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In 2009, the running world changed. Hoka introduced us to a whole new running shoe genre - maximum cushioning shoes. It's a style that has been copied by some of the big brands who now have maximum cushioning models. We bring you the best Hoka One One shoes of 2020.
Designed for everyday road running running, the HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 6 offers a silky smooth ride and a high level of protection delivered at a relatively low weight. We rated this as one of the best neutral cushioned shoes on the market - check out our Best Shoes of 2020 guide here.
Back to its best, the Rincon provides you with a soft, maximal cushioned landing in a lightweight package. A shoe that would be great for faster training and race days.
Maximal cushioning and off-road traction make this a great long-distance off-road cruiser, it's the Range Rover for running
The Arahi 4 continues as Hoka's stability shoe. While it is no out and out motion control shoe, it offers decent levels of stability coupled with Hoka's super cushioned ride.
Carbon plate meets max cushioning for the masses. Needs a little time to adapt to the ride but Hoka fans will love it
You might have heard of minimalist shoes, well Hoka One One have created a whole new genre of running shoes termed, “maximalist”!
Hoka is the youngest of the big players, originating in France in 2009. It was started by a couple of ex Salomon guys, Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, who set about designing a shoe that you could run really fast downhill in. They lived in the mountains of France and enjoyed and worked on problems in cycling and ski sports predominantly.
Mermoud and Diard began developing their own foam. It needed to deliver a huge amount of cushioning but be really light weight. The settled on a blend of traditional EVA mixed with rubber which as light but really durable. It was also good at returning energy so it felt great underfoot, the durability meant that it would last a fair amount of time its lightweight size meant it could soak up all that was underneath it, i.e. rocky trails and stony paths.
The first shoe was launched in 2010. It was a trail shoe aimed at the long distance ulta mountain guys and it was called the Mafate.
The shoe was a major success and word quickly spread among this close-knit community, but Hoka knew that to make the bucks it needed to expand for the masses and that meant releaseing a shoe for the road. The Bondi was born.
The midsole shape of the shoe was also unusual; Hoka call it the Meta-Rocker design. All Hoka shoes have a low heel to toe drop, typically only 4mm (the average shoe is 8-10mm). This low heel drop combined with the slightly curved shape of the midsole meant that the shoe rolled from landing, through the gait cycle really naturally.
The massive midsole actually wraps up the side of the shoe so your foot sits within that midsole. This acts exactly like Saucony’s GuideRails system works, with the outside wrap of the shoe keeping your foot aligned and supported. Hoka call it their Active Foot Frame, shown in the diagram above.
For support and guidance, Hoka designed a J-shape of tougher foam on the outsole but inserted into the softer midsole material; Hoka call it their J-Frame. This helps guide the foot without the addition of denser and heavier foams used by other brands. The wide stance of the shoes also helps to stabilise the foot.
Hoka pretty much got it right from day 1. They quickly found a ready-made market in adventure and ultra-distance runners, the word of mouth spread through those communities and further afield. Those runners loved that fact that they could run for miles in comfort and be protected by the big midsole underneath them.
This unique design gave them their unique selling point. Whilst most runner stuck to the traditional shaped shoe, and still do, Hoka’s were adopted by runners in their thousands and the brand has massively grown in popularity since its inception. Tellingly, so has the maximum nature of the market. Other brands are now introducing one or two maximum cushioning models to their line so not to miss out on the opportunity and obviously growing trend.
Hoka’s range has grown over the years to incorporate more slimmed down shoes for faster running and racing. In 2016 they launched a tweak to the midsole; a development to improve the foam responsiveness which they named ProFly. It combines their regular softer foam at the rear of the midsole with a firmer but snappier foam in the forefoot. This gave the shoes a faster feel and can be found in a number of models such as the Hoka Elevon 2, Cavu 3, the Mach 3 and the Carbon Rocket.
More recently, Hoka have entered the world carbon plated shoes. Since of adding a carbon plate to the midsole Zoom Vaporfly Elite in 2019, Nike changed the landscape for top end racing shoes. That shoe was used in Eliud Kipchoge’s successful sub 2 hour marathon attempt and since then, most of the brands have jumped on the Carbon bandwagon. Hoka have launched two: the Hoka Carbon Rocket, a lightweight shoe that would certainly be used for racing in, and the Hoka Carbon X, a more usable lightweight training shoe for the masses and great to run a marathon in.
Hoka One One are still pondering on this downhill running problem though. They recently launched the Hoka TenNine model with its crazy extended rear midsole pad. It’s a wide shoe and coupled with this rear pad makes running downhill quite a stable affair. They’re not cheap at $250 a pair but most brands have that one crazy model, and this is Hokas.
Hoka’s are all about the midsole unit and although we’ve talked extensively about it, we’d better mention the upper technology. It sounds crazy to say that they are typically ‘just’ an engineered mesh but we’ve grown so used to the world of engineering fabric. The usual high-stress areas have a tighter knit for strength and other areas, typically around the forefoot will have an open mesh to aid breathability. The same goes for the Hokas. Many feature some very nice 3-D print TPU overlays to add support and strength in key areas and some of the off-road models come with a Gore-Tex option which would be perfect for winter running and those long, damp adventures. We particularly like the Hoka Speedgoat 4 which comes in a goretex version.
We rate some of the Hoka shoes highly, enough to put them in our Best Shoes of 2020 feature.
Hoka have been a breath of fresh air since 2009. Bringing something new to the running market is a rare thing and Hoka One One have managed just that. The running community can thank them for bringing us the maximal shoe phenomenon.
Oh, one last thing - Hoka One One is pronounced Hoka Oh-nay Oh-nay and means 'Fly across the Earth' in the native Maori language. Hokas are making us fly - Great job Hoka!