Put on a pair of running shoes from Hoka One One, they say, and it’s “time to fly.” That may seem hard to believe, given that virtually every Hoka running shoes review refers to the brand’s signature feature: its extra high stack of cushioning.
But Hoka One One (pronounced O-nay O-nay), based in California, has created a formula that provides extreme stability in a lightweight package. As a result, the shoes will help you strive for your personal bests while covering the longest of distances.
In addition to the plush cushioning, Hoka One One shoes also come with wider soles. For some, this is initially off-putting, as Hokas look different than the traditional running shoes.
Yet the shoes provide a system of technologies and features that have helped millions of runners achieve or exceed their goals.
While they may not be for everyone: Hokas are a legitimate option for road and trail runners alike, especially those who put up high mileage numbers each week.
But how do you choose the right pair of shoes?
Straight, Left, or Right?
The challenge of choosing the right Hokas (or any shoes, for that matter) starts and ends with understanding some basic concepts about how your legs move.
Before we go any farther in our Hoka running shoes review, let's discuss a few basics on that subject, so that selection time becomes much more manageable.
Most runners fall into two basic categories: Stability or neutral. You might also hear the term “motion control” shoes -- that’s basically an offshoot of the stability category.
According to REI, whether you are a runner who needs stability shoes or a neutral runner is determined by how your foot strikes the ground.
Neutral running shoes belong on the feet of runners with straight-ahead gaits -- moving north to south along a plane, with little or no variability.
Neutral shoes essentially help your feet do what they are intended to do, with no interference.
Meanwhile, stability shoes, according to REI, go on the feet of runners who overpronate.
What this means is that your food tends to roll slightly inward each time it strikes the ground. Because of the uneven weight distribution, overpronators are susceptible to foot, leg and knee pain, or injuries.
Some runners face the opposite challenge -- their feet connect in a way where the foot rolls outward, called under-pronation. This is a small fraction of the running population.
The best way to understand your running style, and ultimately choose the right shoes, is to visit a local specialty run store to be evaluated. With this knowledge in mind, you'll be able to select your Hoka shoes knowledgeably.
All About the Hoka Brand
A little history to go with our Hoka running shoes review: Hoka is a young company that originated in France around 2009. Partners Nicolas Mermaud and Jean-Luc Diard were runners who liked to tackle tough terrains such as the French Alps.
The pair wanted to design a shoe that stood up to the punishment that these environments hand out. In doing so, they helped re-shape the cut-throat competition for running shoes at a time when participation rates were soaring.
Within 4 years, Hokas were available in more than 350 locations across the world.
As Outside Magazine describes it, the shoes “looked bizarre, like moon boots, and were wider, thicker, and softer than typical running shoes—two and a half times beefier and 30 percent cushier.”
The principal characteristic of Hoka One One shoes is the “high stack.” The expansive cushioning under the foot provides the shoes with their “moon boot” appearance.
Yet the shoes retain a lightweight profile. The other significant distinction is the shape of the sole. The bottom of the shoes are designed almost in a “u shape,” creating a “rocker” effect that helps drive you forward with each stride.
Hoka Running Shoes Review
Now you have the core idea of this Hoka running shoes review: Pile on extra cushioning, avoid adding too much weight and shape the sole to encourage teeter-totter like movement that rolls you forward.
Then you’ve got yourself a unique style of shoes that will keep you moving toward the finish line while limiting the wear and tear on your legs.
Let’s dig into two popular models -- one for men, one for women -- to give a taste of what you can find across the Hoka line.
The company describes the Hoka Bondi as the most cushioned shoes in its entire line. The shoes offer sizes for both men and women, but for our Hoka running shoes review, we’ll focus on the male version.
The shoes check in at just under 11 ounces with the maximum cushion that the company describes as providing a "pillow soft feel." While we appreciate the marketing language, and the Bondi probably comes as close as any shoes you can find, but when you’re at the tail-end of a long run, nothing feels like a pillow.
The Bondi includes an open mesh upper, allowing your feet to breathe. The heel is also beveled to allow for a more natural heel to foot transition.
Runners who bought the shoes via Amazon give it a score of 4.4 stars out of 5.0. One reviewer raves about the way the shoes helped reduce pain in his metatarsal bone and recommended ordering a half-size larger than you would wear normally. A less-enthused reviewer found the shoes to be too stiff.
Hoka Bondi is now available online for men and women for between $95 and $150. You might save a few dollars by purchasing an older model, but those are usually limited in size availability.
The Hoka Clifton are also shoes available in sizes for men and women. For our Hoka running shoes review, though, we’re going deep on the female version.
The Clifton is incredibly lightweight, checking in at less than half a pound. This will lower the wear-and-tear on your feet in the later stages of a race. The cushioning is less aggressive than the Bondi, achieving a nice balanced approach.
As is tradition, the Clifton is built with a mesh upper, to allow the heat to clear from your feet on the most intense days.
Women runners give the Clifton the ultimate thumbs up -- 4.5 stars out of 5.0. One top reviewer on Amazon credited the Clifton for helping her get clear of the effects of a broken metatarsal bone. She writes of her plans to wear them on a hiking trip to Central America.
An unhappy runner relates that she found that the Clifton wore down very quickly, after only a few runs.
Hoka Clifton shoes for women are available online for between $85 and $135, depending on which model most interests you. Consider an earlier model if you need to save a few dollars.
Our Review Process
Choosing running shoes is a very personal decision. Feet come in all shapes and sizes. Shoes do too.
The best way to figure the right pair for you: Try them on. Most specialty running stores will let you take them for a spin. Vendors occasionally will sponsor try-on nights at these stores, combined with free group runs. Keep watch on what’s happening locally.
Completing out our Hoka running shoes review, then, required lots of reading. We started at the Hoka One One site, which provides the most current look at current models, including descriptions, specifications, and styles.
To provide fodder for comparison, we consulted specialty run sites and outdoor magazines such as Outdoor magazine, Runner’s World magazine, RunningShoesGuru.com, Running Warehouse, and others.
We looked for shoe alternatives in the “maximalist” category that offer the same or similar features and attributes: A high-stack of cushion, a substantial sole, and a rock-and-roll design in the sole.
Running shoes today are well-made, highly engineered products with lots of science to them. If you can’t find a Hoka to your liking, then one of these other choices might suit your style.
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. The Altra Torin has a profile that will very quickly remind you of the Hoka One One line.
The Torin also offers a high stack in the heel area, if perhaps just a little bit more modest in the cushioning category.
One big difference: Altra is a leader in providing “zero drop” shoes, or shoes that have the same height from heel to toe. So whatever rocking you’re able to do in the Altra may well be something that’s your doing alone – not provided by the shoes.
The Torin checks in at about half a pound, slightly lighter than the Hoka Bondi.
The Altra Torin gets excellent reviews on Amazon. Reviewers give it an enthusiastic 4.5 out of 5.0 stars. One very positive reviewer writes that he loves the roomy toe box and the zero drop -- “A slice of heaven for my battered feet,” he writes.
Less-thrilled was a customer who found that the shoes got worn down very quickly, even just while he was going on long walks.
Depending on what model you buy, the Torins could provide a bit of extra value.
The Skechers brand gets noticed in the maximalist category for the GORun Ultra shoes. These shoes has a slightly less aggressive stack in comparison to the Hoka line.
But you’ll still get the benefits of the rocker as the shoes transition from heel to toe. And the weight profile is also very favorable — the Skechers men’s model checks in just about half a pound.
The shoes score are very high with reviewers on Amazon. We should note that these shoes have fewer opinions than other models mentioned in our Hoka running shoes review.
One pleased customer raved about his GORun Ultra shoes. He described it as amazing while also advising wearers to consider one size less than they would typically wear. An unhappy runner felt that the height of the cushion caused some ankle discomfort for him
Available for men and women, the Skechers GoRun Ultra also might save you a few dollars over the Hoka.
We close our Hoka running shoes review with an alternative for the rare under-pronator. We're talking about the Saucony Triumph ISO shoes, available for both men and women.
The Triumph offers an identical stack high to many of the Hokas. The company boasts that there is more cushion in the Triumph than almost any other prior shoes in their line.
It’s a little heavier than its brethren: The women’s model checks in at about 10 ounces. But you will get the same positive benefits from the “rock and roll” effect as the foot transitions from heel to toe.
The Saucony Triumph ISO gets high ratings from those who have worn the shoes. Reviewers give the Triumph a rank ranked on Amazon at 4.4 stars out of 5.0, based on several hundred reviews.
One runner describes the shoes as perfect for her running style as an under-pronator. She says the shoes provide the relief she needs given the flat feet combined and high arch.
The shoes disappointed another wearer. She writes that she felt knee pain from her first workout in the shoes.
Like Hoka, Skechers and Altra, the Saucony Triumph shoes are available for both men and women. Be aware that depending on the model, it could be a challenge to find your size online.
Maximize Your Ride
Serious runners tend to demand a lot from their shoes but ultimately are willing to accept some basic minimums.
We just want the shoes not to cause us any problems. If the shoes lead to aches and pains in our legs or ankles, then it’s off our lists forever.
Recommending one as the best of all of those on the market, then, seems almost foolhardy. Runners have different thresholds, different sensations, and various pressure points.
Based on our experiences, though, we lean towards the Hoka line. The hardiest runners in the nation traversing some of the most challenging terrains wear Hokas. We can't think of a better reference point. Go with the Hokas.
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