HOKA ONE ONE is a brand on fire. As more and more people consider the brand, we are often asked “What are the differences between the models?” To help understand the model line-up, we will look at the shoes from the stand point of stack height (underfoot padding), weight, and meta-rocker design (er, how the shoe transitions from back to front). Additionally, we will address the issue of pronation support.
Take one look at a HOKA shoe and the first thing you notice is how thick the shoe is. HOKA shoes are generally 30% to 100% thicker than traditional running shoes and fall into two general height categories: Ultra Size and Over Size.
Ultra Size: These are the most padded HOKA models. The Ultra in Ultra Size means these shoes are best for the long haul. You know, like Ultra Marathons. 50K, 100K, 100 Miles, I just can’t stop running. But they are also fine for shorter runs as well. (Ultra Size models: Bondi 4, Valor, Stinson 3, Constant, Mafate 4, Mafate Speed, Stinson 3 ATR).
Over Size: While these shoes are thicker than traditional shoes, they are not as thick as the Ultra Size shoes. The shoes still deliver the HOKA experience of a very compliant ride, it’s just not as amplified as the Ultra Size shoes. So if you’re not an extremist, but want something new, go with Over Size. (Over Size models: Conquest 2, Vanquish, Clifton 2, Odyssey, Huaka, Challenger ATR).
“With the shoes being so thick, aren’t they heavy?” Not really. The Clifton 2 is quite light, which it should be, as it is a performance shoe. It is similar in weight to the adidas adizero Boston 5, Brooks Connect 4 and Mizuno Wave Sayonara 3. The Bondi 4 is an ounce lighter than the ASICS Cumulus 17 and is comparable in weight to the Brooks Ghost 8. The Stinson 3 ATR is a bit heavy, but similar in weight to the Saucony Xodus 5 and ASICS Trabuco 3 Neutral. As with all running shoes, lighter shoes tend to be better for faster running and are generally less durable than heavier shoes. So when looking at the HOKA line-up, be sure to view the weight of the shoe.
“So the shoes are thicker, but not necessarily heavier than other shoes. What’s the ride like?” Because the shoes are thick, there tends to be a fair amount of give with each foot strike. Yet, there is also a good amount of rebound. Additionally, to deliver a smooth ride, HOKA has crafted their ride-experience through the use of a rocker design. The rounded heel and forefoot allow the shoes to easily roll forward and perform exceptionally well for different foot strikes. This rocker also allows for great uphill or downhill running. Furthermore, the shoes are built with a specific pivot-like point (transition zone) within the rocker to deliver a go-fast or more sedate feel.
Early Stage Rocker: The transition zone is placed before where your metatarsal heads meet the shoe and encourages a quicker roll to the forefoot upon foot strike. (Models with Early Stage Rockers: Bondi 4, Valor, Conquest 2, Vanquish, Clifton 2, Odyssey, Huaka, Mafate Speed, Challenger ATR).
Late Stage Rocker: The transition zone is placed closer to the toes and delivers a more easy-going feel. (Models with Late Stage Rockers: Stinson 3, Constant, Mafate 4, Stinson 3 ATR).
“HOKA shoes have a ton of padding, but what about shoes for runners who over-pronate?” With the exception of the Constant (a support shoe), it can be said all other HOKA models are suitable for a neutral or supinated foot motion, but also suffice for mild to moderate over-pronators. “Say what?”
Here’s something of note: HOKA shoes are not as thick as they appear. Yes, they are thicker than traditional shoes, but they are also built with an Active Foot Frame. This means the foam walls of the midsole wrap up above (around) where the foot sits. This cradle produces a very stable platform. Combine this design with low heel-toe offsets (6mm or less) and excess pronation tends to be minimized (while we do not have scientific evidence of low heel-toe offsets minimizing pronation problems, there is a feeling around here, derived from practical experience, that this may be true). So if you have mild to moderate over-pronation tendencies, most HOKA shoes will probably be fine. If you are neutral, saddle up, and if your pronation tendencies are fairly severe, the Constant is likely the best choice.
HOKA ONE ONE shoes are all about providing a ride in which the shoe has a lot of give underfoot. Yet, there are differences in the overall experience delivered by each shoe.
Shoes that deliver a super-maximal, relaxed experience are the: Stinson 3 (road), Stinson 3 ATR (trail), Mafate 4 (trail), and Constant (road). These shoes are the best option for really long runs, recovery runs, or daily running where the emphasis is on simply accumulating miles in a durable shoe.
Shoes that deliver a super-maximal, energized experience are the: Bondi 4 (road), Valor (road), and Mafete Speed (trail). These shoes are best the best option for running really long and when you want a faster-feeling shoe with good durability.
Shoes that deliver a maximal, relaxed experience currently are not in the line-up.
Shoes that deliver a maximal, energized experience for daily running: Conquest 2 (road) and Vanquish (road). These shoes are the best option when you want a shoe that performs well at a variety of paces and you also want good durability.
Shoes that deliver a maximal, energized experience for fast running: Clifton 2 (road), Odyssey (road), Huaka (road), Challenger ATR (Trail). These shoes are the best option when you want light shoes for uptempo running and you place a premium on weight, while durability is not as important to you.