Hoka One One (phoenetically “oh-nay, oh-nay”) is relatively new to the running scene, but the company’s shoe design is unmistakable. During a time when the industry seems to be trending towards shoes with less material, Hoka’s characteristic high-volume midsole sets it apart aesthetically from your standard shoe. Created in France by an ultra runner, Hoka has gained tremendous popularity in the ultra-running world. That being said, the women’s Kailua Tarmac is an equally excellent choice for those of us logging fewer miles on the road.
The Tarmac’s low-profile outsole is made up entirely of rubber. The lack of foam provides better traction on the road and should extend the life of the shoe. Hoka describes the outsole as having strategically placed lightweight rubber traction zones. In other words, most of the outsole sports a shallow, scale-like blown rubber, interrupted by deeper grooves for traction under the heel and mid-foot. The front medial and back lateral zones feature a high-abrasion rubber with individual hexagons that are just as deep as the remainder of the outsole’s rubber. Finally, the front tip of the outsole has four horizontal rubber segments for grip at the tip of the toe box of this rockered midsole. Where I live, hills are sparse. I cannot testify to the shoe’s grip on steep inclines, but it performed excellent on the slopes of chronically wet and slippery concrete and abrasive asphalt in my city. I even took this shoe on some non-technical trails and it had solid traction on the wet and muddy surfaces.
Hoka is especially known for their thick midsole volume that is up to 2.5 times as large as a standard running shoe, but constructed with softer and lighter foam. The midsole is also wide, especially at the heel, to provide stability during long runs. One of the benefits of this thick midsole is that it protects the bottom of the foot from rough terrain. Sharp rocks that are painful to run on with most shoes are barely noticeable in the Tarmacs.
The neutral midsole also sports Hoka’s Meta-Rocker design that is engineered to guide the foot for an efficient gait. The midsole rises at both ends of the shoe, but it feels completely flat when you are wearing it. Hoka describes their midsole as having “Rmat” suspension and an Active Foot Frame geometry that prompts the foot to drop into the shoe (remaining suspended) instead of resting on top. In fact, at the heel, the black (in the pink colorway) line winding around the shoe is a rough indication of how deep into the shoe the heel sits (without the sock liner). Arch support is noticeable and feels comfortable. Despite this thick midsole the Tarmac has an impressively small 5 mm drop from heel to forefoot.
The sock liner is thin (about 3 mm) and perforated at the big toe, midfoot, and arch. The soft Strobel board below runs the length of the shoe and is perforated as well. As someone who suffers from blisters, I appreciated the extra aeration.
The upper of the shoe is made from a very breathable lightweight mesh that is also dense enough to keep dirt and pebbles out. The outside of the toe box is contoured with a soft plastic-lined fabric that helps to maintain its structure. The shoe has a standard and comfortable width front to back, and it feels equally snug on the entire foot. The toe box is wide enough for me and while I would love to see a little more room vertically, removing the sock liner provides more space and does not change the comfort of the ride.
The tongue of this shoe is one of my favorite parts and it is impeccably designed. It begins at the tip of the shoe and is lined on both sides with the mesh. Hoka describes the tongue as gusseted, but it attaches inside only at the very front of the shoe. The tongue is long, wide, and thin and extends well beyond the width of the throat, so it goes unnoticed on the foot’s dorsal side. The tongue is also perforated for better aeration.
The shoe’s throat and lacing system begin just at the base of the toes. Hoka calls this their Race-Lace System and it makes it easy to tie the shoe snuggly across the entire length of the foot instead of pinching closest to the ankle. Draping from each lace hole and extending behind the heel is a pliable plastic overlay that appear heat-bonded to the shoe, and each of these is separated with a small seam for some additional structure. The inside of the shoe is a no-sew construction that makes for a very comfortable ride. The seams running parallel to the lace overlays cannot be felt, even when going barefoot. The collar is the thickest section on the outsole and drapes very comfortable around the ankle. It also comes with a pull-tab to help pull the shoe on. Below the collar is a lightweight heel counter extending vertically to where the lace overlays come together on the back outsole. Where the heel counter ends the padding of the collar begins, and it conforms around the Achilles tendon for a very soft, comfortable, and contoured fit.
Sizing of the shoe was pretty spot on for my foot. For those with lower volume (narrow) feet, the shoe can probably be fitted comfortably with the well-designed lacing system that extends so far down the length of the shoe. The anterior extension of the toe box left plenty of room for my toes, which is probably a huge benefit when running down hill. Beginning at the mid foot and moving posterior to the heel, the shoe becomes narrower but conforms nicely to the entire foot. The heel cup is just wide enough to give my heel some breathing room without letting it slide around too much.
Given Hoka’s novel design, I had no idea what to expect of this shoe when I took it for a spin. If you have been running in mostly minimalist shoes, the height of the midsole feels unfamiliar at first but is easy to get accustomed to. The flat outsole allows for a good grip along the entire foot while the snug fit provides very comfortable stability on the run. I was most impressed by the comfort of running barefoot in the shoe. Because the Tarmac has a no-seam system, it feels like slipping your foot into a custom-made glove. The tongues of most running shoes are thick enough to irritate the top of my foot on the lateral and medial sides, especially when it slides, but I felt no irritations in this shoe. In fact, I liked it so much that once I went without socks, I have gone barefoot during all subsequent runs.
I really enjoyed running in the Kailua Tarmacs. I am coming off of a dorsal foot injury and was especially interested in seeing how this shoe would cushion my foot. True to Hoka’s claims, the Tarmac provides serious stability and I ran pain-free. Shoes with a big drop are most agitating to my recovering foot and I was impressed with the flat feel of the shoe that likely contributed to the comfort of running in the Tarmac post-injury. This is a complex shoe with a lot of working parts, but it is evident the designers at Hoka put a lot of consideration into each of them. Despite the high-volume design, a women’s size 8 Tarmac weighs only 9.2 ounces. The shoe retails for $130, but it takes only a quick online search to show that Hoka wearers claim they can get more miles out of their Hokas than a standard pair. After the 40 miles I put on this pair, I noticed only minimal wear on the outsole. For obvious reasons the Tarmacs feel more bulky than a minimalist shoe but they are a great choice for logging those long training runs.
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).