Hoka One One: Shoe Review

Forget the barefoot running craze. For that matter, forget any other running shoe, and slip on a pair of Hoka One Ones. You’ll never go back.

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Dave Mackey, 2011 North American ultrarunner of the year,
hitting the trail and the road in his Hoka One One shoes

Admittedly, I was intensely skeptical when a good friend of mine, Dave Mackey, suggested I try a pair of Hoka One One running shoes.

I mean, have you seen these things? Even to an anti-minimalist like me (no sandals or rubbery toe shoes touch these feet), they looked like broad and bulky clodhoppers. I was expecting a heavy, unstable shoe that would have me tripping over myself.

Don’t let looks deceive you, too, though, or you might deprive yourself of some of the best running of your life.

Lighter, More Stable, Lasts Longer

Depending on the model, the Hoka One One (pronounced Ho-kah Oh-nay Oh-nay, meaning “Time to Fly” in Māori) shoes weigh in somewhere between 10 and just over 11 ounces, about 15% LIGHTER than most. How do they do this? Turns out that the midsole is comprised of an ultralight, durable, stable (up to 20mm of  compression) material that absorbs up to 80% of the shock caused by running. I asked around and discovered that the midsole foam is something new that the HOO crew figured out would make a great running shoe.

And although the tread looks like it isn’t aggressive enough, when I wore the shoes out on a trail, I started to think that the more surface area on the dirt the better, and more stability comes from a larger footprint as well as your foot sitting well down in the footbed. The grip of the shoe was some of the best I’ve encountered. Another pleasant surprise came when I was running on rocks: instead of stepping over and around, I suddenly felt confident and ran OVER the rocks, barely feeling them at all.

I pronate, and my usual shoes break down in less than 200 miles — and those are the ones with support for pronation. I noticed that the Hokas are a neutral shoe with the prescribed 4mm lift. So I ran and I ran, and I wound up getting about twice the mileage on these shoes with virtually no wear on the outer tread.

The more I ran with them, the more I liked them. I found myself covering about twice the distance with essentially NO muscle fatigue. The rocker-type construction allows the foot to settle into a natural heel-to-toe movement and improves form while you are running, which allows a faster recovery even when you’re coming off a hard training or racing event.

Now for the real proof in the pudding: Having run in these for several months, I forgot to put them in my car once. After driving to the start of my route, I found that I did at least have some old favorites in the backseat. Slipping them on and taking off down the road, I felt impact … much more than normal. Then the next day, my muscles were sore and my knees hurt for the first time in ages. I thought this was all in my head, but when it happened again, after forgetting them a second time, I knew I was onto something. And I knew I’d better get a few extra pairs of Hokas so that doesn’t happen ever again.

So are there any drawbacks? About the only thing that bothered me was the lacing on the uppers, but with a few tweaks I found that skipping an eyelet did the trick. But that’s not even an issue anymore: recently, when I got a new pair, I noticed that they’ve fixed the lacing system.

When I describe these shoes to other people, I usually say things like, “They are as close to riding a bike as you can get with a running shoe,” “They allow the foot to perform as if you were running without shoes at all,” “These are the bomb,” and “Finally! A running shoe that will change the industry for the better.”

Truly, get the right shoe for you, then give them a try, and you’ll thank me. I can’t imagine running in anything else.

Have you already tried any of the Hoka One One shoes? If so, which ones, and what was your experience?

8/13/12 Postscript: Hoka provided us with hiking boots for our Death Valley National Park circumnavigation, and they were up to the task and then some! The only bad news for folks in the U.S.: they’re not available for purchase here (yet).

 

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