Asics 33-DFA Review

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The Asics 33-DFA is a shoe with huge promise. This is part of Asics move into "natural running", and the '33' in the name is due to the 33 bones in the foot. There are a number of technologies that are aimed at promoting natural foot movement, and I'm happy to see Asics become aware of the move away from intrusive footwear. However, I'd rather see a simpler shoe without these technologies and the weight they incur. Which is really the Achilles' heel of the 33-DFA; it's too heavy. The 33-DFA comes in several ounces heavier than its competition, and for some reason actually feels heavier than it actually is. I've found myself weighing the 33-DFA several times because of this strange sense of being overly dense. I've rated the 33-DFA 3 as "worth considering", as it's a big improvement over shoes like the Asics GT 2000, but there are better shoes you should look at. (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Asics 33-DFA top
Asics 33-DFA bottom. Notice the deep 'X' grove that is Asics 'Deep FluidAxis' that gives the 33-DFA its name.
Asics 33-DFA inside. Looking at the midsole, the white foam is denser than the dark gray foam that is above it.
Asics 33-DFA outside

1 Characteristics

  • Why you’d buy it. The main issue with the 33-DFA 3 its weight. I think the 33-DFA is worth considering, but I would avoid racing in it. As a training shoe, there might be benefits to the extra weight; rather like running in the Asics Gel Hyper Speed while wearing ankle weights ;}
  • Cushioning . The 33-DFA is reasonably well cushioned, but I'd expect more given its weight. The 33-DFA seems rather like it's made of overly dense foam, as I'm always surprised by its weight when I pick it up. It's actually the same weight as the Altra Instinct, but for some reason it feels heavier. I find the cushioning is smooth and even, and it would be fine if the shoe were a few ounces lighter. I found the 33-DFA didn't have quite as much rebound/bounce/spring as the Saucony Kinvara.
  • Drop. The 33-DFA is zero drop, which is great, especially from a major manufacturer. I love seeing low and zero drop become mainstream like this. However, I'm surprised the 33-DFA doesn't have better forefoot cushioning. Most low drop shoes have similar cushioning levels at either end, but the 33-DFA is quite a bit less cushioned in the front.
  • Structure. The 33-DFA uses two densities of foam, but it doesn't attempt to manipulate or interfere with your natural biomechanics as many dual density shoes do. Instead of putting the firmer foam on the inside of the heel to try to prevent foot pronation, the 33-DFA puts the denser foam under a layer of softer foam. In the pictures above, the dense foam is white and the dense foam a dark gray. The 'DFA' stands for 'Deep FluidAxis', where FluidAxis is the X shaped gap in the foam you can see in the pictures of the underside of the shoe. This X is intended to make the shoe flexible in the two axis of the X, again encouraging the natural movement of the ankle. Does it work? I couldn't tell any difference, but this type of technology can exert a subtle influence over many miles without you being aware of it. I can't say if it's good or bad, but at least the intention seems more reasonable than many shoe technologies I come across.
  • Flexibility. The 33-DFA has good flexibility, something that's helped by the gaps in the forefoot outsole and the groves in the midsole.
  • Outsole. There's a good layer of harder rubber outsole over the contact surfaces, giving the 33-DFA good wear characteristics. I found that the X shaped gap in the midsole did tend to act as a stone trap, though the position of the stones meant this did not cause me any major problems.
  • Shape. The Asics 33-DFA is intended to "mimic the shape of the human foot", and "allow the toes to splay", but sadly it doesn't. While Asics Natural33 Last might be slightly better than other Asics shoes, it's still not designed to fit the human foot, and I had to cut open the toe box for my feet to move naturally. This is common to pretty much all running shoes, but it's a particular shame in a shoe that is intended to be more natural. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper is unpadded in the forefoot, but has a small amount of padding in the rear. The material is a little thicker than I'd like for breathability, but no worse than most shoes. There are reinforcement overlays, but no seams, and the overlays are positioned so they're unlikely to cause issues. The ankle opening is nicely padded.
  • Tongue. The 33-DFA has a traditional tongue that is has a tab to attach it to the laces, and it's moderately padded.
  • Lacing. The laces are slightly rounded, but they stayed tied.
  • Heel Counter. The 33-DFA has no heel counter, which is another nice feature. I believe heel counters are useless at best, and the 33-DFA shows how little a shoe needs one.
helping-hand.jpg

2 Comparisons

Here are some direct comparisons with its potential competition.

2.1 Asics 33-DFA and Asics Gel Hyper Speed

The Asics Gel Hyper Speed provides about the same cushioning as the 33-DFA, but weighs 4.7oz less, which is a huge difference. This makes the Hyper Speed a far better shoe than the 33-DFA, though I like the zero drop nature of the 33-DFA, it's not enough to compensate for the weight.

Asics 33-DFA top
Asics 33-DFA bottom
Asics 33-DFA inside
Asics 33-DFA outside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 top
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 bottom
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 inside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 outside
helping-hand.jpg

2.2 Asics 33-DFA and Hoka Clifton

The Hoka Clifton is a wonderful shoe and the 33-DFA really can't compete. The Clifton has massively more cushioning, but lighter than the 33-DFA. While Asics claim their AmpliFoam midsole "provides soft cushioning constructed at a lower density", it doesn't come close to the Hoka foam.

Asics 33-DFA top
Asics 33-DFA bottom
Asics 33-DFA inside
Asics 33-DFA outside
Hoka Clifton 2 top
Hoka Clifton 2 bottom
Hoka Clifton 2 inside
Hoka Clifton 2 outside
helping-hand.jpg

2.3 Asics 33-DFA and Saucony Kinvara

The Saucony Kinvara is one of the most popular and best transitional shoes, and is an obvious competitor for the 33-DFA. The Asics is zero drop while the Saucony has just 3mm, but counterintuitively it's the Saucony that has similar cushioning in the forefoot and heel. While both shoes have about the same cushioning at the heel, the Saucony is much better in the forefoot. Yet again we see the 33-DFA coming in too heavy against its competition; the Kinvara is 2oz lighter. That could be more than a minute off your marathon time.

Asics 33-DFA top
Asics 33-DFA bottom
Asics 33-DFA inside
Asics 33-DFA outside
Saucony Kinvara 6 top
Saucony Kinvara 6 outside
Saucony Kinvara 6 bottom
Saucony Kinvara 6 inside
helping-hand.jpg

2.4 Asics 33-DFA and Asics GT 2000

I tend to compare shoes against my benchmark "normal running shoe", the Asics GT 2000. Perhaps here we can find the shoe that Asics was thinking they were improving on. The GT 2000 is heavier than the 33-DFA, and a lot less cushioned in the heel. The GT 2000 includes structures that attempt to interfere with your biomechanics rather than encourage natural foot movement. At least in the company of the GT 2000 it looks like a huge leap forward.

Asics 33-DFA top
Asics 33-DFA bottom
Asics 33-DFA inside
Asics 33-DFA outside
Asics GT2000 top
Asics GT2000 bottom
Asics GT2000 inside
Asics GT2000 outside

3 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

4 Visualizing the Attributes of the Asics 33-DFA

How Asics 33-DFA compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Asics 33-DFA compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Asics 33-DFA compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Asics 33-DFA compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

5 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 5
Saucony Type A6 Review A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 7
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 6
Merrell Bare Access Bare Access Review Pending $95 5.0 7.2 17.8 15 12 -2 3.6 7
Hoka Bondi 5 Review Bondi Recommended $150 6.1 11.6 18.1 38 42 5 7.1 2
Hoka Clayton Review Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 4
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 5
On Cloudracer Review Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 7
Hoka Conquest Review Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 2
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 4
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 6
Newton Distance IV Review Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 5
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 5
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin 2 Review Endorphin 2 Review Pending $115 7.4 5.5 10.2 15 13 -1 4.1 8
Adidas Energy Boost Review Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 5
Altra Escalante Review Escalante Best of the Best $130 9.1 8.7 13.5 28 25 -1 7.9 6
Puma Faas 100 R Review Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 8
Saucony Fastwitch Review Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 7
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 5
Nike Free 4.0 Review Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 5
Saucony Freedom Review Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 25 29 3 5.8 6
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 4
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 6
Asics GT 2000 Review GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 2
New Balance Hanzo S Hanzo Review Pending $110 7.6 6.9 10.7 21 19 2 5.2 5
Hoka Hupana Review Hupana Recommended $115 6.1 8.9 13.9 31 36 7 5.4 4
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 6
Altra Instinct 3.5 3.5 Review Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 5
Altra Instinct 4.0 Review Instinct 4.0 Worth considering $120 6.0 9.8 15.3 29 25 -1 5.9 5
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 6
Saucony Kinvara 8 Review Kinvara 8 Review Pending $110 9.3 8.6 13.4 26 31 3 8.0 5
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 5
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 6
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 1
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
Saucony Nomad Review Nomad Review Pending $110 4.3 10.5 17.2 25 27 2 4.5 4
Hoka Odyssey Review Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 3
Altra Olympus Review Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 3
Altra One 2.5 Review One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 7
Altra Paradigm Review Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 2
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 6
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 7
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 8
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 8
Topo ST-2 Review ST-2 Highly Recommended $90 8.2 7.3 11.4 20 18 0 6.0 7
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 0
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 5
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 5
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 4
Hoka Tracer Review Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 5
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 8
Topo Tribute Review Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 6
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 5
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 6

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, New Balance 980 Review, Brooks Transcend 2 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.