Gear Review – Hoka One One Bondi B

Shoe design has progressed massively in the last 5 years and with the explosion of trail running and increase in participation in ultra running we are seeing a myriad of new shoes and designs coming onto the market almost daily. Some are brand extensions with more agressive soles for the trails, some on specialist minimalist shoes and every so often a completely radical design comes out. We saw this last year with the innovative Salomon Sense and that has gone on to spawn many imitations but there is one shoe that no one is imitating.

The introduction of the Hoka brand a couple of years has led to an interesting debate on what makes a shoe better than others. Hoka is distinctive in its oversized design and claims to make you run faster for longer. Well it is obvious when you pick one up that the oversize design is there for all to see. As for its claims to make you run faster or longer or reduce injury – well the jury is out on that one. A couple of us at Ultra168 gave the shoe its usual 10 hour initial trial over a year ago now and one of us ended up injured as a result of wearing them and one of us couldn’t put up with the ridicule from his mates for looking silly so we never persisted with them and they were resigned to the charity bin.

Introducing our reviewer.

So in order to get a more balanced review we turned to ultra athlete Tymeka Warburton from Queensland to give them a thorough test. Take it away Tymeka!

I love running, having completed 15-20x marathons, 4x ironman triathlons, 3x 100km events and too many other running distances from 5km to ultra-marathons to even remember. But like many runners I have always been plagued by injury.

Tymeka ahead of last year's TNF100

Tymeka ahead of last year’s TNF100

I was born with club feet and as a result of this I have had endless issues with shin pain including chronic shin splints and a number of stress fractures over the years. Improving my running form and strengthening has helped immensely however I still have issues with my balance and days where I cannot run due to pain and soreness, with distance running being my passion an inability to run is a real hindrance.

I am used to running in shoes around 7oz in weight with between 7-20mm of cushioning, which is light, fast and provides biofeedback so I can continue to improve my running form. I have been able to manage my shin issues with days off of running and some cross training, but like all runners I want to run every day.

So I investigated the Hoka One One brand…..

Overview and specifications 

The Hoka is an oversized shoes weighing around 11oz with 2.5 times with sole of a normal runner. Hoka’s website states that the shoes reduce the shock/impact by 80% and increases stability as it is 35% wider.

It all sounded good and I was definitely interested, however I avoided purchasing a pair for the following reasons:

  1. I was a little narrow minded about the look of the shoe,
  2. The price point, they can be purchased on-line for $229.00, given the access to on-line shopping and cheaper running shoes I could not justify that cost.
  3. I was unable to locate a store on the Gold Coast that stocked HOKA’s. As this shoes is so different from the “traditional” range of running shoe I was very reluctant to purchase a shoe that I could not try on for that price.

In early December I attended an event on the Gold Coast where HOKA had a stall and I was able to pick the brain of the HOKA staff and an ultra-distance HOKA wearing runner, I was also able to try some on. It was my lucky day a good friend of mine won a pair of HOKA’s at that event, knowing that I was interested to try them out he was kind enough to give his prize to me.

I chose a pair of the Hoka Bondi B’s and could not wait to have a run. I have now had them for about 5-6 weeks and put in over 100km on them and this is what I have found.

First Run

There is plenty of room in the toe box and like any good shoe, there is no need to “wear them in” and my toes can splay and move freely. The HOKA has good flexibility and I did not feel my foot movement was hindered.

However due to the extra weight and size of the sole I did scuffed my feet more than a few times on my first run in them. Once I adjusted to it I have never noticed it again. Just be a little patient, especially if you are coming from a minimal shoe.

Now, I usually experience some level of pain and discomfort from road running so for me the landing was the important point. It was is so incredibly soft, like landing on a cloud and springing off of little trampolines and I began to really enjoy the softer landing.  My first run in the HOKA’s was around 8km and I ended that run pain free.

With my poor balance the stability of the Hoka also impressed me, the wider sole and the cushion allows the shoe to mould around the ground surface, so wether running over rocks, on grass, dirt, uneven surfaces or bitumen pathways I felt stable and confident.

However, while the cushioning has many benefits I found it also came at a cost. The Hoka website says “run uphill as though wings are carrying you”. I can’t say I agree with this. I love running hills, however in the Hoka’s it just felt more difficult and took away the fun of uphill running for me. The level of cushioning compromised the efficiency of the shoe as much of the foot strike is absorbed into the ground with little rebound when compared to a “traditional” running shoe. This is quite noticeable and I found I had to work much harder to run at my normal speed.

While this is a negative effect if I were to consider racing in the HOKA’s, but could be used as a real advantage when worn in training. They could be a very good tool to gain leg strength and endurance. So from an uphill point of view be prepared to work harder initially but be rewarded later. The additional strength gained may also be of assistance in long term injury management and prevention.

Hoka says: “Fly down and still want to keep on going and going.” This is 100% true. I have always struggled with shin pain and downhill running  particularly on the road, finding I have to zig zag my way down to reduce the impact on my shins, however the cushioning in the HOKA’s have allowed me to run at speed, straight down with minimal impact and no discomfort. It has been many years since I was able to run downhill like this, it felt amazing and I found myself willing to do the hard run uphill in the HOKA’s just to be able to enjoy the downhill.

bondi-women-shoesTransitioning.

Over the past 18 months I have worked hard to transition from a “heel” striker to a “mid-foot” striker, so I was concerned that I might lose what improvements I had gained. While the Hoka’s don’t prevent me from landing within that “mid-foot/fore-foot” striking position I found they did not encourage it either.

To make that transition I have chosen shoes that provided a high level of bio-feedback from ground to foot. So although the Hoka improved my stability I feel I lost a significant amount of bio-feedback and ground feel, while I could accept this on the road, for me ground feel on the trail is a Must Have.

Verdict.

While at this stage I can’t see myself using solely Hoka One One shoes, overall I was very impressed. I am also able to run most days, as if I do find I am a little sore I can pop on the Hoka’s and have a pain free run, allowing me to hold a good mileage and strengthen at the same time. To do this I have been using it in conjunction with my usual road and trail shoes. The training effect has been fantastic and I find returning to my usual shoe I feel I am light, fast and effortless.

So as you can see, Tymeka’s review echoes a lot of the sentiment we here from around the globe that if you are returning from injury or looking for active recovery then the Hoka range is another option to consider in a plethora of shoes out there at the moment.

*In the interests of transparency these shoes were won by the reviewer as a prize at an ultra event in Queensland

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Author: Marcus

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15 Comments

  1. THanks for the review Tymeka,

    I am wearing the Stinson Evo’s and have transitioned from a low light minimalist shoe. Also worked over the past 6-8 months on transitioning from heal strike.

    I understand from Hoka’s website that the Bondi has a 6-7mm drop whilst the Stinson has a 4mm drop. I have found these do not detract from the hills. Still give good feedback and still promote the mid/fore foot strike.

    They keep me running everyday even with the heal spur on my achilles insertion point.

    I have now run about 400km in them including one 56k Ultra and I am a convert.

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  2. Thanks for the review … love my Hokas, two years and counting and can’t imagine running with other shoes. The Bondi B’s are a bit too narrow for my wide feet, but the Stinson Evo and Stinson Tarmac work great.

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  3. I’m still undecided as to whether they are the messiah or just a very expensive pair of shoes. However, they definitely don’t beat your legs up as much on long runs as other shoes. And, they provide rich joke material for your running partners.

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  4. I love my Bondis and I have won a marathon in them adnd completed numerous road ultras wearing the same pair I’ve had for 8 months. They are awesome.

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  5. Interesting the feedback on the Hokas Tymeka but if I may add some advice:

    - First I have been using Hokas for over almost 2 years now and have decided to discontinue. Like you Tymeka I have been using trail shoes with less cushioning to allow me more ‘ground feel’.

    - Certainly the Hokas have enabled me to run pain-free for 2 years as I had issues with wear and tear (been running ultras for 18 years). I hyper-pronate and this caused cartilage wear on the inside of my foot as the arch started to collapse. Bone spurs developed and I found running long distances painful. So I decided to run with Hokas and this did provide me with more cushioning, reduced the impact and I could run longer. So no more ‘pain signals’ but I didn’t treat the cause only relieved the symptoms. My foot muscles weakened, the arch collapsed more and I ended up with other issues – a Taylor’s bunion, hammer-toe …..

    - Now I’ve put the Hoka’s aside, am doing muscle-strengthening exercises on the injured foot, do more cardio cross-training, have opted for a transition to less cushioning and more minimalist shoes and am treating the cause …..

    - All in all running pain-free with more cushioning just aggravated the issues ….so I would definitely not recommend adopting Hokas to run ‘pain-free’.

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    • Interesting comment Niandi – I liken them to “Painting over rust” They just mask the problem.

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      • Here goes… I pretty much established the Hoka brand in the UK with the help of the UK distributor. I had seen Hoka shoes while racing in France in 2009. Interested in the ‘funny’ shoes I got a pair and loved the cushion feel. So much so I looked for outlets in the UK. Apart from one or two retailers, the shoe was difficult to come by, so I started to sell them.
        The feel of Hoka is unique. Low drop that promotes mid to forefoot running and supreme cushioning. I have been using Hoka for over 2.5 years.
        I became addicted to the ‘marshmallow’ feel and when on a super tough rocky or gnarly terrain they excel. Of course the added height can cause some issues with ankles twisting but in time you adapt and I would say the ankle becomes stronger.
        Apart from the odd run in a pair of Speedcross 3′s by Salomon (because I needed the grip) I pretty much exclusively ran in Hoka (mistake).
        I look back now after 6 months of knee injuries and I am pretty much convinced that Hoka’s created my issue.
        Don’t get me wrong. Hoka’s have a place and if I was on a hard, rocky, tough terrain and needed comfort and cushioning I would turn to my Hoka’s. But my day to day running is now in Salomon’s, The North Face and Scott shoes.
        I have had to re-educate myself and my body how to run again.
        The ‘over’ cushioning of the Hoka’s made me and more importantly my legs, joints and tendons weak and in time that weakness has been built upon progressively to create an injury that is going to potentially take a year (or more) to get over.
        Also, because the cushioning is so soft, the foot can roll inwards (pronate). I am a neutral runner and if I run in a normal shoe or a less cushioned shoe, my foot, tendons and muscles work to ‘stop’ the pronation and get me moving forward to the next foot strike. In the Hoka’s my foot was allowed to be sloppy, roll inwards and over time ‘add’ to my problem.
        It took a good 18 months before I had some warning niggles and like an idiot I ignored them. It was only after a good 4/5 months of niggling knee pain and then a rather painful 50 mile mountain race that I said enough is enough and I investigated the problem.
        Hoka’s are fine. Use them sparingly and maintain muscle, tendon and run strength by mixing things up. My advice is, don’t use them all the time!
        Lets face it, I sell Hoka’s to people who use them day in and day out without issue. They are a good shoe! I have never believed that you should use them ‘coming back from an injury’ or ‘the cushioning allows me to run on an injury’ – that is just bad! Sort the injury out and use the shoe appropriately.
        My issues may be ‘just me’ but with hindsight I have the benefit of seeing the pros and the cons of the Hoka brand and I am probably in the ideal position to formulate a view that is based on long term use. Very few Hoka users have used the shoe for as long as I have. It may be no coincidence that the two new additions to the Hoka range the Rapa Nui for trail and Kailua Comp for road have ‘less’ cushioning…
        Music to your ears Marcus ;-)

  6. My experience with Hoka: the first shoe ever to make me lose toe nails, although second check proved that size was right! First ever shoe to give me lower back/hip pain, bad enough that I had to change in the race plus bad experience in very wet days! They get too wet and chuncky! good point: longevity! Haven’t seen any shoe last that long and still fell like new! they also really ease feet pain, great for recovery runs after long runs! So like what Talkultra suggested I mix them up with other shoes, get the benefit from them (I personally thing they work my core and hip more than any other shoe!) and also would really use them at final stages of milers or very long races! The article was really good!

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    • Mmmm….I still think the Hokas have WAY too much cushioning to offer any advantages even if they are used in addition to less cushioned shoes. May I quote:

      ” Studies using minimal shoes/barefoot have shown that the body seems to adapt the impact forces/landing based on feedback and feedforward data. When running or landing from a jump, the body takes in all the sensory info, plus prior experiences, and adjusts to protect itself/land optimally As mentioned above, it does this through a variety of mechanisms. Thus, you stick some cushioned running shoe on the bottom of your foot and the body goes “Oh, we’re okay, we don’t need to worry about impact as much, we’ve got this soft piece of junk on our foot”

      Have we become lazy runners? Is it just about getting the heart muscle/engine to work, get a good cardiovascular work-out and reducing impact or muscle soreness? And Hokas are not a solution for running pain-free – aqua-jogging might be.

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      • Hi niandicarmontn,
        It is not a minimal shoes that make the body to adapt the impact.
        It is the minimal heel-toe drop and a midfoot landing that make your body to adapt the impact.
        Hoka one one 4mm heel-toe drop with cushion is like running without shoes on wet grass :-) I do not know if the solution for running injurie-free is a shoe, but I run again after 9 years with knee-pain thanks Hoka bondi B model. I did not try the others hokas. I´m a Hoka addicted now :-)

  7. Mmmmm…..do we not underestimate our bodies? Why blame running injuries, muscle soreness, fatigue on a lack of cushioning? Do cushioning shoes do their job? The answer is NO.

    Let’s give our bodies the credit they deserve ….are we running on foam so we get a good cardiovascular work-out, get the heart muscle/engine to work and run longer distances ‘pain-free’ and delay muscle soreness? If that is the case we are neglecting muscle tuning. Our bodies adapt to impact forces based on feedback and feedforward data. Put a slab of foam on the bottom of your shoe and that no longer happens – our bodies get ‘lazy’ and we no longer learn how to adjust or to protect ourselves.

    Advocating heavily cushioned shoes for running is a massive responsibility ……it can put runners at risk of injury …….

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  8. Mmmmm…..do we not underestimate our bodies? Why blame running injuries, muscle soreness, fatigue on a lack of cushioning? Do cushioning shoes do their job? The answer is NO.

    Let’s give our bodies the credit they deserve ….are we running on foam so we get a good cardiovascular work-out, get the heart muscle/engine to work and run longer distances ‘pain-free’ and delay muscle soreness? If that is the case we are neglecting muscle tuning. Our bodies adapt to impact forces based on feedback and feedforward data. Put a slab of foam on the bottom of your shoe and that no longer happens – our bodies get ‘lazy’ and we no longer learn how to adjust or to protect ourselves.

    Advocating heavily cushioned shoes for running is a massive responsibility ……it can put runners at risk of injury …….

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  9. I´m back to the road again thanks to Hoka Bondi B. My knees love it!

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  10. It’s good to hear both sides from people who have really put the brand through its paces, I myself have run in Hoka’s almost exclusively for a year and have so far only experienced the benefits, in the past I would get shin splints but think it was more a case of doing too much too soon whereas now I’ve been basically pain free for a whole year. In more recent months I’ve also started experimenting with minimalist shoes and am now enjoying switching up between Hoka’s, Merrell, NB etc. I think they’ll always have a place in my running life, a Comrades down run for example is perfect hoka territory

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  11. Vorrei sapere dove posso comprare le hoka bondi b ?

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