First Impression Review: Hoka One One Conquest

Greetings readers!  After a bit of a lull post-Boston, I’m back with another First Impression Review, this time it’s the Hoka One One Conquest, courtesy of a wear-test run at Marathon Sports in Boston.  Hoka One One (pronounced “hoe-kah oh-nay oh-nay”), which I’m just going to refer to as “Hoka” from hereon out, is a relatively new brand on the market, having been founded in 2009 but only recently showing up in running stores.  Hokas were originally targeted at ultrarunners and gained a foothold among a small, but extremely devoted, group of trail runners that gravitated towards the highly cushioned ride, which protected them over the course of 50 or 100 miles.  It would be fair to say that Hoka is singularly responsible for the recent “maximalist” trend sweeping the shoe industry.  Where the Saucony Kinvara 5 has a stack heights of 22 mm in the heel and 18 mm in the forefoot, the Hoka Bondi 3, pictured below, has heights of 35 mm and 30 mm.  Essentially, Hoka has kept the best lesson to come out of the minimalist trend. i.e. lower heel-toe drop (from the traditional 12 mm) while adding back in cushioning.

Bondi 3

Bondi 3

As you can see, all that white stuff is cushioning.  To give you a sense of some other Hoka offerings, here are some shots of other models in the lineup.

Stinson Tarmac

Stinson Tarmac

Stinson Tarmac (Womens)

Stinson Tarmac (Womens)

Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

Mafate Womens

Mafate Womens

Mafate Trail

Mafate Trail

Kailua Tarmac Womens

Kailua Tarmac Womens

The first time I ran in Hokas, I tried out the Bondi 2 and, I’l be honest, I hated it.  It was too clunky, too SQUISHY, and just didn’t provide the responsive ride that I’ve come to look for in my preferred running shoes.  After asking around, the general consensus was that if I was going to give Hoka another shot, I ought to try the Conquest model, which as it so happens, was being offered as a wear-test option at the run.  According to Running Warehouse, the Conquest weighs 11.9 oz. and has stack heights of 34 mm in the heel, 28 mm in the forefoot, amounting to a 6 mm drop, not quite the 4 mm drop that typifies many minimalist shoes but flatter than even Saucony’s now-standard 8 mm drop.  The Conquest would be considered a neutral shoe.

From a purely aesthetic perspective, I think Hoka made an excellent choice with this colorway, choosing the same color for the midsole as the upper, which distracts from the gigantic midsole and makes the shoes look a bit more traditional.  Having seem a number of customer’s at GBRC reject a shoe just based on looks, this is not insignificant from a sales perspective.

Profile 2 Profile 1 Top 1

I’m happy to report that, after giving the Conquests a shot, I finally am starting to understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to Hoka.  Starting with the fit, the Conquest felt great on my foot, with enough volume to allow for comfort but without my foot feeling like it was swimming.  You’ll notice that my test pair featured Hoka’s bungee lacing system, my first time using such “laces.”  I found they pretty much worked the same as traditional laces, though they may have been slightly harder to dial-in the right pressure.  Hokas come with both traditional laces and the ones seen.  The upper is “no-sew,” which means no seams to dig into your foot.  I definitely felt the tall stack height upon lacing them up, but not to the point of distraction.  The other thing I could feel immediately was the shoe’s rockered design, which seems to be increasingly commonplace.

As per usual, the proof is in the running, in this case the run was a glorious 5.5 miles around the Charles River with none other than Runner’s World Shoe Guide Editor, Jeff Dengate.  As a side note, this was pretty a pretty cool experience for me, being a shoe geek and all.  This was my first run in 4 days, finally getting back after a stomach virus socked me, literally, in the gut, so I wasn’t sure what my legs would have in me.  After an 8:00 first mile, Jeff and I picked up the pace, going through the next 3 miles in 7:26, 7:22, and 7:19, which is definitely on the faster side for me.  I don’t think I could have comfortably run this pace in the older Bondis, but the Conquests proved up to the task, delivering on the promise of a responsive, but cushioned ride.  The bungee laces and no-sew upper held my foot well and the rockered outsole provided for a fluid ride.  Unlike the Bondi experience, I never felt like my foot was pushing through the cushioning, and wasting energy in return.  After only one run, I’m undecided on how the weight of the shoe affected pace.  For 11.9 oz., the shoe didn’t necessarily feel heavy, but nor did it feel as fast as, say, the adidas Adios Boost.

If Hoka keeps making more models along the lines of the Conquest, and finds a way to drop the weight while maintaining the uniquely cushioned yet responsive ride, they are going to continue to make headway in the mainstream market.  Cosmetics will continue to be a challenge to widespread adoption, but not not an insurmountable one.  I can say that I’m happy I gave Hoka one more chance, as I can now confidently recommend that runners looking for a neutral shoe that can handle some uptempo running give the Conquest a chance.

Have you tried Hokas yet?  What was your experience?


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