Hoka Tracer Review

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The Tracer is the lightest shoe in the Hoka range. It weighs in at nearly 2 ounces lighter than the outstanding Hoka Clifton, but it's also rather less cushioned. I think the Tracer is a good shoe, and while it's not one of the greats like the Clifton, or the Asics Gel Hyper Speed, I recommend it as a worthy contender. The softer cushioning in the heel combined with slightly firmer cushioning in the forefoot may well appeal to runners looking for this combination without the issues of a high-heeled shoe. The main issue with the Tracer is that it has the same shape as the rest of the Hoka range, which is not anatomically correct by any means. It appears rather narrower than other Hokas, but this is an optical illusion. I've rated the Tracer as "Recommended", and I think it has the potential for future versions to be quite outstanding. In the meantime, I'd recommend that you try out to the incredible New Balance RC5000v2 first, which provides more cushioning but is only just over half the weight of the Tracer. (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Hoka Tracer top
Hoka Tracer bottom
Hoka Tracer inside
Hoka Tracer outside

1 Characteristics

  • Cushioning . The Tracer does not have the massive cushioning that has made Hoka famous and justifiably popular. The midsole foam is a more conventional thickness of 21/24mm fore/rear, which is closer to the Asics Gel Hyper Speed's 22/26mm than the Hoka Clifton's 31/36mm or the Hoka Bondi's massive 41/45mm. The midsole foam is also rather firmer than a traditional Hoka shoe, which results in a reasonable but uninspiring level of cushioning. However, the Tracer is also fairly light at only 7.4oz (in my size 10), so it's cushioning-to-weight ratio is again reasonable but uninspiring. It's surprisingly close to the Saucony Kinvara 7 both in terms of weight and cushioning. The Tracer has two different densities of foam; the white foam in the picture above is a little softer than the red foam by about 20%. The idea is to give a softer shoe in the heel, but a firmer more responsive cushioning in the forefoot. This often happens in a running shoe due to the drop, which means the cushioning is thicker in the heel the forefoot. If you want a shoe that is cushioned in the heel and firmer in the forefoot, but want to avoid running in high heels, then this is a nice option. . My quantitive analysis of the cushioning suggests that it's less than 10% difference, and in practice was rarely aware of it. It's only when swapping to a different shoe mid-run, or wearing a different shoe on each foot, that the difference becomes clear. Even then, it's not a huge difference, though I could tell a slight difference compared with the Saucony Kinvara 7.
    His me testing the Tracer on one foot with the Saucony Kinvara 7 on the other. I would recommend doing this very often, and it's a recipe for injury. (That's a MilestonePod you can see on the Kinvara.)
  • Drop. The Tracer only has 2mm drop, which is effectively zero-drop.
  • Structure. The Tracer uses two different densities of foam, with the firmer foam in the forefoot. There is some overlap of the two types of foam as you can see in the photographs above. The denser rate of foam comes up further back on the inside of the shoe creating a slight medial post. Practice, I couldn't detect any additional firmness on the inside of the heel, and I don't believe that it will interfere with your biomechanics. There is only a slight rise under the arch, so this is unlikely to irritate or calls planter fasciitis. The Tracer runs smoothly and neutrally, and I never felt it interfered with my stride.
  • Flexibility. The Tracer has a reasonable flexibility, and is about what you'd expect given the forefoot thickness. Yet again it's remarkably similar to the Saucony Kinvara 7 , but I guess that's what you'd expect given they have similar thicknesses of similar foam and relatively little outsole.
  • Outsole. Talking of outsole, the Tracer has a few patches of hard rubber under the main contact points. You can see the hard rubber in the pictures above as the black and yellow patches on the underside of the Tracer. The two colors of rubber appear to have similar densities and I found them reasonably hard wearing.
  • Shape. The Tracer appears to be a much narrower shoe than a typical Hoka. However, closer inspection reveals that this is an optical illusion. If you look at the images below you will see that the midsole of the Clifton extends horizontally further out from the upper than the Tracer. This gives the appearance that the Tracer is a much narrower shoe, but in reality they are almost identical in shape. Sadly, this is not the shape of the human foot, so I strongly recommend that you cut open the toe box of any Hokas. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper is largely seamless, with moderate breathability. Like most modern running shoes the only seam is where the unpadded forefoot transitions to the slightly offended heel. The Tracer has a few small overlays in the forefoot, but a solid overlay in the rear that limits breathability. The upper consists of a thicker woven material that has many holes that, each about quarter inch/5 mm in diameter covered by a fine mesh. The padding in the rear is reasonably effective, and I found the ankle opening to be quite comfortable. There is more padding than in the Hoka Clayton and it's a little more comfortable, though it's not up to the comfort of the Hoka Clifton 2.
    Here you can see the upper that I cut away. This is a view from the inside, and you can see the thicker yellow woven material with the red mesh behind.
  • Tongue. The Tracer has a tongue that is sown in the inside (medial), but a traditional disconnected tongue on the outside (lateral). I found that it stayed in place perfectly well, and it's surprisingly well padded.
  • Lacing. The Tracer uses thin flat laces which stay tied, and appear to be the same laces that Hoka is using in several of their recent shoes.
  • Heel Counter. The Tracer has quite a firm Heel Counter, as well as a rather thick overlay the rear of the shoe. This didn't cause me any problems, but is a waste of time, money, and weight.
This is a view of the Tracer and the Clifton 2 showing the shape of the forefoot. You can see that my toes extend roughly equally in both shoes, and the upper feels the same.
You have to look very closely at this image, but this is the Tracer insole placed over the top of the Clifton insole. If you look closely, and you may have to click for a larger image, you will see that they are nearly identical in shape.
Here are both shoes with their insoles removed for comparison. Hopefully you can see how close the shoes are in shape.
helping-hand.jpg

2 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

3 Visualizing the Attributes of the Hoka Tracer

How Hoka Tracer compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Hoka Tracer compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Hoka Tracer compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Hoka Tracer compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

4 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

trophy-winner.jpg

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.