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.
- 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.
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.