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 Hokas are one of my recommended running shoes, but I think the Altra Olympus/Altra Paradigm is a 'better Hoka'. However, highly cushioned shoes are not without their downsides and may be responsible for some running injuries. 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 has 9mm 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 other than the Mafete, 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.
  • 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 Bondi Speed or the Bondi B
  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 one of the trail Hokas, like the Stinson Evo or even the Mafate 2 if you want more protection.
  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 Comparison of the Shoes in the Hoka Range

Here's a short summer of the shoes in the Hoka range.

  • Hoka Clifton. This newer shoe has replaced the Bondi is my favorite of the Hoka range. 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.
  • Hoka Bondi. Until Hoka produced the Clifton, the various Bondi shoes (Bondi B, Bondi 2, Bondi 3 and Bondi Speed) were my favorites.
  • Hoka Stinson. The Stinson is a little heavier and thicker than the Bondi variants, and is available in road and trail versions.
  • Hoka Mafate. The Mafate is a huge shoe, and the heaviest and thickest of the Hokas.
  • Hoka Conquest. While this is as big and heavy as a Hoka Bondi, the overly firm RMAT foam ruins the shoe.
  • Hoka Huaka. The Huaka, like the conquest, uses RMAT foam that is hard wearing, but excessively firm.
  • Hoka Rapa Nui. The Rapa Nui 2 is lighter, thinner and a little cheaper than the other Hokas, but I found it even firmer than the Conquest. The Adidas Energy Boost feels far more cushioned to me, though it does not offer the same level of protection from stones or uneven surfaces.

8 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes.

Category Shoe Full Review Favorite Weight Performance Penalty Drop Sole thickness Subjective
cushioning
Forefoot Use Notes
Minimax Hoka Clifton Hoka Clifton Top Pick 7.8oz (8.5oz) 9.9 sec/mile, 6.2 sec/Km 6mm 23/29mm 8 7   Also considered an optimal shoe
Altra Olympus Altra Olympus Top Pick 10oz (11.8oz) 15.1 sec/mile, 9.4 sec/Km Zero 36mm 6 4.5 Road/Rocky Trail  
Altra Paradigm Altra Paradigm   10.2oz (10.2oz) 12.6 sec/mile, 7.8 sec/Km Zero 25mm 8 4 Road  
Hoka Bondi Hoka Bondi   11.1oz (13oz) 16.9 sec/mile, 10.5 sec/Km 5mm 30/35mm 8 4 Road/Rocky Trail  
Hoka Mafate Hoka Mafate   15.1oz (13.6oz) 17.9 sec/mile, 11.1 sec/Km 6mm 35/41mm 9 1 Muddy Trail The most cushioned shoe
Hoka Stinson Hoka Stinson   11.8oz (13.2oz) 17.3 sec/mile, 10.7 sec/Km 6mm 32/38mm 9 2 Road/Rocky Trail  
Skechers GOrun Ultra Skechers GOrun Ultra   9.5oz (9.8oz) 12 sec/mile, 7.4 sec/Km 14 mm (10mm) 26/40mm (24/34mm) 8 (heel) 7 Road A nice attempt, but too much drop and wears too quickly.
Adidas Energy Boost Adidas Energy Boost   9.3oz 11.2 sec/mile, 6.9 sec/Km 9mm 17/26mm ~5-7 6 Road A remarkable shoe with new midsole technology
Optimal Altra One2 Altra One2 Top Pick 6.6oz (7.3oz) 8.1 sec/mile, 5 sec/Km Zero 19mm 3 8.5 Road A wonderful balance of weight and cushioning
Mizuno Cursoris Mizuno Cursoris Top Pick 6.8oz 7.3 sec/mile, 4.5 sec/Km Zero 18mm 3 8 Road Soft, light and comfortable. Still available, but discontinued
Saucony Virrata Saucony Virrata Top Pick 6.7oz (7.3oz) 8.1 sec/mile, 5 sec/Km Zero 17mm 2 8 Road Similar to the Altra One2
Skechers GO Bionic Skechers GO Bionic   6.5oz (6.2oz) 6.4 sec/mile, 3.9 sec/Km Zero 10mm 1.5     Good value
Adidas Takumi Sen 2 Adidas Takumi Sen   6.3oz (6.9oz) 7.4 sec/mile, 4.6 sec/Km 5mm 17/22mm 1     An unusual Japanese racing shoe
Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Nike Free   7.1oz 7.8 sec/mile, 4.8 sec/Km 4mm 17/21mm 2 8 Road Highly flexible
Modified Nike Free Modified Nike Free   5oz (5oz) 4.5 sec/mile, 2.8 sec/Km Zero 17mm 1   Road  
Saucony Kinvara Saucony Kinvara   7.6oz (7.9oz) 9 sec/mile, 5.6 sec/Km 4mm 18/22mm 2   Road Seems heavier than the scales would sugest
Altra Torin Altra Torin   9oz 10.7 sec/mile, 6.7 sec/Km Zero 20mm 1 7 Road  
Brooks PureCadence Brooks PureCadence   8.4oz (9.4oz) 11.3 sec/mile, 7 sec/Km 5mm 17/22mm 2     A little heavy for the cushioning
Saucony Hattori     4.4oz 11.8 sec/mile, 7.3 sec/Km Zero 15mm 0.5   Road Not quite enough cushioning. No laces
Minimal Mizuno Wave Universe Mizuno Wave Universe   2.8oz (3.2oz) 18.2 sec/mile, 11.3 sec/Km 2mm 11/13mm 0   Road Ultralight weight!
NB Trail Minimus     6.5oz (6.5oz) 23.3 sec/mile, 14.5 sec/Km 5mm 10/15mm 0   Road/Trail  
NB Road Minimus     6.4oz (6.2oz) 22.8 sec/mile, 14.2 sec/Km Zero 11mm 0   Road  
Merrell Trail Glove     7oz 24.1 sec/mile, 15 sec/Km Zero 10mm 0   Road/Trail  
Merrell Road Glove     6.9oz 23.9 sec/mile, 14.9 sec/Km Zero 11mm 0   Road  
Vibram FiveFingers     4oz 19.4 sec/mile, 12.1 sec/Km Zero 5mm 0   Road/Trail  
Vivobarefoot One     7oz 24.1 sec/mile, 15 sec/Km Zero 3mm 0   Road  
Not recommended Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac     10.7oz 13.4 sec/mile, 8.3 sec/Km 4mm 26/30mm 2   Road Thick, but too firm
Hoka Conquest Hoka Conquest   11.9oz 15.2 sec/mile, 9.5 sec/Km 4mm 28/34mm 2 3 Road/Rocky Trail Thick, but too firm
Hoka Huaka Hoka Huaka   9.2oz (9.9oz) 12.1 sec/mile, 7.5 sec/Km 5mm 21/26mm 4 6   Thick, but too firm
New Balance Fresh Foam 980     9.1oz 10.9 sec/mile, 6.8 sec/Km 4mm 21/25mm 2   Road Thick, but too firm
Brooks Transcend     11.8oz 15.1 sec/mile, 9.4 sec/Km 8mm 22/30mm     Road Thick, but too firm
Patagonia EverLONG Patagonia EverLONG   9oz (9.2oz) 11 sec/mile, 6.8 sec/Km 4mm (measured 9mm) 20/24mm (measured 16/27mm) 2   Road Too much drop
Asics GT 2000     10.9oz 13.7 sec/mile, 8.5 sec/Km 9mm 20/29mm     Road A shoe that almost defines 'traditional', including for comparison
  • Cushioning. Shoes vary in the mount of cushioning they provide. There is reasonable scientific evidence that higher levels of cushioning increase stresses on joints and have higher rates of injury. However, cushioning is also one way shoes provide protection from stones (the other is inflexibility). Cushioning can also reduce foot soreness on longer ultramarathons.
  • Weight. The weight of a shoe makes a big difference in the energy cost of running. Even small changes in weight can make a big difference in how fast we run. The weight in parenthesis is my measurement, which is size 9.5-11.0 depending on the shoe. This helps compensate for shoes that claim to be lighter by making their shoes small for any given size.
  • Performance Penalty. Most studies show that for each 3.5oz/100g of shoe weight performance drops by 1%. However, there is also good evidence that cushioning can improve performance, so some allowance is made for the padding. The figures here are based on 4 hour marathon pace, which is 9:09 min/mile or 5:41 min/Km pace.
  • Drop & Sole thickness. The drop is difference in sole thickness between the forefoot and heel. Larger drops can interfere with natural running form, and may increase the probability of heel strike. Numbers in parenthesis are without the insole.