I received a pair of US7 1/2 Hoka One One Stinson B Evos in late March of this year (2012) specifically for the purpose of running on paved roads. Here in the mountains of central Idaho the trails do not usually open up until late April or early May at the earliest. I had plans to begin training for ultramarathons as the nordic ski season ended in April and realized that unless I wanted to travel south to the deserts of Utah and Arizona I would be on the roads here in Idaho. We normally go south as the mud develops but this year some circumstances made our extended trip not feasible. So, given that I have a great aversion to road running and the associated impact damage, I thought that a pair of the “super cushioned” Hokas might be a solution. I was right. These shoes are ideal for running on roads with significantly reduced impact magnitude and yet they still allow for a reasonable level of road feel. Mission accomplished!
I put about 200 km of road use on the Hokas with great satisfaction when, due to the significant drought here, the trails opened up as early as I can remember- some time around April 15th. Of course, I immediately switched over to trail running in the Salomon Fellcross (and eventually the Salomon Sense in late April) and put the Hokas away with a vague intention of giving them a try on the trials sometime.
Recently I brought the Hokas back into the training rotation to allow development of familiarity with the shoe on trails so I could confidently put then into drop bags at races where I might want a more cushioned shoe during the last part of a race or on a particular section that would give some advantage. I have since put about 250km more trail distance on these shoes and used them for the last 15km of a 70km race after about 25km of downhill pounding on rocky, hard pack trail. They were a godsend for my beat-up feet, but more on that later.
The Stinson B Evos are a “hybrid” road and trail shoe introduced this year (2012) and have a number of improvements over the original Stinson B model from Hoka. It is supposed to represent a combination of a trail-specific shoe (like the Hoka Mafate) and a road-specific shoe (like the Hoka Biondi B). This is seen in the increased height of the lugs and a bit more flexible sole that was present on the original Stinson Bs. The 4mm heel-to-forefoot drop facilitates a mid-to-forefoot strike and the 4 mm – 6mm drop seems to be an increasingly common “sweetspot” offering for “low drop” shoes. Hoka seem to be a bit confused on the actual drop of the Evo as their website states that the drop is 4 mm whereas the 2013 line-up video linked in the comments below indicates that the drop is 5.5 mm. I should think that the published information is correct and the “marketing” guy just got it wrong. Interestingly, many of Hoka’s sponsored ultra runner athletes use the Biondi B as a trail shoe, not the Stinson B Evo.
Hoka One One was created by two former Salomon employees, Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud. They wanted to develop a line of shoes that would reduce impact stresses, give a large planting platform, and allow for maximum downhill speed in the mountains and on trails. Hence the super-thick cushioning approach was borne.
“Super Thick” is really thick – 39mm at the heel and 35 mm at the forefoot. This is to be compared with maybe 20mm in a conventional shoe. Also the EVA foam used in the construction is 1/3 softer than in most shoes. Finally, the planting surface (the sole of the shoe) is about 50% larger than that of a typical shoe. These features lead to a combination that is said to allow for high speeds over rough terrain and, particularly, on downhills in general. The concept for these shoes is similar to the full suspension mountain bike when compared to a hard-tail equivalent. Only in this case the added cushioning does not add significant weight. In fact, the Hokas are very light when compared to many other running shoes.
These shoes have become increasingly popular and are regularly seen at 5 km to ultramarathon venues and in training both on the road and on the trail.
The build of these shoes is impressive. High quality materials, carefully sewn uppers, and a nicely laminated outer-structure all of which leads to a comfortable, and, likely, durable shoe. They come with the Hoka version of the Salomon speed lacing system and also regular laces. I have found the speed laces to work well and have kept them on the shoe.
As noted above these shoes are quite light, particularly given their “clunky” appearance. These US7 1/2’s weigh in at 282 gms (just about 10 oz.) and compare favorably with many light weight shoes. Although not featherweight, there is clearly some price to be paid for all of the cushioning and associated material. This weight falls well within acceptable “racing” shoe weight bounds.
The fit is relatively loose and the shoes feel much more like they are around your feet rather than on your feet. By this I mean that they do not feel integral with your foot- they are more like an appliance. That said, they do not move around much and I have had no issues with blisters to date. My use has included stream crossings and some mud and even though the shoes feel loose they clearly are not.
The upper is quite flexible but is a bit on the warm side and the shoe does not drain very quickly. It also does not dry very quickly either and this may lead to issues, depending on the terrain you are running.
The sole area is large and at first you might think that it would get in the way and make you somewhat clumsy on the trail. But, for me, this is not the case. It is a different feel but not one of compromise with respect to stability. I do hit the inside of my calfs from time to time, but not to a fault. The tread design includes deeper lugs than on the previous model and the same stiff polymer at the forefoot, midfoot, and heel and a small patch of softer, less durable, polymer between the midfoot and the heel (the bright blue area). This softer material near the midfoot is to presumably help develop more grip in wet conditions, although the area is quite small. Also present are linear sections of the softer material throughout the sole but primarily in the forefoot and midfoot areas. These linear sections may provide some additional grip.
I have had these shoes on tarmac paved roads, soft and hard pack trail, sharp rocky technical trail, scree fields, through stream crossings with algae covered smooth rocks, and in a bit of mud. They perform generally well but I have had some issues with stability in stream crossings (where I think the issue is the height of the shoe combined with a marginally grippy sole material) and on random rounded rock perturbations in otherwise smooth trail (also called “burfs” here in the US) where planting on such a “burf” can lead to significant stress resolved on the ankle and possibly lead to a turned ankle. I have yet to turn an ankle, but I have been close and I have heard others speak to this issue with the Hoka design. More distance on these shoes will give a better evaluation of the stability but at this point I feel that they are sufficiently stable that once one gets used to the “feel” of the shoe it will not be an issue.
Overall these shoes offer a high level of performance on and off trail with the added benefit of substantial cushioning. They are amazing on downhills. You “bomb” down with relative abandon and achieve speeds you might be best advised to avoid. I have not gone down yet but at the speeds I am attaining with these shoes it will not be a pretty sight! My downhill times are typically about 10-15 seconds faster per km in the Hokas on a rocky technical downhill and about the same on a smooth downhill. For me they are definitely slower on the uphills though and this is what prevents me from using this shoe as a primary part of my rotation and as a primary racing shoe. This comparison is with the Salomon Sense however, so one may have a different perspective when comparing to other shoes, particularly other shoes which claim to provide significant cushioning.
The biggest drawback for these shoes is the lack of proprioception. There really is a “dash pot” between you and the terrain and it is a strange sensation. It is a sensation that perhaps one can get used to but nonetheless you are just that much further disconnected with the trail. In comparison to the Salomon Sense (and I imagine any other minimalist shoes) it is sort of like the difference between driving a 50’s Cadillac (Hoka) and a current 911 (Sense). You definitely feel more in control in the Sense, but that is at the expense of cushioning.
These shoes are a unique option and stand apart from all others in one attribute: use as a shoe to change into during a race near the end, after a long rocky downhill, or specifically for a long rocky downhill. I recently raced a 70km distance and at about the 53km mark had just finished about 25km of rocky, hard downhill of about 1300m vertical in the Salomon Sense. My feet were totally beat-up from pushing too hard to stay near the front and I came into the aid station in noticeable pain. Fortunately I had put the Hokas in my drop bag for that aid station and I changed into them. What a difference! They felt as if I had put “pillows” on my feet and, I expect, this switch is a primary reason I was able to finish the race at all, let alone in the respectable placing that I achieved. Others have spoken about using the Hokas for this purpose and all reports have been positive. Being new to ultramarathons, I expect that my feet will toughen up with more time/distance on the trails so I may choose to use the Hokas less and less, however, I hear from long-time ultramarathoners that “beat-up feet” is something that will not entirely go away. So there may always be a place for a highly cushioned shoe.
I can highly recommend that you consider this shoe not only for a primary trainer/racer but also as a part of a quiver to enable you to handle situations that might not typically arise but when they do will give you the ability to finish and/or perform at a higher level. Few races go perfectly and having an option for aching feet late in a race is a good thing. I have never had any knee or other structural issues so the cushioning is not as important to me from a “impact” perspective, however, if you do have structural issues you would be well served to give these shoes a try- you will probably be very pleasantly surprised.
$179. Expensive. But you are getting a good helping of new technology/design and a unique product that minimizes impact damage- the root source of virtually all running injuries. A single visit to an orthopedist, not to mention any physical therapy will pay for a pair of these many times over. But more importantly you will be out running and not incapacitated or on PTs bench. I would say they are worth the price.
“Pillows” for your feet and fast on the downhills.
Update 28 November 2012:
A recent video review (by Sage Canaday- an elite marathon and ultrarunner) of the Hoka One One Stinson Evo has been put up on Youtube. Yet another stack height and drop are quoted- might be time for Hoka to clear this up!: