superior stable cushioning and earns a perfect score in this category. The design of this model employs premium stability materials arranged in the Asics signature Impact Guidance System (IGS) that works to link all of the sole features together for a nice, stable ride. The guidance structure system consists of a horizontal plastic shank in the outsole arch that provides structural integrity to the shoe. The guidance line is a flexible groove that threads vertically through the sole, separating it into distinct medial and lateral zones. This encourages a controlled collapse of the sole centrally rather than medially in order to counteract over-pronation. The DuoMax outsole is the final layer of support in the Kayano and it works to stabilize the foot as the heel strikes the ground and moves through the gait cycle. For mild to moderate over-pronators who seek a cushioned running experience we recommend the Asics Gel-Kayano 21.
We didn't see any major red flags in the durability of the Kayano. Premium materials and solid construction mean this shoe is built to withstand a great deal of wear and tear. We did have one minor area of concern in the ultra soft upper when the sockliner started to show signs of pilling after about twenty miles. If you're looking for the most durable shoes we reviewed, check out the Mizuno Wave Inspire or the Hoka Conquest.
Temperature regulation isn't excellent in the Kayano due to the padded sockliner, but we found it to be adequately permeable and slightly more breathable than the Wave Inspire. The Saucony Virrata 2 took top place in this category, but for a shoe that more closely matches the performance of the Kayano with improved breathability, check out the Asics Gel Cumulus 16.
Excellent stability and cushioning come at the cost of increased weight. The Kayano is over 9oz each in a women's size 7 so don't expect to set any course records for speed in this shoe.
Additional Design Considerations
We don't think the Asics is going to win any fashion awards with the Kayano 21, which is as traditional looking as they come. That being said, unlike the rest of the shoes in our review, we did receive a compliment on the Kayano that proves beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. If you're looking to kick-up your style or run during the dark winter months, check out the Kayano 21 Lite-Show. The same model with all-over reflectivity and glow-in-the-dark midsole GEL definitely makes for an eye-catching look.
The Kayano is priced at $170, which seems steep until you consider this running shoe is technologically packed and rich with premium materials. It's not a bargain, but it is fairly priced.
If it weren't for the stiffness and structure of the IGS and sole postings, the extraordinarily comfortable Asics Gel-Kayano 21 would be entirely hedonistic. As it is, the Kayano is a wonderful shoe for runners seeking stable cushioning. It's also a great option for heavier runners and arches that tend to collapse in the gait cycle.
— Kelly Mackey