Asics Gel-Cumulus 21
Weight per pair: 17.8 oz. (women's size 8.5)
What we like: Great mix of comfort, stability, and support.
What we don’t: Has a somewhat old-school feel; fairly heavy and slow.
See the Women's Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 See the Men's Asics Gel-Cumulus 21
Asics is one of the most recognizable names in road running, and the Gel-Cumulus is a standout in their lineup of neutral shoes. Now in its 21st iteration, the newest model builds off of the outgoing “20” with an upgraded midsole, added padding in the heel, and a more breathable mesh upper. After taking the Gel-Cumulus 21 out on extended runs on pavement and gravel in North Vancouver, we had mostly high praise. While not particularly responsive or lightweight, the Cumulus is a stable, comfortable, and dependable daily workhorse. Below we break down the Gel-Cumulus 21’s cushioning and comfort, responsiveness, weight, durability, fit and sizing, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best running shoes.
With a stretchy mesh upper, padded collar, and cushy midsole, the Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 is undoubtedly a comfortable daily trainer. The shoe’s relatively tall heel (29mm) and gel and foam midsole provide great shock absorption for long runs, even on the crushed gravel path that I frequent outside of my office. Further, the mesh upper is notably breathable and flexible enough to conform to my foot without restricting movement, and the thick collar effectively locks my heel in place. Tack on a nicely padded tongue to the premium interior, and it’s an all-around nice place for my feet to be even for runs of over an hour.
My one complaint in regard to comfort is that the shoe’s 10-millimeter drop means that the toe and midfoot are quite a bit less cushioned than the heel. While I didn’t really notice this on my everyday cruises or recovery runs, I did find myself wishing for some additional protection during faster intervals (when I’m more prone to landing hard on my midfoot). This may lead to complaints from mid or forefoot strikers, especially those that have been running with modern designs with a low heel-to-toe drop. But all in all, the Gel-Cumulus is a comfortable running shoe: I haven’t experienced any hotspots or blisters and the padded design hasn’t led to any undue pressure on my Achilles.
Put simply, the Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 prioritizes comfort over being a hyper-responsive racing flat. As I found with the Altra Torin 4, the Asics’ cushioning does a better job at absorbing impacts than propelling me forward. However, paired with a fairly stiff outsole, the shoe does manage some decent energy return. In the end, I’ve concluded that it’s a mixed bag. If I’m running at a faster cadence on hard pavement, the shoe has less contact with the ground and feels relatively sprightly. However, if I’m plodding along on a recovery run, the Gel-Cumulus’s cushy heel makes it a bit slow compared to competitors like the Brooks Ghost 12 or Nike Pegasus.
I love light shoes for long runs, but unfortunately the Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 misses the mark here. At 17.8 ounces on my scale (a bit more than the listed weight of 17 ounces), the shoe outweighs most of the other runners I’ve been testing this season. For comparison, Hoka One One’s Clifton 6 (14.8 ounces) and Altra’s Torin 4 (15.2 ounces) both undercut the Gel-Cumulus, and neither feels as heavy or dense underfoot. However, the Asics does stack up fairly competitively to other popular trainers in its class, including the Brooks Ghost 12 (18.6 oz.), Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 36 (16.5 oz.) and Asics’ own Gel-Nimbus 21 (17.6 oz.). Runners looking for a fast shoe for interval training will likely be disappointed with the Gel-Cumulus, but the trade-off is a solid and comfortable ride.
The Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 has held up impressively well to rigorous and high-mileage testing. After logging around 100 miles on both gravel and pavement, I’m confident in saying that the shoe is hardwearing and thoughtfully designed. The mesh hasn’t punctured, the lettering hasn’t begun to peel or fray, the outsole hasn’t deteriorated, and the cushioning hasn’t packed out or shown any sign of wear. Overall, all indications are positive that the Gel-Cumulus will have a long lifespan.
Stability and Support
One area where the Gel-Cumulus 21 truly stands out is stability, especially for a neutral design. For starters, the shoe’s heel counter is notably firm, helping keep the heel and ankle aligned and preventing any side-to-side movement. After recently testing the Altra Torin 4, which had a wide heel and toe box that sacrificed some performance, the Gel-Cumulus felt incredibly secure. Further, the mesh upper firmly locks the foot in place and anchors it to the footbed, minimizing slippage within the shoe. Added together, the Gel-Cumulus is exceptionally confidence-inspiring for a road runner, even on undulating and varied terrain.
I ordered my usual women’s size 8.5, and the Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 fit perfectly with no areas of looseness. In fact, I would describe the fit as “comfortably snug” since the shoe basically molds around my entire foot. While it took a couple runs to get used to, this precision is nonetheless helpful for inspiring trust, especially on gravel paths and hilly terrain. In addition, the mesh upper is pliable and allows the foot to splay naturally, the overlays at the midfoot and heel help lock down the foot, and the padded heel collar and tongue add ample cushioning and comfort.
Gel-Cumulus 20 vs. 21
Asics took the previous-generation Gel-Cumulus 20 and made slight updates to create the new “21.” For starters, the newest model features an upgraded FlyteFoam Lyte midsole, the company’s lightest-weight foam that gives the shoe a bit of a softer ride. The Gel-Cumulus 21 also received an updated and more breathable mesh upper and additional padding in the heel. These changes did come at a weight penalty, though: the 21 is about an ounce heavier per pair than its predecessor. Otherwise, the two models share the same stack height (29mm heel/19mm forefoot), 10-millimeter drop, and gel cushioning. All told, the outgoing 20 and newer 21 are extremely similar, but the changes nevertheless give the latest shoe a nice boost in comfort.
Other Versions of the Asics Gel-Cumulus 21
I tested the women’s standard-width Gel-Cumulus 21, but there are a number of other variations in the Gel-Cumulus lineup. These include wide versions of the shoe in both men’s and women’s and “GS” kids’ models. The men’s Gel-Cumulus 21 is heavier than the women’s at 20.8 ounces per pair and comes in different colorways, but otherwise features the same build with a 10-millimeter heel-to-toe drop, mesh upper, and cushioned but stable feel.
What We Like
- The Gel-Cumulus 21 has great out-of-the-box comfort: I experienced no hotspots or irritation, and the shoe conformed nicely to my foot.
- Very stable and supportive for a neutral shoe.
- Tall stack height and gel/foam midsole provide great shock absorption for long recovery runs.
What We Don’t
- The shoe is pretty heavy and feels relatively dense underfoot.
- Not overly responsive, especially on long, moderately paced runs.
- The extensive padding in the collar and tongue is certainly comfortable but may be overkill for some.
|Asics Gel-Cumulus 21||$120||Neutral||17 oz.||Moderate||Mesh||10mm|
|Asics Gel-Nimbus 21||$150||Neutral||17.6 oz.||Moderate||Mesh||10mm|
|Hoka One One Clifton 6||$130||Neutral||14.8 oz.||Moderate/maximum||Mesh||5mm|
|Altra Torin 4||$120||Neutral||15.2 oz.||Moderate/maximum||Mesh||0mm|
|Brooks Ghost 12||$130||Neutral||18.6 oz.||Moderate||Mesh||12mm|
The Asics Gel-Cumulus 21 is a capable daily trainer that performs well across almost all categories. Within the Asics running shoe lineup, the most similar model is the Gel-Nimbus 21. Like the Cumulus, the Nimbus is designed as an everyday workhorse for runners with a neutral gait or supination (underpronation). The shoes also share 10-millimeter drops, FlyteFoam and gel midsoles, and stiff heel counters. However, the Nimbus has more cushioning underfoot, which adds a bit of weight to the overall build (.6 ounces per pair) and gives it a slight bump in long-distance comfort. All told, considering the negligible performance differences, we think the $30-cheaper Cumulus is the better value.
This season, I’ve also been testing Hoka One One’s recently updated Clifton 6. The Clifton is supremely comfortable, lightweight at 14.8 ounces (2.2 ounces lighter than the Asics), and well-cushioned with Hoka’s signature thick midsole. And while not overly responsive, the Clifton is sprightlier than the Gel-Cumulus over extended distances. My biggest complaint about the Clifton is that I experienced a pressure point at the inner midfoot that took 30+ miles to break in (and around 100 to disappear completely), but the shoe has since performed impressively well (for more information, see our in-depth Clifton 6 review). In the end, it gets the edge over the Cumulus as the better all-rounder.
Last but not least, Altra’s Torin 4 is another great recovery-day and long-mileage option. The Torin is lighter at 15.2 ounces per pair, extremely comfortable with a wide toe box and generous cushioning, and notably stable on extended runs. By comparison, the Asics has a stiffer structure and a more locked-in fit around the midfoot and heel. If you prioritize stability and support and like the feel of a traditional road-running shoe, the Gel-Cumulus 21 is a good bet. But those who want a zero-drop shape or a more accommodating fit will prefer the Torin 4.
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