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Monday, June 23, 2014

Initial Review: Hoka One One Huaka- It's Here... a Fast, Flexible, Light, Responsive Hoka

The Hoka One One Huaka is an 8.9 oz (252 grams) men's US 9, 7.5 oz (213 grams) women US 8 hybrid road and trail racer trainer. Huaka breaks the convention that Hoka cushion means a super cushy, even mushy shoe that is hard to run fast. The Huaka has a 2mm heel to toe drop with a height of 25mm in the forefoot and 27mm at the heel. Retail $150. (Disclosure: I purchased these shoes at retail.)

Hoka went hard and alone against the "minimal" run shoe grain with oversized super cushy midsoles. As the dust settled on the barefoot, near barefoot craze Hoka had created a growing market for super cushioned shoes and now lighter and a bit less "maximal" shoes. I previewed the Summer 2014 Hokas here and while the 7.9 oz Clifton road shoe also launching now looked tempting I really wanted to try the new and supposedly more responsive RMAT midsole material of the Huaka.
Hoka One One Huaka-Men
Hoka One One Huaka-Women's

RMAT Midsole
The Huaka is light, flexible, and with the new RMAT midsole responsive and fast. Since the very first Hokas I have been waiting for this shoe having tried pretty much every model. The Rapa Nui reviewed here got close but at speed didn't quite have the pop due to their softness to make me want to race in them on the road and felt somewhat unstable in the forefoot on downhill trails. Hoka is also launching the Clifton a somewhat lighter shoe for roads with a more traditional CMEVA midsole. I wanted to try the RMAT as I heard it was firmer and more responsive.

Lightly lugged but with wide ground contact, Huaka can find a home on both the roads and most trails. The harder rubber wear patches are in my view perfectly placed with the outsole appearing to have 3 different densities of rubber with the gray the densest. The cutouts lighten the shoe and improve flexibility.

What is not lost is the characteristic superb  Hoka cushioning now expressed in the somewhat firmer and bouncier new RMAT foam.

A more "natural" running shoe, in that it has a 2mm heel to toe drop vs. more conventional 10mm plus it did not, as pretty much any shoe of less than 4mm drop does for me, have that the "heel" was missing  feeling when I got tired.

I ran Mt Washington Road Race, all uphill Saturday, receiving the Huaka while at the race and ran the BAA 10K in the Huaka the next day in Boston, right out of the box. They were superb. No PR on tired legs but felt smooth striding from heel to toe and responsive at speed. The smoothness was somewhat similar to the Pearl Izumi N1 Trail, but with far more cushion in the forefoot in particular. Probably not my first choice for a 5K or 10K, where I often go for the adidas adios boost with its soft heel and firm forefoot but certainly a great option for a half or full marathon, particularly if the course is hilly. I like a firm stable forefoot and while the Huaka has 25mm of foam in the forefoot, far more than my adios boost with their 13mm, I did not find them either unstable or slow responding. Today I took them out for a recovery run, no soreness from the prior day's race even though I was 15 so seconds slower than my usual pace. I ended up faster than the usual post race plod. Quite remarkable.

How would I characterize the cushion? Somewhere between the bouncy energetic adidas boost material and the firm yet a bit harsh New Balance Fresh Foam. This tells me, and top trail runners such as Sage Canaday, 3d at Mount Washington in his Huaka Saturday as well as many trail podiums prove, that they will also be a fantastic platform on the trails for the agile.
The rocker when combined with the flexibility, and they feel to me  a bit more flexible than the Rapa Nui, makes this a shoe that will climb the steeps better than the conventional Hokas such as Mafate and Stinson. These last two put a premium of driving up, lifting with the knee when slope exceeds the stiff sole's rocker. While I have not yet been on the trails I suspect the firmer RMAT will make them more stable than the Rapa Nui, which are somewhat mushy unstable in the forefoot on downhills.

The upper is a very fine mesh with multiple thin welded on overlays. No seams except at the front of the laces.  The fine mesh will keep out dust for sure. The overlays are very thin and I have some concern about their durability on rough trails, not as much for the roads but time will tell. This is after all a racing Hoka. I noted that even though I dried them overnight after the 10K race, where I did dump some water on my head, they were still damp the next morning.  I would not call the outside mesh particularly pliable or soft and it is a bit "baggy" in the front midfoot when standing, not noticeable on the run and I think just a function that the upper is somewhat plastic-y stiff in texture.
This said the upper wraps the foot just fine if a bit loosely in the heel area even with the speed laces which I do not particularly care for. I often find myself fiddling with them to get the right tightness. The shoe is also supplied with standard laces which I think I will install I have now installed, better wrap as a result. The upper is supportive but is more minimal in its support overlays than many trail shoes have. While I have not been on trails yet I would call it an upper for smoother trails or agile runners on rougher trails.

The midsole has holes as does the sockliner. I do not see "drains" to the outside.  

Sockliners can affect fit and I found the Huaka's fit me true to size, maybe a quarter to half size big with a small amount of heel slippage only when walking, may be due to the sockliner or potentially the heel collar being a bit wide and the tongue being un padded at the top. Hoka has told me that other retail pairs will come with a slightly thicker sockliner, the included one being among the thinnest I have ever seen. I think this will make the fit perfect for me. I have tried a thicker insole from another shoe which does improve fit.

Characteristic Hoka One One cushion and geometry in a go fast, low drop (2mm), low weight (8.9oz) trainer racer for roads and trails.  Great for long road training miles, longer races, smoother trails, and for agile runners on rougher trails.  MSRP $150, quite steep.

Generally available in the US around July 1st  Limited sizes may still be available now from The Balanced Athlete where I got my pair. Update: now seeing more like July 15-August 1st for wider release. Maybe due to substituting the thicker sock liner at the last minute?  Official Hoka One One site Huaka page, showing July 9th, 2014 availability, pre order now.

This review will be updated as I run more miles in Huaka.
A fine review of the Huaka over on Running the Cascades


Rod said...

How does the cushion and responsiveness compare to the Skechers GoRun Ultra?

sam winebaum said...

Great question Rod as I like the Ultra a lot and in fact am doing wear testing on future versions. Ultra is somewhat softer in the heel due in part to the Ultra having a midsole that is the outsole; a bit firmer, thinner and more flexible in the forefoot.

harris said...

Sam got a chance to do some trail runs with these shoes (10 and 6 milers) and was very happy with the performance on the trails both going up and going down and it had great traction. The road ride was smooth and real nice. I was amazed as to how fast I was going and it just didn't feel like it. Agree with you Sam on the feel of the Ultra vs the Huaka. You also nailed the feel of the fit as well. I wear 11.5 in all HOKAs and in this shoe as well. I use the lighter Clifton for speed work. This is a great shoe and a game changer for HOKA.

sam winebaum said...

Thanks Harris. It is one great shoe. I have not been on trails yet with them, saving them for smoother UT trails when I get out there. I put a thicker insole in mine from GoRun Ultra, production pairs will have a thicker one and this improved heel fit as did installing normal laces. Have you run in Kinvara lately? It's been a while for me but the Huaka while a bit heavier seems more cushioned,more stable, yet also more responsive especially in the forefoot where I have found the Kinvara kind of mushy unstable upfront.

harris said...

Sam could not get the Kinvara to work for me too narrow in the forefoot and the shoe just felt weird. You need to try the Clifton a great road shoe very light weight. Bret Rivers ran in the prototype trail version for the Western States 100 (he came in 9th). Looks like a great shoe that I cannot wait to try.

Kathy said...

@ Harris: I am currently trying to decide between the Huaka & Clifton to train for and run an upcoming 1/2 marathon -- which would you recommend?