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Hoka One One Mafate First Look… No, This Is Not A Joke…

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 | 8 Comments

The Hoka One One Mafate.  Okay, I know it is unusual for a barefoot/minimalist shoe runner to review a shoe that appears to be the polar opposite of a minimalist shoe.  Quite honestly, I’m not sure why I wanted to test this shoe.  My interest was piqued when Jesse Scott tried the shoe and reported it “…wasn’t as bad as I expected.”  Part of the motivation comes from my science background- I always want to test my own beliefs and assumptions.  I was also fascinated by the fact that ultrarunners Karl Meltzer and Catra Corbett both use the shoes with great results.  Part of my motivation comes from the purely absurd appearance of the shoe.

This won’t be a full review as my experience with the shoe consists of a single 22 mile run on a combination of roads, trails, and stairs.  Look for a comprehensive review in the coming weeks.

Here is a summary of my first impressions, starting with the negatives:

  • The thickness of the sole COMPLETELY kills ground feel.  This shoe turns trails into roads.   I love the connection to the terrain when running trails.  That intimacy is completely lost in this shoe.
  • The toe box is narrow, non-anatomical (comes to a point), and crowded.
  • The shoe has a rocker-like feel reminiscent of Sketchers Shape Ups.  It was clearly designed for heel striking.
  • The cushioning has been compared to “running barefoot on sand.”  This is not a good thing as the shoe absorbs the vast majority of the “springiness” of tendons and ligaments.  This results in very poor efficiency.  Note- this is only relevant to midfoot strikers.
  • The height of the sole takes some adaptation as you must raise your foot higher to clear obstacles.
  • Downhill performance, a supposed strength, sucks.  Even when heel striking, this shoe doesn’t perform better than any other shoe I’ve tried.
  • The shoe is heavy compared to every minimalist shoe I have tested.  My size 12s weighed in at hefty 13.75 ounces.
  • The inside is harsh… lots of seams.  Socks are a requirement.
  • The footbed is contoured, which provides very subtle arch support.  The crushability of the material minimizes the effect, but it’s still present.
  • [Edit]  The cost of the shoe is pretty high… $165-170 US.  This places it in the category of “crazy expensive”, which may be difficult to justify.

Positives:

  • The shoe has a minimal heel drop, which allows for decent natural running form.
  • Ground feel aside, the thick EVA isn’t that bad.  I expected the shoe to feel like walking on a marshmallow.  The foam is much harder.  It was stiffer than Newton’s Sir Issacs and softer than GoLite’s Amp Lites.
  • Uphill performance was pretty good.  It took some acclimation, but I was pleasantly surprised.
  • Traction was very good.  The sole has a much larger footprint than a traditional shoe, which gave it very good traction.
  • On sand, they act like snowshoes.  If you lift your foot properly, running on sand was a breeze.
  • The shoe is much more stable than expected.  Even though it places several inches of EVA between your foot and the ground, I didn’t have any stability issues.  The shoe was much more stable than a traditional trail foot coffin like Cascadias, but not nearly as stable as a minimalist shoe.
  • If you are not concerned about the effectiveness of the cushioning, these shoes could last a very, very long time.  Assuming the upper doesn’t fall apart, it would take tens of thousands of miles to wear down.

Parting Thoughts

I would not recommend this shoe to barefoot/minimalist shoe runners.  The ground feel issue is the deal-breaker, but poor efficiency is a close second.  Having said that, this shoe would have some appeal.  It will allow natural midfoot running form.   If a runner is enamored with Newtons, this shoe may be a better option.  For most runners, this shoe would probably be a better option than motion-control raised-heel foot coffins.  Of course, I would prefer everyone go barefoot or use minimalist shoes.  :-)

If Hoka made a version with a wider toe box, sockless liner, and a truly flat footbed, I would consider using these shoes as an occasional training tool to simulate the benefits of running on sand.

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8 Comments

  1. Running links for your enjoyment | The Running Bran
    April 25, 2011

    [...] Hoka One One Mafate First Look… No, This Is Not A Joke… [Barefoot Running University] – Jason reviews one of the least minimalist shoes on the market…and actually has some good things to say about them! You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

  2. eric johnson
    April 22, 2011

    thanks for the review, jason. you mention they could last for thousands of miles because the foam is so thick.

    what about the permanent deformation of foam that happens in most traditional shoes under the ball of the foot? do you believe that would not happen in this shoe?

    thanks.

  3. Rob
    April 21, 2011

    As advertised the Mafate and Bondi B are designed for *long distance racing*,read: ultramarathons. Designed by and for ultrarunners. I consider myself a minimalist runner, not a barefooter by any means, but I do regular miles in my VFFs and most of my miles offroad in one of the Inov-8 line. I also, in training, appreciate ground feel. However, I can from experience fully understand the need to protect your feet and reduce shock impact on your legs over running very long races. Ground feel isn’t a driving factor after a point. Racing and training are two different beasts. I bought a pair of Bondi B’s a few weeks ago and so far I really like them. Not my first choice as a trainer, but for when I race Badwater 135 this summer I think they’re going to be perfect!

  4. Terry Orsi
    April 20, 2011

    I can’t believe you wore those things for 22 miles! That alone is hilarious to me. But I appreciate that you gave them a fair review based on minimalist standards. Interesting!

  5. Woody
    April 20, 2011

    I came across a free pair and could not resist giving them a try for novelty’s sake. I ran 3 miles without socks and was bleeding by mile two. A seam on the front of the collar wore a hole in my foot that has taken weeks to heal. That said, running in them was certainly an interesting experience but not sure if I really care to run in them again. Your review is dead on.

    • Jason
      April 20, 2011

      Woody- that was my biggest problem area, too. They bore a hole in my skin on both feet by mile 2.

  6. briderdt
    April 20, 2011

    I’m surprised you found the shoe to be as stable as you did. When I tried them on, I could literally feel my feet searching for stability, and my legs felt like they were all over the place.

    • Jason
      April 20, 2011

      I suspect part of the stability had to do with heightened proprioception from years of barefoot running. On trails, I knew immediately if my foot was moving in an unnatural position. The shoes weren’t necessarily exceedingly stable, just a lot more stable than I expected. :-)