Article by Sally Reiley,, Michael Ellenberger, and Sam Winebaum
ASICS GEL-Kayano Lite ($160)
Sam: The Kayano Lite is the 2nd model in a series from ASICS (after the Nimbus Lite) which reimagines ASICS stalwart classics in new, modern, and lighter ways while retaining their essential focus and DNA.
As such the Kayano Lite is a new take on the venerable and fine Kayano in its classic edition at number 27, the 2nd longest "run" of any run shoe. A light on the overt stability elements with elaborate construction all of our testers (almost always neutral fans) really enjoyed the Kayano 27 so instead of "messing" with what is clearly a long time trusted favorite ASICS did something different.
You saw the word “elaborate” above. Well the Kayano Lite is designed to provide stability without being elaborate. While I may be missing something, the Kayano Lite may be the first “stability” oriented shoe made from a single density of foam without posts (GT 2000 and many others) or firmer sidewalls and mid foot plates (Kayano 27), or above the midsole “rails” (Brooks, Nike, Altra). Beyond a “Twist GEL” unit at the forefoot, a small disc at the big toe metatarsal, there is only a single density Flyte Foam midsole here.
The Kayano achieves its stabilizing through an inherently broad on the ground geometry and more vertical medial midsole sidewalls. Unseen is a new 3D Space Construction of low pillars molded into the midsole at the heel and forefoot which deform according to the runner’s individual strike patterns.
The result of this far simpler construction should be a very consistent, very well cushioned feel under foot with no add on elements. As far as the Lite part,the Kayano Lite is indeed lighter than the Kayano 27 and comes in at approximately 10.2 oz in a US9 based on our samples so almost a full ounce 28g lighter than the Kayano 27 and this weight reduction clearly felt on the run.
Topped with an engineered mesh upper with recycled content and with a cellulose nanofiber flavor of Flytefoam the Kayano Lite also has a lighter impact on the earth/ sustainability story as approximately 80% of the materials in the upper are recycled material and the midsole uses 15-20% cellulose nanofiber repurposed from sugarcane manufacturing. All packaging is 100% recycled material and starting in 2021 all ASICS shoe packaging, and for millions of pairs, will be made of 100% recycled materials.
Approx. weight: men's 10.2 oz / 289g (US9) / women's 8.9 oz / 251g (US8)
Samples: men’s US8.5 9.88 oz / 280g
women’s US8 8.9 oz / 251 g
Stack Heights: men’s 31/21, 10mm drop, women’s 33/21, 11 mm drop
Available Now $160
Sam/Michael: Very unobtrusive stability from single density foam and an inherently stable broad geometry
Sam/Sally: Superb well locked down upper that is plush but not overly so.
Sam/Sally: Very well cushioned with a consistent heel to toe feel
Sam/Michael/Sally: Admirable sustainability story.
Sam/Sally: A bit flat, slappy and stiff at front of midfoot especially when new. Could use more segmentation and deeper decoupling there.
Michael/Sam: Ride is mediocre at faster paces
Sam/Sally: Heel rubber a bit firm and thick in feel while forefoot rubber a bit soft and lacking in pop.
Michael: Tongue and lacing is slightly ”puffy,” impairing lockdown.
Sam/Sally: Take several runs to break in and find their groove,
Sally is a lifelong runner and mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past seven Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29, good for 8th in her age group. Along the way she has raised over $240,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. A relative newbie to road racing, she has achieved All-American status in the 10K (44:04) and 5K. To commemorate her 60th birthday she ran the NYC Marathon in November finishing 2nd in her age group with a PR time of 3:28:39. Sally is a compact (petite) runner at 5’2’’ and 105 pounds.
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 163 lbs.
First Impressions and Fit
Sam: The men’s colors are a mix of cheerful lime, blue and white (and neon pink and bright yellow in the women’s version) with a patterned gray upper. It somehow bridges a fast look with a classy more conservative vibe.
The lateral midsole sidewalsl has the color and angles of motion while the medial “business” side of stability has all off white nearly vertical sidewalls and translucent upper overlays clearly sending the message that there is support there.
Flip the shoe over and you are meet with a wide expanse of flat on the ground contact and no plastic Trusstic plate at mid foot as in the K27.
Look at it from the rear and the message of inherent stability continues with the medial (left) side rising and bulging more prominently than the lateral side.
The fit is an impeccable true to size for me and regardless of sock thickness with a soft, roomy and well held toe box. As in Kayano 27 the ASICS heel clutch exoskeleton around the heel counter is incorporated but here far more subtle and trimmed down in appearance and volume. I found the K27 rear clutch visuals and materials practically screamed stability and were overdone. Here they just work.
I did find that lacing often ended up below the bulbous billboard top of tongue, a small misstep but no pressures from laces noted.
The mid foot hold is fine for a trainer. There is no bootie and none is required as the “Tiger” logo overlays and translucent overlays on the overlays provide plenty of support and an easy lace up,
Sally: Asics nailed it with the aesthetics of this shoe: a traditional look but with flashy neon accents to bring it up to date. Personally, I really love the gray colorway of the women’s version with the hot pink and yellow splashes.
The shoe fits very comfortably true to size (W8 for me) right out of the box, enveloping my foot with cushioned luxury. I am a neutral runner, so I was wary of running in a “stability shoe,” but I can honestly say I did not feel any harsh or drastic stability elements. I consider that a good thing - the forces are very subtle, so neutral runners will also enjoy this shoe. Okay, so these shoes are good looking and wonderfully comfortable around the house, let’s see how they feel on the run!
Michael: Back in the Spring, Sam and I were both surprise fans of the Gel-Kayano 27, one of ASICS’s heaviest, most stable and cushioned trainers (and a staple in their lineup). ASICS has come right back at us with the super-cool-looking ASICS Kayano Lite, another stability trainer - but this time, lite. I liked the Kayano and (spoiler alert), I really like the Kayano Lite, too. It’s not as similar to the Kayano as I expected but, hey, what ASICS has done works here, too!
Sally: Asics has done a fantastic job with this upper. It is simple, but checks all the boxes. It holds your foot securely yet comfortably from heel to forefoot, the mesh is soft and breathable, the heel is nicely padded without overdoing it, the padded tongue sits comfortably, the laces are the right length (why is this so hard these days?!) and stay tied, and the fit is dialed in TTS. It took some adjusting midrun to get the lacing tight enough to hold my foot snug, but that is not unusual in any new shoe with my narrow feet.
Michael: I’ll start with my slight negatives, before rolling into the positives - as with the Kayano 27, the mesh is well done, but I had issues with the tongue and lacing on the Kayano Lite. Note in the photo below how high the tongue comes up on my sock, and how long the laces are - and that’s triple knotted! Essentially, I had issues getting this shoe properly fitted to my foot at true to size. Fortunately, I was able to get it snug - and I had several pretty long runs in the Lite without issue - but it’s not a shoe I was able to just slide on and go. It took some finagling.
But as I mentioned - there’s a lot of great stuff here. The mesh is breathable but secure - I expect this to make a great winter trainer. Moreover, Sam and I both called attention to the ugly (and moderately obtrusive) exoskeleton in the K27, a calling card of all 27 versions - and while ASICS didn’t remove it entirely, it’s markedly less noticeable here. The plastic is transparent (note the heel with the green graphics - it’s back there!) but it’s there, for whatever reason.
Sam: This is super fine engineered mesh upper with a solid pressure free fit and yes with a more mellow version of ASICS rear “clutch”, helped with as Michael says, by a much more discreet exo-skeleton the key to making a mostly overlays free upper lock in.
The Tiger logo overlays provide structure as do some translucent mid foot overlays on the medial side as shown above. All simple and effective with the exception of the overly bulbous top of tongue.
A worry free upper where the big “news” is that the upper is made of 80% recycled content, a very significant achievement on ASICS path to more sustainable footwear and packaging 2021 goes on all ASICS shoes will arrive in packaging that will be made from 100% recycled content.
Sam: The Kayano Lite has exactly the same midsole stack height as the Kayano 27 at 22mm heel / 12 mm forefoot for the men’s and 24 mm heel / 11 mm forefoot women’s. You will note the difference between men’s and women’s stack heights. ASICS Institute of Sports Science and other research indicates women need a higher stack and greater drop to help prevent achilles and calf issues.
The midsole is a single density of Flytefoam with 15%-20% repurposed (from sugarcane manufacturing) cellulose nanofibers in the mix with more vertical sidewalls on the medial side for support and a wide landing also biased for medial stability.
The feel is relatively dense and very well cushioned with notable consistency in feel back to front. Every stride, every landing feels the same no matter the pace.
As there are no posts of firmer foam, no sidewall layers of firmer foam and no plates at midfoot as in the K27 the Lite lacks a bit in character from rear to front but sure is steady. I found that it took about 15 miles to “break” them in. By that I mean the midsole felt a bit flat and stiff and even slappy until they developed some flex, which they did, and maybe until the 3D Space Construction of 3D pillars on top of the midsole adapted to my strike, transition, and toe off patterns.
There is no rear GEL as in the K27 and quite frankly it is not missed although given the thick outsole rubber at the heel as in the K27 there is a bit of firm edge to landings from the copious rubber a GEL back there might have helped soften a touch more. There is a small disc of Twist Gel under the first metatarsal designed to release pressure there as it is loaded by the foot.
Sally: Sam broke down the technical specs of the midsole so I won’t waste words here. Just as Sam did, I also found this shoe takes some “breaking in,” which I am not accustomed to with the recent shoes I have been testing and running in. It seems most shoes feel good right out of the box these days; not these.
Interesting to note that in the old days, before I was a “REAL” runner and when I probably bought running shoes based on their color, I ran in several iterations of Kayanos (and no, I did not need stability, but clearly I was clueless), and I recall feeling as though my feet were asleep in the shoes during their initial break-in period. Same thing with this Kayano Lite! Now that I have about 20 miles in them, they feel so much better. The first run and then the second run were slow and labored, and I was thinking the shoe was simply flat. The shoe was consistent, but stiff and slappy. The good news is that they get better with break-in, and they respond more and more with flex and pep.
UPDATE: after 32 miles, these shoes are really growing on me! The midsole has somehow softened and the flex improved, and they feel much more energized.
Michael: Count me in the “needs a break-in period” camp. Actually, my first message to Sam after trying the Lite out was along the lines of, “I don’t think I like it very much!”
Fortunately for you, dear reader, there’s a reason we continue to put miles on the shoes to test them - and in the case of the ASICS Kayano Lite, my mind changed completely as I continued to test them out. There’s some distinct bounce to the midsole here - but curiously, I didn’t find it quite so lively at fast paces (more on that later, of course) - but even so, there’s an adequate serving of midsole that means this shoe could readily handle long runs, even for heavier runners drawn to the Kayano line for its classic cushion.
There’s also (as Sam mentioned above) a distinct sameness to the midsole. The outsole is so wide, and the midsole so prevalent, that I’m genuinely surprised this is a stability shoe. Normally (even in the smooth-riding Kayano 27), you could notice when you were “activating” some medial posting (the firmer DuoMax sidewalls in the case of the K27), or nearing the edge of the outsole - but in the Lite, compression at any point on the outsole feels reliably comfortable, and I was unduly impressed with just how relaxed and easy the ride was.
Sam: The outsole is ASICS AHAR Lite rubber. Not sure what the Lite part is about but there is plenty of rubber everywhere in two grades of firmness with the black areas firmer than the quite soft front green areas. The front rubber might be a touch firmer to give the shoe more pop and response.
The rubber is generally well segmented but given the wide platform I think more segmentation or flex grooves on the big first area of green rubber would improve the transition and reduce some of the slap noise. Generally I find that “slappiness” in a shoe is caused by stiffness (and here also the flat wide platform at mid foot ) . While the Lite developed a nice forward flex point at the first grooves ahead of those big pads behind that the shoe is notably rigid torsionally and otherwise. That first set of green rubber pads could be more segmented as the front ones are and the central decoupling groove extended or deepened. I don’t think this would affect the stability much if at all and might move the shoe better off midfoot.
Sally: The outsole is wide at the heel to say the least; but there is no way you will roll your ankle in wearing this shoe, as it naturally encourages you to land on the outside of your heel. I found the outsole somewhat loud, perhaps due to my slappy stride as I broke them in. As Sam points out, perhaps the flex point could be altered to be improve here.
Michael: Wide is the name of the game - I mentioned suspecting the mesh upper of the Lite will make it an adequate winter trainer, but it’s really this extra-wide platform and grippy rubber that will make this shoe a stability (in the literal sense of the word) leader. I don’t think you’re going anywhere in the Lite. Unlike Sam and Sally, I didn’t notice much sloppiness from the outsole - though I do think it could benefit from more decoupling to generate a smoother roll off the toe.
Sam: The ride is stable and consistent no matter pace or foot strike. The stability “elements” here come from the geometry of wide platform, full ground contact, and more vertical side walls and is on demand in nature. As a more neutral runner I did not notice the stability components beyond the broad feeling heel and midfoot.
The ride took several runs to break in and was initially somewhat slappy and flat feeling but significantly improved over time as the shoe adapted and the front flexed more.
The consistency and ample cushion, which while firmer and my sense due to the rear rubber makes the Kayano Lite as the Kayano 27 is according to ASICS “protective and cushioned” if not exactly super lively.
I do think the front of mid foot transition to toe off could be improved by more flex behind the single well designed flex point as the shoe is rigid (due I think to the extended firm medial rubber) behind that. The front rubber which is soft could be firmed up and potentially decoupled or segmented a bit more for a touch more snap at fast paces.
Sally: This shoe definitely improves as you get a few runs under your belt wearing them. As I mentioned earlier, I struggled initially, finding them flat and lacking in transition with no pop in the toe-off, made worse by the sensation that my feet were asleep. And I have been running in a lot of high performance carbon-plated racing shoes of late, so we must keep things in perspective and remember for whom and for what purpose a shoe is designed for; the Kayano Lite is a daily training shoe (though Kayano users might want to race in this lighter sleeker version!) But patience paid off! They definitely “broke in” nicely.
One other thing to note is that the women’s is not merely a "pink" version of the shoe, as it has a 13mm drop instead of a 10mm drop. Asics says there is science behind this difference, and the higher drop for women helps prevent injuries by putting less strain on the achilles and calves of women. It was noticeable only in the initial run or two, then not at all. The end result is a consistently stable and smooth ride.
Michael: Like Sam and Sally, I don’t think the Kayano Lite hits its stride (pun intended) until about 20-25 miles, at which point I began to feel as if the Kayano Lite was actually living up to its name!
Don’t go in expecting MetaRacer-like performance, to be sure (I found the Lite to not be overly responsive at faster clips, but fine for most everyday running), and you’ll be pleased here - there’s a nice, almost-poppy ride when plodding around in these. Instead of an influx of forward momentum (as the MetaRacer or MetaRide will provide), there’s a gentle up-and-down sensation from the midsole compound and a relaxed platform that doesn’t push you onto the forefoot, but instead eases you into the next footstrike.
In fact, I wish the Kayano Lite was just a touch more aggressive, with some added flexibility in the forefoot to promote a quicker toe-off. Even so, few runners will be buying the Lite for speedwork, and I think the Lite is terrific for its intended purposes.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Sam: This is a shoe, for all runners stability oriented or neutral,, for basic daily miles. Not the speedwork or uptempo days but for the bread and butter days of running..
Fans of the heavier classic Kayano 27 will find the same amount of cushion and protection now re expressed in a more earth friendly, lighter, simpler and more consistent feeling platform if one that lacks a bit of snap and overall character. You won’t save any money over the classic Kayano 27 here but you will get an almost 1 oz / 28g lighter (and the weight drop is clearly noticed), thoroughly modern take on the K shoe.
As stated above I would like to see a touch less of flat feeling at front of midfoot and a somewhat quicker, snappier toe off as I feel the pronation control extends a bit too far forward for my tastes. I wish for a bit more ride excitement to go with the protection and consistency as they are a touch ponderous in feel despite a weight barely over 10 oz..
The upper is superb in all respects. Comfortable, supportive, true to size and yet more so for me than the excellent Kayano 27 upper as it is more seamless in fit and hold front to back with plenty of rear clutch that isn’t overdone.
At $160, this modern premium priced trainer keeps it simple: plush but not mushy from upper to midsole, earth friendlier than many, and consistent in ride feel.
It doesn’t rely on all kinds of showy components to get its job done, and well. It is an excellent example of modern run shoe design which keeps function before form while delivering what it promises: an inherently stable platform that is any runner type friendly (pronation or supination) although of course it is a more stable shoe than a classic neutral shoe.
Sam’s Score: 9.10/10
Ride: 8.8 (50%) Fit:9.8 (30%) Value: 8.7(15%) Style: 9 (5%)
Sally: There are going to be many runners out there who are going to love this shoe. Asics might have given it a familiar name calling it the Kayano Lite, but it is really a distant cousin to the long standing traditional Kayano (currently at 27) stability shoe. This is a lighter and much more contemporary everyday training shoe that offers stability for those who need it and even for those who didn't know they need it/might like it.
After a brief break in period, the Kayano Lite offers a consistently smooth and stable ride in a eco-friendly sustainable shoe with today’s aesthetic and modern engineering that will appeal to a wide range of runners. Asics is onto something good here!
Sally’s score: 9.2/10 Points off for necessity for break in period, flatness of initial ride
Michael: I’m once again impressed! For a stability trainer - especially one that balances performance and its environmental impact - I think ASICS has done exceedingly well with the Kayano Lite. Hard to fault it for a brief break-in period (especially when most runners will have 25 miles on it in no time!), though I do wish the lacing was a little easier to make snug, and some increased flexibility (or other promotion of an easier toe-off) would go a long way. Even so, the Lite stands well on its current merits, and I don’t think many runners will want to take the Kayano Lite to marathon pace, anyway.
Michael’s Score: 9.0/10
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
ASICS GEL-Kayano 27 (RTR Review)
11.1 oz / 308g
Michael: Two strong options from ASICS; I think the Kayano 27 feels more stable (with a more traditional positing, a super stable plastic midfoot Trusstic insert, and a more robust feel exoskeleton), but I certainly prefer the design of the Kayano Lite for its simplicity. I don’t think you can necessarily go wrong, and unless you’re a year-over-year Kayano classic updater no matter what, I’d give the Lite a try!
Sam: I was very surprised by the Kayano 27 massive exo skeleton ( a trademark of all K shoes). plastic Trusstic plate at midfoot and all that all screamed stability but delivered a very adaptive ride for this neutral shoe fan.
While exactly the same stack height, the lower weight far simpler construction Kayano Lite delivers a bit less snap due to its broader platform at midfoot and extended medial rubber but a more consistent feeling ride and cushion no matter the pace and has a yet better fitting smoother on the foot upper and the K27’s was mighty fine.
ASICS GT 2000-8 (RTR Review)
Sam ASICS other mainstay stability shoe has a polar opposite run feel to the Lite with a very old school stability "posted" ride and is the same weight as the Kayano Lite. What a huge contrast! Very firm rear foam, the entire rear of the shoe provides the stability while the forefoot is far more snappy and flexible, in fact really fine. The contrast was too much for me and the rear ride of the GT transmitted lots of shock. The K Lite is clearly a more versatile daily training option.
Hoka Arahi 4 (RTR Review) and 5 (Review soon)
Sam: Lighter at under 10 oz, the Arahi, unlike the K Lite, uses a dual density foam on the medial side and even then also wraps it to lateral side to provide its stability component. It is considerably firmer at the rear especially so on the lateral side (but less so in the upcoming 5 than the 4) than the Kayano Lite .The Arahi 5 is considerably more agile than either the 4 or the K Lite at the forefoot with a very effective rocker. It is a more uptempo pace take on stability than the Kayano Lite for sure but is not as friendly as far as rear cushion feel.
Nike Infinity React (RTR Review)
Sam: Priced the same, Infinity is somewhat lighter with a bouncier, more cushioned midsole and is on an equally broad inherently stable platform (especially at the heel) but with a narrower waist under mid foot. As far as I am concerned, Nike’s overly long stiff side plastic rails get in the way of transitions especially on the lateral side. The rails are designed more to stabilize the knee than deal with pronation and I think spoil the shoe. The Flyknit upper is, as all Flyknit are for me, and most stretchier knits for that matter, overly constrictive over my toes. Tone down the rails and get rid of the Flyknit and the Nike would be a clear winner as it is more agile and rockered and quicker feeling underfoot. As it stands now if you need some pronation control of the more subtle variety and upper comfort clearly the K Lite.
Brooks Ravenna (RTR Review)
Sam: As with the Nike above another rails based “support” shoe. While improved over the first generation of rails at Brooks I prefer either a subtle post or the more inherent stability of the K Lite.
ASICS Glideride (RTR Review)
Sally: True to size W8 in both, yet the Glideride ran short in the toe for longer runs. The Glideride has a very unique forward roll which gives your foot no choice but to rock forward to the toe off, whereas the Kayano Lite is more consistent with full ground contact, in comparison feeling flat. I would prefer the Kayano Lite over the original Glideride for a daily training run-tho Glideride might be due for an update? Asics is doing well with innovation right now.
New Balance Fresh Foam More v2 (RTR Review)
Michael: The More line from New Balance is a fun one - huge shoes, packed with Fresh Foam midsole goodness at very light weights. In my review, I said, “if you’re looking for a recovery shoe, a shoe for your pure easy miles, I do think the Fresh Foam X More is towards the top of the class.” I stand by that - but I think the Kayano Lite may have leapfrogged it. For the price of a little less cushion, you add stability, an environmentally-friendly manufacture, and a more comfortable upper. Pick the ASICS!
Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)
Michael: I’ll cut to the chase - the Endorphin Shift is one of the best trainers I’ve ever tested, being both cushioned and zippy, stable and fast. And while the Kayano Lite is very, very good, I think most, if not all runners who need the setup of the ASICS can get by with the stable platform of the Shift. It has a similarly wide base, a more impressive upper, and a noticeably more dynamic platform - that Speedroll geometry is something truly awesome.
Sam: Sorry while the K Lite is super fine it just doesn’t roll and move along like the Endorphin Shift whose “support/stability” comes from a rear extended external heel counter and some firmer medial midfoot rubber. It has an equally inherently stable platform, if not quite as broad on the ground at the K Lite with plenty of denser cushion and a far more effective stiff rocker front geometry underfoot to roll to toe off. The Kayano Lite is more easy going and a touch more friendly in cushion softness, if less of it than in the massive 38/34 stack Shift, but can’t pick up the pace nearly as lively as the Shift. I would disagree with Michael on the uppers. The bootie less Kayano Lite’s is more comfortable and provides plenty of hold.
Saucony Omni 19 (RTR Review)
Sam: A more classic stability shoe with a massive looking but pretty much unnoticed medial post the heavier Omni has a similar ride feel, a bit more toe off impulse if one also somewhat hampered by extended forward medial outsole as the K Lite also has, and has an equally comfortable upper. The K Lite because of its weight is for me a more versatile support/ stability option and yet more so for neutral runners but Omni is not far behind and a better value at $130.