Thursday, November 26, 2020

ASICS Trabuco Max Multi Tester Review- Rock and Roll for Trails! Lively Ride, Big Cushion & Superb Protection

Article by Adam Glueck, John Tribbia, Jeff Valliere and Sam Winebaum

ASICS Trabuco Max ($140)

Sam: The Trabuco Max is ASICS 1st all new modern trail shoe in it seems ages. So long, that in the past when we inquired about trail runners, ASICS told us they had not much if anything to show or test. The wait is over!   

With the Trabuco Max ASICS rolls out, and yes rock and roll is part of the ride here, an all new platform for trail running shoes based on their recent Guide Sole technology currently found in the road Glideride, Evoride, and Metaracer. 

Guide Sole is a geometry designed to Improve propulsion by optimizing efficiency (primarily for heel strikers) by keeping the angle of ankle dorsiflexion (flexing ankle up) and plantar flexion (flexing toes down) constant during the gait cycle with a stiff sole while using the forward rocker to propel toe off. The idea is to reduce energy loss at the ankle joint and shift the body forward. 

In the Trabuco Max, unlike its closest road comparison the Glideride, there is no hardened EVA plate used to create the front rocker effect. An interesting choice as many trail shoes have hardened EVA plates for rock protection. Yet the Max remains a stiffer shoe with the rocker immediately noticed on try on. The rocker is created by the shaping of the midsole in molding with the outsole adding some rigidity as well. Obviously our testers who often go into rocky technical terrain were interested in the protection, agility, and stability of this approach,

With a midsole stack of 28mm heel, 23mm forefoot we have plenty of Flytefoam cushion, clearly putting the Max into the  more max cushion ultra worthy category with shoes such as the Speedgoat, More Trail, and others. And unusual again for ASICS, no massive heel to toe drop here with a 5mm offset and there is no GEL in the mix. The outsole is ASICS Grip, a new one for our testers with the rubber in an aggressively sharp multi directional  lug array profile of approximately 4mm lugs.

The upper with quick style lacing is a soft pliable engineered mesh with structure provided by the overlays and gusseted tongue connected near the laces so not via an elastic arch strap. There are front and rear gaiter attachments.

Lots of new to consider here for our team and especially Guide Sole and Flytefoam in a trail shoe. The team set  out to test  the Max in New Hampshire and Colorado. The testers accumulated over 150 miles on all kinds of terrain from rocky technical terrain, typical Northeast trails mix of rocks roots and slippery, on snow, along more mellow forest trails, dirt roads and Western single track and technical trails and even pavement.

Estimated Weight: 10.65 oz/ 302 g men's / (US9)  /  women's / (US8)  
  Samples: men’s 10.4 oz / 295 US8.5, 10.89 oz / 309g US 10, 11.9 oz, 335 g (exactly the same for both shoes) US11,11.2 oz / 317 g US 10.5
Stack Height: 27mm heel, 22mm forefoot
Available: January 1st, 2021  

Jeff V:  Protection, response, traction, cushion, comfort, rockered outsole, durability
Adam:  Responsiveness, rock protection, rockered design, grip, durability, build quality
John: soft comfortable upper, rockered design, stability, response
Sam: Dynamic ride balancing rocker geometry, a stable, responsive max cushioned midsole, and any surface traction and capabilities
Sam: Superb and fast road “big forefoot stack shoe” as well due to rocker and outsole (if a bit noisy on pavement)  
Sam: Outstanding rock plateless rock protection. Tribute to the firm but responsive and a  touch  bouncy midsole

Jeff B: Great cushioning, protection, traction, and fast turnover

Jeff V:  Tongue does not conform and sticks up awkwardly, quicklace a bit finicky, stiffness requires attention on technical terrain, weight.
Adam:  Quicklace isn’t perfect, lack of ground feel, weight, stiffness makes foot placement and control on very technical trails more challenging
John: Stiffness on off camber, clumping of snow and mud in aggressive treaded outsole 
Sam: No issues on flatter terrain with quick lace but some lace slip and stretch on steeper downhill grades. Tongue could be more substantial/denser to better lockdown foot and hold lace in place.

Jeff B: Very iffy on technical trails due to stiff frame, don’t love the speedlaces, awkward tongue

Tester Profiles

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.

Adam is a cross country ski racer from New Hampshire.  
Along with skiing, he’s a big fan of endurance sports in general and does a lot of running.  He’s much faster at skiing, recently participating in the curtailed NCAA’s skiing for Dartmouth College, but can run a 4:43 mile (in trail shoes), 16:59 5k (earlier this week wearing the Sonic 3 Accelerates), and has won a few small trail races you’ve never heard of.  His mileage varies depending on how much snow is on the ground, but he trains about 700 hours a year including 1200 miles of running and 4000 miles of skiing and roller skiing.  You can follow him at his IG: @real_nordic_skier, his blog:, & on Strava

Jeff V. runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39. In December 2019 he raced his first 50 mile trail ultra. 

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

Adam: When I first took the Trabuco Max out of the box, they were extremely stiff and heavier than a lot of the other trail shoes I’ve run in.  The outsole is grippy and the upper features mounting points for a gaiter.  

However when running, the midsole and ride is excellent.  The Guide Sole toe spring technology and Fytefoam work even better than I felt they did on the road Evoride creating a protective and dynamic ride.  Even on dirt and paved roads, the Trabuco max feels more efficient than its weight and outsole would suggest.  While the upper has some quirks (weird tongue and not my favorite implementation of speed laces), the Trabuco Max is an everyday protective trail shoe with an enjoyable toe spring feeling.  

Jeff V:  Right out of the box, the Trabuco Max stands out as unique in both look, overall feel and the styling of the shoe is eye catching with the vivid red and blue on black.  Design and shape is somewhat reminiscent of the Speedgoat 4 with the distinct rockered outsole, maximal midsole and substantial, yet versatile tread.  

Fit is true to size with a mostly secure, yet accommodating fit.  Heel hold is excellent and the forefoot, while not particularly wide, never feels constricting, overly tight or too loose, with enough room for splay and swell, while still feeling secure.  Midfoot hold is good, but I think could be much improved with a modified quicklace configuration, or perhaps normal laces. 

John: When I put these on, I first noticed the curved rocker that is complemented by a nice bounce in the forefoot, which gives way to a really smooth transition from heel-to-toe. I went for a quick test run across the living room carpet and the shoe has a really stiff feel with a ton of grippy traction. Overall, the fit is secure across the midfoot laces and in the heel. I can already tell that this is a different shoe than any I have tested and am excited to take this for a proper trail run.

Sam: As the others have said you clearly feel the rocker when first trying them on, a feeling of easily rolling forward even when standing.  It is not as aggressive in rocker feel as the road Glideride but with more cushion feel up front. The rocker is more aggressive than a Hoka’s Meta Rocker. Fit for me was true to size with the soft engineered mesh and pliable and extensive overlays wrapping the foot beautifully. Too beautifully and easily for more technical trail security was to be determined but I was encouraged that the toe box, while not super wide, was well held with the toe bumper overlays extensive enough yet also pliable enough to provide a secure lockdown without top of toes pressures.

Jeff B: They went and made a Glideride for trails. That’s all I could see when they came out of the box, and the rocker geometry was the most striking element straight away. Well, that and the explosive color scheme and massive tongue. Fit is spot on true-to-size for me, with a pretty good, if not incredible, width toebox. I also saw shades of the Evoride and it’s massively tall tongue, but at least this one has a purpose to give you a place to stash the speedlaces.


Adam: From my perspective, this is the weak point of the Trabuco Max, and it’s still pretty good.  Overall the upper is very comfortable and well built.  The toe bumper is protective, but minimal enough it doesn’t bother my toes at all.  My main problem is with the lacing.  I don’t have a problem with speed laces, as I love Salomon’s implementation on a lot of their trail shoes.  I find here that the top of the speed laces can create a tight spot right under the tongue that can be uncomfortable.  They’re also a little finicky to adjust.  The tongue itself is very long and a little lacking in padding.  The upper features mounting points for gaiters, which is a good feature for hikers or those running in more inclement weather/snow/scree.  

Other than the lacing and tongue, the upper is extremely comfortable, with good heel lockdown and stability.  This heavier duty upper seems durable, though I’m curious how much lighter a more minimal version would be.  The upper also breathes and dries well, since after accidentally falling into a stream while testing on a snowy mountain run, my feet stayed warm and dry once I had switched into dry socks. I would love to see a version of this shoe with a lighter upper and outsole but retaining the flytefoam and Guide Sole technology.  

Jeff V:  The Trabuco Max has a very nice, high quality upper that strikes an excellent balance of breathability, comfort and durability.  The toe bumper is on the minimal side, but adequately protective.  

The seamless welded overlays across the midfoot (integrating well with the Asics logo) offer good security and protection.  

The heel collar is well padded and the heel counter is well built, protective and supportive.  

The Trabuco Max utilizes a quicklace system that overall works reasonably well and is mostly secure, however I think that they could be much improved, or perhaps replaced with normal laces.  My primary concern is that the slider and laces can be finicky to adjust and the way the laces lay over the tongue, I sometimes feel pressure from the laces through the tongue, primarily on steep downhills.

The gusseted tongue is well padded, but could use a little more reinforcement where the lace/lace pull interface.  The tongue also could be re-worked to lay and wrap over the top of the foot where it meets the ankle, as is the case with most shoes, as the tongue on the Trabuco Max awkwardly just straight up.

Nice additional touches include a gaiter loop and velcro trap on the heel (though I have never used this feature on any shoe, even when using gaiters).

John: The upper provides a comfortable and secure fit that requires only a short break-in period. It is tightly woven with some rather large overlays that keep dust and water out and also provide some structure to the upper. The toe box is well ventilated, giving some breathability and drainage. 

Like Jeff, I liked the lacing system and think it could be even better with different laces or eyelets. Over the long term, I worry the fabric loop eyelets will wear out. Needless to say, I have a slightly narrow foot and it feels very secure laced up in the Trabuco Max. The gusseted tongue and padded heel collar function well and yield a comfortable fit. The tongue does stick out excessively, which is only annoying because it functions as a perfect reservoir for snow to accumulate in ankle deep or deeper conditions.

Sam: The others have described the upper well. It is very comfortable and more adequately supportive for all but highly technical trails. I found the tongue and quick lace worked very well on flatter terrain where there are lower torquing forces. On steeper terrain the lace up area needs some tuning as I found myself adjusting a bit more than I wanted. I think a thicker denser tongue would help lock the foot better and secure the lacing as the current lower part of the tongue is soft and thin and not as padded as it could be. The puffiness of the top of tongue is in a way a plus as unlike Salomon quick laces garages I found it very easy to reach in and tuck the laces back in.

Jeff B: My colleagues broke it down very thoroughly, so I won’t retread the construction. However, Sam is 100% correct, the awkward tongue is a plus since it gives a nicely sized lace garage to the speed laces. Personally, I’d opt for normal laces and a normal tongue, but the speed laces don’t work poorly, I just think the normal style isn’t a problem (and gives you more options if you experience heel slip). Luckily, the rest of the tongue is well padded, so if you do want to crank the very thin laces down, you shouldn’t feel too much individual lace pressure. 

The toe bumper isn’t overly obtrusive, and offers just a little bit of added protection. The lack of extreme overlays keeps the shoe from giving you a truly impressive hold, ideal of technical trail running, but there are other elements of the shoe that prevent that as well - so I’m not going to knock the upper for missing the mark. 

Lastly, I like the inclusion of gaiter attachments in the front and rear. While I’m not big on gaiters personally, the few times I’ve used them I’ve really come to appreciate the little details that make them easier to use.


Adam: This is the best part of the Trabuco Max.  While the Trabuco Max is extremely stiff out of the box, when running it feels like it easily transitions from heel/mid foot to a toe spring.  The Trabuco Max has limited ground feel, but that is to be expected for its level of protection.  The Flytefoam is bouncy, but not so soft that the shoe is unstable.  It’s clearly not a racing shoe (upper construction and weight), but for a protective long run/ultra trail sho and it’s much more energetic than I would’ve guessed just looking at it.  

As an added bonus, the Flytefoam doesn’t seem to get much harsher when it gets cold out (still nice and bouncy at 25º F) unlike a lot of my other EVA foam based trail shoes. The midsole also gives good protection from sharp rocks in the mountains.

Jeff V:  Adam describes the FlyteFoam midsole very well.  The FlyteFoam is surprisingly responsive, very firm, but with a nice energy returning bounce making the Trabuco Max a surprisingly quick shoe despite the fact that it is not a flyweight race shoe.  Cushioning, while firm, stable and predictable, is not at all harsh and is comfortable for long distances.  

As Adam mentions, ground feel is notably muted, but for the intended purpose of this shoe (long days/distance), that is an asset and is one of the most protective shoes I have ever run in, as I have not yet been able to feel even the slightest zinger underfoot, even when aiming for pointed rocks.

John: One word: Bounce. Like Adam and Jeff, I find the FlyteFoam very energetic and bouncy. What I like most is that the cushion is well distributed throughout the foot, so heel, midfoot, and forefoot striking cadences have nearly the same feel. As Jeff mentions, the protection underfoot is unprecedented and I, too, haven’t been able to feel harsh terrain.

Jeff B: The midsole is outstanding. There’s enough material underneath the foot to protect the foot well without ever feeling anything close to mushy. It has a really fun bounce, similar to its road cousin, the Glideride, that makes the miles tick by quickly. Protection is as good as it gets, which means ground feel is somewhat muted, but personally I don’t mind that.

Sam: Totally stiff out of the box the Max developed a stiffer flex point quite far back after 10 or so miles. The midsole is outstanding for trail and as I found as well also for road run purposes. 

The Flytefoam is dense, stable, very decently shock and vibration absorbing but not mushy, and has a touch of bounce so lots of controlled energy  This flavor feels far better in a trail shoe than earlier Flytefoam road shoes did. 

With that massive 28mm / 23mm midsole stack plus the footbed and 4mm lugs we are looking at “max” cushion in the realm if not above the Speedgoat and More Trail. The Guide Sole clearly plays a key role in allowing such a big stack to move along. The midsole foam characteristic and the Guide Sole and its rocker effect allows an easy roll forward particularly felt on firmer terrain and is far smoother than its competitors in that respect. 


Adam: The outsole of the Trabuco Max is aggressively lugged and covered in rubber.  The compound is sticky but shows no signs of wear at all after about 80 miles of use.  The lugs themselves are numerous, but small.  They grip well on snow, leaves, and wet rocks, but I’d be concerned with them gumming up with mud.  However, the lower profile lugs are durable and don’t drag too much when running on pavement, so this outsole is quite versatile.  

The outsole also mounts micro spikes well for winter running, and is protective enough you don’t feel them from the inside of the shoe.  

Jeff V:  The outsole on the Trabuco Max features Asics Grip rubber, which I don’t have any previous experience with. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it performs.  The rubber compound is sticky and grabs well on rocks, slab and I have had no issues in wet conditions here in Colorado.  

The lugs, while only 4mm, are sharp, aggressively shaped and provide excellent traction on a wide variety of surfaces.  I have tested extensively on loose dirt off trail, steep rocky and scree covered trails, snow, slush, dirt roads, packed dirt, pavement, cement paths and never once had a slip or had any lack of confidence in grip.  I did notice that when running in mud, the mud really built up on the outsole, but that might be in part due to the type of clay like mud we have here that tends to clump on any shoe.

Durability of the outsole thus far is proving to be among the best I have ever seen, with absolutely no visible wear after ~50 mostly rocky and rough miles.  Very impressive.

John: Like Jeff, I tested these on a multiplicity of surfaces (dry and smooth, muddy, snow, rocky, and pavement) and came away impressed at how grippy the shoes were in adverse conditions. I similarly experienced clumping in mud and snow, so Jeff’s observation and Adam’s concern weren’t anomalous by any measure. That said, I enjoyed the traction most on hard pack snow and soft/wet dirt while going uphill. The shoe just digs in and allows for some serious acceleration bursts if needed.

Sam: My runs have been on dry forest single track often with deep leaf cover and on pavement. I can say of deep leaf traction, clearly superior to La Sportiva Frixion AT 2!  On pavement the outsole matches very well to the midsole adding to the response while not being harshly firm. The outsole is quite noisy on pavement the only negative for road use where the Trabuco Max can shine as a door to trail shoe and I think come snow on road a great winter road run shoe.

Jeff B: I also got to spend some time on some hard packed snow, pavement, and trail, and found the outsole more than enough for all terrains. The sticky rubber is truly impressive, and very durable, and really gives good bite - especially on hard packed snow. Sam isn’t kidding though, the noise on the pavement can be very annoying, but it is a very smooth running road/snowy road shoe. It doesn’t seem like the outsole prevents much flex, but there wasn’t much flex to be found due to the build of the midsole.


Adam: The Trabuco max rides like a lighter and more responsive trail shoe, just lacking some ground feel due to its stiff, thick midsole.  As a result of that bouncy midsole and rocker it’s faster than its size and weight suggest, and the ground feel is traded away for incredible rock protection.  Due to their stiffness, they have a toe spring I find reminiscent of rockered or plated road racing shoes, which is especially noticeable on flatter trails and dirt roads where they goad you into running faster.  
I run Northeast mountainous terrain, which is immensely challenging for any trail shoe.  Running in the White Mountains (very rocky, rooty, slippery, and steep), the stiffness and lack of ground feel makes the Trabuco Max a little bit harder to place precisely, but this is a niche occurrence and if you’re careful it can easily be accounted for.  

The protection does mean that you’ll be protected from impacting those rocks better than any other shoe I’ve felt comfortable taking into the mountains. On smoother terrain that protection means I can open up the pace on downhills and effortlessly soak up the impact. 

Especially for longer days in the mountains, the Trabuco Max is so protective that it keeps my legs feeling better which helps me stay efficient and controlled in that technical terrain.  

My mountainous test terrain, Mt. Lafayette New Hampshire

Jeff V: 
The ride of the Trabuco Max is surprisingly lively due to the bouncy, yet firm FlyteFoam midsole and is much enhanced by the rockered outsole.  When standing on level ground in the Trabuco Max, the curve of the rockered outsole wants to pitch you forward and when running really noticeably gives you a boost forward.  

Combined with the lively midsole, it is really easy to run fast in this shoe.  Ground feel is quite muted, but as mentioned above, that is an asset here.  Overall shoe stiffness of the Trabuco Max is off the charts, for sure one of, if not the stiffest shoes I have seen, but the only drawback I have noticed is the lack of contouring over terrain underfoot, most notable when running through rock gardens, hopping across roots and skipping over talus, they can feel a little tippy (though very manageable if mindful).

John: Adam and Jeff summarize what I think is the main takeaway from the Trubuco Max: the shoe has a unique combination of soft, dampening, and forgiving with fast and bouncy response. It is slightly heavy on-foot, but seemingly feels light thanks to the response and rocker performance. As Jeff points out, this is a very stiff shoe and I didn’t feel secure on off-camber or technical terrain because of the lack of flex. I had a few ankle turning moments on smooth downhill sections that quickly turned technical and while taking sharp turns in downhill sections.

Jeff B: If you routinely run relatively buffed out trails, this shoe should be at the top of your list to try. It is one of the most fun to run shoes out there, which sounds crazy for a shoe that tips the scale just over 11 ounces for a 10.5, but the mixture of FlyteFoam midsole and the rocker geometry means this shoe just moves. However, I have less talent and confidence in technical terrain than my colleagues, and definitely felt like a fish out of water in the Trabuco Max on rocky trails. I perpetually found myself feeling high centered and very off balance, not a great combination on the trail. This is a little disappointing, since the underfoot protection is so good, but ultimately it’s a fantastic easy trail shoe and not a technical beast - and that’s okay.

Sam: Massively cushioned in no way overly firm or soft the ride is fast feeling and very light for the shoe’s weight. Remarkably so in fact for me. They never felt heel heavy (5mm drop contributing so balanced in weight) while also feeling higher in drop than 5mm due to the dense midsole and outsole coverage.

The Guide Sole clearly plays a significant role in moving through landing, transition, and toe off with such a giant stack with an easy smooth roll and lots of energy. While shoes such as the Speedgoat may be more stable in more technical terrain due to their wider on the ground platform and snugger upper they are tough to transition and move along with a stiffer midsole and less effective rocker although the more flexible EVO does far better. 

The Max ride strikes a versatile balance for a wide variety of terrain from road through all but potentially the most technical terrain.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Jeff V:  It has been years since I have run in an Asics trail shoe and I had almost forgotten about them in the trail market (and was never all that impressed previously), however the Trabuco Max will for sure put them on the trail shoe map.  With excellent fit, comfort, cushion, durability, traction and response, the Trabuco Max is a very worthy shoe to consider for any distance trail training, ultra distance races and is versatile enough to excel on just about any terrain, from roads, to packed gravel trails to steep and technical mountain trails.  

In a perfect world, I would love to see either a more refined quicklace or normal laces, a more conforming tongue and perhaps a bit of flexibility in the forefoot for better ground feel and contouring (without taking away from response), but those are very minor quibbles for an overall amazing shoe.
Jeff V’s Score:  9.1/10
Ride: 9
Fit: 8.5 (could have better midfoot security/lacing/tongue)
Value: 9 $140 is getting slightly expensive, but durability is excellent and will last a long time
Style: 9.5 subjective of course, but I think it looks really sharp
Traction: 9.5
Rock Protection: 10 

Adam:  I’ve rarely seen ASICS shoes on the trail so when I first saw the Trabuco Max I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  The application of ASICS’ road technologies here (Flytefoam and Guide Sole) create a truly compelling shoe.  Usually I don’t like running in trail shoes that are this protective and cushioned, because they lack the responsiveness I find so fun and the stability/precision needed for technical trail running, but the Trabuco Max has both.  

While ground feel in this midsole is limited, the rockered design makes it very easy to run fast on a variety of terrains, and the firm yet bouncy FlyteFoam feels excellent both on roads and in the mountains.  I’d like to see an improved lacing system) or a lighter version of the upper without the Velcro attachment point for gaiters (nice feature just not one I personally would use).  I’d consider this shoe for anything from everyday training to mountain running to trail ultras, and to get all of that in one product is very impressive.  
Adam’s Score: 9.3/10  
Ride: 9.5 
Fit: 8.75 The upper is good, but I know ASICS is capable of better.  The lacing and tongue could be improved.
Value: 9.5 Considering how protective these are and the durability I’ve seen so far, I think these compare favorably to the $180 S/Lab Ultra and I’d definitely take them over the less expensive Sense Ride 3.  
Style: 9 Sharp looking shoe, but I’d love to see more color ways.  Think this would be a ten with the upper from a Metaracer!  
Traction: 9.5 It’s good, but I’m not convinced about how well it will do in mud)
Rock Protection: 10 Best to date in a trail shoe I’ve tested 

John: The Trabuco Max is a really solid all-around trail shoe and it is exciting to see Asics up there with the best of the shoes we’ve tested this year. Although a bit on the heavier and stiffer side, the shoe is secure fitting with a great balance of cushion, bounce and response, traction, and protection for any variable terrain. Not to mention, it is really comfortable on the feet, even at the end of a run. I maxed out at 90 minutes of running in this shoe, but only because of schedule limitations. I think this shoe is appropriate for 30 minutes to 3-4 hours of running on your feet. I appreciate the versatility and energy that the Trabuco brings to my shoe quiver..
John’s Score: 8.9 /10
Ride: 9 (fun shoe with stable and responsive ride)
Fit: 9 
Value: 8 (If this were lighter and a little more flexible, I would give it a 10)
Style: 9 (I love the color choices) 
Traction: 8.5 (high performing, but some clumping in mud and snow)
Rock Protection: 9.5 (among the best protection across all trail shoes)

Sam: ASICS suddenly and surprisingly emerges with a very strong max cushion and versatile trail entry with the Trabuco Max, a shoe that can handle shorter and faster as well as long equally well although it is clearly a longer distances shoe.

Would I score it as high as I do if I personally focused on highly technical terrain trails at speed as my colleagues run more frequently do, probably not.  But for a just right balance in density and bounce max cushion with a dynamic rolling ride for most terrain outside of off camber and very steep the Max is superb. 

It runs lighter than its weight which I would like to see reduced to closer to 10 oz as it is now at 10.6 oz. 

It is comfortable top to bottom, and is highly protective and able to even double as a fine road shoe (noisy outsole aside). 

My shared concerns with my fellow testers about stability and the tongue/laces could be potentially mitigated with a denser tongue material and a more substantial elastic arch gusset. I would also like them to lose some weight.
Sam’s Score: 9.51 / 10
Ride: 9.65 (30%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 9.5 (10%) Style:9.2 (5%) Traction: 10 (15%) Rock Protection: 10 (10%)

Jeff B: A truly fun shoe to run in, the Trabuco Max has a fun ride in the right terrain. Its traction and rock protection are top notch, but its geometry really makes this a great shoe for easy dirt trails and something of a liability when the trail gets nasty. Also a solid choice for snowy roads, it almost seems like a road shoe in trail shoe clothing, which hurts its value score slightly for me. But if you find yourself logging solid time on primarily dirt trails, you should give this shoe a shot, and likely you’ll find yourself falling in love with it.

Jeff B’s Score 9.4/10

Ride: 10 (30%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 8 (10%) Style 8 (5%) Traction: 10 (15%) Rock Protection: 10 (10%)

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Hoka Speedgoat 4  (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Speedgoat 4 has softer, more plush cushioning and more of it, though is less bouncy than the Trabuco Max.  Both have a rocker profile for a forward pitch/boost where maybe because of the stiffness, the Trabuco Max seems more pronounced even.  Traction is comparable, though the SG4 has a superior fitting upper with better foothold, better tongue and better lacing.  Close in weight, the SG4 weighs 9 grams more.  Ground feel is severely muted in both, however the SG4 flexes and contours better over uneven terrain, though the Trabuco Max has better bulletproof protection underfoot.

Jeff B: Jeff is 100% correct, the Hoka is softer with more cushioning but less bounce. I find the Speedgoat is far more versatile, even though it is overkill for many easy dirt trails where the Trabuco Max would be at home. The Speedgoat upper definitely has a more dialed in trail fit, with more overlays and a slightly more restrictive toebox. While they have a lot of similarities, the Hoka reminds me of an all-mountain trail bike versus the ASICS as a more nimble (and less technically suited) gravel bike. Both have their purposes, but I prefer the versatility of the Speedgoat.

Brooks Catamount (RTR Review)

Jeff B: Two of the more fun to run in trail shoes, though they approach the idea from different angles. The ASICS uses a massive stack and aggressive geometry to provide a fun and bouncy platform, while the Brooks uses an advanced midsole material and overall light weight to create a fun shoe. The Trabuco Max gives much better rock protection and traction, while the Catamount is just as home in super technical terrain as it is on the road. If you want versatility, go Brooks, if you stick with relatively easy trails, you can’t go wrong with the ASICS.

Skechers Performance Max Trail 5 Ultra (RTR Review)
Sam: a similar attempt to deliver a dynamic rocker ride in a trail shoe ,the Max Trail checks in more than 0.5 oz less in weight. While highly dynamic and rockered in ride with a plastic plate  and is arguably faster and yet more fun the Max Trail is less stable than than the Trabuco limiting its potential uses and has a less durable outsole.

New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail  (RTR Review)
Sam: Softer and somewhat bouncier the More Trail is more plush all around but with a similar level of cushion. It is less stable/secure at the forefoot where its toe box is wider and less structured. It too has an effective rocker and soft rotating tongue issues. The Trabuco is more versatile with a superior more aggressive outsole while the More Trail is a solid 0.5 oz lighter.

Jeff B: Sam nails it. The More is more comfortable to run in, while the Trabuco Max is more fun to run in. Neither shoe would be my choice for a technical run, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better shoe than the Trabuco Max for a long fast dirt trail. The More Trail isn’t a bad shoe by any stretch, but the ASICS just brings more to the table.

Nike Pegasus Trail 2  (RTR Review)

Jeff B: The Peg Trail 2 is far and away my favorite of the Nike Trail lineup, but it isn’t without issue. Compared to the Trabuco Max, the PegTr2 has a little bit wider toe box and a wider feeling platform, as well as a more comfortable upper. But the Trabuco Max midsole is light years ahead, both in feel and protection, and while the Nike outsole provides decent traction, the ASICS brings more to the table. Neither shoe shines in technical terrain, but the Trabuco Max is a killer on non-technical terrain, so it’d be my choice of the two.

Saucony Mad River TR 2  (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  MR TR2 has a more dialed in and secure upper and maybe slightly better traction.  It also is more flexible and adept in rough terrain, but is not nearly as bouncy or lively for faster speeds or for as long distances.

John: Jeff nails the comparison between the MR TR2 and Trabuco Max. I find the MR TR2 to feel lighter on the foot, despite the two shoes having comparable weights. If I run hard and aggressively, I feel more sore and fatigued in the MR whereas my legs feel fresher in the Trabuco Max thanks to the cushion and rebound. Additionally, the Trabuco Max retains mud and snow in the tread more so than the Saucony. 

Saucony Xodus 10   (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Xodus 10 weighs a full ounce more (though runs light), has better overall fit and versatility, though not quite as bouncy and responsive.

Sam: I find the Xodus bouncier but not as responsive. It’s versatile as Jeff says leaning more towards technical and with not quite as dynamic a ride so not the smoother surface max cushion faster paces option the Trabuco is. 

Jeff B: The Trabuco Max brings more bounce and fun, but the Xodus seems to do everything else better. The Saucony is much more versatile, slaying easy trails or technical terrain, and has a much more confidence inspiring hold. If I was running a tame trail for a 50K I’d favor the Trabuco Max, literally anything else, I’d grab the Xodus.

Salomon Sense Ride 3  (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Sense Ride 3 is about the same weight and not as responsive, but the upper is far superior, along with its security.  SR3 also not as bouncy or energetic, but a more steady ride for slower paces and especially casual use.

Adam:  The Sense Ride 3 is about the same weight, much less responsive, though I prefer the upper, especially the implementation of quicklace and the tongue.  If you can’t tell I really like Salomon’s trail shoe uppers.  The Sense Ride 3 has more ground feel, but lacks the rocker and responsiveness of the Trabuco Max.  While I enjoy the Sense Ride 3 for slower paced runs, I really don’t find it enjoyable at high speed or intensity or on less technical trails, which is where the Trabuco Max really shines.  If you want a more protective shoe, and a more responsive shoe even if the upper is slightly inferior, the Trabuco Max is a good option.  

Sam: With an 8mm drop vs 5mm for the Max and at about the same weight, the Ride 3 has a considerably duller midsole foam and less dynamic non rocker and more muted ride feel. About equally as protective underfoot the Trabuco has a more exciting ride . The Sense Ride 3 upper is clearly more secure and it also somewhat more stable front to back underfoot but unless you need that upper security for more technical trails it is a bit more suffocating and saying it again dull in comparison. So high mountains long and tending slower paces Sense Ride 3, everything else Max.

Jeff B: This is the shoe that makes the Trabuco Max tongue look genius. Both have lace garage tongue, but the Salomon is much more pared down, which makes it much more difficult to stash away. Also, Sam got the word right, compared to the ASICS, the Salomon has a dull feel underfoot. Ultimately, I think the Sense Ride 3 upper is much better, and holds the foot in a way that allows you to go into any terrain (and the midsole/outsole support that), but the fun of the Trabuco Max give it the edge for me.

Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3  (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The S/Lab Ultra 3 is a bit lighter, has softer cushion, more precise and an almost custom like fit, better security and better trail feel, while the Trabuco Max has more bounce/response and superior underfoot protection.

Adam:  I really like the S/Lab Ultra 3.  I’ve run an ultramarathon distance in the White Mountains in them and have found them to have phenomenal traction, a comfy durable upper, and a protective yet precise midsole.  The Trabuco Max is a more responsive and protective shoe but doesn’t feel quite as stable or nimble on mountainous terrain as a result of it’s stiff and thicker midsole and lesser ground feel.  

On days where I’m not running in the mountains though, I find myself reaching for the Trabuco Max over the S/Lab ultra 3 because the added responsiveness makes it a lot of fun to run in and it is protective enough I don’t feel as sore.  It’s also significantly less at $140 vs. $180.

La Sportiva Karacal  (RTR Review soon)
John: The Karacal comes in at nearly the same weight and has more ground feel and flex compared to the Trabuco Max. In addition, the Karacal comes with the best and stickiest outsole in this weight class of shoe. The Trabuco has more cushion, is more responsive, and has better energy return.  Although the Karacal comes with an EVA rock plate and the Trabuco Max doesn’t, I think both have great protection.

Brooks Caldera 5   (RTR Caldera 4 Review, Caldera 5 soon)
Jeff V:  The Caldera 5 is close in weight, but has more cushioning, is more plush, has a better fitting upper and is reasonably quick.  Trabuco Max however is more responsive and has superior traction.

Jeff B: I agree with Jeff, and I’d like to add that the Caldera outsole is more minimal, but has a surprising amount of grip. Also, the Caldera platform tapers in in a few places, giving me some rubbing/pre-emptive blister issues that the Trabuco Max didn’t. The Caldera is a great do-it-all fairly well trail shoe, while the Trabuco Max is an incredible-in-its-element type of shoe. If you want the Swiss Army Knife of trail shoes, the Caldera is a great choice, if you want a dirt road flyer, you can’t miss with the Trabuco Max.

Trabuco Max is available now at ASICS here and at our retail partners below

Read reviewers' full run bios here

The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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A .Stewart said...

A great review, as always. Is this a trail version of the Nova Blast? I love that bouncy ride and big cushion .

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi A.Stewart,
It is not that close to Novablast. Firmer Flytefoam and a rocker profile and Guide Sole here. A closer ASICS road shoe would be the GlideRide.
Sam, Editor

Al Stewart said...

Hi Sam, Xodus 10 vs trabuco max? Which would you chose to run the granite ridges and boggy forest trails up here in the Canadian Shield? Not real technical although there are boulder fields here and there . Also some smooth mam made gravel trails. For me cushion trumps all.
Thanks very much, your site is absolutely the best !

KMParnell said...

Hi, mine only lasted 2 months of light activity. I contacted ASICS and they were really unhelpful and apparently two months is normal.