Hoka shoes burst onto the scene a few years ago. They were hard to miss with their thick cushioning soles which may have offended the sensibilities of many fashion conscious triathletes. They were welcomed by the distance running crowd with open arms as a way to continue to run longer and reduce fatigue and shock on longer runs.
As many triathletes especially those that do longer distances know, any run off the bike is like running on tired legs so they looked to the ultra-runners and their choice of shoe and now according to LAVA magazine they were the 6th most popular shoe in Kona in 2014.
The shoes on test are the Huakas. Hokas says: “The HUAKA is Europe's 3rd highest selling Hoka. This road weapon is in massive demand because of its aggressive balance of endurance protection and immediate responsiveness under foot. High performance runners chasing the next level over half-marathon and marathon distance appreciate the unique energy return of the Huaka. For capable athletes, the Huaka's elasticity, fit, and relentless pace offer a genuinely sharp edge on road”.
Roger from Hoka gave us a women’s and men’s pair to test so we put the call out for folks who were running in similar style shoes from other manufacturers to give these a whirl. George (George-bob) and Christine (Mrs Batman) from the forum were the guinea pigs and without further ado here is what your peers thought of the Hoka Huaka.
The Hokas have been going great I have worn them exclusively, other than for 1 run. The first time I wore them I set a p.b. by just over a minute on my regular 14 km hilly run which is the longest run I do. Other than that all running has been on our local triathlon course which is a 3.5 km loop consisting of mainly hard packed dirt with a few rocks thrown in and about 500m of bitumen. The shoes are amazingly lightweight, and when running feel lighter than my Adizeros. The first thing I noticed after my initial 14km run was a slight tightness in my calves, which I put down to them having a lower drop than the Bondi 2's I would do most of my regular running in. I haven't checked if this is even a fact but that's the way they felt, however it wasn't any problem as I could have run the following day if I had to. Soles are really grippy on the dirt, grippier than the Bondis and Adizeros and I can't recall any slippage at all despite there being a fair bit of loose gravel on our regular track whch certainly inspires confidence when you realise you don't have to keep tensing yourself in case you fall on the rough sections.
I have been using the speed laces only as that is what they came with and I was reluctant to change as you need to cut the lace to do so and you can't go back to them once this is done as they are a one piece unit. It didn't matter though as I will be using them for triathlons and they are just as fast as regular lace locks
As a natural heel striker I seem to always wear the outside of the heel before any other part of the sole and they are holding up well in this regard with almost no detectable wear thus far although running on trails helps too.
I have Hoka Bondi 2's and a pair of Stinson trails for mountain running and have never been concerned about appearances, however they always attract attention from local runners with the usual "clown shoe" remarks and you occasionally see someone pointing them out to their mate from a discreet distance. The Huakas don't seem to attract much attention at all, not that it would bother me. I am hoping to wear them in Oranges upcoming Elite Energy Triathlon and fun run, which is about as big as it gets out here in the sticks.
At $219 Hokas may initially seem a tad expensive but their wear characteristics are amazing. 2.5 years ago I bought my Bondi 2s followed by Stinsons 6 months later. To date they are the only shoes I've run in other than Adizeros for road races and the soles exhibit a bit of wear outside the heel where I land but that is all, they won't need replacing for some time, the uppers are just as good with no thin areas from where my big toe hits, a problem I've had with most other brands.
My husband Scott also has Bondi's and Stinson trails, he has actually had his a bit longer than me and his are in just as good condition. I can remember paying $219 for a pair of Asics Kayanos in about 2004 or 5. It's good to see Hoka getting in on the act and hyping up the colours so hopefully the general running population which seem a bit conservative compared to triathletes may get on board, I know we won't be running in anything else. Will let you know how they go in the Elite Energy tri when that happens.
Having never tried Hokas I set out to answer two key questions:
-Are the heavily padded shoes actually good to run in, compared to standard 12mm drop heavily padded shoes?
-How do the shoes compare to traditional race shoes, Saucony Kinvara in particular?
The Hoka One One Huaka’s look a lot more extreme than they feel. The sole is huge and very spongy; it can easily be compressed by a finger. I expected these to feel like running on marshmallows, unstable and slow. The first couple of kilometres felt pleasantly familiar, like running on packed dirt (even though I was on tarmac), the shoes felt very pliable but they do give a distinct impression of disconnection from the road – which may be a positive or negative depending on your priorities. The first couple of runs were easy 60min affairs and left me feeling…good, much better than usual in fact. As a heavier (80kg) and flat footed runner I am used to feeling a little sore after a run. I had none of that with the Huaka’s.
One of the first runs in the shoes was a 3km TT on a mix of dirt and tarmac, this is a regular event that I usually run in Saucony Kinvara’s. My time was within spitting distance of my PB (despite being a little unfit, so this is not the shoe’s fault) so the shoes are clearly not slowing me down. I found them slightly unsatisfying over the short distance, the feeling of disconnection and the heavier weight of the shoe felt a little sluggish and (based on the handy Garmin running metrics) my leg turnover was lower and ground contact time a little higher than the previous month. It is impossible to tell how much of this was the shoes vs. general unfitness, but from this and other short bits of speed work (400s, 800s) I felt these are not the best shoes for short, fast running and for these sessions I would still be inclined to reach for a lighter more traditional shoe like the Kinvara.
Over longer distances the story changes, tempo runs feel great, especially on trails. The shoes may not have the same level of ground contact as a more traditional race shoe, but they don’t feel ‘wet’ or ‘dead’ as I expected they would. The longer the run the better the shoes seem to feel, they left me feeling fresher at the end of a long run than anything else I have run in before.
Fit, construction and value
I have difficult feet to fit, every shoe gives me a blister somewhere and these are no exception, despite this I am pleased to say these are amongst the best fitting shoes I have ever run in. I found the mid-foot slightly wider than my Asics and slightly narrower than my Saucony’s and for once I didn’t get a blister on my arch! The toe box feels similar to the Asic’s, and is the only place on these shoes that rubbed.
I had one issue with the fit and that is the tongue. When positioned incorrectly it cnn rub straight through my skin. This happened on my second and fourth run in the shoes. The tongue is sewn in at the front and has a fold along the edge, if this was placed against my foot it basically turned into sand paper. I suspect this may be my fault, either putting the shoes on in a hurry or not lacing them tight enough. After the fourth run it seemed to have softened enough to not be a problem.
After only 50km of running the plastic lamination over the inside of the shoe was beginning to peel. So far it does not seem to be degrading the quality of the shoes to run in, but it is a little disappointing for a $220 shoe to show visible wear so fast.
Are these a good triathlon shoe?
The interior of the shoe is mostly soft and suitable for sockless running. The heel is very well padded with a generous heel loop that makes these shoes easy to get on in a race. The only concern with this is the tongue rubbing as mentioned above. The rest of the shoe is single layer mesh which is quite breathable, the shoes do feel a little hotter than Saucony’s, about in line with Asic’s 2000. The top of the tongue is covered in a suede-like material, which is very comfortable. As with any shoe I used talcum powder when running without socks and had no issues with rubbing (well – at least no more than I would have with socks!).
The shoe is definitely intended as a racer, it comes laced with quick release race laces as standard. Personally I found these to be very good, I only took them off to test the standard laces that come packaged with the shoes – which do allow a slightly tighter fit. The laces have a continuous loop with a self-locking buckle, slip the shoes on, pull the buckle down and run. There are two elastic loops to tuck the excess into to stop them flapping around. They are quick to put on, but as the lace is not elastic it can be difficult to get the shoe tight enough in a hurry, in this case the standard laces are a competent alternative.
The sole is mostly exposed mid-foam material with sections of harder rubber at the very front and back. The longevity of shoes like this seems to be lower than those with a heavier, full rubber outsole. In my testing though, these seem to be wearing a lot more slowly than Kinvaras.
This brings me round to a very important question of value: at $219 these are not cheap shoes. That puts them at $50 more than Kinvaras and $20 more than Asics 2000. I would anticipate the Hokas would last close to twice as long as the Kinvaras, but last a little shorter than the Asics. Regardless of this the Hokas seem to be decent value for a premium running shoe, given how comfortable they are over long distances and how good I imagine they would be for longer triathlons. They are definitely a cut above the Asics in terms of comfort and performance, whilst I suspect they will outlast the Kinvara.
In summary, I found the Hoka One One Huakas to be an excellent training shoe, they make every road feel like soft dirt to run on, they are even better on the trail, they feel smooth, controlled and very stable on everything from packed dirt to somewhat technical bush trails. As a race shoe they feel OK over short distances (<5km), for this the Kinvara would still be my shoe of choice, but they get better the longer you go, making this best suited to HIM and Ironman length triathlon racing, as a longer distance racer these will be my new shoe of choice.
I see these shoes as a fitting a very useful niche of long distance road/trail training shoe for steady state and easy running. As race shoes these are undoubtedly better suited to Half Ironman and longer racing than short racing, especially if you are a taller or heavier person.
For more details: http://hokaoneone.com.au/
Transitions Special Offer: Roger has offered a discount for all Transitions members code is trihuaka, this gets $20 off 2014 Huaka, delivered to your door for $199.
Editors Note: In the interests of full disclosure I approached the testers at the end of the test (when reviews were complete) and asked them if they would be interested in purchasing the shoes, hopefully at a discount as they were now “used”. Roger from Hoka without seeing the reviews or having any input in the process graciously allowed the testers to keep the shoes.
Transitions reviews, where written by members, may be edited for grammatical purposes but the intent and “vibe” of the review have not been altered.
Thanks to George and Christine for helping in the process and providing honest and useful feedback.
Text and images: Transitions, George, Christine
© 2015 Transitions.