The 10 Best Hoka Running Shoes

·11 min read
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of Hoka
Photo credit: Staff, Courtesy of Hoka


"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below."

Editors’ Note: We reviewed this article on June 6, 2022, and still stand behind these expert recommendations. We’ll continue to evaluate this list on a monthly basis to make sure the models below represent the best Hoka running shoes available now.

Founded in 2009 by French trail runners Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, Hoka began just as the minimalist shoe movement was reaching its peak. In spite (or because) of that trend, Hoka shoes offered the antithesis to those barefoot models: maximalist cushioning that cradled runners’ feet. Inspired by the smooth ride of mountain bikes and powder skis, Mermoud and Diard wanted to bring a similar “floating feel” to running. They initially made prototypes themselves and worked with a chemist at a Chinese shoe company to develop an entirely new kind of EVA foam that was soft and surprisingly lightweight—characteristics that are now hallmarks of Hoka kicks.

Best Hoka Running Shoes

The Expert: I became a runner in middle school and have covered running and outdoor gear for years, both on-staff at Runner’s World and as a freelance journalist. Running shoes is the category of gear I’ve written about the most, and I have firsthand experience with models from a range of brands. To write articles like this, I talk with brand reps about the company’s latest shoes and tech, consult RW tester feedback, and draw on my own experience with the running shoe industry. With direction from RW editors, I combine all that info to choose what shoes make it onto this page.

Early releases like the Mafate, Bondi, and Stinson ATR proved that the Hoka design philosophy had merit. These shoes provided enough cushioning to soften rough terrain and return energy but weren’t so heavy that they weighed runners down. The shoes caught on, and Hoka has expanded rapidly ever since. (And for any brand devotees who might be wondering, Hoka officially dropped the “One One” from its name in 2021.)

The Hoka Recipe

Mermoud and Diard developed their shoes around a few basic principles: adding more cushioning, using light materials, and creating a wide rocker midsole to preserve momentum and create a smoother ride. The shoes were initially marketed to trail runners, but the brand now makes road shoes and even track spikes.

Although some companies have forsaken EVA foam entirely in favor of newer formulations, Hoka has stuck with its proprietary EVA formulations. Our results from the RW Shoe Lab confirm that the brand’s EVA-rubber blend is more elastic (for better support and energy return) and more durable than traditional EVA. Hoka also uses various blends of compression-molded EVA (CMEVA) foam in its shoes. Some blends are formulated for low weight, whereas others are tuned for strong energy return. CMEVA is now found on several shoes across the lineup, including the Arahi and Speedgoat.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

Other key Hoka design traits include the Meta-Rocker design and the Active Foot Frame, both of which have been in nearly all of the company’s shoes since its founding. Meta-Rocker is a combination of a low heel-toe drop and a rounded sole shape that complements your natural stride and helps propel you forward. The Active Foot Frame cradles the foot deeper inside the shoe’s midsole for more support as you run. Hoka likens the design to sitting in the secure, low bucket seat of a race car.

A Few New Ingredients

In addition to those basic shoe design elements, Hoka has rolled out other new tech in recent years. ProFly is a dual-density cushioning system that combines soft foam in the heel with firmer foam in the forefoot, and it debuted on the Tracer and Clayton shoes in 2016. In fall 2020, Hoka pushed boundaries again when it released the goofy-looking TenNine. With its massive heel, this shoe was designed specifically for sprinting down steep hills—the extra foam soaks up shock, and the broad sole provides exceptional stability. Hoka has continued to experiment with extended heel designs: Another recent innovation is the asymmetrical SwallowTail heel that debuted on the Kawana (an earlier version debuted on the TenNine Hike). Essentially, it’s a wider crash pad with an asymmetrical beveled heel extending outward at the back of the shoe. The broad, flat geometry helps promote smoother landings and a more fluid stride.

Like many other brands, Hoka has also started putting carbon fiber plates in its shoes to give them a more responsive feel that’s ideal for faster paces and racing. You’ll find that tech in shoes like the Bondi X and Carbon X 3.

How We Evaluate and Test

Our team of more than 300 wear testers includes runners of all ages and speeds living both locally near our Pennsylvania headquarters and across the U.S. Between our testers and Runner’s World staff, we’ve run in nearly every single pair of Hokas below. We’ve consulted data from mechanical tests performed at our RW Shoe Lab for additional insight on the stability of Hoka’s J-Frame support system, the softness of ProFly foam, and the energy return of rocker-style midsoles. Keep scrolling for full reviews of the best road and trail options in Hoka’s current lineup.

Best Daily Trainer

CLIFTON 8

Weight: 8.9 oz (M), 7.2 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

The original Clifton is legendary among Hoka fans and marked a turning point for the brand—it proved that a shoe could provide maximum cushion without being clunky. The latest version continues that tradition and is designed as an everyday training shoe. It features a new EVA midsole compound that’s tuned for low weight and increased energy return for a peppy feel, plus an extended heel to soften impact forces. The Meta-Rocker sole promotes a smooth stride, and the mesh upper has been tweaked for improved breathability, too.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

Best for Tempo Runs

MACH 4

Weight: 8.6 oz (M), 7.1 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

The Mach falls on the lighter and speedier end of Hoka’s lineup, and both our testers and RW staff raved about this latest version. It earned a spot on our best cushioned shoes list, and high praise from Runner’s World Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate, who jotted in his notes that the 4 is “the best Mach yet and perhaps the best current Hoka.” Like its predecessor, this version remains a great training companion, but now it feels fast enough to toe the start line completely on its own, too. The main highlights: A dual-density ProFly midsole and early-stage Meta-Rocker shape create a plush, propulsive ride, and a new upper offers a more secure fit. For everything from speedwork to longer-distance efforts, the Mach 4 is a strong contender.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s | Read Full Review

Most Cushioning

BONDI 7

Weight: 10.7 oz (M), 8.9 oz (W)
Drop: 4 mm

The Bondi is Hoka’s most cushioned road shoe, and it features a layer of EVA foam anchoring a downright beefy midsole. The latest version of the Bondi keeps the formula that has won this shoe such a devoted following: maximum cushioning for an ultra-plush ride. Like with previous versions, an open mesh upper increases breathability, and the Meta-Rocker sole helps you roll through your stride. Plus, the seventh iteration comes with a new memory foam collar for a better fit and feel around the ankle. Hoka also released the Bondi X, which provides a similar cushioned feel but includes an embedded carbon fiber plate for a snappier, speedier ride.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s | Read Full Review

Best Value

RINCON 3

Weight: 7.7 oz (M), 6.5 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

The Rincon debuted in July 2019 as a comfy, speed-oriented shoe with an attractive price point. The third iteration addresses the main gripes on the previous version—a narrow fit and poor breathability—with a new asymmetrical tongue, a wider toe box, and a vented mesh upper for a roomier, breezier feel. Additional outsole rubber on the heel and forefoot improve durability and traction, but otherwise the Rincon 3 continues to provide a sublime balance between low weight and soft-but-supportive cushioning. It’s an ideal pick for speed training (and runners on a budget).

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s | Read Full Review

Most Stable

ARAHI 6

Weight: 9.3 oz (M), 7.6 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

Like the Gaviota, the Arahi combines stability features with cushioning, but it ups the ante with a more responsive ride at a lower weight. As with previous versions, the centerpiece of the shoe is the J-Frame embedded in the sole to counter overpronation, and it’s paired with bouncy, durable CMEVA cushioning for a responsive ride. Hoka trimmed some weight on the shoe thanks to a new mesh upper, and the tongue has extra cushioning for a more comfortable fit.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

Most Versatile

KAWANA

Weight: 10 oz (M), 8.4 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

The Kawana makes a great pick for runners who need a do-it-all pair of shoes: It’s a plush trainer that’s comfortable enough to wear all day. Hoka’s CMEVA foam absorbs impacts and offers good energy return, and the early-stage Meta-Rocker sole shape ensures smooth strides. The shoe also uses Hoka’s Active Foot Frame design to support your feet, and it features a new SwallowTail crash pad geometry in the heel—the wide, asymmetrical shape and beveled edge promotes even, fluid landings. We named it one of our favorite cushioned shoes of the year, and in the words of one tester, “it made running on roads feel effortless.”

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

Best for Road-to-Trail

CHALLENGER ATR 6

Weight: 9.8 oz (M), 8.1 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

Compared to the Zinal, the Challenger ATR offers a more balanced cushioning profile, which makes it a better option for general training—especially if you hit trails and pavement in equal measure. The firm EVA midsole provides some support for your feet, but it has enough give to soak up impact forces and uneven ground, too. The 4-millimeter lugs aren’t huge, but they provide consistent grip both on and off road. And testers appreciated the shoe’s more spacious fit at midfoot and in the toe box. Buy it in wide sizes for even more room.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s | Read Full Review

Best for Racing

CARBON X 3

Weight: 7.8 oz (M), 6.6 oz (W)
Drop: 5 mm

Although the Carbon X started out as a bit of an oddity (it seemed to only work for runners who land at midfoot), the shoe has evolved into a competent endurance racer. The third iteration keeps the combo of a Meta-Rocker sole shape and an embedded carbon-fiber plate for a smooth, snappy ride, and the dual-density CMEVA foam creates a firm platform for efficient toe-offs. It now comes with a new knit upper that has been designed for an improved fit—a key feature for runners taking on longer races.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

Best for Long Trail Runs

SPEEDGOAT 5

Weight: 10.3 oz (M), 8.5 oz (W)
Drop: 4 mm

An homage to ultrarunner Karl “Speedgoat” Meltzer, this is Hoka’s flagship trail shoe, and it’s ideal for long jaunts off-pavement. Hoka gave the fifth version of this racy trail shoe a hefty update. The outsole is equipped with a new Vibram Megagrip lug pattern for improved traction on loose ground, and a beefed-up double-layer jacquard mesh upper provides added protection from debris. Hoka also swapped in a new CMEVA foam in the midsole, which helps save weight—the Speedgoat 5 is about half an ounce lighter than the Speedgoat 4.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

Best for Technical Trails

MAFATE SPEED 3

Weight: 11.1 oz (M), 9.5 oz (W)
Drop: 4 mm

The Mafate Speed 3 is designed to take on technical trails with ease. The dual-density midsole softens impact forces but provides a firm response at toe-off, and the Vibram rubber outsole features 5-millimeter lugs for excellent grip across a variety of terrain. The mesh upper offers good breathability, and it comes with molded thermoplastic overlays to protect your feet from debris and add some support, too.

Shop Men’s | Shop Women’s

You Might Also Like