Hoka One One Review

This post is a comprehensive user review of the Hoka One One Mafate trail running shoe.

After hearing glowing comments and claims regarding these shoes, I figured the only way I could honestly and accurately assess their merits was to try them for myself. Yes, I relented and have actually run twice in a pair of Hoka One One Mafates for a total of 6 hours. (I’ve run and hiked in them alot more and in various conditons since this Post was first written. The post contains some updated material based on experiences as recent as Jan. 2012)

My first run was a 4 hour adventure up to Saddle Peak and back. It was probably not prudent to spend so long the first time in an unfamiliar shoe. But I’m not a prude. The second run was a few days later up to Mount Baldy and back. That was in just under 2 hours round trip. It was at faster pace than the first 4 hour sojourn. I ran in them hard, fast and long – no holding back.

I have now spent enough time in the Hokas experiencing all the varied and the rugged rocky style of terrain the Ridge Run throws at you to now make a few useful comments. Please remember, these are my opinions. You may have a much different experience with these shoes.

I am not a sponsored athlete. I am not paid to promote any particular piece of equipment. I am not attached to any one brand or model of shoe. I’m always open and looking for what works for me. With that in mind, I’m going to get detailed and analytical with my first hand experiences.

Heavier than Most

There is this universal mantra that Hoka One One shoes are light. The truth is they are significantly heavier than all of the shoes I have been using of late. I think the lightness myth stems from the fact they are low density and seem light for such a huge shoe. It is kind of like the elementary school riddle:

Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?

The Hokas are made out of low density material. In a pinch, they would probably work OK as flotation devices. They may be low density, but since they are so big, they weigh more than most modern trail shoes.

Weight Comparisons

Hoka One One Mafate 12.5oz

Hoka One One Mafate 12.5oz

The size 10 Hokas I have been using weigh 12.5oz. This is a single shoe weight. And in this case, it is the right shoe. The left shoe of the same pair actually weighs 12.0oz. Why the difference left to right. I do not know. Perhaps there is some inventory tag embedded in the right shoe. It is probably just manufacturing variation in the amount and or density of the foam between the left and right. A half once difference is probably not noticeable when running. But this is the largest variation left to right of any shoe I have ever weighed. So it does undermine my opinion on the quality control of the product. After only two runs, some of the stitching is also coming undone. This lack of quality does not reflect well on such an expensive shoe.

My advice – bring a scale to the shoe store and use it to find a light pair and a matched pair.

For comparison, here are the weights of the shoes I have been using lately. All are for a men’s size 10 – single shoe:

    • New Balance MT100 7.0oz
    • New Balance MT10 7.5oz
    • Nike Zoom Trail 9.6oz
    • Mizumo Wave Universe 4.0oz
NB MT100 7.0oz

NB MT100 7.0oz

    The New Balance MT100 and MT10 fall into the minimal camp. For me personally, they are too minimal for the rocky trails in the Bridger range. But I love them for smoother dirt trails or the road or track. The newer MT10 is even more minimal than the MT100, but the MT10 weighs a bit more because it has a heavier Vibram sole.
NB MT10 7.5oz

NB MT10 7.5oz

 The Nike Zoom Trail is my current rugged (think Ridge Run Rugged) trail shoe of choice. It is no longer in production, but you can still find them on eBay.

Nike Zoom Trail 9.6oz

Nike Zoom Trail 9.6oz

The Mizumo Wave Universe is a lightweight road or track racing flat that I have included in this list for comparison. It is less than one third the weight of the Hoka! If you haven’t run in a 4 once shoe on the track or a pave road lately, I recommend it. It is a total delight.

Mizuno Wave Universe 4.0oz

Mizuno Wave Universe 4.0oz

Save Weight by Removing the Insole

With a shoe as cushy as the Hokas, you really do not need insoles. To save a little weight (0.7oz) yank the insole and try them insole free.

Short Wide Fit

The curved up toe on the Hokas give them the impression of being smaller (shorter) than they actually are. I usually take a size 10 in most brands and I am using a size 10 Hoka. The size 9.5 felt too short. Unfortunately, the Hoka is a full volume shoe and fits a bit wide and sloppy in the forefoot. I’m wondering now if I could get by with a size 9.5, especially if I took out the insoles. So take your time when trying them on. Don’t be too quick to jump into a size that maybe larger than a size that actually works for you. Try them on without the insole.

They Gave Me Blisters

I think the thick soled nature of these shoes coupled with the sloppy fit (too wide) in forefoot causes my big toes to slide back and forth. This generated blisters on the bottom of my big toes. This slippage occurs on side hills, uneven footing and when doing quick cornering. My big toes are trying to hang on, but my toes slide to the outside causing friction blisters. When running on gentler smoother footing terrain my foot did not slide around as much.

Blisters usually mean a bad fit. Perhaps there is an incompatible between my foot and the Hoka. Or the sloppy fit makes them less suited for rugged terrain. These are the first blisters I have had in many years. Other reviewers complain of blisters with the Hokas, but in other foot locations. Such as around the ankle top from digging in or on the outside of the little toe.

Maximalist versus Minimalist

The Hoka is a Maximalist shoe and isolates you from feeling the terrain you are running on. Some people may like this as you don’t feel every little rock and pebble. It is analogous to the associative versus disassociative approaches to running. Associative means you are in a heightened state of awareness continuously monitoring how you are feeling and how fast you are going. Disassociative means you are running along, but your mind is elsewhere daydreaming, listening to music or thinking about what you are going write in your next blog post. For some, associative works best. For others, disassociative works best.

The Hoka is a disassociative running shoe. You do not get much feedback from the terrain. To illustrate this idea, I’ll describe my first experience driving a vehicle while wearing Hokas. As I started driving out of my driveway on the way to a run, my car was accelerating in a jerking fashion and also jerking when braking to slow down. I thought something was wrong with my vehicle. But it was the fact that I could not feel the pedals through the thick Hoka soles and was over accelerating and over braking. The Hokas block my feedback of how hard I was pressing on the pedals. It took a little while to adapt and adjust my driving technique.

Foot Protection at the Cost of Knee Pounding

The upside of a maximalist disassocative shoe like the Hoka is that it protects your feet especially as you pound down rocky terrain. The downside is that they open the door to really pounding the downhills increasing total dynamic forces. Those increased dynamic forces are not all absorbed in the compression of the Hoka cushy sole. Most force gets transferred up to your knees. A minimalist shoe forces you to light step and prance so you do not hurt your feet. So with the feedback (pain) of a minimalist shoe you are forced to decrease the downhill pounding yielding decreased dynamic forces. The less dynamic forces, the less your knees get trashed.

I’ve heard others make claims that the Hokas save your legs from pounding and soreness. That has not been my experience going downhill. Perhaps they are running easier than I or running along on level terrain – maybe. I can’t comment on that because I’ve only used them on trails in the Bridgers where there is very little level terrain and I hammered in them. You may be able to go downhill a bit faster and with less mental concentration with the Hokas, but your body gets more trashed.

Uphill Weakness

When going up steep uphills, I found myself wishing the Hoka’s sole was thinner and more flexible. My impression is that the thick wide sole just gets in the way on uphills.

In a previous blog post I recommended side stepping as an uphill technique to relieve pressure on your calves and Achilles. The Hoka’s thick sole makes side stepping much less attractive. I found that keeping your feet pointed uphill or a slight duck walk worked best with the Hokas for going uphill. My heels and Achilles tended to get sore after long uphill sections of the trail. The stiff board like nature of sole also caused my heels to lift out of the shoe. To prevent this, I had to lace them up tighter. And of course tight lacing causes instep and heel pain.

Downhill Strength

You can probably run steep rocky downhills faster in these shoes than any other shoe currently available. But as previously mentioned, this is at a significant cost to your knees, quads and even your spine.

Side Hill Awkwardness

The thick sole really gets in the way when negotiating a side hill. It cantilevers your foot away from the hill. This puts torque on you ankle and also cause your foot to slide in the shoe leading to blisters. A side hill is analogous to a friction pitch when rock climbing. You want a thin sole that allows your foot to nestle right up against the hill. The Hokas thick sole pushes you out away from the hill.

Ankle Twisters or Protectors?

I’ve heard other people say these shoes are very stable and protect your ankles from rolling over and twisting. These shoes are more stable than traditional thick high heeled running shoes. But you are not immune from rolling an ankle in these shoes. If I had not been wearing ankle braces, I suspect I would be out for the season already from these shoes. The jagged limestone rocks of the Bridger Mountains really test a shoe’s ankle roll stability. If you are running extremely fast down some of the trails in the Bridgers you risk rolling an ankle. And the thicker the sole, the more catastrophic the Ankle twist.

Neutral or Level

The Hoka’s heel height is only slightly higher than the ball of the foot. This is typical of minimalist thin soled shoes. The most common terminology for this is neutral. But neutral has some other meanings and a more descriptive term would be level. Your foot sits level in the Hokas as if you were standing barefoot. A level shoe makes it easier to run with a natural stride with your foot landing directly underneath you instead of in front of you (over striding).

Snow Shoes but Not Ice Shoes

The Hokas are the best glissading (descending soft summer snow slopes) shoe I have every used. The wide sole gives them unmatched flotation. The curved up toe is like a ski tip preventing auguring in when doing standing glissades. They are like little ski blades – remember blades (super short skis) from 10 – 15 years ago? The tread on the bottom of the shoe is also fairly smooth so they slide quite well. When going uphill on snowfields, the stiff sole has a good edge and they climb and kick steps pretty good as long as the snow is soft.

On hard frozen snow or ice, they are simply terrible. They are slippery. The thick sole also gets in the way. I’ve been terrified enough on steep icy trails using these buggers to know better next time. Bring your traction devices and make sure ahead of time that they will fit over the wide thick sole.

Traction

Hoka’s outer sole has only small lugs for traction. They are good sliders in snow so I suspect they are good sliders (poor traction) in mud. That is just an extrapolation as I have not tried them in mud.

One area where they exhibit unmatched traction abilities is on dry pebbly and lose rocky surfaces. Certain sections of the Ridge Run course turn into a loose pebbly mix of dirt and rocks. It is like running on ball bearings. For this particular surface, the Hoka’s soft sole mushes into this mix and grips better than any other shoe I have used. On the other hand, hard rubber soled shoes even ones with pronounced lugs tend to slide on these loose rocks. The Hoka’s gription gives a lot of confidence on these gravely surfaces.

Beach Shoes

Maybe there is a good reason that Hoka names their shoes after beaches (Mafate, Bondi, Stinson, … ).The oversized sole gives them surprisingly good flotation on soft surfaces such as sandy beaches. Next time you have a race on the beach, strap on a pair of Hokas to keep you from sinking in and working any harder than you need to.

I really enjoyed running and walking along the beach in the Hokas. It seems to be their natural element.

Hokas Barely Sink into Soft Sand Compared to Being Barefoot

Hokas Barely Sink into Soft Sand Compared to Being Barefoot

Summary

The Hokas are a maximalist shoe – and a welcome alternative to the abundance of minimalist shoes now available. There are many things I like about the Hokas, but just as many things I dislike about them. There is no perfect shoe.

Likes:

  • Cushiness
  • Great in Soft Snow
  • Fun on the Beach
  • Traction and Grip
  • Full Sole – No Arch Cutouts
  • Ability to Run Downhills Fast
  • Level Sole – Heel Height Same as Ball of Foot Height
  • Protects Toes when Stubbing a Toe on Rocks and Roots

Dislikes:

  • Sloppy Fit
  • Blister Prone
  • Lacing System
  • Heavy Weight
  • Curved Up Toe
  • Poor Quality Control
  • Terrible on Frozen Hard Snow or Ice
  • Stiff Sole at the Ball of the Foot
  • Uphill and Sidehill Awkwardness
  • Color and Cosmetics – They are Ugly

My Final Thoughts on the Mafate, Update 9-11-2011

The Mafate Just does not work for me. I may do some hiking in the them, but I will not use them for serious trail running. Of those sponsored by Hoka, there is a migration away from the Mafate to the Bondi B. I would not be surprised if the Mafate is modified by Hoka to make it more runable or eliminated from their line in the future.

Update 8-2012 – There is a new improved version of the Mafate. It has a slightly improved lacing system, a more agressive grippier outsole and a better fitting upper. I have only seen them – not tried them, but it looks like they have improved and corrected some of the things I do not like about them. 

Click here to see my review of the Bondi B.

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The Bridger Ridge Run blog is an information portal for all those seeking to learn more about the Bridger Ridge Run event held every second Saturday of August in Bozeman Montana. This blog contains notifications about important registration dates and deadlines, history of the event, training advice and other stories and entertaining tidbits of information about the Bridger Ridge Run.
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12 Responses to Hoka One One Review

  1. Paul A. says:

    I was checking around online to see about any people beside me were experiencing any strange blisters. Besides experiencing this uncomfortable strange phenomena myself I agree almost straight down the line with the pros & cons of this review. I am by know means an ultra runner I run approximately 8 or so miles a day and this issues has come up! The shoes give me blister between my toes. I have a new pair of Hoka’s and I am experiencing never before blisters between my big toe and adjoining toe..! On one foot it’s on the inside of the adjoining toe and on the other it is on the inside of my big toe where it touches the adjoining toe! Seems I am not alone here…? The toes-area on these shoes is exceptionally roomy vertically and roomy laterally. Feels like a running shoe with a work boot toe area. Like the review says Hoka is a full volume shoe and fits a bit wide and sloppy in the forefoot. I am not really sure what is happening? I can feel my foot squish down when I run and rebound expand when I un-weight my foot in my stride. Each time it expands it feels like my toes rub a little against each other as the low density sole expands at a slightly different speeds under the larger area of my big toe and the smaller area of the adjoining toe..? And this is not because they are tight together. These are the roomiest shoes I’ve ever had in the toe area! Something else is going on here and I see from checking around online I am not the only one having this problem. If it was not for this problem I would rave about them in many of the other comfort areas. Any input here from runners with the same experience on this issue..?

    • Thanks for the informative and detailed comment.

      Yes, I’ve gotten blisters with Hoka’s just as you describe. But they are not the only shoes where I have gotten blisters between toes. It seems softer, mushier, easily torqueing or twisting soled shoes are more prone to this.

      Some preventative measures are to use toe socks such as Injinji. Or a gook lubricant between the toes helps. I like Trameel.

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  3. Todd March says:

    I LOVE my Hoka One Ones. These shoes truly are a new high tech runners shoe!

    I am not a runner, but instead a middle aged guy with fussy feet—even so called “comfort” shoes often bother me after a few hours. I liked the lightweight comfort of running shoes and so use them as work shoes. the Hoka’s are incredible for comfort and light weight. I can go all day in these,and never have pain. In fact, the energy return given by these shoes makes me feel stronger and more ready to go!

    • Todd,

      You, being a lover of Hoka One Ones, be sure to check out their Bondi model as a work shoe. Depending on the type of work you do, there is a dress shoe version of the Bondi with a leather upper that is really a great work shoe and it looks good.

  4. I just finished a two day test of a pair of Mafates for a total of around 60km and 10 000ft of climbing. Day one was a flatter day comprised of mostly typical west coast technical singletrack – roots, rocks etc. Today was a run up non-technical into the alpine and then some running/hiking up exposed scree slopes and outcrops.
    After day one I was pretty impressed. I raced a 100k race last weekend and these shoes let me go easy on my recovering legs. I bombed down some baby-head sections and loved how fast I could run vs. with my more minimalist shoes. Climbing seemed good as well. Flat running was pretty cumbersome and crappy though. Still, I was seriously considering using these in my next 100miler in a few weeks.
    Today was a better test of the shoes abilities. The start of the run was 10km of runnable switchbacks and the shoes felt really good at an easy pace. Up into the talus slopes they seemed ok. The real problems were on the way down. Any contact with rocks ripped the soft foam on the sides of the soles. I love running down hill so I pushed the last 10km of downhill hard to test the mafates. The shoe is really sloppy in terms of fit – I ended up with blisters under my big toes and my toes kept punching the end of the shoes (this was the best size for me as a size larger was huge and a size smaller had my toes right at the end). Even after cranking the laces tight with my heel as far back as possible there was still way too much slop. The shoes stretched so much in the two days I used them that the eyelets were almost touching after repeated tightening. I also rolled over in the shoes a couple of times. I do admit that I ran faster downhill than I could have in any other pair of shoes and suffered no impact related strains but if my feet got beat up this bad after only 45min of downhill I can only imagine the carnage after 100 miles.
    After my run I felt around the inside of the toes (something I should have done before I bought them!) and found large, uncovered seams. Not good for such an expensive shoe.
    I think the Mafates would be good for non-technical easy running IF Hoka figured out a way to secure the upper so that it held the foot on to the sole of the shoe.
    So bottom line? These aren’t going to get much use other than for a couple runs after my next 100miler.

  5. Nice Review of the Hoka. Let me share a bit of my experience as it is a little different than yours. For someone who normally needs some sort of medial post in a show the Hoka is not heavy. I have tried many neutral trail runners with no success. The Hoka is the first neutral shoe I have been able to wear without the internal pain I normally get. I would like to relate this to the level of the hoka, but when I wore a friends 5 fingers I had the internal pain. To me the hoka could use a bit more volume, especially in the toe box height. I got some blisters on my two smallest toes. Removing the insoles fixed this and I have logged 150+ miles without the insoles. For me the Hokas are sliders, especially on slabs of wet granite (more than other shoes I have worn). I agree that you can really hammer down hill and they are overkill on climbs. I experience less fatigue in my legs and quicker recovery when I wear them. I have had no quality issues. Mine have around 200 miles on them. The tread on the balls of my feet are wore down some. This is a good sign as in less level trainers I tend to be more of a heal striker. The Hoka allow me to be a more natural forefoot striker.

    Personally I like the shoe, but he price is a little over the top. I am adding them to my chest of shoes and will certainly wear them on trails, but stick with my standard shoe for road runs. They make me a great long distance shoe. Like any shoe they will work for some and not for others.

    • Thanks for your comments.

      There will be other readers that will benefit from reading your words.

      Bottom line, for me, the Mafate is overkill for running, but perhaps suitable for slow jogging or walking.

      Most runners that use Hokas have switched to the Bondi B as a better shoe.

      Unfortunately, the Bondi B is fragile. I’ve already had to glue mine back together a few times. And after only 40 miles of rugged trails, they are pretty much shot.

      Maybe the new Hoka Stinson model will be a good alternative.

      I find the Hokas to be easy on the feet, but hard on the body.

      With an injured foot, the Hokas were the only shoes I could wear. Everything else was just too painful.

      But it does take more energy to run in the marshmallowy Hokas, than a conventional shoe.

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  7. frank says:

    Thanks for your blog. Its been helpful through the process of getting in shape for the BRR.

    I have wide feet, big arches and am a big guy and have been suffering a little plantar fasciitis which i attributed to to quickly shifting from a full support road shoe to a minimal trail shoe. I’ve been successfully stretching and training through it, but the next two weeks i really want to focus on miles not managing foot pain.

    After reading your review and considering the cons, I tried on and eventually ordered a pair of Hoka Ones and did some moderate miles on them. I ran in them today from Bridger to the M. For the first time in weeks, my foot with the Pantar’s felt no pain after a run with steep hills in it. The supported the heck out of my arch up, down and sideways. I felt unsteady on some of it, but getting used to running in them took a while. No way to describe it other than tell someone to run in them. The roll forward, and are not generally nimble, but seem super spongy and absorb some foot placement errors. An odd but interesting sensation.

    I too developed some blisters – one on each big toe on the top. I’m pretty sure these were mostly a function of the last mile when it is very steep down. These shoes stick amazingly well on down hill on the loose gravel. So much that the shoe stops, and my toes were repeatedly jammed into the front of the shoe (I’m not so nimble as many trail runners -this might be a problem specific to me). They also weren’t particularly nimble on the rocky, very uneven sections between Saddle and Baldy. in those areas, especially until i was used to it, I sort of felt like I was falling off the base all the time. However, on moderate downhills and the better section of trails, they were a joy to run in. Uphill i don’t move fast enough that the lack of nimbleness is a big concern.

    I think these are going to be great shoes for going up Sypes or Truman Gulch, but perhaps not the ultimate Ridge Shoe. But for now, give me toe pain and blister management over the plantar’s anyday. I’ll be making the game day decision on these for the BRR.

    • Thanks for your comments. Your experiences with the Hoka One One shoes may be helpful and of interest to other people making shoe decisions for the Ridge Run, so I will create a Blog Post out of your comments.

      I’m assuming you used the Mafate model of the Hoka One One. There is another Hoka One One model called the Bondi B that is a bit lighter and narrower that you may want to try. It does not get in the way as much as the Mafate. I did not get blisters from it, but it is smaller and narrower fitting. My toes jammed into the front going down the steep section above the M. It is intended as Hoka’s road shoe, but it grips nearly as good on the trail as the Mafate. I could not find any store in town that carried them, but I did find a cheap pair on eBay. I’ll post a more comprehensive review of the Bondi B’s later this week.

  8. This article is very good, I like it very much.

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