Having been a committed, t-shirt wearing, fan of Hoka ultra-cushioned running shoes for more than 2 years, I’ve recently started to consider the options and allowed my eyes to wander. It’s not that I’ve become disillusioned at all, in fact I want to find something very similar to a Hoka, just perhaps, a bit better.
By better I mean:
1. Cheaper than a Hoka
2. More durable than a Hoka
But I want to keep the similarities, so they must be:
3. As cushioned as a Hoka
4. As comfortable as a Hoka
When I first came across the Hoka they were these uniquely outlandish clown shoes. They seemed to be completely against the trend for minimal barefoot shoes (even though they had minimal heel to toe drop) but now we have a host of thick soled running shoes to choose from. I call them maxi-minimal running shoes to describe the huge soles with barefoot style, minimal, heel drop.
Ranking of cushion thickness
I’ve shown the RRP for each of these shoes but Hokas are increasingly available in the UK with good discounts available. I’ve been impressed with Millets who seem to stock the full range of Hoka Ultra running shoes.
Despite loving the feel of running in Hokas, I was becoming alarmed at the amount of money I was spending to accumulate a mound of worn out platform shoes. The Hokas are the most comfortable shoe I have ever run in and enabled me to run free of the fear of knee pain but they do have a tendency to wear out at a shocking pace. My first pair of Hokas had to be sent back within a month because I’d left half the sole on the streets of San Francisco – blog link and the while the later versions had more durable soles they started to wear very quickly on the heel tab and this resulted in heel blisters long before the shoe ought to need replacing.
When I looked at the alternatives the only real competition seemed to come from Altra. Sketchers and Adidas both do a highly cushioned model but the Sketchers has a massive heel to toe drop and the Adidas Boost was an entirely disappointing shoe that gave me none of the liberating joys associated with the Hoka range.
Looking at the price point of the Altra shoes, I’m surprised I went ahead and ordered them, they barely come in any cheaper than the Hoka. In fact when I opened the box with the Altra Olympus I nearly sent them straight back as they have a very cheap feel and at £125 I don’t think that’s warranted. The Altra Torin was much more pleasing from the outset, they didn’t necessarily look like Hoka competitors but they were cool looking.
Altra vs Hoka
At the outset I said I was looking for a similar shoe to the Hoka (Mafate 3 for trail or Stinson for road use) that was preferably cheaper and more durable. The Altra Torin doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the similarity requirements, I don’t see it as a maximal shoe at all. It is however incredibly comfortable, it has a firm sole and a roomy toe box and its actually the shoe that I now spend the most time in. I don’t run in it very often though – it is too barefoot style for me nowadays but I do walk in it everywhere and its holding up remarkably well to the abuse of the daily commute. I pull them on and off without use of the laces and 4 months in, it is still showing no signs of wear.
The Altra Olympus ought to be a real competitor. The spec charts suggest that this model has a thicker sole than any of the Hoka range although it doesn’t feel like that on the foot. Like the Torin, the Olympus has an incredibly wide toe box which immediately makes you feel less constricted than in the Hoka range. I can’t say that it is a more comfortable shoe though. The sole seems to squirm underfoot in a quite a disturbing manner. You feel as though you are teetering on a mass of jelly and I can’t claim to have enjoyed my running experiences in it.
In terms of durability, I can’t yet call it. Despite having had both pairs of Altras for about 4 months I barely ever wear the Olympus – I’d much rather reach for any of my Hokas.
When they eventually wear out I will replace the Altra Torin as my near permanent walking and play shoe but I won’t be touching the Olympus again. The Hokas are still my number one choice of running shoe although I am still thinking about the perfect maxi-minimal running shoe that might have the sole of a Hoka Mafate but the toe box of an Altra Torin. I wonder if it exists?
For a great comparison of the Hoka range, showing cut away photos, see the excellent article on fellrnr.