When I discovered I would be testing a pair of Hokas, I first wanted to figure out what “Hoka” actually meant. This is what I found:
“hoka” (in Japanese) = the other
“hoka” (in Hawaiian) = baffling
“hoka” (in Swahili) = mania
“hoka” (in Maori) = to fly (the actual meaning behind the shoes)
You could say I was ready for anything after reading that. And true to words, the Hoka Stinsons I received were out of the ordinary.
Model: Hoka Stinson Evo Unisex (also comes in Men’s and Women’s with both European and US styles)
Material: Synthetic and Polyester Mesh
Lining: Polyester fabric
Midsole: HiP EVA foam – 2.2x volume of standard running shoes
Cushioning: Under Toes: 26mm, Under Heel: 32 mm
Outsole: Hoka Grip – 4mm lugs
Footbed: 4mm molded EVA foam plus 2mm die cut Ortolite
Lacing: Quick fit system (awesome!)
Weight: 300grams (8 UK) = about 0.7 lbs.
Company: Hoka One One
Chapter 1: “The Other”
When I first received my Hokas I anxiously opened up my box. I had heard rumors about these shoes and the rumors where confirmed when I saw the immense platform. In the box were the shoes, a spare set of laces, and a spare set of insoles. I had never seen a pair of shoes like this before and all that was going through my head was that I was going to be running with MoonBoots on (you know these from the 90s). The thought behind the massive sole, according to Hoka One One, is to not only protect joints from the roughness of trail running, but is especially designed to propel you forward off of your toes. This promotes forward momentum.
I slipped the shoes on and instantly felt like I was 7 feet tall. But they were so comfortable; almost like standing on a trampoline. The colors are awesome (lime and blue) and the quick lace system is fantastic. With one pull of the quick lace, your feet are snug in your shoes and the lace holder conveniently tucks away out of place – an important feature in trail running. Fond memories instantly swelled in me as I put on my Hokas; the lace up procedure is the same as putting on my snowboarding boots. The Hokas passed my initial test, but they were shoes like no other. They looked great, felt great, and fit well, but it was time to put them to the test, both in the city gravel of downtown Houston and on forest trail outside of the city.
Chapter 2: “Baffling”
Since the Hoka Stinsons were like no shoe I had ever worn, I needed to break them in on the nearby gravel trails first. I wanted to test both how they felt on a little bit of pavement and on loose gravel. The nearby Heights Boulevard Trail is a perfect little 6 mile round trip to I-10 and back from my house, but requires a bit of running on pavement first. My first few strides out the door onto the blacktop felt awesome, a similar feeling to running on a rubber track. I could feel the momentum under my feet, but the problem was that the immense amount of cushioning was affecting the length of my stride. As I hit the gravel on the trail, I felt more comfortable, but still unable to stride as far as I do in my Mizunos.
Now it was about 80 degrees, and after about 3 miles my feet were soaked. Yes, I understand that this is a common problem with trail shoes – sacrificing breathability for being water-resistant, but this was to the point that my feet felt super heavy. And sweaty feet equals, yes, blisters. I made it home to investigate the damage to my heels.
Needless to say I was disheartened with my first experience with the Hokas, but for a shoe so different I knew I needed to continue to wear them and re-develop a stride. I also went to my local running shop and purchased some nice pairs of thin, high-ankled, cool-max running socks – similar to these from Smartwool. The thought was that a thin sock designed for hot weather may allow more breathing and prevent blisters. Sure enough, I was baffled by my first experience with the Hokas, but I liked them and was ready to see how they performed with the right set-up and on real outdoor trails.
Chapter 3: Mania!
It is springtime in Houston. That means the flowers are in bloom, the dogwoods are in flower, and everything smells green and wonderful, well at least just north of Houston in Huntsville State Park. I packed up my Camelback, Clifbars, my new socks, and the Hoka Stinsons and headed out on a beautiful day. I chose the 7 mile loop which winds over roots and rocks and on trail and boardwalk. The trail elevation map showed lots of quick up and downs, none too steep, but enough to be challenging.
The trails were covered in roots and required a lot of careful footwork. I was in heaven in the Hokas. They were super comfortable and provided excellent stability and response for the quick moves I was making. All of a sudden…BAM! I was on the ground covered in pine needles. Sure enough, I had stubbed my foot on a root and it took me down. Thanks to the toe caps in the Hoka Stinsons, my toes were fine and I didn’t feel a thing. Of course I did the obligatory look around to make sure that no one had seen me fall.
I was also impressed with the Hoka’s control on the downhills and functionality in sand. When you are cruising like a maniac downhill, avoiding roots everywhere, you need a shoe with amazing control. The Hoka Stinson’s definitely delivered. I never felt unsure of foot, afraid of rolling, or of losing control. Furthermore, when you trail run in the South, there are always giant sand traps. The Hoka Stinson are hands down the best trail running shoe I have ever ran through sand in! In other shoes I have run trail in (and it sucks in races) the instant you hit sand you lose all momentum. Not in the Hokas, due to the rockering profile and the large amount of sole contact with the ground. Needless to say I blasted through the sand like it was nothing. I would be curious to see how the Hokas run on beach. The Hoka Stinson handled all types of trail I encountered, and were doubly fun on the bouncy boardwalks.
After about five miles I could feel the Hokas getting heavy. My socks helped with keeping my feet dry and blister free, but the adjustment in my stride required with the Hokas was wearing out my glutes. Totally exhausted, I finished my run and headed back to Houston. Overall, I was impressed with how the Hokas handled the trail, saved my toes, and responded, but like going from standard running shoes to minimalistic, it will require some time for my legs to develop in accordance with the maximalistic approach of the Hokas.
Chapter 4: Time to Fly
Here are my Pros, Cons, and Recommendations for the Hoka Stinson Evo
- Excellent stability and response derived from the EVA volume and the rockered profile
- Excellent performance in sand; the best shoe I have ever run on sandy trail with
- Great control on downhills, even with the requirement of technical footwork
- Nice color palate (lime and blue) – this is important because people WILL look at you with these shoes on
- Awesome lace-up system. I wish all my shoes laced up like the Stinsons.
- Lack of breathability. These shoes require the right socks to function correctly.
- New Hoka runners will find the shoes unwieldy after 4 or 5 miles.
- Requires an adjustment and re-development of your running stride if you want to go fast.
- White. Bad base color choice for a trail runner. Mine are now a nice tan.
I recommend this shoe for those who are not inclined to a particular type of shoe and enjoy running on sandy, rocky, or rooty trail and love downhills. A caveat: this shoe requires a change in how you run, and thus if you get easily frustrated, this is not a shoe for you. If you are ready for something new, something that flies downhill, allows you to jump roots and rocks like a maniac, and provides you with a new challenge, pick up a pair of Hoka Stinsons. Time to fly down that trail.
You can check out and purchase all of Hoka’s line of shoes from our friends at Berkeley Running Company or on the Hoka One One website.