Wildly popular with trail runners and with a fiercely loyal following, Hoka One One running shoes had a hard time convincing this skeptical reviewer they were worth it.
RUNNING SHOE: Hoka One One Stinson B Evo
Category: Maximum cushioning, Neutral to moderate over-pronators
Best for: Trails, some roads
Weight: 11.8 oz. (men’s size 10)
Heel-to-toe drop: 6 mm
By Robert Ballenthin, Greater Boston Running Company – Lexington
Call me a skeptic. I called them Moon Shoes.
Leafing through a new Runner’s World magazine, I first caught a glimpse of the brand Hoka One One. I looked at the advertising. Before I even thought about wearing these shoes, I concluded they were, and I am being nice, “not for me.” They looked weird, silly, absurd. Basically just different than the shoes I was running in. Furthermore, I never had any complaints about my traditional running shoes. And my running experience was diverse: I’ve cross trained for soccer, worked out vigorously in college cross country and track, and done long runs diligently. How could a shoe that is so different be worth it for me?
The Low Down:
- Hoka One One is designed to provide a maximum cushioning experience whether you’re running on sidewalk, roads, concrete, and rocky or steep trails. Hokas have essentially two times the cushioning as a traditional shoe.
- Hoka One One is designed to mimic barefoot or natural running.
Well, this seems counter-intuitive. How can a shoe that is so high off the ground and cushioned also have a minimal or natural design?
The answer lies in Hoka’s approach to design. In a traditional shoe, the difference in height between the heel and the forefoot (think: toes) has been 12 to 14 millimeters; that’s roughly half an inch. When we stand on our bare feet, this difference is reduced to 0 millimeters. The minimal, barefoot or “natural” train of running-shoe thought goes like this: by elevating our heels, we increase strain on our lower legs, arch, and forefoot, when compared to going barefoot. Think of a high heel.
Thus, by reducing the gap between the height of your heel and toes, we should reduce some of the strain on our feet. Hoka is not the first to experiment with this change. For example, Saucony has reduced their entire lineup of shoes from 12 to 14 mm heel-to-toe drops to 8-, 4-, or 0 mm. The crux of the Hoka argument is that natural running does not have to mean no cushion; it simply means that a shoe should work with the foot and it should provide a “natural” experience.
Well, I finally tried them. And they surprised me.
I ended up with a pair of the Hoka One One Stinson B Evo. The Stinson B Evo is a hybrid trail-road shoe. It has an aggressive tread on the bottom, but with a soft cushioned ride. So it is a well-rounded shoe for all conditions. Other models are designed specifically for roads.
I took them out for a run late last week. My initial reaction: they feel better than they look. It does not feel like you’re walking on stilts (contrary to popular belief and rumors among some runners). Nor does it feel like you will tip over, because the shoes provide a stable platform. The cushion is soft, but not overly pillowy. My run took me through a mixture of roads and trails – flat-packed dirt primarily with some rocks and roots.
On roads, the Stinsons were average at best. Because there was simply so much cushioning under the foot, I didn’t get the feedback from the ground I wanted. I thought, “I can’t run fast in this shoe, but I can run all day.” Unfortunately, I only wanted to run 40 minutes and it was getting dark.
It was not until I took the Stinson B Evos onto the trails that they shone. Rocks, root, and pebbles didn’t faze me. I literally felt like I was gliding over any obstacle in my way.
So, after some thought, you probably could call me a convert. The Hoka One One experience is certainly unique. I would highly recommend them to someone who is looking for a great, highly cushioned trainer, and who is in the throes of their marathon or ultra marathon training. Or if you walk long distances regularly. I would not, however, recommend them to someone who prefers a firm, responsive, and lightweight shoe, nor would I recommend them to someone who’s looking for a lightweight racing shoe.
Honestly, I had never felt any shoe do this for me. They were thoroughly enjoyable in the woods.
Overall, they are compelling once you get accustomed to them. Give them a try and you may end up as delighted as me!