Founded in 2009 by French trail runners Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, Hoka One One began just as the minimalist shoe movement was reaching its peak. In spite (or because) of that trend, Hoka shoes offered the antithesis to those barefoot models: maximalist cushioning that cradled runners’ feet. Inspired by the smooth ride of mountain bikes and powder skis, Mermoud and Diard wanted to bring a similar “floating feel” to running. They initially made prototypes themselves and worked with a chemist at a Chinese shoe company to develop an entirely new kind of EVA foam that was soft and surprisingly lightweight—characteristics that are now hallmarks of Hoka kicks.
Early releases like the Mafate, Bondi, and Stinson ATR proved that the Hoka design philosophy had merit. These shoes provided enough cushioning to soften rough terrain and return energy, but weren’t so heavy that they weighed down runners. The shoes caught on, and Hoka has expanded rapidly ever since.
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Mermoud and Diard developed their shoes around a few basic principles: adding more cushioning, using light materials, and creating a wide rocker midsole to preserve momentum and create a smoother ride. The shoes were initially marketed to trail runners, but the brand now makes road shoes and even track spikes. While some companies have forsaken EVA foam entirely in favor of newer formulations, Hoka has stuck with its proprietary EVA-rubber blend. Our results from the RW Shoe Lab confirm that it’s more elastic (for better support and energy return) and more durable than traditional EVA. Though Hoka’s foam has gone by different names, including RMAT and R-Bound, its underlying chemistry is essentially the same.
Other key Hoka design traits include the Meta-Rocker and the Active Foot Frame, both of which have been in nearly all of the company’s shoes since its founding. The Meta-Rocker is a combination of a low heel-toe drop and a rounded sole shape that complements your natural stride and helps propel you forward. The Active Foot Frame cradles the foot deeper inside the shoe’s midsole for more support as you run. Hoka likens the design to sitting in the secure, low bucket seat of a race car.
A Few New Ingredients
In addition to those basic shoe design elements, Hoka has rolled out other new tech in recent years. ProFly is a dual-density cushioning system that combines soft foam in the heel with firmer foam in the forefoot, and it debuted on the Tracer and Clayton shoes in 2016. Last Fall, Hoka pushed boundaries again when it released the goofy-looking TenNine. With its massive heel, this shoe is designed specifically for sprinting down steep hills—the extra foam soaks up shock and the broad sole provides exceptional stability.
How We Tested
Our team of more than 300 wear testers includes runners of all ages and speeds living both locally near our PA headquarters and across the U.S. Between our testers and Runner’s World staff, we’ve run in every single pair of Hokas below. We’ve consulted data from mechanical tests performed at our RW Shoe Lab for additional insight on the stability of Hoka’s J-Frame support system, the softness of Profly foam, and the energy return of rocker-style midsoles. Keep scrolling for full reviews of the best road and trail options in Hoka’s current lineup.
—BEST FOR TECHNICAL TRAILS—
Apr 30, 2021
A relatively plush shoe designed to help you power over rough, technical trails, the latest version of the Mafate maintains everything that was great about the original while improving the comfort and fit. That’s mostly thanks to the new lightweight, durable upper, which comes with a wider toe box. The rubberized foam midsole provides good cushioning in the heel and forefoot, and the Vibram Megagrip outsole offers plenty of bite in the mud and on rocky trails, too.
The Bondi is Hoka’s most cushioned road shoe, with a layer of EVA foam anchoring a downright beefy midsole. The latest version of the Bondi keeps the formula that has won this shoe such a devoted following: maximum cushioning for an ultra-plush ride. Like with previous versions, an open mesh upper increases breathability, and the Meta-Rocker sole helps you roll through your stride. Plus, the seventh iteration comes with a new memory foam collar for a better fit and feel around the ankle.
—BEST FOR TEMPO RUNS—
The Mach falls on the lighter and speedier end of Hoka’s lineup, and both our testers and RW staff raved about this latest version. It earned an Editors’ Choice Award, a spot on our best cushioned shoes list, and high praise from our runner-in-chief Jeff Dengate, who jotted in his notes that the 4 is “the best Mach yet, and perhaps the best current Hoka.” Like its predecessor, this version remains a great training companion to race-oriented models like the Carbon X and Rocket X. But now it also feels fast enough to toe the start line completely on its own. The main highlights: A dual-density Profly midsole and early-stage Meta-Rocker shape create a plush, propulsive ride, and a new upper offers a more secure fit. For everything from speedwork to longer-distance efforts, the Mach 4 is a strong contender.
—BEST DAILY TRAINER—
The original Clifton is legendary among Hoka fans and marked a turning point for the brand—it proved that a shoe could provide maximum cushion without being clunky. The seventh version builds on the model’s reputation as a solid daily trainer and recovery shoe. The Clifton’s EVA foam and Meta-Rocker sole create a soft but responsive ride, and its roomy toe box delivers a comfortable fit. It’s also slightly lighter than the previous Clifton, but testers did complain that the thick upper led to overheating feet.
—BEST FOR RECOVERY DAYS—
Although not quite as plush as the Bondi, the Elevon is a great option for neutral runners looking for a pillowy recovery shoe. The latest version has a deeper Active Foot Frame for more support as you run, and it comes with a revised upper featuring a thin, asymmetrical tongue that wraps the midfoot for a more secure fit. Opinions on the upper were divided: Some testers loved the feel, while others found it too constricting. Hoka also added a new crystal rubber outsole that should alleviate the main complaint about the previous iteration—below-average traction on wet surfaces.
Like the Gaviota, the Arahi combines stability features with cushioning, although it ups the ante with a more responsive ride at a lower weight. The fifth generation comes with a stripped-down mesh upper that keeps the Arahi 4’s leaner feel and exceptional breathability, but now locks down a securer rear-foot fit. In the midsole, the EVA J-frame creates a slightly firmer heel (compared to Hoka’s neutral models) to stabilize your landing before the rocker-style sole rolls you through your stride onto softer forefoot cushioning. The varied midsole densities help the Arahi absorb shock especially well, while keeping it light and responsive enough for overpronators during faster efforts.
An homage to ultrarunner Karl Meltzer who bears the Speedgoat nickname, this is Hoka’s flagship trail shoe, ideal for long jaunts off pavement. The latest iteration sports a more breathable mesh upper and comes with a wider toe box for a more comfortable fit and improved stability. Hoka also swapped in a new midsole foam for a more responsive feel underfoot, and the lugged Vibram Megagrip outsole eats up rough terrain. It’s also available in waterproof GTX, fast-hiker, and EVO versions, the latter with a lightweight, durable Matryx upper. But, if you’re looking for something even lighter, check out the Torrent 2.
—BEST FOR RACING—
Carbon X 2
The original Carbon X was a difficult shoe to classify. It worked well for runners who land at midfoot, but heel strikers were out of luck. The latest version addresses that issue with a protruding heel (similar to the one on the TenNine), which adds stability and cushioning for runners who land on the backs of their feet. The Profly midsole cushions impact forces, a carbon-fiber plate and Meta-Rocker sole encourage snappy toe-offs, and a revised upper creates a snug fit. With this iteration, the Carbon X has really come into its own as an accessible endurance racer and training shoe.
The Rincon debuted in July 2019 as a comfy, speed-oriented shoe with an attractive price point. The latest version sticks closely to what made the original so impressive—the full-compression EVA midsole creates a soft, springy ride that’s ideal for everything from training miles to running a marathon. The only true update is the upper, with engineered mesh replacing single-layered mesh, and a few overlays on the sides for a race-ready aesthetic. Our testers said it made for a secure but nonrestrictive fit through all paces.