Welcome to the latest installment of our series where we size up two popular shoes brands and pit them against each other.
Up this time around: ASICS versus New Balance. Both brands are widely popular with serious and recreational runners alike. But while some brands are nearly indistinguishable from each other, these two are known for the markedly different approach. If ever there were two brands to make an informed decision between, these might be the two.
On a personal note, the two pairs of shoes I’m running in right now are made by ASICS and New Balance. I like them both, but for different reasons.
We’ll cover the differences in how they are designed and built, if you’re deciding between them. By the end, you’ll know which one is right for you.
Let’s start first with a broad overview. ASICS is a Japanese shoe company. Their name stands for Anima Sana In Corpore Sano (ASICS). This Latin phrase means “healthy soul in a healthy body.”
What ASICS is most well known for is their GEL cushioning and snug fit, especially in the heels. Because they are known for providing support, many people who need stability shoes will turn to ASICS. The snug fit gives ASICS shoes an especially firm, responsive ride. Yes, they are cushiony, but they are more like a sports car than other shoes. In exchange for performance and feel, you give up a little bit of cushiness.
By contrast, New Balance shoes tend to be much less snug than ASICS, and feature a wider toe box. They are all about comfort and giving your foot room while still maintaining a great running feel. New Balance is an American shoe company that also makes a wide variety of shoes and clothing for many different sports.
New Balance has a large line of running shoes, and are well known for their Fresh Foam midsoles. I personally have owned several pairs of Zantes, and my current favorite Gobe shoes, which are for trail running.
ASICS shoes and New Balance shoes definitely have a different construction. The question is: do you want a light, flexible shoe, or something that is still light but provides more support?
If you need a wide toe box, ASICS is probably not the best option. Most ASICS models are designed around that snug, responsive fit. This leads to a perception that the shoes run small. That’s not exactly true; it’s just the byproduct of how they are meant to fit, and the feet they are designed for. Although it’s always good to order a half size up for running shoes, you’ll definitely want to do that for ASICS shoes because of how they hug the midfoot and heel.
The ASICS upper uses FluidFit technology, or an elastic and non-elastic mesh system that helps to hold your foot in place. This keeps things snug as well as breathable.
New Balance also has breathable uppers, using a knitted fabric on many shoes so that you get that sock-like fit. I like the knitted uppers for New Balance because they are softer than other brands. There is also plenty of flexibility in your forefoot.
ASICS is your brand if you have narrow feet, but New Balance is the better option if you need a wide toe box, whether you have bunions or just wide feet in general. Some New Balance shoes are even particularly wide to ensure that you get the space that you need.
What’s iconic about ASICS is the midsole and its GEL technology. The company has been using this system for years. There are small bits of gel in the forefoot and heel of the midsole, which is designed to help with heel striking.
For foam technology around the gel, ASICS uses Flytefoam. There is also a lighter version of Flytefoam, which is half of the industry weight standard, if you need very light shoes. You won’t get as much energy return with Flytefoam—it ranges between 60 to 65 percent—but that’s still plenty.
As we mentioned above, New Balance is known for its foam technology, Fresh Foam. You’ll get an incredibly comfortable ride, and the material is light and springy, which I love. A more recent addition is LAZR, or New Balance’s laser-cut Fresh Foam midsole that is one piece.
ASICS uses outsoles made of AHAR or AHAR+ to give you good traction and excellent durability. The company also uses a Trusstic system that splits the forefoot and rearfoot to prevent twisting of your foot.
New Balance also splits the outsole, using blown rubber on the forefoot. Because it’s blown rubber, it’s softer and more comfortable, making your runs more enjoyable.
While ASICS and New Balance make pretty differently designed shoes, you still might be interested in other considerations in deciding which brand is best for you.
As we mentioned above, ASICS shoes tend to be lighter, which can impact the durability and how many miles you can get out of them. According to ASICS professionals, you can expect to get between 450-500 miles in a pair of their shoes. I think that might be overly optimistic, in general.
New Balance, on the other hand, gives the standard 300-500 miles as their estimate for how many miles you can expect to run in a pair of their shoes. So, depending on the shoe, you could get many more miles out of a pair of ASICS as compared to a New Balance shoe.
Speaking from personal experience, my ASICS shoes have held up better than my New Balance shoes, but I also tend to use my New Balance shoes more regularly because I like the fit so much better.
If you want classic gel cushioning, then you need to get a pair of ASICS shoes. Because of the gel placed between the forefoot and the rearfoot, you’ll get extra cushioning every time your feet hit the pavement.
New Balance uses its Fresh Foam technology for cushioning, and many people—like me—choose New Balance shoes specifically for Fresh Foam. I’ve found that it provides great energy return with plenty of cushioning.
Overall Fit and Comfort
If you prefer a snug fit and don’t want your feet to move around, ASICS is a great brand for you. It’s especially popular among master’s runners because your feet will stay nice and secure. But if you don’t like tight shoes, you won’t like ASICS.
New Balance, by contrast, is a great option if you like a wide toe box and a roomier shoe in general. Although my feet aren’t too wide, I prefer New Balance to ASICS because my feet just have more breathing room.
To me, New Balance shoes feel plenty secure while still giving the flexibility that I like. I may feel differently as an older runner, but I definitely prefer New Balance shoes now.
The cost of running shoe brands can vary widely, but the average price for ASICS and New Balance is actually fairly similar. For example, ASICS tends to cost around $120 a pair like their popular GT-2000 model, while New Balance comes in around $125.
This means that you can expect to spend about the same amount of money on a pair of ASICS shoes as on a pair of New Balance shoes, so if you’re still not sure which brand you might prefer, cost isn’t going to be a deciding factor.
As someone who has owned and used both ASICS and New Balance shoes, I can assure you that either option is a good one.
If you’re looking for a snug, secure fit, go for a pair of ASICS. But if you like something flexible and slightly wider, then New Balance is your better option. If possible, it’s good to go to the store and actually try shoes on to see what feels most comfortable to you.
At the end of the day, the shoe that is best for you is the shoe that you’re always looking forward to wearing because it feels so good!