Hoka OneOne – the evolution continues

Hoka OneOne in 2013 is very much the same as Hoka OneOne in 2010 – an innovative and super comfortable running shoe.

But, clearly, a couple of things have changed. No longer is Hoka OneOne a brand with one, big, bright yellow Hulk foot of a shoe that is visible from outer space. In fact, the latest shoes from Hoka – the Rapa Nui and the Kailua – look almost normal. But they’re not – not entirely.

One of the most common questions we get at running and triathlon expos that we go to and demo runs that we put on from time to time is, ‘what’s the difference between the models?’. It’s not the most exciting sounding question, it’s definitely not as intriguing as, ‘what makes these different?’ (I mean, have you seen our shoes?) but it is a great question to answer. Answering the simple question, ‘what’s the difference between the models?’ is probably the easiest way to explain the evolution of Hoka OneOne, and therefore to understand just where the new Rapa Nui and Kailua fit in.

Current models, a comparison

Current models, a comparison

So here, briefly, is the evolution of the Hoka range.

1. The Mafate (Mah-fah-tay). While the Mafate has evolved since its first incarnation, it is still an oversized all-terrain beast of a thing. This is the shoe first made famous by Karl Meltzer when he ran the Pony Express Trail in 2010 – 3400km in 40 days, that’s a double-marathon every day for over a month. He’s also currently got a record total of 35 wins over the 100-mile distance. That’s some seriously good running.

In the beginning… Mafate v1.0. The current Mafate, v3.0, is a very different looking beast, made using secret Navy Seal silent killer stealth foam. Seriously. Come at me bro.

The principle design features of the Mafate that worked so well for Karl are still in every single Hoka. The EVA (foam) that makes up the midsole (the main bit of the shoe that’s under your foot) is thicker than normal, exceptionally light for its size, comes up around the sides of your foot to hold it nice and stable and respond to how you move, and there is a rocker (a nice rolling angle) at the front and back to guide your stride and hopefully improve your running efficiency.

Although as light as a feather from Big Bird (and the same colour), the Mafate was (and still is) built like a tank. A number of runners were impressed by the way the shoes worked for Karl, but wanted something more svelte and road-friendly.

2. The Bondi (Bon-die, although a number of American runners call it the Bon-dee). With the basic principles of the Mafate in mind, Hoka’s first road shoe came without

Pretty colours were a 2012 innovation. Women’s Bondi pictured.

the giant lugs of the trail shoe, with just a little less foam because marathoners wouldn’t need to absorb quite so many sharp rock edges on their adventures, and with a different flexion pattern underfoot to better work with road use – a much more ‘front-back-front-back’ motion than the challenging ‘every which way’ of trail running.

 The upper (the top part of the shoe, the materials that wrap over your foot) was also an innovation, giving runners a roomy toebox that was structured to hold its shape and keep air around the forefoot. Early materials were heavier than the super-breathable honeycomb mesh now in use, just as other refinements have led to the extremely comfortable Bondi of today.

Interestingly, trail runners really took to the new road shoe, sacrificing some traction for all-day running comfort. Anecdotally, a number of runners credited the Bondi from Hoka OneOne for being able to run farther and longer, helping ease their plantar fasciitis, shin splints, calf strains, and even getting them back into running.

 Of course, runners also asked for a grippier sole for trails.

3. The Stinson. The Stinson was originally shaped almost the same as the Bondi, but with a sticky tread on the outsole carved in a number of small patterns shaped like an animal’s paw. Although a very chunky and aesthetically embattled shoe, using heavier upper materials and a denser foam than the Bondi, the Stinson worked brilliantly to grip anything in the wet. But it soon made way for something much better.

The Stinson original. Had a certain something….. I did actually love running in this shoe most of the time – it did hold a lot of water in the upper in the wet though, which was ironic because its wet trail handling was also fantastic. Mine relocated to New Zealand after a 212km training week last year.

 4. Stinson Evo

Every evolution of Hoka’s model range has been a breakthrough. The Mafate proved that oversized trailrunning shoes could work. The Bondi took Hoka to an even wider running audience, and proved that the unique design elements of Hoka OneOne could work for greater comfort and less fatigue across a range of running surfaces, including the unkindest of all – road.

Stinson Evo descending from running heaven.

With a breakout front cover on American Trailrunner Magazine in early 2012 (did you know that over 5 million Americans identify themselves as trailrunners?), the Stinson Evo went gangbusters. The shoe was cut to a more traditional footshape (last – the notional foot that a shoe is cut to fit is called ‘the last’) than the Mafate or Bondi, it had the famous Hoka cushioning but a nice array of grippy teeth on the outsole, a bit less foam in the toe for a more aggressive rocker, an advanced version of the flexion design used in the Bondi, and a generally sharper cut than seen on previous Hoka OneOne.

While the Bondi and Mafate had been receiving growing attention and acceptance, the Stinson Evo trail model exploded on the back of 6 months publicity from early demo tests, positive reviews, and a brilliant cover photo. Hoka OneOne now had a rock star on their hands.

And of course, runners now asked for a road version.

5. Stinson Tarmac

Take a Stinson Evo, shave the teeth off it – bam! Road shoe. Since that first model, the Stinson Tarmac has now been upgraded. Following the major buyout of Hoka OneOne by US shoe giant Deckers, production has moved to a factory where Hoka is more of a priority than it could be in its previous location. The Stinson Tarmac V2.0 has better ankle cushioning, cleaner lines, and a better cut toebox than its first version – a model which had a lot of promise and brought a lot of runners, triathletes, and even casual wearers joy and comfort, but needed some refinement.

L to R new women's Tarmac, Stinson midsole, Stinson Trail 2012 women's & men's/unisex Flag

L to R new men’s & women’s Tarmac, Stinson midsole, Stinson Trail 2012 women’s & men’s/unisex Flag

AND NOW

6. Kailua & Rapa Nui, in both Trail and Tarmac models.

Almost every runner has at some time or other when buying shoes said, “I don’t care about looks/colours/fashion”. We respect that. We also know it’s only true for about 15% of you. So, what if you could get yourself an exciting new running shoe, that’s as comfortable as a Hoka OneOne, but without looking so much bigger than every other shoe in your running closet?

The Stinson Tarmac and Stinson Evo and their midsole on the left, the Kailua Tarmac, Rapa Nui Trail, and their midsole on the right. Notice how much cushioning these new, lower profile models still offer.

The Stinson Tarmac and Stinson Evo and their midsole on the left, the Kailua Tarmac, Rapa Nui Trail, and their midsole on the right. Notice how much cushioning these new, lower profile models still offer.

As you can see from the picture comparing the midsole of a supercushioned Stinson Evo to one of the new Rapa Nui Tarmacs (lower profile men’s road shoe), the sleeker, stylish new models from Hoka are almost as cushioned as the originals. But as well as taking a half centimetre of cushioning from under your foot, the design has also seen Hoka’s unique sidewall fit shaved down by about a half centimetre.

Here you can clearly see the 'bucket seat' design of the Hoka midsole, a unique feature which comes up around the wearer's heel and midfoot to create a responsive and stable fit. Only 5mm less cushioning underfoot on the new sleeker Kailua and Rapa Nui.

Here you can clearly see the ‘bucket seat’ design of the Hoka midsole, a unique feature which comes up around the wearer’s heel and midfoot to create a responsive and stable fit. Only 5mm less cushioning underfoot on the new sleeker Kailua and Rapa Nui.

So although the new men’s (Rapa Nui) and Kailua (women’s) look leaner and meaner, and are tuned for an even higher level of responsive performance on road and trail, they still offer Hoka’s unique superlight protective cushioning, smarter design with a focus on more efficient movement, and a level of comfort we think is unmatched by most modern running shoes.

L to R Kailua Tarmac, Kailua/Rapa Nui midsole, Rapa Nui Tarmac, Rapa Nui Trail

L to R Kailua Tarmac, Kailua/Rapa Nui midsole, Rapa Nui Tarmac, Rapa Nui Trail

These new models have in fact brought Hoka to a whole new running market in Europe. While many runners already in Hoka have been buying these models over the past few months that they have been available, the Europeans have seen a massive uptake of the Rapa Nui and Kailua by runners who had previously either sat on or even behind ‘the fence’. Finding the combination of comfort and performance they were seeking, in a shoe that is aesthetically much more consistent with what they want to run in, this new wave of Hoka-wearers has seen European sales of the brand expand massively.

Of course some would say that runners are not that vain, and that the increase in sales is entirely because the new trail shoes have such an effective and grippy outsole, just perfect for technical trailrunning at speed. And they might be right.

Nikki Wynd in her Kailua Trails, on her way to a 20:20 100-miler, 2nd fastest women’s time ever in the history of Australia’s oldest miler, the Glasshouse 100.

Either way, there’s plenty of running to be done this summer in Sydney on road and trail. Already a number of runners are taking a new look at Hoka OneOne in Australia, even as seasoned Hoka wearers get blown away by the new gear. Team Hoka’s Jane Trumper finished in the top 2% of the field in a box fresh pair of Kailua Trail at a recent 100km event with 2,500 entrants, while Nikki Wynd has already used hers to set a course record and win Australia’s oldest 100-miler on debut.

7. The Conquest. We’ll tell you more about those in January…

For now, go and try out the lower profile super-comfy Kailua or Rapa Nui. There’s a good chance it’s already at your local running specialty store. Women’s models are already on shelves, and the men’s models arrive September 20. See http://www.HokaOneOne.com.au for stockists.

Karl Meltzer, the man with more 100-mile wins than anyone else in history (35 at latest count) now loves Rapa Nui Trail as his favourite race day shoe.

7 Responses to Hoka OneOne – the evolution continues

  1. When do I get a Hoka model that’s wide enough in the forefoot?

    • hokaau says:

      Hi Ray – it would really depend which models you have already tried. Maybe 5% of people we see trying on the shoes are too wide in the forefoot for the Bondi but they will generally then fit the Stinson models, which allow the foot to spread even more because of their less structured upper. Out of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people that I’ve seen over the past couple of years, I have only seen a couple who were genuinely too wide for any of the range. I used to have some 4Es on the rack myself. 🙂

  2. I have been wearing Hokas since they became available in the USA in 2011 and love them and will never wear any other shoe again. This is one of the most detailed and accurate articles i have seen relating to Hokas. I have owned 8 pairs and agree with everything said about the 4 models i am familiar with. I have the Mafate 3, the new Bondi and the Evo. The other shoe is the original Stinson XT or Combo which i bought 5 pairs of (glad i did because you quit making them) that i don’t completely agree with this article. The shoe is far better than you mentioned and even with the same Stinson name they are really a completely different shoe than the Evo. I liked the Mafate type midsole without the grippy outsole they have and the wide uncomplicated upper and they are so light and a great road shoe too. Not to mention, super comfortable. Most people who had them also thought they were the best Hoka yet. Glad i still have 1 pair left in the box . Is there any chance this fantastic shoe will ever come back even without the Stinson name?

    • hokaau says:

      Thanks for that feedback. I don’t think the designers will be revisiting the Combo, but I do know what you mean about loving the way it felt. I rocked mine in New Zealand, Colorado, and Utah before they just got too beaten up to carry on. Don’t fret, though. With the new materials and variety of designs currently being made for the 2014 range, you’ll definitely find a Hoka that takes you to a happy place. Or many happy places 🙂

  3. Pingback: Hoka Stinson EVO – Ironman OR Trail runners | bigoutdoorguy.com

  4. Nana says:

    has anyone reviewed the conquest?

    • hokaau says:

      Hi Hannah, we rely on runners to give us feedback on pre-release models and the word from our testers is that the Conquest has an extremely comfortable upper, that it feels firmer than a Bondi to start with but softens up from wear, that it will work beautifully for people who collapse inward in other models, and that even though it is a little heavier than Bondi, it feels very light because of the springy feeling it gives the wearer. The lab testing also indicates that the new material R-MAT used in the midsole is exceptionally durable.

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