I felt as though I couldn’t accurately write about my experience with Hoka Stinson Evo until I had some experience and with my spate of injuries running across the spine of 2013 I felt I might never get the opportunity to properly test them. However, Govember has been a moderate success for me and this has in part been down to the Hoka. The first thing to note is that I’ve been running in my Stinson Evo on road and trail despite them being described as a trail shoe I have found them surprisingly engaging on the tarmac and very giving and while they aren’t perhaps the fastest shoe on the road they have provided me with the necessary support to avoid further damage to my Achilles while continuing to run.
Questions about the Hoka are many and varied, but the key information is that they aren’t heavy, especially given the size, they are well cushioned but you still get enough feeling from your terrain to get a rounded sense of where you are running and they love going down a hill. What I will concede is that they are less enjoyable going up a hill and compared to say my Vibram FiveFingers, Saucony Peregrine or even Adidas XT4 they aren’t as much fun but only in the uphill sections, however, this was as much down to my technique as the shoe and once I had gotten into the rhythm a little more I found the Hoka handled most hills (on Tarmac) with great aplomb. On trails, it’s slightly different, they will just eat up the hills – taking my Mafate 2 onto the Oliver Fisher 10km race a couple of months back I was able to witness firsthand how they scythed through the wet conditions and mud. Perhaps most interestingly from that race I noticed that as I came to the top of inclines they offered a very smooth and gentle transition that has improved my pace coming off an incline.
The ride is incredibly comfortable, to the point you do sometimes have to remind yourself that you are wearing them. I’d gone out on a 20miler to treat the feet, so to speak and noticed that my toes suffered none of the fatigue that I often came to associate with barefoot running, there was no dull ache from where I had accidentally heelstruck a branch, no mud or twigs got lodged between my toes and my legs felt free to stretch. I benefited, especially in the Stinson Evo from a wider toe box and having stuck with the fast lacing system have come to appreciate it despite not thinking that I ever would. Initially I was convinced that the Mafate where the more comfortable of the two Hoka I bought (yep that’s right I don’t bother with freebies from the manufacturers :)) but after going 250miles in the Stinson Evo and nearly 100miles in the Mafate I think I prefer the former rather than the latter. It’s possible that Hoka being such a young company are still learning the best forms for their shoes and they are obviously making regular improvements as even the Mafate 3 compared to the 2 are an improvement in the fit (well for me at least).
Are there any problems? Well just one that I found and that was there ability in very wet conditions. My Mafate came with me for the TG100 but the day, the race and course was more like a 100 mile swim than an ultra run and after they took a soaking my feet became pretty vulnerable to blistering and actually within five miles I had developed quite nasty blisters. Now in defence of the Hoka I was wearing some very old and worn out Injiji socks that day, it was about the wettest day of the year and I wasn’t in good form anyway. This hasn’t happened since but I’ve yet to have another significantly wet run to determine whether it was the shoes, my socks, my form or the conditions that played the part in destroying my feet.
Now as for some technical specifications, as I’m sure some of you would enjoy poring over details, these are the specs for the Stinson Evo, lifted directly from the Hoka One One site (thanks chaps)
Debris-proof, closed mesh
Extending lacing for adaptable fit
2 elastic lace holders for customized lacing
Light weight tongue: foot conforming, slim, microfiber
Reinforced toe cap
Flexible molded T.P.U. support strapping/thermo-polyurethane reinforcements
Traditional and Quick Lace System
2.2X Midsole EVA Volume
30% softer EVA
Profile: Late Meta-Rocker
Varying lugs (large and small)
High version, sticky rubber compound
Interior small lugs
Outside larger lugs
I’m not really a specifications runner, I tend to go on my gut feeling and prefer experience to technical specifications. But this information highlights the difference between these shoes and the ever increasingly popularity of minimal running.
In conclusion I can say the following – Hoka offer a range of great running shoes, but they aren’t suited to everyone, you’ll need to test them, you’ll need to get out on the trails and see if they are for you. Some styles will suit you better than others and you will be laughed at, stared at and generally mocked from those who’ve never seen them. They are visually appealing though regardless of their slightly moonboot likeness and they are like nothing else on the market. They are great across bigger distances and therefore are ideal for marathons and ultras but I find them rather pleasant over the shorter distance too – though they aren’t as swift as my MV2 or VFFs. They are pricey but you are getting a lot for your money in terms of technology, comfort and quality (and hopefully longevity), so buying these perhaps make sense if they suit you. But for my money they are at the very least worth a bit of a look if nothing else.