Nice article, Hoka shoes have caught my attention lately.
I would love some @rkuchinsky insights here. Took my kids to the foot doctor to get insoles (because who really needed that hundreds of $$$ anyway) and the doc and staff all wearing Hoka.
I’m not a fan. I’m usually barefoot and I wear zero drop shoes with no support.
The only reason for insoles, is if your feet are physically deformed or injured.
Day to day I run in barefoot shoes with no issues. If I run a marathon/half marathon, I will wear something with more cushioning, but they are still zero drop (Newton running shoes).
I have used other running shoes and picked up injuries. The worst were ON, which I see have become very popular now.
My four year old has worn vivobarefoot since birth
Wow- paranoid documentary-style marketing! That’s amazing.
And very effective.
I browsed the Hoka selection and I’ve developed a taste for exotic modern fisherman sandals -
The hiking shoes are pretty wild- and “engineered for a smooth ride.”
On the SHOESPIRACY front- it’s interesting that Vibram has gotten in on both sides- from big brands, work boots, Hoka, repairable/replaceable soles… to famously pioneering the ‘barefoot’ style with the toe shoes.
And… truth music intensifies the VivoBarefoot team are heirs to BIG SHOE- Clarks! I have some Clarks and I’m connecting the dots… The famously soft and jelly-like crepe rubber soles are an obvious forerunner to the barefoot approach. They’ve been playing the long game the whole time. Take the shoe pill!
@SHIELDS … those sandals…
wow, the heel rake on that boot is a straight line… wonder if that is the last or if they are using an unfolded card-stock insert in the heel with an unsprung pattern that is rebounding out to make a straight stove pipe? vs these Sorel’s I have you can see the difference. There is a subtle “s” curve the profile of the heel rake, and the top of the collar is slightly inbound from the widest point of the ball of the heel.
That’s interesting- I had another look and found these-
Which appear to have a negative heel rake! They look like a breeze to slip on.
Their website doesn’t include many images of people wearing specific shoes, but they do talk about this (sort of) in their technology page:
It’s vague and marketing-y but maybe there’s more going on than meets the eye.
A few brands have that style of heel @SHIELDS , definitely looks easy to slip on. I would worry about heel slippage when wearing. That can lead to minor irritation or blisters from prolonged wearing… but I have not tested them myself and I’d assume a company like Hoka that is known for comfort would have worked through that.
Personally, it’s not my jam, I don’t want the back of my jeans riding on top of that tab sticking out.
As a runner and running shoe designer, I have a lot to say about HOKA… Where do I start.
Surely the brand has been quite commercially successful as of late, owing to lots of money being pumped into it by Deckers Corp. (owners of UGG and TEVA among others).
It was started by a runner/triathlete who brought out maximal shoes in an era where the market was going more minimal.
They seem to be pushing pretty hard into the lifestyle/fashion market, Lots of weird collabs and extra ugly styles for the fashion crowd (Moncler, Engineered Garments, OC, etc.). They also seem to be putting lots of effort into the fitfluencer (fit girl fashion influencer) direction going after all the kids and moms wearing white HOKAs and high socks and leggings to Starbucks.
In running, sponsorship of races for ultras (UTMB) and trail and Ironman. Aside from one marathoner (Stephanie Bruce), I can’t think of any runners they sponsor thought they do still have a well known training team (NAZ Elite).
For running, in my opinion they’ve been pretty slow to evolve. All the shoes pretty much look the same. Even as someone familiar with the market, I have no idea what model is what or what the difference is. They were one of the first to bring out a carbon plated racer (Carbon X) after Nike, but the consensus was it pretty much sucked and all the other brands have far surpassed them in racer performance. Only next year are they finally launching a non-EVA foam super shoe when most other brands have been in the market for several years with one (TPEE, Pebax, Super Critical TPU, etc.).
I do see a lot of runners running in them, but it’s often new runners. I guess they are comfy and light. I got one pair free and they are OK, but not in my go to rotation.
PS. The heel collar design is purely cosmetic. Anything above the top heel line at about 82mm at heel back tab above the insole board doesn’t matter.
I kind of feel like, in a weird way, Nike saved Hoka and its chunky-monkey midsole aesthetic with the success of Vaporfly/Alphafly. At the time Hoka, and all of its subsequent copycats, had probably been around long enough that maximalist runners were ready to start fading away as a fad. But when Nike tweaked the formula enough to start getting real race results it reinvigorated the maximal idea as a performance solution rather than simply a comfort one.
Interesting angle, Jeff. I’m not so sure though how much HOKA rode the VF/AF wave. Sure, I guess stack height was similar, but I’ve always seen HOKA as the antithesis of sleek and fast and high tech which is what Nike brought to the game with new foams + CF plates + minimal barely there uppers where HOKA was/is pretty much just EVA + RB + engineered knit uppers.
It is interesting now in the era of very popular super stack shoes (ones over the IAAF limit of 40mm stack height for competition) that HOKA still is playing catch up.
Compare Adidas Prime X (49.5mm heel), NB SC Trainer (47mm), Asics Superblast (45mm).
to HOKA Bondi (36mm)
I don’t disagree there. My thought was that Hoka has been synonymous with maximalist runners since their inception and that the maximalist trend in general has oddly stuck around longer than others in the past. I really do attribute its “stickiness” to the very public professional success of the VF/AF. A longer-than-usual lifespan of the maximalist trend has allowed Hoka to just keep chuggin’ along despite a lack of innovation or tech.
Or is it the ugly dad/orthopedic shoe trend?
I think the popularity of shoes like this speaks to the immediate foot feel when you try on a shoe with this much cushioning. They feel “comfy” and “springy” when you try them on in the store. I would assume most people that buy these are just walking the dog, getting groceries, etc, like many performance running shoes they have crossed over… zero drop shoes don’t have the same out of the box comfort to a non-runner with is one of the reasons why I think they never crossed over.
Layer overtop fashion trends with baggier pant legs coming being more accepted again (though how many 20 somethings are buying these remains to be seen, but it effects the larger gestalt of the chunkier shoe).
For me personally when I wear shoes with this kind of heal height I feel a little unstable, like I’m going to bounce right off the sidewalk, but I’m used to jogging in the lower heal height of Nike Free’s.
Step in comfort maybe be some of the appeal of HOKA.
Same for Adidas Boost I think. Feels comfy when you step in and walk around but its like running in a brick. Not really for running.
Hoka has a kid’s line coming, surely will trigger next-level bouncing.
ICYMI, Hoka also just recently dropped their first real real super shoe. First peba midsole and viable Nike competitor from the sounds of the positive reviews I’ve seen. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.
RK what’s your process for trying out a running shoes, especially a ‘super shoe’? Would you need to purchase a pair and have a week’s worth of runs to make an assessment, or can you do that without having to purchase?
Yes, you really need to run in a pair of shoes to “test” it. For any shoe (but particularly a super shoe or higher performance shoe), I would at least do 1 long run 13mi+, one shorter interval session (say 5x1mi), and one longer tempo (speed) run (8mi at marathon pace). The specific distances and paces not as important as putting it through different kinds of intensity and duration. All that above could be over a week or so.
Ideally it would be a longer term test also to see how the shoe wears in.