Hoka One One – Conquest Review
I never thought of buying, or even trying, the Hoka One One running shoes, primarily because I’m not drawn to extremes in running footwear. I don’t like gimmicks and I don’t like marketing. I like to put on a mid-range shoe and just go. With that said, I do have a variety of footwear and have tried out many different models over the years, from protective trail shoes, trainers, and racing flats to big lugged winter shoes, transitionals and now these Hoka’s. Through all my trial and error, I have found that I prefer a shoe that fits the specific type of running I’m doing at the time, but also nothing too minimal or too cushioned. So, why am I reviewing the Hoka One One’s then, a shoe that spits in the face of the Taramahura tribe and snake oil hucksters selling the latest saran wrap for your feet?
If you aren’t privy to my personal story I’ve put out in various places on the internet, I have a rare form of cancer, and the chemo treatments I’m receiving have the very unfortunate side effect of “Hand and Foot Syndrome” – a very real and debilitating condition where the chemo leaks from your blood vessels into the ends of your hands and feet, causing a deterioration of the skin, making one vulnerable to friction of any sort. That, obviously, doesn’t bode well for running. At the end of the weeks where I’m taking my chemo pills that cause this side effect, I can have great problems walking through the house, or just going about my day without great pain always under foot…literally. The problem is that greater pounding and greater friction cause equal amounts of pain…which is what brought me to the Hokas.
A local running store was hosting a short 3 mile run where participants could try out a pair of Hoka One One’s, and I figured I’d give the excessively cushioned shoes a try, in hopes that it might alleviate just a little of the pounding and friction that continued to sideline my running ambitions. I opted to try the Conquest model, a relatively standard performance road shoe. They offer trail models as well, but I only intended to try these for road purposes. After the test run, I was so impressed with the shoe for my own special circumstance that I ended up buying a pair. The following is my review.
The Hoka One One brand boasts a number of features that separate it from others, but the feature that garners most attention is it’s cushioning platform…rightfully so. Not only does it have a unique cushioned base, but the accentuated aesthetic on the side of the shoe highlights this feature, giving the appearance of a low cut moon boot instead of a functioning running shoe. Without going into too much detail into how it all works, I can just say the softness and cushion is felt immediately after putting on the shoe. It’s not a pillowy, marshmallow feeling, but the “give” upon impact is noticeable and far greater than any other shoe on the market. The aesthetic of the shoe is deceiving though. Where it does look like a moon boot, or a pontoon as my teammates and I called them, the actual cradle is the same size as any other shoe and the drop is a mere 4 millimeters, lending to an unrestricted running form. The cushioning, however, is achieved not by piling on a bunch of foam in the footbed, but rather by cutouts beneath the footbed that give upon impact. And it’s that cushioning that makes this shoe.
I’ve been running in the Conquest consistently now and the benefit of the softened impact has been just what I hoped. The effect of my hand and foot syndrome is always present, of course, but the cushioned base allows me to get much further into my run before the repeated pounding builds to a point where I’m severely compromised and can’t go much further. The softness unarguably does it’s job. How does this translate to runners without such a condition? I can tell you my teammates have been running in Hoka One One’s as their recovery shoe, going out for easy 10 to 12 milers and allowing the shoe to reduce the impact on their legs. In a way, they are using the shoes on pavement as a way to achieve the benefits of running on dirt or grass. No one I know runs in these for EVERY run, but choose to use them selectively.
Drop & Weight
As mentioned, the shoe LOOKS like a moon boot – bulky and heavy -, the external raised cushion near the heel not helping the effect, but what surprised me was the natural “feel” while running. I assumed the shoe would be heavier than most, but it weighs in at only 11.8 oz., on par with most standard trainers today, and that lack of weight is felt…or not felt. I’ve never felt that I was dragging through my gait, even towards the end of the runs when my legs are getting weaker. The shoe feels consistently light in both hand and on feet.
My other concern was the perceived bulk of the shoe. I expected to have to adjust to the raised footbed, picking my feet up a little higher to avoid scraping the sole or heel on my swing through, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I can run without any adjustment. I’ve yet to feel my heel scrape the ground on a swing through or need to compensate for any added bulk. This normal running form is no doubt a part of the 4mm drop from heel to toe. A longer test will prove if my wear patterns remain the same as other shoes.
One of the other benefits for my circumstance is the seemingly wider toe box and seamless construction of the upper. Any contact with my foot is going to result in abrasion, blistering and discomfort, so I was quite thrilled when I realized my toes had enough room in the front of the shoe, but were also not “floating” and causing friction during movement. The room in the toe box eliminates the pressure that can be apparent on the sides of the foot. Further, the seamless construction and smooth, airy upper materials caused no “hot spots” or points of contact that would rub or scrape at my skin. The upper material, as most shoes are now utilizing, acts more as a firm, smooth sock than anything else. This will benefit all runners, no matter their physical circumstance.
I have four issues with this shoe overall that may or may not be deal breakers for you. First, the “speed laces” that come with the shoe are terrible. They have a sort of locking mechanism on the laces that, I believe, actually make them come loose. Every runner I know has offered the same complaint for these specific laces. They compress snugly at first, but as soon as you start running, they slowly loosen until the fit is noticeably compromised. I’ve had to stop repeatedly to adjust the fit during longer runs. The shoes do come with standard lacing, however, and I would recommend swapping them out as soon as you open the box (you will have to actually cut the speed laces, however). I actually prefer speed laces and have had great success with them on my Salomon’s, but the design Hoka uses needs reworked.
I have not used these shoes during wet weather, but reports from teammates that have run in them during either downpours or through creek crossings have not been favorable. I don’t know if it’s the lack of wicking in the upper material or if the footbed foam actually retains water, but reports are that the shoes become heavy and emit a signifiant “squishing” sound when wet. If you do use these shoes, I would consider running only in dry weather or on dry conditions.
This critique may not apply to trail runners who are more tentative in their approach, but I like to “attack” trails, minding where my feet fall, but doing so with relative abandon. I like to run them fast, whether uphill or down, and I’ve discovered that a “transitional” shoe works best for my needs. I used to run in the Salomon Speedcross, but the lug pattern was so gnarly and significant (wear is barely noticeable after years of use) that I couldn’t “feel” the trail under my feet before it was too late. I rolled my ankle almost EVERY TIME I ran in those shoes…no exaggeration. Due to the added cushion of the lugs, I couldn’t feel the roll begin off a root, rock or rut until it was too late to compensate. It was only when I switched to the Saucony Peregrine’s, with a 4mm drop and significantly reduced footbed, that I stopped rolling my ankle…immediately after the switch. That leads me to believe these shoes would NOT be good for trail running and I’ve heard of rolled ankle stories from other runners who have ventured into the woods wearing Hokas. This might vary by trail condition, but I’m not even going to attempt to use them.
Ultimately, I find myself reluctant to recommend these shoes to normal runners, based primarily on the feel of the shoe. Despite everything I said previously, I personally would not run in these if I wasn’t dealing with Hand and Foot Syndrome. This, however, may just be my preferred running style, as I like to “feel” the ground to some extent while I run, knowing that I’m getting the most efficient push-off that I can manage, but without destroying my leg muscles from the pounding. If you aren’t concerned so much with feel and power transfer, the cushioning of these shoes might work fantastic for you. With that said, I jokingly call these “cancer shoes”, because I would recommend them for anyone with Hand and Foot Syndrome who wants to stay as active as possible, whether that is running, walking, or just moving throughout the house. A friend who also selectively uses them said they are the most comfortable shoes he’s ever worn for standing on his feet all day at work.
The Wrap Up
Price & Mileage
Here’s the rub…the shoes retail for about $175 to $180. Ouch. I mean….OUCH. That was almost pricey enough to just deal with my pain and blisters. The other side to this, however, is that the mileage you will get from the added cushioning has been reported in the 1000 to 2000 range. No, that is not a typo. The rep I spoke with said he would never recommend going that high, but he has repeatedly heard from others they are still running in them after so much mileage. The suggested point at which to buy new shoes is around 500 miles, so in doing the math, you’re actually getting quite a deal if you can extend these past your normal point of shoe swapping. Just be prepared to look at these as an investment rather than a shiny new toy you buy on a whim.
Again, after all is said and done, these shoes are really going to come down to your preferred “feel” while running. The construction, fit, weight and other issues are hardly deal breakers for this shoe, but the sensation you prefer while out on a 10 mile run is going to be the deciding factor whether you think the benefits of the “gimmicky” cushion are worth the trade off. For athletic cancer patients, people with foot sensitivity issues or those on their feet all day, I think this is definitely a solid choice to consider. I still plan on putting as many miles into these as I possibly can when I’m not going for speed or on the trails.