Physical Therapists Using Clinical Analysis To Discuss The Art And Science Behind Running and The Stuff We Put On Our Feet

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Welcome to our buyers guide for the footwear company, Hoka! Hoka has been one of the fastest growing footwear companies globally and is known for their high stacked, rockered shoes. In this guide we will discuss some of the beginnings of the brand, their proprietary technologies, as well as their current shoe lineup. 

Guide to Hoka Running

Written by Senior Contributor David Salas and Content Manager Bach Pham

About Hoka

Founded in 2009, HOKA disrupted the footwear industry with the polar opposite of what was popular. In 2009, the shoes that were primarily flying off of the shelves were what we call minimalist shoes, meaning that they are low to the ground, normally flexible, and provide a lot of ground feel. Co-Founders Jean Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud, formally associated with Salomon, aimed to make a shoe that was more capable of running downhill in trails. The eventual creation was a shoe that had quite a bit of foam, a rockered midsole, and a good chunk of rubber. 

When HOKA came to the United States, it gained traction with those wanting a little more cushion under their feet. Many found it comfortable for running, standing, or walking for long periods of time. Eventually, HOKA was acquired by Deckers in 2012 for 1.1 Million US Dollars. Deckers is the corporation behind UGG, HOKA, Sanuk, Teva, and Koolaburra. Since the acquisition HOKA has climbed to be a 1 billion dollar company.

Some of Hoka's top athletes include long distance runners Aliphine Tuliamuk (Olympian, marathon), Luis Grijalva, Stephanie Bruce, and Kellyn Taylor. Hoka is particularly strong in the ultramarathon, with Jim Walmsley (Western States 3x champion, UTMB winner 2023) and Mike Wardian being a couple of their stars in the distance.

Technology to Know

Metarocker. All Hoka shoes feature either an early-stage or late-stage rocker to help facilitate forward guidance. Typically, Hoka's faster shoes feature the early stage rocker while the training models feature a later stage rocker.

ProFly and ProFly+. Profly is a midsole (foam) compound that they use to make some of their performance shoes more responsive. The foam uses a softer top layer and a snappier bottom layer of foam to give a cushioned but responsive feel to it. This can be seen in Mach, Tecton X, Rocket X, Torrent, Carbon X, and Mafate Series. This can be used with a variety of material components drived at a similar mission. 

HOKA will use the suffix of X on a shoes name to designate whether or not it is plated. In most cases this would imply that shoe uses a carbon plate. Most of the plated designs do favor the high performance side, but is not completely exlusive to these lines. Shoes that use this would include the Rocket X, Carbon X, Tecton X, Mach X, and Transport X. 

J-Frame is a support system that HOKA integrates into their stability model of the Arahi. The J-Frame is essentially a firmer casing of foam integrated with the regular foam under your foot in the midsole. The feel is a supportive wrap around the outside of your heel and down the midline of your foot. 

Similar to J-Frame, this is a support measure. H-Frame can be seen in the HOKA Stinson 7 ATR and the HOKA Gaviota. The H-Frame is a firmer foam imbedded within the midsole that you cannot see. It essentially fills with an "H" shape or nearly an "8" shape, with the borders of the letter/number being the foam sections and the open sections being cutouts. This is designed with the goal of giving your guidance forward and some rigidity on the inside and outside of your foot.

Inherently Stable Design. Most current Hoka running shoes feature the combination of a wider base and sidewalls that help keep the foot centered on the platform. The rocker platform also helps with forward guidance.

Breaking Down the Hoka Running Line
(Click on the shoe to find our full review)

Hoka Road Shoes

Clifton 9 (neutral daily trainer) - Hoka's staple training model for everyday runs. The model comes in many iterations whether you need a weather ready upper (GTX), a casual model for non-running uses, and more
Rincon 3 (lightweight daily trainer) - A very light training model for runners who prioritize lightness over durability
Bondi 8 (max cushion trainer) - Hoka's most cushioned road shoe, and a popular model for standing and walking as well
Arahi 7 (stability trainer) - A guidance-based trainer using the unique J-Frame system
Gaviota 5 (stable neutral max cushion trainer) - A max cushioned stability option that uses a H-Frame system for support
Bondi X (plated max cushion trainer) - A plated version of the Bondi 8 designed for longer distance training and for some racing
Transport X (mixed use trainer) - It's both a daily walking shoe and trainer in one. Featuring a carbon plate as well to support the shoe. For those who want a mix of urban styling with both walking and running comfort.

Hoka Trail Shoes
Zinal 2 (lightweight trail trainer) - A very lightweight, lower to the ground trail trainer that provides nimble movement
Torrent 3 (traditional trail runner) - For those who want a sturdy, traditional trail shoe from the brand for any distance
Speedgoat 5 (max cushion trail runner) - A very cushioned, comfortable, and protective trail favorite for Hoka
Challenger ATR 7 (road-to-trail trainer)  - The Challenger features milder lugs underfoot which allows for on and offroad running in a fairly light package
Stinson 7 (super max cushion road-to-trail trainer) - A crossover 40+ mm max cushion shoe that is built for trails, but can do road as well
Tecton X 2 (trail racing shoe) - A carbon plated trail racer that's light and fast

Hoka Performance Shoes

Mach 6 (performance trainer) - A light, cushioned, and versatile trainer for just about any workout
Mach X (long distance performance trainer) - A plated performance trainer ideal for long run workouts
Cielo Road (super lightweight non-plated racing shoe) - A very light PEBA-based midsole that offers a non-plated racing option for runners
Cielo X1 (carbon plated training/racing option) - A versatile, highly cushioned rockered shoe that has a lot of versatility
Rocket X 2 (carbon plated racing shoe) - Hoka's premier racing shoe for anything from 5k to marathon
Carbon X 2 (distance racing shoe) - A marathon and beyond oriented racing shoe that is great for steady, uptempo running

Science Feature: Variable Responses to Super Shoes Across Speeds and Individuals
By Matt Klein

We frequently write (and talk) about how "shoes are tools." Different types of shoes will work for different people and our goal here is help teach people what may or may not work for them. Racing/Super shoes are a unique type of tool meant for racing and running faster. Not everyone needs these to race, but those seeking higher performances are often drawn to these. The typical super shoe is far different from the racing shoes of the past, which were minimal, low to the ground, as light as possible and often highly flexible. The lower cushioning of these shoes often scared people away. However, super racing shoes have brought a whole of fast highly cushioned racing shoes that have attracted a far greater number of runners. Like all shoes, some may work for people while others may not. 

The Hoka Rocket X 2 has a unique design with an aggressive spooned plate and a ride that is softer in the heel and firmer in the forefoot. This creates an even lower drop feel that initially one feels like they have to climb out of until the midsole breaks in. The slightly firmer ride makes it better for shorter distances if the average runner is interested, but it is quite stiff and aggressive. This is a shoe that everyone could wear, but may not be appropriate for everyone.

Our Hoka Running Shoe Recommendations to Try

Best Daily Trainer: Clifton 9
The Hoka Clifton is the brand's most popular training model, and for good reason. The shoe provides a max cushion and lightweight feel. The upper in this version is more accommodating and less narrow through the midfoot and the latest midsole is updated to give it some more resilience. A good model for both beginners and long time runners alike.

Best Stability Model: Gaviota 5

The Hoka Gaviota 5 is the brand's stability max cushion training shoe. The latest model is a major update from top-to-bottom, starting with a new H-Frame design that features a dual-layer midsole. The H-Frame sits on the top layer, forming an figure-8/letter H-ish shape through the shoe to create stability through both sides. The midsole features a softer CMEVA midsole than past models to create a highly comfortable cruising ride thanks to Hoka's signature early rocker design.

Best Performance Trainer: Mach 6
This is a great model for runners who want a combination of light, fast, and cushioned. The latest version adds some outsole to provide more durability than previous models.

Best Max Cushion Trail Shoe: Stinson 7
The HOKA Stinson 7 is a maximum cushioned training shoe for logging big mileage. The shoe is unique in that it is designed specifically for all terrain use, including road and trail. The shoe uses an H-frame foam insert to help keep things centered and cushioned. The shoe also uses multi-directional lugs and a secure upper to help with off-roading. The shoe is a classic high-stack rockered shoe from the company with some trail and stability specific elements.

Best Racing Shoe
: Cielo X1

The HOKA Cielo X1 is a new super shoe racing model for HOKA. The shoe features a maximum legal stack height design with an aggressive rocker profile. The shoe is designed to race from 10k-marathon distances on the road. This also has a tight lockdown, wider plate, and wider base for some mild guidance measures. 

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Thanks for reading!

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