Hoka was established in 2009 by Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, two French trail runners, at the height of the minimalist shoe movement. Despite (or perhaps because of) the popularity of barefoot designs, Hoka shoes provided runners with ultra-soft, supportive soles. The "floating feel" of riding a mountain bike or skiing on fresh powder inspired Mermoud and Diard to create a running shoe with a similar ride quality. Hoka's signature cushiony and surprisingly light construction was achieved through iterative prototyping and collaboration with a Chinese shoe company's chemist.
The Top-Rated Hoka One OnesThe Guru: I started running when I was in middle school, and I've written about running and outdoor gear for years, both as an employee of Runner's World and as a freelancer. The majority of my gear coverage has focused on running shoes, and I've tested numerous styles from numerous manufacturers. Articles like this one are based on interviews with brand representatives about the latest shoes and technology, feedback from RW testers, and the author's personal experience in the running shoe industry. I compile all that data per RW editors' requests and pick the featured footwear.
There was merit to the Hoka design philosophy, as evidenced by the success of early releases like the Mafate, Bondi, and Stinson ATR. These shoes had sufficient cushioning to smooth out uneven ground and return energy, without being so heavy as to slow runners down. The shoes were a hit, and Hoka has since grown rapidly. (And for any brand loyalists out there who might be wondering, Hoka officially dropped the "One One" from its name in 2021). )
To maintain momentum and provide a smoother ride, Mermoud and Diard based the design of their shoes on a few fundamental principles, including increased cushioning, the use of lightweight materials, and a wide rocker midsole. Even though the shoes were originally designed with trail runners in mind, the company has expanded into other markets, such as road shoes and even track spikes.
While other brands have moved on from EVA foam entirely, Hoka continues to use its own unique EVA formulas. The RW Shoe Lab found that, compared to standard EVA, the brand's EVA-rubber blend was both more elastic (leading to improved support and energy return) and more durable. For additional cushioning, Hoka shoes feature CMEVA foam, a type of compression molding. Blends can be designed for specific purposes, such as lightweight or high-energy. The Arahi and the Speedgoat are just two of the many shoes in the collection that feature CMEVA now.
The J-Frame (the yellow section of the outsole) provides extra stability in the Arahi, helping to prevent overpronation.Gambill, Lakota
As the company has expanded, the Meta-Rocker and Active Foot Frame have become staples in every pair of Hokas. Meta-Rocker is a sole design that has a low heel-toe drop and a rounded sole to enhance your natural stride and give you a boost in forward motion. The Active Foot Frame inserts further into the shoe's midsole, giving the foot a more secure and stable environment while running. Hoka compares it to the snug, low seat of a race car bucket.
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Hoka has also introduced other cutting-edge technology in recent years, in addition to the aforementioned staples of shoe design. Tracer and Clayton were the first shoes to feature the ProFly cushioning system, which combines soft foam in the heel with firmer foam in the forefoot. Hoka once again broke new ground with the release of the absurdist TenNine in the fall of 2020. This shoe's extra padding in the heel and wide sole make it ideal for sprinting down steep inclines. Hoka's continued exploration of extended heel forms can be seen in the asymmetrical SwallowTail heel, first seen on the TenNine Hike and now featured on the Kawana. Simply put, it's a heel that's been cut at an angle to form a wider crash pad and protrudes outward from the back of the shoe. The wide, flat design makes for softer landings and a more natural gait.
Hoka, like many other brands, has recently begun using carbon fiber plates to give its shoes a more responsive feel, making them better suited for faster paces and racing. The Bondi X and the Carbon X 3 are two shoes that feature this technology.
Professional foam strikes a happy medium between shock absorption and energy return, making for a cushy landing and a more responsive toe-off.As spoken by Lakota Gambill
Although it's a specialized product with a hefty price tag (currently $250), the TenNine still gets high marks for creativity.Gambill, Lakota
Methods Used in Testing and Evaluation
Located both in the immediate area around our Pennsylvania headquarters and all over the United States, our team of over 300 wear testers consists of runners of varying ages, speeds, and abilities. S Nearly every pair of Hokas down below has been put through their paces by our testers and the Runner's World staff. Additional information on the durability of Hoka's J-Frame support system, the responsiveness of ProFly foam, and the responsiveness of rocker-style midsoles has been gleaned from the results of mechanical tests conducted in our RW Shoe Lab. Keep reading for in-depth analyses of the top Hoka models for use on the road and the trail.
GRAND PRIX OF DAILY TRAINING
- Revolutionary new midsole
- Upper body slimmed down
- Bad for sprinting
According to Hoka devotees, the original Clifton was a game-changer for the company because it demonstrated that a shoe could offer maximum cushion without being clumsy. The newest model is a continuation of this trend and is meant to be worn as a training shoe on a daily basis. It has an extended heel to reduce the effects of impact and a new EVA midsole compound that has been optimized for reduced weight and increased energy return. The Meta-Rocker midsole makes for a comfortable walk, and the mesh upper has been updated to allow for more airflow.
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HIGHEST DENSITY FILLING
- More shock is absorbed by the newly extended heel.
- Midsole foam with a softer feel
- This men's version weighs more than the Bondi 7.
The Bondi is Hoka's thickest and most cushioned road shoe. The latest Bondi retains the features that have made the original model so popular, including a maximally cushioned, ultra-soft ride. Comparatively thinner and softer than Bondi 7's midsole foam. A memory foam collar improves the fit and comfort around the ankle, and the breathable open mesh upper returns from previous iterations. There's a new, softer tongue included in version 8. To improve stability and cushioning for runners, Hoka reshapes and lengthens the heel. The Bondi X offers a similar cushioned feel but with a carbon fiber plate embedded in the sole for a quicker, more responsive ride.
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FASTEST IN TEMPO RACES
- The combination of the sole's slight curve and the ProFly midsole ensures a responsive ride.
- Soft and lightweight to an unbelievable degree
- Wet weather makes it harder to maintain traction.
Both our in-house test team and the reviewers at RW found the newest iteration of the Mach (which is on the lighter and quicker end of Hoka's lineup) to be exceptional. We included it on our list of the best cushioned shoes, and Runner's World Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate praised it, calling the Mach 4 "the best Mach yet and perhaps the best current Hoka." While still a great training companion, this new version also seems swift enough to cross the starting line on its own. The primary features are an updated upper that provides a snugger fit and a dual-density ProFly midsole and early-stage Meta-Rocker shape that produce a cushioned, responsive ride. The Mach 4 is an excellent option for both short sprints and marathons.
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- A better, roomier fit
- Low-maintenance and quick to react
- We've refined the lug placement for increased strength.
- Mid-race, the skinny tongue can get a little bit off-kilter.
The Rincon, a lightweight, fast shoe at a reasonable price, made its debut in July 2019. The third version's narrow fit and poor breathability have been fixed with a wider toe box, a new asymmetrical tongue, and a vented mesh upper. The Rincon 3 maintains its superb harmony between lightweight and cushioning that is both soft and supportive, with the addition of rubber to the heel and toebox of the outsole for increased durability and grip. It's a great option for runners looking to get faster without breaking the bank.
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The most stable
- Slightly less heavy than the previous model.
- An exciting ride with a solid foundation
- Similar to the Gaviota, but not quite as plush
Arahi, like the Gaviota, combines stability and cushioning, but it ups the ante by being lighter and providing a more responsive ride. The responsive ride is a result of the combination of the CMEVA cushioning and the J-Frame, which is embedded in the sole to prevent overpronation. The new mesh upper allowed Hoka to reduce the shoe's weight, and the padded tongue made for a more pleasant wearing experience.
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BEST FOR COMPETITION
Carbon X 3
- Redesigned top for a more custom feel
- Minimalist and quick to react
The Carbon X may have been an outlier at first (it seemed to only work for runners who land at midfoot), but it has developed into a capable endurance racer. The third iteration of these shoes maintains the combination of a Meta-Rocker sole shape and an embedded carbon-fiber plate for a smooth, snappy ride, and the dual-density CMEVA foam establishes a firm platform for effective toe-offs. Runners who plan on tackling longer races will appreciate the new knit upper's enhanced fit.
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THE ULTIMATE IN ROAD-TO-TRAIL CONVERSION
Attack Tactical Vehicle Number Six (ATR-6) Challenger
- Soft padding that provides support
- Cozy fit
The Challenger ATR has a more neutral cushioning profile than the Zinal, making it a superior choice for mixed-surface training. The EVA midsole is firm enough to keep your feet in place, but flexible enough to absorb shock and smooth out bumps in the road. These 4-millimeter lugs may not look like much, but they'll have your back on and off road. Reviewers also liked how roomy the shoe was in the metatarsal area and the toe box. Wider sizes are available for purchase, so you can maximize your storage potential.
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- Wearable for long periods of time
- Comfortable and stable driving experience
- Comparatively bulkier to the Clifton, Hoka's other workhorse trainer
- Definitely not the best for sprinting
A plush trainer that is comfortable enough to wear all day, the Kawana is a fantastic option for runners who need a shoe that can multitask. The CMEVA foam in Hoka shoes cushions shock and provides a good amount of energy back, while the Meta-Rocker design in the forefoot helps beginners take easy, natural steps. Additional stability comes from Hoka's Active Foot Frame design, and the shoe's new SwallowTail crash pad geometry in the heel ensures a smooth landing every time thanks to its wide, asymmetrical shape and beveled edge. According to one of our reviewers, "it made running on roads feel effortless," so we deemed it one of the best cushioned shoes of the year. ”
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Perfect for Endurance Trail Races
Quick as a goat, number five
- More lightweight than its predecessor
- Enhanced safety and hold
Hoka's premier trail shoe, named after ultrarunner Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer, is built for extended excursions away from paved surfaces. Hoka completely revamped this speedy trail shoe for its fifth iteration. Outsole lugs feature a new Vibram Megagrip lug pattern for enhanced traction on slick surfaces, and a double-layer jacquard mesh upper adds an extra layer of protection against rocks and other debris. The new CMEVA foam in the midsole that Hoka used to replace the old EVA foam is another way that the Speedgoat 5 manages to be half an ounce lighter than its predecessor.
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PROPERTIES ARE OPTIMIZED FOR TECHNICAL PATHS.
3.0 Mafate Speed
- The deep lugs on the Vibram outsole provide superior traction.
- It's heavier than the Evo Mafate 2
The Mafate Speed 3 is built for speed and agility on challenging terrain. The Vibram rubber outsole has 5-millimeter lugs for excellent grip across a variety of terrain, and the dual-density midsole cushions landings while still responding firmly to toe-off. With a breathable mesh upper and protective molded thermoplastic overlays, your feet will be safe from debris and well supported.
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The Charboneau, Michael
Michael is a veteran freelance writer who has covered outdoor gear and activities for Runner's World and other publications; when he isn't working, he can be found biking, hiking, and running in the mountains near his current home in Los Angeles.