Hoka hasn’t been around too long, but the company has made huge waves in the running world since launch. Famed for its maximalist shoes, at first the disconcertingly large pillows of cushioning raised eyebrows among runners, but now that style of extended stack height has proven so popular that many other brands are following in Hoka’s footsteps.
Hoka was launched in 2009 by two French former Salomon employees, Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, who wanted to build a shoe that would make them run downhill fast. They landed on the idea of boosting cushioning to never-before-seen levels – the original prototypes feature such a high stack they could almost be described as platform shoes. But the creators realised they’d landed on something unique and potentially groundbreaking, and so went forward with their idea for super-cushioned, maximalist shoes with oversized midsoles that remained stable over all types of terrain. Hoka released its first shoe, the Mafate, designed for ultra-runners in 2010, and its first road shoe, the Bondi, in 2011.
The brand is now famous for this maximalist USP – trainers with a focus on plenty of cushioning and a pillowy soft ride. The trainers are all designed in Santa Barbara, California, and the stalwarts of its range include the Mach, Clifton and Rincon. Hoka also makes a range of much-admired trail shoes, with the Speedgoat leading the charge through the mountains. As well as its highly rated range, Hoka often collaborates with other brands on shoes – recent team-ups include the limited-edition Mafate Speed 2 with Moncler, and a capsule collection with US streetwear brand Bodega.
Many Hoka fans can be described as 'diehard', and would say once you’ve run in a Hoka shoe you can never go back to regular shoes. But it's worth saying that they don't suit every type of runner, in particular if you have wider feet or prefer more minimalist or barefoot-style trainers.
Below are some of the Hoka shoes Runner’s World have tested over the years and currently rates highly:
Weight 283g (M), 237g (W)
The Kawana is a 2022 release that's designed to bridge the gap between running and working out. The shoe performs well as an all-rounder when running – the new CWEMA foam and extended tail fin make it stable and comfortable on the roads, with a firmer feel underfoot than some other Hoka shoes. As with other trainers in this new breed, it’s also aimed at those who want a stable shoe in which to work out – as a result, it offers a wide base that remains stable when lifting weights.
But it really comes into its own when running – the late-stage meta-rocker produces a noticeable boost to propulsion, and it performs well at all levels of distance, helping you turn over over steady miles from easy 3K runs to longer half-marathons and beyond. They feature a similar extended Swallowtail heel to the Clifton Edge (although not as pronounced), so if that’s not your thing you’re best avoiding these.
Weight 235g (M), 195g (W)
A limited-edition release, the Supersonic is a kind of souped-up version of the hugely popular Mach 4. It’s designed for speed training rather than racing – so tempo runs, intervals, fartlek sessions, and as such uses a new foam in the midsole called Profly+. This is in the upper part of the dual-density layer, and it produces a firmer, more responsive ride than the Mach 4. As a result, it might not feel as comfortable on longer runs. It weighs 1g more than the Mach 4 too, which seems counter-intuitive for a supposedly faster shoe, but this weight might, in part, come from the over-sized pull-tab on the heel. For runners who enjoy a firmer, more stable-feeling when running without too much cushioning for speedwork, these are for you.
Weight 264g (M), 207g (W)
The Arahi 6 is designed to halt inward rolling of the foot on landing, so if you pronate this could be a good shoe for you. They offer superior stability via the J-Frame midsole support, and are suitable for varied types of steady-paced training runs. The shoes are designed with comfort in mind – the plush tongue is thicker and more padded than the Arahi 5, and so remains comfortable over longer distances with no rubbing from the laces. They also perform well on shorter speed sessions, although they're not as light as speed-dedicated shoes such as the Mach Supersonic. They provide a luxuriously comfortable ride that feels slightly firmer than some other shoes in the range, such as the Mach 4 or Clifton Edge, but stability and foot comfort is key, meaning you can put in workhorse miles and they will keep your feet snug and safe.
Weight 291g (M), 242g (W)
Slip on the new Speedgoats and like all Hoka shoes they feel snug and almost slipper-like on your feet. Start running and you’ll notice it’s a soft ride, nothing that will blow your mind, just superbly cushioned. But there are two areas where the Speedgoats come alive on your feet: ascents and descents. When climbing, you notice the lightness, the grip, the ability to move, well, like a goat up steep climbs easier than you ever thought possible. Then descending: not only do they lessen the impact on your tired joints but they also give you the confidence to place your foot wherever it lands – be it loose gravel, small pebbles or sizable rocks – and you know it’ll stay in place.
For the Speedgoat 5, grip and traction are improved via the Vibram with Megagrip outsole, and cushioning is given a boost, and, like previous versions, they’re durable – you’ll easily get 1,000 miles out of these. The Speedgoat 5 sprinkles magic on your trail run and elevates the experience higher.
Weight 253g (M), 206g (W)
SHOP - WOMEN'S
A shoe that will please heel-strikers – the Clifton Edge took a different tack from the Clifton 7 thanks to the extended heel section designed to aid those who land heel-first, in particular when running downhill. As a result, forefoot-strikers might find these slightly impede their run, or simply not notice it. It’s designed to tick over long-distance miles rather than boost your speed over shorter distances – one tester said: ‘I’m not the fastest runner and I get achy knees after some runs, but I felt I could really go for it in these.’
Weight 210g (unisex)
The Rocket won over Runner’s World testers across the board, and as such was the first shoe to score maximum marks in the group-testing process. It’s built for speed, with a slim carbon-fibre plate and exceedingly lightweight design. Testers’ comments included: ‘The rocker and carbon plate combine to create a springy, snappy ground contact that feels like it’s giving you a propulsive push every time your foot hits the floor’ and ‘They also feel quite stable – not like you’re perched on the high stack height of a Nike Vaporfly, and this gives a feeling of confidence to really push the pace’.
Weight 210g (M), 176g (W)
Super-cushioned and incredibly lightweight, it’s no surprise that the Rincon is perennially popular with runners. It suits long, steady runs at a slower pace, but also provides a kick to your shorter, faster runs.
‘The Rincon really comes alive when you up the pace,’ said one of our testers. ‘The midsole delivers great bounce and energy return, and then there’s the rocker, which kicks in to aid midfoot-to-toe transition, smoothing foot strike and adding pop to take-off.’ It remains lightweight despite the huge wedge of cushioning thanks to the improved, and more breathable, vented-mesh upper. The other great thing about this shoe is the price – it’s repeatedly bagged our ‘Best Value’ award. It’s no surprise then that we describe the Rincon 3 as ‘an absolute winner’.
Weight 222g (M), 188g (W)
Hoka’s Carbon X 3 features a full-length carbon-fibre plate, a rocker and trademark sizable midsole, making it appear for all intents and purposes like it’s built for speed. But our testers found that wasn’t necessarily the case: there was a lack of spring that has become associated with other carbon-plated shoes. What it produced instead was an enduring ride, one that may not take you along at speed but will see you through a steady, slower pace over more miles, where the distance ticks by with little effort. The downsides were around the upper: some testers claimed it was not tight enough and resulted in a lack of stability around tight corners. It’s also not as light as some of its competitors, but despite that it will serve those looking for comfort, if not speed, over long distance.
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