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. <gallery widths=300px heights=300px class="center"> File:HokaHalfs.JPG|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. File:ShoeHalfs.JPG|This image compares the Hokas with other shoes. File:HokaRocker.jpg|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. File:HokaOlympusSlice.JPG|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. </gallary>

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.

Click for a larger image.

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 http://zappos.com, who also have one of the best selections of Hoka shoes I've found. http://www.roadrunnersports.com has the advantage of letting you run in shoes and still return them for an exchange, but the return shipping is not free.

6 Hoka or Altra?

A comparison between the Altra Olympus and Hokas.

While Hoka was the first company to produce the Maximalist 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. By comparison the Altra tapers more gradually from further back. I find the Altra a better Maximalist 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 Clayton 2. The Clayton just edges out the Clifton as my favorite Hoka, though it's really close. Both are reasonably light, and have outstanding cushioning-to-weight ratios. They're both nicely neutral and smooth to run in, but the Clayton trades slightly less cushioning for slightly less weight. However, there're more to it than simply a cut down Clifton. The Clayton's outsole is RMAT, which provides better grip, especially in the wet. However, because RMAT is heavier than EVA, the Clayton's upper is rather more minimalist than the Clifton, so some runners may prefer the added comfort of the Clifton. Like all Hokas, the Clayton has a horribly small toe box, it's easily modified.
  • Hoka Clifton 3. The Clifton was a breakthrough shoe for Hoka, and was the bestselling running shoe at Running Warehouse in 2014. It feels just like an early Bondi, but is significantly lighter, and a little more durable. 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.
  • Hoka Tracer. The tracer is a firmer shoe, with a worse weight-to-cushioning ratio than the better Hoka shoes. You'd get more cushioning from the New Balance RC5000v2 which weighs only 4.0oz. It's a good shoe, but it's not one of the greats. (I know this is "damned with faint praise", but this really is a good shoe.)
  • Hoka Bondi 5. Until Hoka produced the Clifton, the Bondi was my favorite Hoka. They were well cushioned and lighter weight than you'd expect for their size, but later iterations seem to be firmer and they are rather heavy when compared to the Clifton or Clayton. The Bondi has an early 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.
  • Hoka Stinson. The Stinson is a little heavier and thicker than the Bondi variants, and is now only available in trail (ATR) versions. The Stinson is one of the few Hoka road shoes that have a late meta-rocker. The Stinson is now on its fourth version and is a heavy shoe (way too heavy for me.) I'd recommend using the Clifton/Clayton for mild trails, the Challenger for moderate trails, and the Mafate for anything needing more traction.
  • Hoka Hupana. The Hupana is uses the RMAT foam for the entire sole, not just the outsole like some other Hokas. This has the advantage that the Hupana lasts rather longer than shoes with EVA cushioning, but it also makes the shoe less cushioned for its weight than EVA shoes. The Hupana is fairly light, but you can get a much lighter shoe than the Hupana with the same cushioning. If you want longevity, I'd recommend looking for a TPU foam shoe like the Altra Escalante rather than RMAT.
  • Hoka Vanquish. The latest version, the Vanquish 3, uses two layers of EVA foam, with a softer layer over a firmer layer. The Vanquish is rather heavier than I'd like, but I may test this shoe in more detail; let me know if you're interested.
  • Hoka Arahi/Gaviota. These shoes are intended to interfere with your biomechanics, aiming to reduce pronation. The Gaviota has more intrusive mechanisms, using an RMAT medial post, making it more of a "motion control" shoe, while the Arahi uses firmer EVA foam in its medial post. I'm not a fan of this type of approach, and the typical Hoka tends to have enough passive stability without resorting to medial posts.
  • Speedgoat. This shoe is named after Karl Meltzer and his race, the Speedgoat 50K. It's a true trail shoe, with 5mm lugs on a Vibram outsole. With a 30/35mm stack height it's a little shorter than the Mafate and it's lighter, but even with my obsession with weight I'd go for the Mafate because of its sticky RMAT outsole.
  • Hiking Boots. Hoka have started to produce hiking boots that look impressive. They all have a minimal drop, and use an eVent waterproof liner. I don't think I'd want to run far in these, but I will be picking up a pair for my next hiking trip.
    • Tor Summit. This is lowest of the range, and is more of a hiking shoe than a boot. It has the RMAT outsole, so it should stick well.
    • Tor Summit Mid. This is a version of the Summit that comes up the ankle a little further and so provides a little more protection from water coming over the top.
    • Hoka Tor Ultra. This is a high top hiking boot and is styled a little more like a modified Hoka running shoe than a traditional hiking boot. I'm really impressed with this boot, and it's far better than any other I've tried.

9 The Best Hokas

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10 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

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If you're looking for "the best of the best" running shoe, here are my top picks. Of course, the answer will depend a little on what you're looking for, so I have recommendations for various categories.

  • Best All Round Shoe. The Altra Escalante is my current all-round favorite. It has plenty of cushioning for its weight, it has a very springy midsole, it lasts well, and it has a shape that's closer to the shape of a human foot than most shoes. It's a great shoe for any runner, including those Starting to run. It's also a fairly easy shoe to find due to its popularity.
  • Best Maximalist Shoe: If you want something massively cushioned, then I'd recommend the Saucony Kinvara 8. It's remarkably light and remarkably cushioned, beating Hoka at their own game.
  • Best Optimal Shoe: For those looking to trade cushioning for speed, the Nike Zoom Streak LT is my top pick. There are lots of great optimal running shoes, which provide just enough cushioning with light weight and minimal frills. The Streak LT doesn't have the best cushioning-to-weight ratio, but it has a shape that's closer to the human foot than most running shoes and it's one of the longest lasting shoes I've found. It's not as comfy as the Escalante above, but it's faster.
  • Fastest Shoe: If you really want speed, then check out the Nike Vaporfly 4%. It's light, massively cushioned, and has a carbon fiber plate. Nothing comes close, not even the now defunct New Balance RC5000‏‎ or New Balance RC5000v2‏‎. There are a number of caveats; it's really expensive, it's really hard to find, and there's a significant injury risk.
  • Best Minimalist Shoe: Merrell Trail Glove. I recommend the trail glove for road running in spite of the 'trail' moniker. It's not a fast shoe by any means, but it's comfortable and will last well.
  • All Terrain Shoe. I don't generally review trail running shoes, but check out the Hoka Mafate if you're after a shoe with remarkable abilities on a wide range of surfaces. If you want a Hiking Boot, then I love the Hoka Tor Ultra.
  • Honorable Mention: It's not really a running shoe, but the Vivobarefoot Ra is comfortable, minimalist and can more or less pass as a dress shoe. I've worn mine to weddings with a suit and they've not looked out of place. You can run in the Ra, but the leather means it doesn't breathe well.

For a more detailed on running 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

Brand Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Saucony Type A6 Review Saucony A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 7
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adidas Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 6
Hoka Bondi 5 Review Hoka Bondi Recommended $150 6.1 11.6 18.1 38 42 5 7.1 2
Hoka Clayton 2 Review Hoka Clayton2 Highly Recommended $150 9.1 8.3 12.9 23 28 1 7.5 5
Hoka Clifton 4 Review Hoka Clifton4 Worth considering $130 7.7 9.3 14.5 30 35 10 7.2 3
On Cloudracer Review On Cloud Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 7
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Mizuno Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 6
Newton Distance IV Review Newton Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 5
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review Asics DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 5
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Mizuno Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin 2 Review Saucony Endorphin 2 Worth considering $115 8.0 5.1 9.6 15 13 -1 4.1 8
Adidas Energy Boost Review Adidas Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 5
Altra Escalante Review Altra Escalante Best of the Best $130 9.1 8.7 13.5 28 25 -1 7.9 6
Saucony Fastwitch Review Saucony Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 7
Topo Fli-Lyte 2 Review Topo Fli-Lyte2 Highly Recommended $100 6.7 9.1 14.2 24 26 3 6.1 5
Saucony Freedom Review Saucony Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 25 29 3 5.8 6
Skechers GORun 4 Review Skechers GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review Skechers GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 4
Asics GT 2000 Review Asics GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 2
New Balance Hanzo S Review New Balance Hanzo Worth considering $110 7.6 6.9 10.7 21 19 2 5.2 5
Hoka Hupana Review Hoka Hupana Recommended $115 6.1 8.9 13.9 31 36 7 5.4 4
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Asics Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 6
Altra Instinct 4.0 Review Altra Instinct 4.0 Worth considering $120 6.0 9.8 15.3 29 25 -1 5.9 5
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Asics Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 6
Saucony Kinvara 8 Review Saucony Kinvara 8 Best of the Best $110 9.3 8.6 13.4 26 31 3 8.0 5
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review Nike LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 6
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Hoka Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 1
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review Pearl N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
Saucony Nomad Review Saucony Nomad Worth considering $110 4.3 10.5 17.2 25 27 2 4.5 4
Hoka Odyssey Review Hoka Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 3
Altra One 3.0 Review Altra One Recommended $100 6.1 8.8 13.7 23 23 0 5.4 6
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Asics Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review Brooks PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Salming Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 6
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review New Balance RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review New Balance RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 7
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Skechers Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 8
Nike RN Distance 2 Nike RNDist2 Review Pending $120 8.0 9.2 14.3 25 28 4 7.4 7
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review Inov-8 RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 8
Topo ST-2 Review Topo ST-2 Highly Recommended $90 8.2 7.3 11.4 20 18 0 6.0 7
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Hoka Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 0
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Nike Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 5
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 5
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Altra Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 4
Hoka Tracer Review Hoka Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 5
Merrell Trail Glove 4 Review Merrell Trail Glove 4 Best of the Best $100 3.4 8.4 23.8 13 13 0 2.8 10
Topo Tribute Review Topo Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 6
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Mizuno Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 3 Review Merrell Vapor Glove 3 Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
Nike Vaporfly 4% Review Nike Vaporfly Best of the Best $250 10.4 7.2 11.2 25 37 8 7.5 2
New Balance Vazee Pace Review New Balance Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 5
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Asics Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 6
Saucony Zealot 3 Review Saucony Zealot3 Recommended $130 8.9 9.5 14.8 29 32 4 8.5 6
Nike Zoom Fly Review Nike Zoom Fly Worth considering $150 8.3 8.7 13.5 29 36 8 7.2 3

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot, the Hoka Tor Speed 2, and the Inov-8 Roclite 325 hiking boots
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, New Balance 980 Review, Brooks Transcend 2 Review, Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review, Asics 33-DFA Review, Hoka Conquest Review, Saucony Cortana Review, Puma Faas 100 R Review, Saucony Fastwitch Review, Nike Free Review, Asics Gel Lyte 33 Review, Skechers GOmeb Speed Review, Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review, Nike LunaRacer Review, Altra Paradigm Review.