Thursday, December 09, 2021

ASICS GEL-Trabuco 9 Review: Under the ultra shoe "radar" and for sure it shouldn't be! 12 Comparisons

Article by Mike Postaski

ASICS GEL-Trabuco 9 ($130)


Mike P: I picked up this shoe as a personal purchase at the end of the summer after testing the Asics Fuji Lite 2 (RTR Review).  I had previously purchased the Asics Trabuco Max (RTR Review) - which seemed to signal Asics’ re-entry into the trail running shoe arena.  I like that shoe a lot, but find usage a bit limited due to the stiff rockered geometry.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with the Fuji Lite 2, but I was greatly impressed by its flexibility, softer cushion, as well as similarly performant Asics Grip outsole.  

I then circled back to the “regular” Trabuco 9 which I had seen at a local running shop, and was surprised to notice that it had a pretty decent stack. I tried it on and was furthermore surprised by the super-comfortable and accommodating toe box. Trying them on - they just felt good, so I decided to pull the trigger. 

The Trabuco 9 seems to be quite an under-the-radar shoe, as I’ve never seen anyone wearing them and haven’t found much information out there on the interwebs. That being said, throughout the review I will lean on comparisons and contrasts with the other two Asics shoes which seem to be better known - Trabuco Max (TM) and Fuji Lite 2 (FL2). 


  • Inconspicuously high stack 

  • Dense, yet not firm or harsh FlyteFoam midsole 

  • Dual density midsole - firmer area at medial instep for support 

  • Full coverage Asics Grip outsole with 5mm lugs 

  • Still quite flexible for such a high stack/outsole 


  • Upper could use some refinement 

  • Lace/eyelet combination is too slippery 



  Official: men's 10.8 oz / 305g (US9) 

  Sample: men’s 10.9 oz / 310g (US 10.0)

Stack Height: 34mm heel / 26mm forefoot (8mm drop)

Available now. $130 

First Impressions and Fit

Mike P: As mentioned in the intro, they felt good on my feet straight away when I first tried them on in the store. Noticeable was the flexibility - I was accustomed to the stiffness of the Trabuco Max (™), but these “regular” Trabuco’s have a nice even flex from the midfoot through the forefoot. They felt really comfortable just walking around and I could tell that they were more my style as I tend to appreciate flexibility in a trail shoe. 

The fit is true-to-size for me - I wear a US 10.0 with ¾ to a full thumbs width up front in all 3 Asics shoes. The volume in the toebox is noticeably wider as well as having a touch more volume across the top of the foot than the TM. This makes a big difference in comparison to the TM toebox - which can feel a bit restrictive, especially with the rocker in play, and therefore less foot flex.   


Mike P: The upper is the area of the shoe that I feel could use the most improvement. Asics did a good job with the fit, especially up front, but it seems like the materials themselves are kind of generic.  There were similar feelings about the upper of the TM, although thankfully the T9 does not use the same quicklace system of the TM.  Also of note - the T9 gusseted tongue is normal (and normal length) unlike the TM. I have no issues with it moving or shifting.

The upper provides a solid midfoot lockdown, although initially I did have some trouble getting a good heel lockdown. Eventually I figured out that the gap between the top eyelet and the lower of the 2 “runner’s loop”/ankle eyelets seems to be too large. I used a leather hole punch to create a new eyelet a bit lower and that fixed the issue.  Toying around with different lacing techniques and eyelet placements can totally change the feel of a shoe.. don’t be afraid to experiment.

[I’ve been using a lace lock with the eyelet the lace is threaded through and the eyelet I punched below that one]

One of the standout features of the shoe is the toebox - I find it just the right width and compliant enough for any length of run, without being sloppy. I would say it is comparable to the Topo Mountain Racer 2 in width at the forefoot, with the TMR2 being more boxy towards the very front at the toes. The T9 also has plenty of room though, and is not pointy at the toes- for me the perfect size and shape for long distance/ultra runs.  I wish I could transplant this toebox to many other shoes that would be otherwise suitable for very long ultras (VJ Ultra - I’m looking at you). 

Also of note - the upper utilizes a closed-mesh material which does a great job of keeping dirt and dust out.  This is a big consideration, especially out here in the American West. The upper material and the shoe in general seems to breathe well - I didn’t have any feeling of them running warm when testing in very hot summer temperatures. The full toe bumper is adequate to protect from small bumps, although not overly stiff.

Typically I don’t critique laces, as it’s a simple fix to trim them down or even switch them out.  So I’ll just note that the T9 laces are a bit light and slippery, and the shoe also uses two fabric loops instead of eyelets at the midfoot.  I switched to a pair of Knotley laces that have a bit more “grab” around eyelets and all is fine now.


Mike P: The Flytefoam midsole, at 34/26mm stack definitely has enough cushion to go a long way. Dense feeling, but not firm - it seems to be of similar durometer to the TM (although the TM does have more underfoot at 39/34mm). The T9 features a Duomax midsole - with firmer density foam along the medial side for support. The firmness of that area of foam is noticeable when pressing with your fingers, but on foot, it blends together seamlessly and you don’t notice it at all. This is different from something like the Topo Mountain Racer 2 - which uses a separate non-blended insert, and is somewhat noticeable when running. 

[Highly rockered Trabuco Max on the left vs. more standard Trabuco 9]

The specs also mention a rock plate - but I have to say that I don’t notice it at all.  I didn’t even realize it had one until I read the features more closely.  I’d say this is a good thing, as protection is excellent, with no harsh plate being felt, as well as no tippy-ness. 

Specs also list “GEL” cushioning in the heel - again, this is another feature that is not noticeable to me.  Heel landings are definitely harsher than say, a Hoka, but definitely in line with other less cushioned shoes, for example - Salomon’s Ultra Pro or S/LAB Ultra.  A little bit of extra heel cushion would be welcomed for extended downhills, maybe something along the lines of how Boost is utilized in the heel of Adidas Agravic Ultra. 

[Trabuco 9 on left - no slouch @ 34mm heel vs 39mm heel of Trabuco Max on right]


Mike P: Full coverage, deep lugged (4-5mm) Asics Grip.  The lug pattern is very similar to the TM and the rubber seems to be the same compound.  Traction is excellent and it is probably one of the most durable compounds out right now.  The outsole will likely outlast the upper and midsole.  The Fuji Lite 2 also uses a similar lug pattern, but with a softer, tackier rubber compound. It works well for that shoe as the midsole is much softer and way more flexible than both of the Trabucos.

The super-durable outsole really enhances the shoe’s protection - you have to get through a dense pattern of lugs, before you even get to the 34/26mm stack (with rock plate).  I haven’t taken any rock hits or zingers at all, and I’ve even tried to target some rock hits through testing.  I found a similar level of protection with the Max. 

[Left to right - Fuji Lite 2, Trabuco 9, Trabuco Max]


Mike P: The midsole and outsole come together to provide a very well balanced ride. There’s no stiff rocker as in the TM, but I find the enhanced flexibility much better suited to technical terrain. There’s just enough flexibility - for such a decently stacked shoe on top of full rubber coverage.  Perhaps due to that flexibility, and well balanced feel - it doesn’t ride like an 8mm drop shoe.  If that is something you may be concerned about, I’d say it rides more like a 5-6mm drop.

In technical terrain, the ride feels stable, although not quite as agile as a more lightweight or responsive shoe.  But again, we’re dealing with a 10.9 oz max-cushion shoe here.  Every shoe needs to be judged within its proper context - the Trabuco 9 is more Speegoat than Torrent.  I don’t notice any tippiness through rocky sections and I actually feel very content running through them rather than dancing around them as the rock protection is excellent.

If you appreciate a firmer, but still protective ride, even over longer distances, this could be the shoe for you.  It’s definitely a more traditional ride than the proliferation of super cushy long distance trail shoes out right now (just some examples- any Hoka, Salomon Ultra Glide, Terra Kiger 7). I’m just going to throw this out there - but it’s along the lines of the S/LAB Ultra, with the Ultra having a more refined upper, but the Trabuco 9 having more protection, noticeably in the forefoot. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Mike P: Truly an under-the-radar workhorse shoe, and even ultra racer - if you are like a more traditional, firmer ride.  It must be repeated - the toebox can’t be beat if you’re looking for an all-day, ultra distance shoe.  In terms of longer distances, I’m comfortable taking these out for any length or duration over any terrain.  I even planned to start with them at IMTUF 100 Mile this past September, although unfortunately I had to pull out due to illness.  

The Trabuco 9 is definitely a staple in my ultra quiver.  I like the flexibility, dense cushioning, and overall protection for the longest days out on the trails.

[You can see my modified lacing technique here]

Mike P’s score: (9.50/10)

Ride: 9.0 Fit: 9.5 Value: 10 Style: 9.0 Traction: 10.0 Rock Protection: 10.0

Ride is solid, although not dynamic - great for long mountain runs. While the upper could be refined, Fit still gets a high score due to good stability and great toebox. Value - for such a durable long distance shoe, $130 can’t be beat. I like the Style, but no wow factor. Asics Grip Traction is one of the best. Dense foam, full coverage rubber, plus imperceptible rock plate provides great Protection

12 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Asics Fuji Lite 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0)- Fuji Lite is more suited to shorter runs and “shorter” ultras, if the terrain is smooth to moderate.  Fuji Lite Flytefoam is much softer, the shoe is a lot more flexible and overall is less protective.  FL2 has a bouncy, fun ride which I enjoy for shorter runs.  FL2 upper is also less structured and less secure, partly due to the much softer base.

Asics Trabuco Max (RTR Review)

Mike P (US 10.0)- The Max has similar feeling Flytefoam midsole, but with a bit higher stack - well into super-max territory.  Similar/same outsole.  Stiff, rockered ride can feel more dynamic at times, but is also more precarious in any technical terrain.  Trabuco 9’s upper is more secure and also more comfortable, especially up front.  The Max toebox can feel confining. 

Adidas Terrex Agravic Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0): Almost an ounce heavier, at 11.8 oz, and that heft is felt. Agravic features a carbon composite plate which feels quite smooth at easy to moderate paces, but otherwise it does feel heavy. The Agravic Ultra upper is also very stiff, and uncomfortable in certain areas, especially around the ankle/heel collar.  You’d have to try it on for yourself to see if it agrees with your foot, but I prefer the Asics.  

Hoka Challenger ATR 6 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5 EE): A different kind of ride - softer cushion, and rockered from the midfoot.  For me the Challenger upper is less secure, but that may be personal preference.  Challenger works well over moderate terrain, even roads, but is not suited for technical terrain. The Asics outsole is far superior on trails.

Hoka Speedgoat 4 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0): Again a different kind of ride - much softer cushion, slightly rockered, but unlike the Challenger, well suited to technical terrain.  SG4 upper is more locked down and secure than the Asics. I also find the SG4 toebox to be wide enough, although with just a touch less volume all around than the Asics. Traction is similar between the two. Comes down to preference - dense/firm vs. the ultra cushion king.

Nike Pegasus Trail  (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): I only had V1, but didn’t like them at all.  Much softer in feel, with an insecure upper - the higher drop of the Peg felt borderline dangerous for me.

Nike Terra Kiger 7  (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): My TK7s are roughly the same weight at 10.9 oz. This is a close comp as both are suited for very long runs.  The Nike’s feel a bit softer underfoot, but I find the forefoot too laterally flexible, causing some instability. Asics has superior traction, and is much more durable. Nike’s arrangement of lugs into rows under the forefoot doesn’t feel good to me, and I think this contributes to the lateral instability.  Both have a similar level of good, but not greal lockdown.  Toebox volume is similar.  This one may come down to fit and feel preference - I much prefer the Asics. 

Salomon S/LAB Ultra 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): Note- I tried on, but did not run in V3 - sizing must have changed between V2 and V3, 10.0 was way too big, I would be 9.5 in S/LAB Ultra 3.  S/LAB Ultra is also on the firmer side, but definitely less underfoot - 26/18mm vs. 34/26mm for the Asics (plus the Asics lugs are much deeper).  The Salomon has a more secure upper, and would be more agile in technical terrain, as long as they feel protective enough for you.  The Asics definitely absorbs more impact. The Ultra V2 toebox was just slightly narrow, but I believe V3 is better and comparable to the Trabuco 9’s.  I prefer the Asics, for me the main factor as a midfoot striker is the much more protective forefoot cushioning.  I found the Ultra V2 a bit thin upfront, especially after putting some miles in them.

Saucony Peregrine 10/11 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): Very similar in weight, but different in character. The Peregrine offers a firmer ride, using a woven rockplate and full rubber coverage to provide very good protection. The Saucony rock plate is much more evident than that of the Asics. I have a size 9.5 in the Peregrine, which is more of a tight fit. I’d say size 10s in both are comparable.  The Peregrine toebox is ok, but tapers more toward the toe. The T9 is definitely more roomy in the toebox, especially at the very front. Peregrine’s ride can feel harsh over hard ground, but it’s a good thing if you need the protection.  I’d stick with the T9 for longer distances, Peregrine for shorter, rockier outings - although the T9 can handle those as well.

Saucony Mad River TR 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): TR2 actually has a wider toebox than the Trabuco 9 - too wide in fact, especially with the looser knit material they use.  TR2 lugs are also much shallower and traction is not as good. The ride is just dull.  These were a miss for me. 

Saucony Xodus 10 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): These clock in much heavier at 12.2 oz for me, with less stack at 31/27mm.  The Xodus ride is more responsive and also very good in technical terrain.  They also have a much smoother ride on the road, if that’s a factor (for me, not).  I thought the upper could use some refinement - I found it relied too much on cinching the laces tight, which tended to squeeze my foot too much.  Outsoles are both full coverage, the Xodus rubber is softer and therefore contours better, while the Asics deeper lugs bite better.  I like the denser cushion of the Asics - preferring the protection over the more dynamic Xodus ride for very long runs. 

VJ Ultra (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.5): VJ is better suited to short-mid distance ultra runs.  A lot more flexible than the Asics, and most other shoes in the same stack class. Grip is top of the class, same as is the Asics, but rubber is not full coverage - this aids flexibility and gives great ground feel, but also offers less protection. Cushioning is much softer, maybe too soft to go beyond mid-distance ultras.  The ride is faster and more agile but again, less protective.  Security is great, but toebox tapers more sharply than the Asics - could be an issue depending on your foot shape.  Note- I found they run small, especially with the tapered toe box, so I sized up to a 10.5, my only shoes in that size. 

Scott Kinabalu Ultra RC 2.0 (RTR Review)

Mike P (10): The Scott is similar to the Trabuco Max in terms of rocker/ride geometry, but much, much firmer and with a lot less stack.  The firmness plus the rocker was much too harsh for me.  It may work better for heel strikers.  I’m adding it to comps, since it is advertised with “Ultra” in its name.  Clear wins for the Asics on cushion, comfort, flexibility, ride, traction, durability.  

Topo MTN Racer 2 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): The Topo is lighter at 10.2 oz.  As mentioned earlier, the Asics has a Topo-esque toebox, which I consider a good thing.  Actually both uppers as a whole feel similar, with good midfoot lockdown.  Also mentioned earlier, Topo’s medial stability insert is more perceptible than Asics’ Duomax blended support.  Topo’s Zipfoam feels a bit softer, but the Asics just feels a bit smoother underfoot.  The one detriment I found with the Topo is that it does feel a bit thin in the forefoot (for an ultra shoe).  It’s listed at 25mm under the forefoot vs. 26 for the Asics, but I feel the ground much more in the Topo. Traction is similar between the two, but the Asics Grip lugs are sharper and deeper, and also add a greater level of protection.  I would say this is a toss-up based on feel, but again, the better forefoot protection of the Asics tips the scales for me.

Mike Postaski Born and raised in New Jersey, I moved to Boise, ID in 2019, mainly to have better and easier access to outdoor adventure.  I have no formal running training, have never run on a team at any level, and can count the times I've run on a track on one hand.  I actually grew up inline speed skating - both indoor short track as well as roads.  Picking up running in my early 30s, starting on roads, progressing to marathons (PR 2:40, Boise 2019), eventually I discovered trails. I love going fast and running all distances, but I especially love long mountain ultras.  My three 100 milers so far have all been in the 25k vert range. I also enjoy the challenge of looped/timed trail races, and even the backyard ultra format. I am definitely a gear junkie - I have gone through more running vests than I can remember, and my trail running shoe collection currently sits at 38 pairs (all tracked via spreadsheet)!  My wife does not appreciate this

The tested sample was a personal purchase. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content.

The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Wes Arnold said...

Certainly interested in this one now but was
About to get the Cascadia 16. Have you tried that one and if so how do they compare? Thanks

Anonymous said...

I have approx. 400km on my pair of T9's and am super impressed by package overall. They started of a bit stiff, but after about 50km has softened up nicely in the midsole and fit. I agree that the lacing can be improved, and also had to try a few lacing options until I found the optimal set-up for my feet. I like that I can get a solid mid-foot hold, but still have plenty of splay-room for my toes. That said, on very cambered/technical terrain, it won't be my first choice as my fore-foot does not feel locked down enough. Foot protection is very good, even over long days on the trial, and the grip is simply phenomenal - not one unexpected slip yet. In my opinion, a very good price/performance ratio shoe by ASICS.

Mike P said...

Wes- Tough to say as unfortunately I have not run in the new Cascadia. I browsed the RTR Review and it seems like they would be similar shoes. Cascadia is a but heavier, looks like the lacing system is better, maybe a touch softer cushion? Based on the pics and previous experience with Brooks outsoles, I would guess that the Asics Grip outsole provides better traction, and also enhances protection. Being so similar, probably would come down to how they feel on foot.

Mike P said...

Anon- I see what you're saying about the forefoot space. For those with narrow feet there may be too much space in fact. I have a moderate width forefoot, with a preference for space, so they work great for me. Also I think of them in the context of running 24 hours or 100M, so in that type of scenario I'd be taking cambered/technical terrain more carefully, and the tradeoff for the extra space is more important for me.

Heather said...

I've been waiting for this review! I was hoping for something closer to the FL2 in softness and flexibility, but with deeper lugs. Not sure these will work for me: as a lighter runner I don't seem to get much shock absorption in shoes with firm cushioning and/or stiff outsoles. I'm starting to think that the protective outer layer covering the midsole on most trail shoes (and perhaps also the tendency to use firmer foam around the edges to provide stability) impairs compressibility.

I liked the flexibility of the Xodus 10 outsole, and the bouncy cushioning, but there was just too much of it and I found the loss of ground feel disconcerting. Combined with dodgy wet traction it made the shoes a liability for me and I stopped using them for running after falling and injuring my knee.

I think Inov-8's graphene-infused outsoles have decent flexibility, but I can't buy the Trailroc in my size at the moment and don't fancy zero-drop or 12mm of cushioning in the Terraultra 270. Seems I may have to resign myself to slithering around in the mud this winter: I'm currently testing the performance limits of the Solar Glide 3 - hopeless in the mud, but acceptable on wet rocks...

Mike P said...

Heather - Agree, your own weight is definitely a factor when considering cushioning. For example, I like Speedgoats for the 100M distance, but still feel like it's a bit too much cushion for me at 5'10" 135 lbs. I get the same feeling of not feeling the ground, which makes me not like to train in them. Which in turn becomes a problem on race day when I'm not used to so much cushion and instability.

You must be even more light as I found the cushion in my Xodus 10 bottomed out after some miles. Have you considered the VJ Ultra? They are crazy flexible, and cushion is quite soft. I found them maybe too soft for very long runs/races, but that would probably be better for you.

Mike P said...

Heather - A VJ Ultra comparison has been added above

Anonymous said...

Runningwarehouse lists this as a stability shoe. Probably part of the reason its an 'under the radar' shoe as you put it. Most trail runners will want a neutral shoe, especially for racing/performance.

Mike P said...

Anon- Interesting.. I would say that classification is definitely not correct. A "stability shoe" would be something like Guide Rails or similar which really directs movement. The Trabuco 9 only has a firmer foam on the medial instep for some support - a design that is used in many trail shoes, for example Topo Mountain Racer 2 and even Salomon S/LAB Pulsar.

Heather said...

Mike, thanks for the reply. I hadn't considered the VJ Ultra for a couple of reasons - I need something that's runnable on tarmac as I generally run from my front door and it seems designed for more serious, faster runners than me! But based on your description it does sound like it might be my kind of shoe and as my local running shop stocks them I'm going to arrange to try on a pair.

Mike P said...

Heather- I wouldn't say they're necessarily designed for serious, faster runners - I think some of our more technical runners liked them because they were such a good blend of flexibility, grip, and just enough cushion. As far as the tarmac goes - I do have to mention that the grip is so sticky and along with the flexibility, they can really feel like suction cups on the road (with the sound to match). It's great if you're near a shop that stocks them - definitely try them on.

Unknown said...

Brilliant shoes done undress of miles in mine and upt marathon distance, very comfortable and grip better that peregrine's. Slight issue with heal lock but swamped to lock laces and now perfect. Midsole and outsole still great, will replace with the same shoe in time

Unknown said...

possible for adding the comparasion to saucony P11? many thanks!

Mike P said...

Unknown - Funny you bring that up, we have some snowy/crusty/icy trails here in Boise and I just ran in my Peregrine 10's yesterday for the first time in a long time. They're a bit more on the harsh side of firm underfoot, and the upper is more snug, especially in the forefoot. I find them equally protective, but with a woven rockplate, so they are also less flexible. Weight of V10/11 is also seemingly high for what you get, but the next version in 2022 will be a major change, especially in that department. I'll add a full comparison above, and add anything else I think of.

RunDave said...

I've done about 500 km in my T9s. I'd agree that they are surprisingly good for longer stuff. My main problem with them is that the upper hasn't held up all that well. Both shoes have worn and then torn along the area where the forefoot flexes. The performance of the shoe isn't greatly affected, but it has started to let in quite a lot of debris. Probably too old for a return and not worth repairing.

Unknown said...

Same problem after much less distance! This is a design issue I think. Anyone else have the same problem?

Mike P said...

I haven't noticed this issue, but I haven't put nearly as much mileage in my pair. Maybe take a look at the latest review of the new V10? It looks like the upper material is a bit different.

ridr said...

Unknown - mine also wore at the same area within 6 months/ 400km. They were showing wear from 50km in already. Luckily Asics agreed to replace them (and I prefer the blue to the black colour scheme). My new pair is going to rip in the same place - this time I'll have them patched at a shoe repair place I've been told about.

ridr said...

Mike P - the review I saw of V10 looks like the upper might be more durable, but maybe not as breathable and quick drying. And they haven't changed the lacing and heel cup design issues - so I think I'll stick to another pair of V9 if I can find in my size.

Mike P said...

ridr - Did you check out our Xodus Ultra review? I found they were similar style shoes (ultra distance, good traction, big stack yet flexible) with the Xodus being a cut better across most categories. Trabuco is a bit firmer though, if that is your preference. But Xodus Ultra upper is much better.

ridr said...

Mike P - A friend mentioned the Xodus to me yesterday. The Xodus Ultra looks more exciting to me! Thanks for pointing it out!

Mike P said...

ridr- I would definitely hold off and wait for the Xodus Ultra - releasing sometime in June I think. It's a completely different shoe from the Xodus 10/11 - and much much better!

Bardia said...

Exactly the same here. I'd say probably under 200 km. And I don't even run! Just mostly urban hikes with these. 🙁 I returned them. I had never returned worn shoes but these were pretty expensive and I didn't expect this to happen at all. I was so mad, and sad, at the same time because these were also the comfiest hike shoes I had ever had.