Kailas Fuga EX 2 Review: Only the Beginning (For Us)
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Weighs 9.2 oz. (263 g.) for an EU 42 (US M9) / 7.9 oz. (226 g.) for an EU 37 (US W7)
It walks like a Salomon and talks like a Salomon, and we’re ok with that
Size carefully before you buy — this one runs long
Get ready to see a lot more Kailas in the coming weeks
Available now for $160
SAM: Kailas is a new brand to us here at Believe in the Run, and a relatively new one to trail running at large — they didn’t have a full trail shoe line until 2018. Founded in China as a mountaineering company in 2003, Kailas recently made waves in the international trail community when New Zealand runner Scotty Hawker podiumed at UTMB in their Fuga Pro 3 (Taylor, Alex, and Matt will have their review of the Fuga Pro 4 up soon).
The company is named for the holy Mt. Kailash in Tibet, a site of pilgrimage for several religions that is — ironically, for a climbing company — unclimbable due to its sacredness in those religions. The pilgrimage itself is harsh and unforgiving. Those who undertake it have to brave altitude, monsoons, and rugged trail over a 32-mile loop that circles the remote mountain.
Many of us, including yours truly, read that description and thought, “hey, that sounds a lot like a race I want to do this fall.” And while that’s certainly a glib reflex towards what is undoubtedly a transformational religious experience for thousands of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Bonpos, it also helped click the weight behind that Kailas name into our reptilian, mileage-addled brains.
This review concerns the Kailas Fuga EX 2, which is their high-stack, ultra-distance model. It has a 36mm stack of modified EVA foam in the heel that drops 8mm to 28mm in the forefoot. That modified EVA is adorned with a full-length Vibram Megagrip outsole featuring Kailas’ proprietary “adaptable” lugs. The upper is engineered mesh and laced up with a quicklace system not too unlike Salomon’s. This system, however, has a second cinching device that sits right above the second lace cross — Kailas calls it their AWS 3.0. That stands for Adjust Whole Sole. They might be new to us, but Kailas has brought the goods in the ingredients for their shoe lineup.
MICHAEL: When we first got word that we would have the chance to review some Kailas kicks, it didn’t take long to realize that the new-to-us China-based mountaineering brand boasted some stellar performances at UTMB. We were immediately intrigued. After some quick research, it became clear Kailas was not just a little start-up company but rather an outdoor gear juggernaut akin to the likes of Arc’teryx or Mountain Hardwear.
While still relatively new to developing trail running shoes, Kailas has already distinguished itself as a major sponsor of key races in the rapidly growing Chinese ultra-trail scene. While we’ve recently received some more unique offerings for testing here at BITR, the first model we have up for review is the Fuga EX 2, a simple, high-stack workhorse built for long days in the mountains. As we work our way through some of the brand’s lineup over the next few weeks, the Fuga EX2 is a natural starting place to see what this promising brand has to offer.
SAM: It’s hard to find an issue with any one part of the Kailas Fuga EX 2. The engineered mesh upper is comfortable and breathable, on par with most other engineered mesh uppers on the market. It hugs the foot and provides plenty of security. This is an attractive shoe, and it again has a strong Salomon feel, with a pointy toe box, zig-zag overlays for lockdown, and a quicklace system. There are several color choices, and they run the full range of what any runner could want – my review pair came in a wild Flame Red with an orange-to-blue gradient on the top of the midsole and TRAIL RUNNING emblazoned on the heel. Which, look, I’m only ever going to wear a bright orange, high stack, orange Vibram-toothed monster like this on the trail anyway, so I suppose the words just reinforce the purpose of the shoe.
The AWS lacing system definitely offers more customization over the traditional (read: mostly Salomon) quicklace system you might get your feet into. As someone who has tied lace locks into more hiking boots and trail runners that I can count to get my toes some extra spread room, this is a welcome addition. It allows you to cinch the lacing down in the midfoot and leave it more slack in the toebox. One of the bigger changes in this shoe from the Fuga EX was moving this second cinch point down a whole cross-lace position. The new position focuses more on a variable toebox than a variable midfoot. There is also a quick-release hook on one side of the top eyelets. This was much appreciated and saved me lots of hassle trying to wriggle my feet into or out of the tight quicklace system.
The modified EVA midsole — Kailas call it ECCEVAI — is supposed to be up to 20% lighter and more responsive than traditional EVA. I found it to be on the firm side of medium firm and offer heaps of protection on the trail. With somewhere between 28mm to 36mm of relatively firm EVA(ish) foam underfoot, this is not a trail-feel shoe, but it is one that will keep your feet safe from cruel rocks and roots. There’s an aggressive rocker to push you through your stride, so you don’t have to bend the slab of foam to your whims with every step. I’ve made a lot of Salomon comparisons in this review so far, but the midsole is decidedly non-Salomon. It’s chunky and thick and definitely makes its presence known between you and the ground.
The Vibram Megagrip outsole is durable and grippy, as is to be expected any time Vibram is slapped on the bottom of a shoe.
MICHAEL: Right out of the box, the Kailas Fuga EX 2 feels well made. Kailas did not skimp on materials in this shoe, and it shows in nearly every part, from the upper right down to the outsole. Let’s get into it.
The upper material, a thin yet strong engineered mesh, offers both breathability and durability without feeling stiff or cheap. On top of the mesh, reinforcement is added with the help of some TPU overlays that run in a zig-zag pattern through the midfoot of the shoe. While I personally didn’t love the quick lace system, the lockdown through the midfoot and throat of the shoe was fantastic.
Additionally, the light padding and construction of the perforated neoprene tongue were excellent, as was the stout and protective Anti-Impact toebox. To top it all off, an even more sturdy TPU wrap surrounds the top of the midsole, offering even more sidewall protection against errant and jagged rocks or roots. Altogether the upper really works to weave a thread of versatility into the fabric of the Fuga EX 2, as it offers loads of rugged all-mountain protection without feeling stiff or bulky.
While there are some downsides to Kailas’ ECCEVAI EVA blend, this proprietary concoction boasts some major upgrades over traditional EVA. For a shoe with a 36/28mm stack height, one might expect the shoe to feel bottom-heavy or unstable. The Fuga EX2 was victim to no such speculation and ran very stable on a variety of technical terrain. No doubt, this is largely helped by the upper materials and fit, as well as the slight rocker in the shoe, but the midsole compound shines in its own way as well.
Initially, the midsole felt somewhat harsh, but after a break-in period, the true DNA of the shoe began to shine. I would describe the ECCEVAI as having a semi-firm durometer; it softens the chatter from rocks and roots underfoot but doesn’t exactly provide an overwhelming soft, sinking sensation. Instead of feeling plush like some other shoes with comparably lofted stack heights, the Fuga EX2 mainly uses its stack for protection.
Additionally, the weight of the Fuga EX2 is competitive for its class of shoes. With its protective midsole and supportive upper, the Fuga EX2 seems to fall into a similar all-mountain category to the Dynafit Ultra 100 but weighs nearly an ounce less.
Last but not least, the outsole of the Fuga EX 2 is a tried and true Vibram Megagrip. We’ve had a lot to say about the greatness of this outsole compound in the past, so I won’t go into too much detail. In true all-mountain fashion, Kailas included full outsole coverage on Fuga EX 2, and they also added flex grooves to give the overall package some welcome flexibility in what otherwise might have been a really stiff package.Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Men Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Women
SAM: For starters, the Kailas Fuga EX 2 runs both a little narrow and almost a half-size too long. In my first run on more technical trails with which I’m hopelessly familiar, I took two falls in the first mile from catching my toe on stray roots I generally don’t notice. I eventually adjusted my stride, but you might want to consider sizing down.
Underfoot, the slab of ECCEVAI is firm and blocky, especially in the heel. I did find that there’s about a 15-20 mile break-in period, after which it starts to loosen up and feel better. Still, the 8mm drop feels downright steep and more extreme than 8mm should feel. Other trail shoes with similar drops, like the Saucony Ride 15 TR, feel far more manageable, even on easy trails. On anything more technical than some gradual gravel grinding (say that five times fast), the blocky midsole feels decoupled from the upper, like I couldn’t get the upper to cooperate with how the midsole wanted to move. This probably has something to do with the lacing system not staying cinched down.
Perhaps I just didn’t get my foot adjustment right in the AWS system. While it’s really nice to have the extra flexibility in adjusting upper tightness, that second cinch point is really difficult to adjust, and I’m still up in the air on its true usefulness.
Finally, and I can’t believe I’m writing this, I’m not sold on the Vibram outsole. It’s still plenty durable and grippy — it’s Vibram, and nothing is going to change that — but the lug design is not very good at releasing mud, and the lugs themselves are too shallow and close together to get good purchase in really sloppy conditions. The full coverage sole also does its fair share to dampen midsole flex, which contributes to the blocky feeling.
MICHAEL: One noteworthy aspect about the shoe that I haven’t mentioned yet is Kailas’ proprietary lacing system, AWS 3.0. At first glance, it looks pretty derivative. I mean, they literally printed “quicklace” on the upper of the shoe, a direct copy/paste from Solomon’s own trademarked system. Kailas may be in the clear from a lawsuit, however, as its version features an additional cinchy thingy midway down the tongue of the shoe, with the aim of providing a means of isolating the midfoot lacing of the shoe from the forefoot and offering a more customizable fit. Unfortunately, I’m writing about this feature in the “bad” section for a reason.
Honestly, it just added an unnecessary level of complexity to the lacing system for me, and I couldn’t really figure out how to use it in a way that made sense and added to the experience for the shoe. It wasn’t in the way while running, really, but it was just sort of annoying to deal with. Additionally, the main cinchy thingy would occasionally loosen, leading to some spontaneous heel slippage. Honestly, the only aspect of quick laces that really appeal to me personally is that they are easier to tie with gloves, so having to stop and re-do the cinchy thingy was pretty annoying.
Also, I found the laces to be wildly long, and the lace container on the tongue is placed inconveniently. I ended up just tucking them in like I was wearing a pair of Altras. The good news is, if you’re like me and think you may resonate with some of my opinions here, Kailas also offers a BOA version. We haven’t tried it, but I have a feeling that the upper on the BOA version rocks.
One more complaint I had with the upper was sizing. The Fuga EX 2 seems to run a half-size long.
While the ECCEVAI midsole did provide lots of protection, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a much firmer midsole than one might expect for a shoe marketed to the ultra-distance runner. While I can see the shoe being well-suited for truly treacherous, rocky ultras where underfoot protection is desired, the lack of plush cushioning in the Fuga EX 2 certainly gives it a disadvantage over some long-standing ultra-distance favorites like the Hoka Speedgoat 5.
On hard-pack singletrack or fire roads, when the pace opens up a bit, the upper remains versatile and lightweight while the midsole feels kind of stiff and blocky. When more plushness and flexibility are desired over protection from technical terrain, the Fuga EX2 doesn’t exactly deliver, even after the break-in period.
All things considered, it’s pretty great when two out of the three main complaints I have with the shoe can easily be fixed. There is one more unfortunate aspect, however, and that is that the Fuga EX 2 costs $160, with an additional $10 charge for BOA. While it isn’t unheard of in today’s market, it just seems a little high in my book, considering there’s nothing really technically impressive about the midsole foam.Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Men Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Women
SAM: There’s no doubt that Kailas has the ingredients here for a really stellar high-stack trail crusher. Some things — like the fit and feel of the upper and the protection of the midsole — are truly on-point. A few other things, like the stiffness of the midsole, the precipitous drop, and the finicky lacing system, could use a little improvement, but even those elements don’t miss the mark by much. If you like a firm midsole, protection for days, and a close-fitting, comfortable upper, this is worth your consideration. I’m looking forward to seeing what Michael and the rest of the trail crew have to say about the other shoes that Kailas offers.
MICHAEL: Overall, the Kailas Fuga EX2 was a pleasure to review. Once the midsole softened up a bit, the shoe was an enjoyable companion on some of the muddy, technical singletrack here in Birmingham. If you enjoy rocky, treacherous singletrack and need a shoe that will keep your feet protected in all-mountain conditions, the Fuga EX 2 will likely be a great buy if you’re curious to try something different.
Perhaps most excitingly, this shoe was a great introduction for us to the Kailas lineup. Stay tuned, as there is more stuff coming from Kailas that’s sure to turn heads. It’s clear from the Fuga EX 2 (and other models less far along in the BITR review process) that Kailas isn’t afraid to use premium materials in their products, from DCF backpacking tents to Gore-Tex jackets and Vibram outsoles, a great recipe for success in future product development for the brand. Kailas is certainly one to keep your eye on in 2023 and beyond.
You can pick up the Kailas Fuga EX 2 for $160 at Kailas by using the shop link below.Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Men Shop Kailas Fuga EX 2 – Women
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Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.
All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone PeakMore from Sam