The Best of Karhu: Mestari Run 1.0, Fusion 3.5, Ikoni 2.5
What do you get when you cross a bear with an expertly crafted running shoe? No, the answer isn’t a running shoe that’s torn to shreds—it’s the Finnish sports brand, Karhu. Named after the Finnish word for “bear,” Karhu has crafted a full line-up of running shoes built with premium materials and shaped using millions of scans from Fleet Feet’s fit id® process.
Karhu got its start in 1916 out of a small workshop in Helsinki, and has since grown into a major manufacturer of running and lifestyle shoes. However, if you’re shopping in North America, you can only find new Karhu running models at your local Fleet Feet or online at fleetfeet.com.
Fleet Feet reviewers have logged miles in three exciting models: the Karhu Fusion 3.5, the Karhu Ikoni 2.5 and the brand’s newest model, the Karhu Mestari Run 1.0. While all three shoes vary in terms of fit, feel and cushioning, they all have two things in common.
First, all three shoes use Karhu’s signature Fulcrum technology. This technology, featured in the midsole right beneath your midfoot, acts like the lever in a seesaw. In this example, your body would be the arms of the seesaw and the fulcrum would be the center. The fulcrum uses your body’s momentum to roll you forward as you land for an efficient transition into your next stride.
Second, all three shoes use Karhu’s signature AeroFoam midsole. AeroFoam was first launched by the brand in 2019 as a lighter and more durable alternative to traditional EVA foams.
Now that you know how the Mestari Run, Fusion and Ikoni are similar, let’s break down key differences to help you choose the right model for you.
Karhu Ikoni 2.5: A low-profile daily trainer
Karhu Ikoni 2.5
|Weight||8 oz (W), 9.6 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||8 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||26 mm/18 mm|
|Comparable to...||Mizuno Wave Rider 27, Saucony Kinvara 14|
The Karhu Ikoni is the “OG” Karhu running shoe. Released in 2018, this revolutionary shoe used over 100,000 Fleet Feet fit id® images to create its last (the solid form in which a shoe is shaped around). It was truly shaped by runners, for runners, and continues its legacy today after several years of refinement.
The Ikoni has evolved since its creation from a comfortable, albeit somewhat bulky, trainer into a lightweight, streamlined shoe that works well for a variety of different runs.
The latest version features a redesigned mesh upper that hugs your foot in all the right places. A low-profile heel and ankle collar give this shoe a sleek feel, while extra padding in the heel and tongue add a touch of comfort.
“The Ikoni fits me perfectly,” Mandy says. “My toes have room to wiggle, there’s a nice lockdown midfoot and the heel is secure. A small detail, but one that I love, is the bear logo on the toe cap. Everytime I put on the shoe or look down at it, it reminds me of the strength of a bear and I gain energy from that.”
A moderate platform of firm AeroFoam sits underfoot that, combined with the Fulcrum technology, gives a smooth, steady ride.
“The heel feels decidedly more built up and firm, but the cushioning under the forefoot is more flexible,” Caroline says. “In fact, I think this is the most flexible iteration of the Ikoni that I’ve tried. And because the cushioning feels a bit more flexible, the Fulcrum piece feels smoother and more efficient, too.”
So, who is the Ikoni 2.5 best for? Because of its low stack height (at least, in today’s era of super max-cushioned shoes) and firm cushioning, it’s best for runners who like to feel close to the ground. It’s built for neutral runners, meaning it doesn’t have any added stability features to reduce the effects of overpronation. For that reason, we recommend it to runners with medium to high arches, as they tend to have more rigid feet that feel best in a flexible, neutral shoe.
If you aren’t sure about the shape of your arches, head into your local Fleet Feet for an expert one-on-one outfitting. Fleet Feet outfitters use 3D fit id® foot scanning technology to gather information about your feet and the support they need by taking precise measurements of your foot length, width and arch height.
We also recommend the Ikoni 2.5 to runners who prioritize weight savings, as it’s the lightest shoe on this list.
“My favorite thing about the Ikoni is that it feels really lightweight,” Kate says. “It has a pretty firm step-in feel and a firm feel on the run, and I can get into a groove with it because it doesn’t weigh me down.”
Karhu Fusion 3.5: A peppy, uptempo trainer
Karhu Fusion 3.5
|Weight||8.8 oz (W), 10.5 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||6 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||24 mm/18 mm|
|Comparable to...||On Cloudgo, ASICS GEL-Cumulus 25|
The Karhu Fusion 3.5 offers a more propulsive feel than the aforementioned Ikoni 2.5. While the AeroFoam used in the Fusion isn’t necessarily peppier than what’s used in the Ikoni, its lower heel-to-toe drop concentrates the cushioning in the mid- and forefoot, enhancing the Fulcrum shape for a rolling sensation.
“The firmness, combined with the streamlined fit, makes the Fusion 3.5 feel peppier and faster than both the Ikoni and Mestari Run,” says Max.
While it’s designed to feel more propulsive than the Ikoni, it’s also a bit heavier, which can deter runners who enjoy lightweight shoes for speedwork. Nevertheless, our reviewers enjoyed it for uptempo runs.
“The Fusion 3.5 feels nice and energetic for a variety of paces,” Travis says. “The smoothness of the Fulcrum shape really helped me roll along.”
Reviewers also noticed that the Fusion feels quite a bit firmer than the Ikoni, so we recommend it for runners seeking a firm ride that feels as stable as it does propulsive.
“The Fusion 3.5 is a great choice for those who spend a lot of time on their feet and need something with a solid, stable platform,” Ashley says. “The rocker shape adds some forward movement and the firm cushioning supports my lower back and knees. It found it to be great for walking, too.”
The Fusion, like the Ikoni, is complete with a redesigned, engineered mesh upper. Added ventilation keeps your feet cool and dry (as long as you’re wearing a great pair of running socks!), while a reinforced toe cap keeps your piggies safe.
Karhu Mestari Run 1.0: Karhu’s introduction into the max-cushioned world
Karhu Mestari Run 1.0
|Weight||9.9 oz (W), 12 oz (M)|
|Heel-to-toe drop||8 mm|
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)||33 mm/25 mm|
|Comparable to...||New Balance 1080 v13, Mizuno Wave Sky 7|
The last shoe on our list should come with a drumroll, but sadly we don’t have that function on our website (yet). The Karhu Mestari Run 1.0 has been described by reviewers as “the future of Karhu,” and here’s why.
The Mestari Run has the highest stack height within the Karhu lineup, following industry trends of running shoes that seem to be growing taller and taller with every update. Its stack height of 33 millimeters in the heel still puts it as “moderate” when compared to other brands, but it’s considerably more cushioned than the Ikoni and Fusion.
“The Mestari had that nice, cushy feeling when I first stepped into it,” Kate says. “It offers plenty of protection from the pounding of the road without being too soft to get a good pace going.”
The Mestari Run 1.0 uses an upgraded version of the brand’s signature AeroFoam, which reviewers noticed felt softer and bouncier than the cushioning used in prior Karhu shoes.
“The cushioning in the Mestari Run offers a perfect blend of memory-foam-like cushion and firmness,” Ashley says. “The shoes are soft and absorbent, and feel barely noticeable—in a good way—during runs.”
The shoe’s wide base and Fulcrum technology add some stability to the ride, making it ideal for runners with low arches and flexible feet, or for those who overpronate (the excessive inward rolling of a runner’s foot upon landing).
“While the Mestari Run has a high stack height, it also has a wide, stable base, making it equally happy on both the paved roads and dirt trails I took them across,” says Nate.
The Mestari Run is topped off with a smooth mesh upper that reviewers noticed felt accommodating to different foot shapes.
“As I slid into these shoes, my feet instantly felt supported by the plush, soft upper,” Caroline says. “Thick padding covers the heel collar and tongue, while a stretchy kit upper wraps around the toe box. This shoe has a really great balance of snug and stretch, it hugs all the right places while leaving my toes some room to wiggle around.”
Because of the shoes high cushioning and balanced firm-to-soft ratio, we recommend the Mestari Run 1.0 for runners, walkers and workers who spend long hours on their feet. It’s soft enough to comfort your weary feet, but not too soft to the point where you’re sinking in.
Plus, the stretchy, accommodating upper makes it a good choice for those with wide feet, or those experiencing bunions, hammertoes or other ailments.
“I had been hearing a lot of hype about the Mestari Run in the Fleet Feet world, and now I get it,” says Kate. “The Mestari Run is a very different Karhu experience than what I’m used to. This is the cushiest Karhu yet, and the upper’s plush feel perfectly complements the underfoot sensation.”