Average Weight: 300g (UK 8) / 265g (UK 5)
Recommended for: Road and hard packed trail.
Outsole: Hoka Grip – 4mm Lugs
Midsole: Soft EVA and lots of it. 26mm under the forefoot and 32mm under the heel giving a 6mm differential from heel to toe
Upper: synthetic PU with polyester mesh
Lacing: Quick fit lacing with a cool pouch pocket at the top of the tongue to tuck laces in
When we first saw the Hoka running shoes we were a little taken a back. At a time when most other companies were coming up with leaner, lighter minimalist offerings, here were some enthusiastic French adventure runners going in the opposite direction and producing a shoe with an extra centimetre of cushioning! The two main protagonists were Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud. However, they seemed to be totally passionate about what they were doing and several ultra runners of note were also raving about them, (admit although being given some pairs to trial) I felt I had to at least try them out.
My original Hokas were the Mafate, which I really enjoyed. This has been upgraded now (2012) by the Stinson Evo. I have been using a pair of these since the turn of the year on Edinburgh routes like the Seven Hills loop (in its entirety or parts of), on the trails on the north west of Edinburgh like the Cammo and Dalmeny Estates. Have also used them in the Pentlands and they are absolutely fine when on the many hard packed trails, but lack the grip of a out an out fell shoe for “exploring off piste”. They are still predominantly best on hard packed trails or a mix of road and trails, but will deal with patches of mild mushy trails fine. All comments I made below on a 7 hills loop still hold good.
- Cushioning and lots of it
- Slightly deeper and a more aggressive outsole than the Mafate
- Despite its voluminous cushioning ,it has only a 6mm differential from heel to toe so compares well in this area to several more overt minimal low profile shoes with less cushioning
- Improved more breathable mesh than the Mafate
- Nice wide and deep toe box
- Slightly unstable when cambering across a hillside
The Seven Hills of Edinburgh loop in the Hokas
My early outings in the Hoka’s were short road runs of between 5k and 5 miles to and from work. The very first run I felt as if I were bouncing along, almost to the point that there was more upward motion than forward motion. It was a really strange sensation but at the same time quite fun!
I was also experimenting on running midfoot, heel strike and forefoot at different times to get an overall feel for the huge bundle of EVA under your feet. On the roads it felt more natural to strike midfoot. On these short runs I felt most at home in them when running a bit faster.
The Stinson is designed as a multi-terrain shoe and has become a favourite with the distance and trail runners so it seemed totally natural to take them out for a trundle of the classic Edinburgh Seven Hills loop. For those not familiar with this loop it is a multi-terrain loop of the city of Edinburgh, a much loved training route amongst Edinburgh’s distance runners, in part or in its 14 mile entirety. On one of the midsummer weekends there is the 7 hills race.
From my home at Silverknowes I jogged up to Corstrophine Hill to join the loop. The first little muddy patch encountered on the hill was a little slippy in the Hoka soles, but on the hard packed trails, both up and down hill, they were absolutely fine.
You naturally seem to go up on your toes on uphill stretches. It coped well with the wet slabs of rock at the top of the hill. Other runners have raved about the downhill benefits of the Hokas and I have to say going downhill was a totally different experience to usual. The steep downhill path by the zoo and on down Kaimes Road was as always exhilarating. Whereas in a lighter shoe, maybe partly due to my age or lack of decent downhill running technique, you occasionally feel jarring, especially in the lower back, with the incredible cushioning of the Hokas this wasn’t apparent at all on any of the descents of the whole 7 hills loop. You literally do seem to be flying down the hill.
On the road section across to Craiglockhart I took a slight detour onto the Water of Leith to link up with the canal and onto Craiglockhart Sports Centre. Although slightly longer it avoided the road section where the traffic can be congested near a well known supermarket.
Partly because of the recent rain and partly as I was looking at getting a good distance in I opted to take the long way round the hill rather than crawl on all fours up the steep slope at the back of the sports centre. At the top of Craiglockhart Hill, which unlike Corstorphine has no trees at the summit, I was rewarded with splendid panoramic views of the city from the Pentlands to the Firth of Forth. On the hard packed trail off the hill, again I felt as if I was bouncing off the hill (echoes of Tigger!) and spontaneously smiling.
The short but steep slopes of Braidburn Park, that precedes the long climb up to the Braids, were the only part where the height of these shoes felt a little unstable. The camber across the steep grassy hillside with no discernable trail, on the descent and ascent to take the shortest line through the park, felt like I was a bit wobbly at the ankles. On the run up to the top of the Braids, the relatively new layer of gravel chips which I would usually be aware under my feet, felt like I was running on the Road , so the extra wedge of EVA cushioning was certainly doing the job.
Down over the Braids Golf Course and Hoka’s slogan of “Time to Fly” was again in evidence as I descended down and across the road into the hermitage glen. I opted to take the longer route rather than sliding on my backside down the fun shorter route. Up over Blackford and again the descent ¬-seemed relatively effortless and kind to my back as I hit the road section over to Holyrood Park. It took a few hundred metres to find my road legs and settle into a rhythm but Pollok Halls soon appeared and with the first signs of fatigue appearing as I entered the park, I drew a deep breath to begin the ascent of Arthurs Seat. The cushioning and reinforced overlays at the forefoot made the steps kind to my feet. But no amount of soft cushioning can hide the fact that this, the longest climb of the route, is seriously hard work. Bouncing up the last rocky path to the summit cairn, I took the opportunity to survey the whole vista of the city’s 7 hills, something on race day you don’t usually have the luxury of doing.
Down the trail to the steps into Hunter’s Bog and it was a really fun descent. After hitting Carlton Hill, it just remained to weave through the midweek lunchtime shoppers around Waverly Station before trundling up to the Castle Esplanade, the day’s seventh summit on my route.
Down through Princes Gardens to the West End before another wee test for the Hoka’s, the last few road miles back to Silverknowes. I was interested to find out, as other uses have reported, if the extra cushioning really does help, in some wonderful way, delay muscle fatigue. To be honest, I had had a hectic few days (and long hours) at work, and I was fairly “goosed “by now anyway, so maybe hard to give a totally objective opinion. All I can honestly say is that on this outing my legs felt no worse than on similar outings, but I was totally conscious of the extra bounce the extra EVA was giving me. It really made the last few miles “fun” rather than the sometimes sluggish plod you can drift into, on these runs when you know all the hard work has been done and your mind is more concerned with post race snacks! In all honesty, I need a couple more long runs in them to really asses this.
So what do I think about the Hokas? As someone who has feet, that over the years have got on with almost all shoes except serious motion control models I feel I could run many miles in these over the course of a few months without any problems. Fabulous cushioning obviously, with really good impact protection. The wide base once accustomed too, made me feel very stable except when cambering across steep slopes. Would someone who generally needs some pronation support be ok in these? Well that would depend on the individual obviously and if you wear something that works well for you, you wouldn’t want to be changing too much all at once. Like any change in shoes or training for that matter, one would have to feel your way with them but my feeling is anyone fine in neutral or mild support shoes would be ok with these as long as they adhered to the usual wisdom of starting with short runs and building up gradually. As for fit, they certainly held my feet very well in the mid-foot and the generous toe box allowed my toes to spread well and feel well accommodated. Hoka advise buying at least a half size bigger on most of their shoes and possibly a full size bigger on the mafate if you are doing long(over 2 hour runs) regularly and I would go along with that. As far as grip off road goes, they seemed fine on hard packed trails and uneven trails with a firm base, not so good on muddy patches or wet grassy slopes. The Stinson like the Mafate, its predecessor is in my opinion a decent, very well cushioned, distance, multi terrain shoe, and definitely not a low profile fell shoe. They are also just such fun to run in and worth checking them out for that alone!
The design and technical features of Hoka Running shoes can be read here but this review is about the reality of running in Hoka shoes.