A review and comparison of Hoka One One running shoes

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The Hoka shoes started the 'maximum cushioning, minimum drop' style of shoe with their thick, softly cushioned soles. They reduce the pounding on the soles of your feet, but they are not without their downsides. The Hoka Clifton is one of the most impressive shoes I've come across recently, with remarkable levels of cushioning at a light weight. I've included some recommendations to help you evaluate if Hokas are right for you.

1 Introduction

Hoka One One, pronounced "Hoka O-nay O-nay", means "now it is time to fly" in Maori. These shoes have midsoles that are much thicker and softer than traditional shoes. The soles are also wider to prevent the higher soles making the shoes unstable, like stilts. However, the sole is not as thick as it appears from the outside, as you can see from the image below. The foam in the midsole comes up the sides of the shoe much higher.

The Hoka Bondi cut in half, showing the outside and inside views. You can see that the midsole foam is a lot higher on the outside than the inside.
This image compares the Hokas with other shoes.
Here the outline of the foam midsole has been highlighted in red. This helps reveal how the Hoka midsole narrows at the front and back to create a 'rocker' effect, making it easier for your foot to roll.
A comparison between the Altra Olympus and Bondi. You can see the difference in the way the midsole tapers towards the front of the shoe.

2 The Hoka Advantages

  • The Hokas provide remarkable protection for the soles of your feet. This protection is most noticeable on trails, where you can ignore far more of the stones and bumps. I've found this protection to be wonderful, as it has allowed me to run trails again, which would not otherwise be possible. Even on smoother surfaces, the Hokas can protect your soles, which is a factor over longer distances.
  • Most of the Hokas are very softly cushioned, though Hoka are using a firmer RMAT foam in some of their shoes that seems hard by comparison.
  • The Hokas have far less of a drop between the heel and forefoot than a traditional shoe. The Hokas have claim 3-4.5mm of drop, but measurements suggest it's more like 6mm. Compared with a traditional running shoe like the Asics GT 2000 which tend to have 9-14mm of drop, the Hokas seem quite flat. I've found that running in Hokas is a little like running barefoot on a padded track, which is quite impressive.
  • The Hokas are remarkably light for their size, and they are comparable with a slightly heavier traditional running shoe. The Hoka Clifton is actually quite a light shoe and comparable with some minimalist shoes.
  • The thick sole tapers from the forefoot to the front of the shoe, creating an effect that encourages a good forward lean and toe off. I've been surprised how much this has helped my biomechanics. (See the section on 'meta-rocker' below.)
  • There are many reports that the Hokas reduce Muscle fatigue, but I found no obvious difference in muscular soreness between the Hokas and the Modified Nike Free. Opinions of other runners going to Hokas from minimalist shoes varies, with some seeing a benefit and others not.
  • While the Hokas are expensive ($170 in the US), but most runners find they last longer than a traditional running shoe, so the overall costs are lower. Of course, they don't last as long as some minimalist shoes; I get 2,000+ miles out of my Modified Nike Frees, but I only get I around 600 miles out of my Hokas.

3 The Hoka Problems

  • The thick sole of the Hokas produces a greater ankle stress on uneven surfaces. The wider sole reduces this problem a little, but when trail running this is still an issue. In the past I have never had trouble with twisting my ankles, but the Hokas did cause some ankle stress and pain.
  • The added cushioning protects the soles of the feet, but I've found I've had joint stress with the Hokas that I've never had with my Modified Nike Free. This is in line with the research that has shown greater joint stress with greater cushioning.
  • Even though the cushioning of the Hokas is far softer than other shoes, the thickness makes them quite stiff. This reduces the natural flexing of the foot, but it also puts extra stress on some areas of your foot. The skin on the back of the heel has more friction and the tendons under where the laces are tied have more pressure. I've found that Lacing the Hokas loosely limits the tendon stress, and my favored sock combination mitigates the friction.
  • I've found my Running Form tends to degrade while running in the Hokas rather than my Modified Nike Free. When I swap back, it takes a few miles for my form to recover. I've also noticed that my Cadence is lower in the Hokas, but this might be due to the extra weight.
  • The toe box of the Hokas is rather tight for many people which causes blisters (see below).
  • I didn't like the speed Lacing system that comes with the Hokas, but it's easy to replace them with traditional laces. Hoka includes alternative laces, but I found they were too slippery to stay knotted.

4 Hoka Blisters

An image of a runner with the distinctive Hoka blister pattern I saw at the 2013 Umstead 100.

I've seen a distinctive pattern of blisters associated with the Hokas, where the blister forms part way along the toes, normally between the big toe and the next toe along, and sometimes between the little toe and its neighbor. I saw a disproportionate number of Hoka wearing runners with this blister pattern at the Umstead 100. This can be avoided by cutting open the toe box, but far too few people do this.

5 Recommendations

My recommendation depends on what type of runner you are.

Hoka.jpg

The numbers in the decision chart above correspond to the notes below:

  1. Do you suffer from twisted or weak ankles? Hokas are likely to make this problem worse.
  2. Avoid Hokas, but consider minimalist shoes
  3. Are your current shoes traditional or minimalist?
  4. Are you willing to try out minimalist shoes? I'm a big proponent of minimalist footwear, but I realize not everyone wants to try it out.
  5. See how one of these minimalist shoes works for you.
  6. Try the Hokas, starting with the Hoka Clifton.
  7. How far do you run? Hokas may have some advantages over minimalist shoes for longer ultramarathons.
  8. Try the Hokas for your longer runs. Obviously test them out on shorter runs and build up, but I'd recommend using the Hokas for the long stuff and the minimalist shoes for the rest.
  9. Do you run on rough trails, where your feet may get sore from stone bruises?
  10. Try the Hoka Mafate if you want more protection (it's an outstanding trail shoe).
  11. You're probably best staying with the minimalist footwear, though it may be worth trying out a pair of Hokas.

I'd suggest getting your shoes from somewhere with free shipping both ways, like Zappos, who also have one of the best selections of Hoka shoes I've found. (While Road Runner Sports has the advantage of letting you run in shoes and still return them for an exchange, they don't stock Hokas.)

6 Hoka or Altra?

A comparison between the Altra Olympus and Hokas.

While Hoka was the first company to produce the Minimax style of shoe, but Altra has started to produce comparable shoes. The Altra key selling points are zero drop (no high heel) and a shape that matches the human foot. Initially the Altra shoes were minimalist, with thin, firm midsoles, but they have introduced some thicker, softly cushioned shoes such as the Altra Olympus. At the same time, Hoka has moved to thinner, firmer shoes such as the Rapi Nui, Conquest or huaka. I've run in both Hoka and Altra shoes, even swapping between them during 100 miles races. As you can see from the picture of the dissected shoes above, the shoes are quite similar, but the Hoka has a much more abrupt taper of the midsole at the front of the shoe. I find the Altra a better Minimax shoe than the Hoka range, but things may change as each manufacturer evolves (or devolves) their product range.

A tongue-in-cheek look at the different shapes of the Hoka and Altra shoes.

7 The Meta-Rocker

Because of their thickness, Hoka shoes have to have more of a taper towards the front of the shoe. They call this the 'meta-rocker' and place it in various different parts of the shoe depending on model. A late meta-rocker has a more abrupt taper under the toes, and early meta-rocker has a more gradual taper starting just behind the ball of the foot, and the balanced meta-rocker is in between. However, even the early meta-rocker has a far more abrupt and late taper than some of the Altra shoes.

The Hoka Stinson above, which has a late meta-rocker with the Hoka Clifton that has an early meta-rocker. If you look at the front of the midsoles, you can see the blue foam of the Stinson tapers rapidly and more extremely.

8 The Hoka Range

Hoka have started to use a new type of foam called RMAT that lasts much longer than traditional EVA foam, but it's heavier and much firmer. The result is a shoe that looks like the usual Hoka, but is far too firm. You can find shoes weighting the same that are vastly softer, or shoes that are similar in cushioning that are vastly lighter. I avoid any Hoka that uses RMAT in the midsole, but RMAT can also be used in the outsole, where it can provide remarkable grip on pretty much any surface. (Some of the Hoka range are only available through specialty running stores, while others are targeted at large chains like sporting goods stores or department stores.)

  • Hoka Clifton. This newer shoe has replaced the Bondi is my favorite of the Hoka range, and was the bestselling running shoe at Running Warehouse in 2014. It feels just like a Bondi, but is significantly lighter, and a little more durable. Like all Hokas, the Bondi has a horribly small toe box, it's easily modified. The Clifton and its variants are all have an early meta-rocker.
    • Challenger ATR. This is the trail version of the awesome Hoka Clifton, but it doesn't have much more aggressive outsole than most road shoes, so look to the Mafate if you want a trail shoe.
    • Hoka Odyssey. The Odyssey is superficially identical to the Clifton, but with a thicker sole (35/30mm) and firmer foam. The Odyssey is sold in larger chain stores.
    • Clifton 2. The update to the Clifton adds a bit more padding, but it also gets a little fatter, so the original is slightly better.
  • Hoka Bondi. Until Hoka produced the Clifton, the Bondi was my favorite. They're well cushioned and lighter weight than you'd expect for their size. The Bondi has an early meta-rocker.
    • Valor. This is a Hoka that only uses EVA foam, not the harder RMAT, with a 36/32mm sole and probably in the middle of the Hoka weight range. The Valor appears to be the large chain store variant of the Bondi.
  • Hoka Stinson. The Stinson is a little heavier and thicker than the Bondi variants, and is available in road (Lite) and trail (ATR) versions. The Stinson is one of the few Hoka road shoes that have a late meta-rocker.
    • Stinson 3. The latest update to the Stinson is claimed to be a complete redesign, but the only significant change appears to be a balanced rather than late meta-rocker.
  • Hoka Mafate. The Mafate is a huge shoe, and the heaviest and thickest of the Hokas. The latest iteration is great on pretty much any surface, including roads, mud, cobblestones, and slick rocks. I don't normally review trail shoes, but the Mafate is so impressive I had to include it. The Mafate has an early meta-rocker.
  • Hoka Conquest. While this is as big and heavy as a Hoka Bondi, the overly firm RMAT foam ruins the shoe. The Conquest has an early meta-rocker.
    • Vanquish. This shoe has a combination of EVA foam and RMAT, with a 34mm/30mm sole, and may be on the heavy side. The Vanquish appears to be the large chain variant of the Conquest.
  • Hoka Huaka. The Huaka, like the conquest, uses RMAT foam that is hard wearing, but excessively firm. The Huaka has an early meta rocker.
  • Constant. This looks like a Hoka is trying to add a medial post to prevent pronation. The Science of Running Shoes has shown these techniques are ineffective, and more likely to cause problems can help. I'd expect the shoe to be less cushioned and heavier, especially with the inclusion of the dreaded RMAT. (The Constant has a late meta-rocker.)This promises to be a truly awful shoe.

9 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 Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility Longevity
Asics 33-DFA 5.1 $90 3.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6 3
Saucony Type A6 Review 5.5 $100 5.3 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8 3
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review 1.7 $140 3.0 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7 4
Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review 6.0 $95 4.1 7.0 10.9 15 18 2 4.5 9 2
Hoka Bondi Review 5.8 $150 5.2 10.9 17.0 41 45 5 8.8 0 3
Hoka Clifton Review 9.4 $130 6.1 8.2 12.8 28 32 4 7.8 5 3
Hoka Clifton 2 Review 8.4 $130 5.8 9.1 14.2 31 36 1 8.2 5 3
On Cloudracer Review 2.5 $130 3.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8 3
Hoka Conquest Review 3.1 $170 3.2 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review 1.4 $150 2.3 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5 3
Newton Distance 5.7 $155 4.8 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6 3
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review 5.3 $110 5.3 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6 3
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review 2.6 $115 2.2 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8 3
Saucony Endorphin 9.9 $125 7.1 4.1 6.4 14 13 -1 4.5 9 3
Adidas Energy Boost Review 4.4 $160 4.6 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6 4
Puma Faas 100 R Review 7.2 $90 5.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9 2
Nike Free 4.0 Review 3.3 $120 3.2 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6 3
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review 3.8 $90 5.1 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9 3
Skechers GOmeb Speed Review 2.9 $120 2.5 7.3 15.4 16 22 2 3.8 8 2
Skechers GORun 4 Review 4.5 $100 3.9 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7 2
Asics GT 2000 Review 3.7 $120 3.1 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4 3
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 6 Review 8.4 $85 6.5 5.9 9.2 19 25 5 6.0 8 3
Altra Instinct 2 Review 8.0 $130 3.8 10.6 16.5 23 23 0 6.3 6 3
Altra Instinct 3 Review 7.9 $110 3.5 9.0 14.0 22 23 -1 4.8 6 3
Saucony Kinvara 6 Review 5.9 $100 4.9 8.6 13.4 24 26 3 6.5 7 2
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review 5.1 $125 4.4 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7 3
Hoka Mafate Speed Review 6.1 $170 4.9 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3 2
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 Review 4.5 $100 4.5 6.9 10.7 15 20 6 4.8 8 3
New Balance 980 Review 3.1 $110 2.9 10.1 15.7 21 30 5 4.6 5 3
Hoka Odyssey 6.8 $130 5.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4 3
Altra Olympus Review 5.5 $130 3.5 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4 3
Altra One 7.0 $100 5.4 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8 1
Altra Paradigm Review 7.2 $130 4.1 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4 3
Brooks PureCadence 3 Review 5.5 $120 4.5 9.4 14.6 24 29 1 6.5 7 2
Brooks PureConnect 3 Review 4.6 $100 3.7 9.0 13.9 20 23 0 5.2 7 2
Brooks PureFlow 3 Review 2.7 $100 3.5 9.5 14.8 22 27 3 5.2 7 2
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review 6.6 $110 5.6 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8 3
New Balance RC5000 Review 10.0 $125 7.8 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8 3
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review 3.0 $85 3.8 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9 1
Hoka Stinson Lite Review 6.6 $160 4.7 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2 3
Nike Zoom Streak LT 2 Review 7.6 $75 6.0 5.5 8.6 15 19 4 5.2 9 3
Adidas Takumi Sen 2 Review 2.2 $150 2.0 6.9 16.5 17 22 6 3.2 7 3
Altra Torin Review 6.7 $120 4.0 9.0 14.0 20 20 3 5.5 5 3
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review 4.6 $100 0.8 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9 5
Brooks Transcend 2 Review 3.3 $170 3.3 12.6 19.6 30 36 6 6.5 4 3
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review 3.8 $90 4.8 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5 1
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review 5.2 $125 3.1 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9 1
Saucony Virrata 2 Review 6.2 $90 4.5 7.3 11.4 20 20 1 5.1 8 2

Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review
Reviews of shoes that are not recommended: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review