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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.