Born in the French Alps in 2009, Hoka was known as Hoka One One (pronounced O-nay O-nay) meaning "fly over the earth" in Maori, before simplifying its name to simply Hoka in late 2021. The brand started as an alternative to the barefoot movement and has now become one of the fastest growing players in the market.
When looking at a Hoka shoe, the first thing that usually comes to mind is "wow, these are bulky". But don't judge a book by its cover, no matter how oversized. Behind this engorged silhouette lies a groundbreaking concept designed to suit all terrains and distances, from road to trail and ultras.
The fastest growing brand in running
Anyone new to running seeing Hoka's ubiquity may be surprised to learn that Hoka shoes have only been on runners' feet for just over 13 years. At first, people were a bit sceptical about them as the trend at the time was sprinting in the opposite direction: minimal shoes such as the Vibram FiveFingers and Nike Frees. Following the publication of the best seller 'Born to Run' by Christopher McDougall, everyone wanted to jump on the barefoot train.
Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, the Hoka co-founders, took a real chance when they launched their first models. As they were designed for ultra runners, they had time to keep innovating and build momentum before reaching the road running market. The first Bondi and Clifton were designed based on a simple yet challenging concept: make running feel easier and help with muscle fatigue. They liked to blast the downhills in the French Alps and wanted something that would help them do that better and faster. Yes, the crazy amount of cushioning in their shoes is there to help you run faster too. Ask Jim Walmsley who finished 5th at UTMB in 2017 wearing the iconic Speedgoats!
They will rock you
Hoka's technology is made of three elements combined: a Meta-Rocker to help with propulsion, an extremely cushioned yet light midsole for comfort and a sturdy frame alongside the shoe to help with stability. Their technology completely changed the game at the time and still does to this day. No one questions them and their benefits anymore, especially when it comes to how easier they make running feel over long distances and help with recovery.
For some, they will be the best shoes ever made and for others it might feel too unconventional and high-stacked. That is how running shoes work and the reason why we stock such a wide range of brands at Run4It. Your feet are your feet and not every shoe out there can be a match.
Hokas are not the widest and too much cushioning can be a bad thing for some people because of the biomechanics around the effect of cushioning and lower limb stiffness. In simple terms, as your brain monitors everything from your stride to your environment, it will register the surface you are on and adjust the muscle activity accordingly. Either to allow more flexion in the joints to get more cushioning or stiffen them if you are on softer ground and don't need to be as careful with impacts.
With Hoka, you can get some mixed signals as the stack-height of the shoes – usually about 30mm to 35mm – makes it difficult to really feel the change in stiffness on the limbs. However, they remain at a low drop of 4-5mm, meaning that the shoes will decrease the external knee joint movement while increasing the ankle joint movement. This is to help you keep as natural a stride as possible.
If you are interested in knowing more about this topic, we highly recommend you check out Brad Beer's 'The Physical Performance Show: Simon Bartold & Dr Paul Griffin: ‘Top 5 Running Shoe Innovations of the last 20yrs’'. Published a year ago, he shares a conversation with two renowned sports podiatrists about the brands who changed running in the last two decades, including Hoka.
How does Hoka compare to other brands?
So, Hoka is best known for making maximalist running shoes, which have a very thick sole and high stack height because there’s a lot of cushioning between the foot and the ground. But what about some of the other brands, like the extremely popular Brooks? Well, they offer more traditional running shoes with distinct differences in the level of support and pronation control they provide. Let's have a look at some of their most iconic models and compare the most recent versions:
Clifton 9 vs Ghost 15
If you are looking for a cushioned daily mileage shoe, these are two great options. Both sit in our Float Experience category, because they are designed to feel best at slow to steady paces. The Ghost feels notably softer underfoot than the nicely cushioned Clifton, which (contrary to the Ghost) has a slight firmness to the foam that compliments the rocker-shaped midsole to create more forward momentum. The Ghost 15 is not going to give you the same rocker-like motion but will deliver a soft and smooth ride.
If you have broader feet and need extra width, both the Ghost 15 and the Clifton 9 are available in a wide fitting options.
Arahi 6 vs Adrenaline GTS 22
This 'match' is clearly in favour of the Brooks, simply because the Adrenaline GTS 22 is the most widely sold stability shoe in the world. With its holistic GuideRails system acting both between the knee and the ankle to minimise the amount of rotation, it is the perfect option for a lot of runners needing just about the right amount of extra stability over long distances.
As for the Arahi 6, it will work best for people needing extra stability on each side due to its more dynamic support. If you are looking for protection, it should provide a tad more than the Adrenaline and the Meta-Rocker will obviously be a big plus as it will reduce the amount of work that the Achilles tendon and calf muscles have to do.
Speedgoat 5 vs Cascadia 16
The clash of the titans! On the left, a model originally designed with the help of Scott Jurek, winner of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run for seven years in a row and the Spartathlon. On the right, a model designed with the help of and named after the legend Karl 'Speedgoat' Meltzer, who has won more 100-mile races than anyone else in the world. Apart from this little bit of trivia, both shoes are fantastic but differ slightly.
The Cascadia 16 is one of the best options for runners who want to cover either long distances off-road or run over a wide variety of surfaces. It is what we like to call a door-to-trail shoe, it is cushioned – using the same DNA Loft v2 foam featured in the Ghost 15 – and durable. It also has a variety of great features: Ballistic Rock Shield to protect against sharp objects, great grip on wet surfaces and even gaiter attachment points for the most adventurous out there.
Now for the Speedgoat. It's rare to find someone who doesn't rate this shoe. From the name, to the design and the colours, this shoe draws a lot of attention. It's so versatile, it could easily pass on as a hybrid option thanks to the quality of the Vibram MegaGrip outsole. It is also highly cushioned and lightweight despite its bulky appearance. If you don't mind not being able to feel the gravel and rocks under your feet, this is a brilliant trail shoe option.