Is this the future of waking boots? Fusing the technology of a running shoe with the protection of a boot, has Hoka created the comfiest walking footwear ever?
Material Upper Full-grain waterproof leather
Lining eVent waterproof lining
Sole Rangi foam and Vibram Megagrip
Sizes Women’s 4.5-9.5, Men’s 7.5-12.5
Weight 1004g (pair, size 7)
Heavy. Brown. Stiff. These are the characteristics I’ve come to associate with a trusty mountain boot. So it was with some scepticism that I tried Hoka One One’s new Sky Kaha walking boot.
Heavy, brown and stiff it is not. Hoka One One (pronounced oh-ney oh-ney – Maori for ‘to fly over the earth’) is now the world’s fastest-growing running brand, owing to its revolutionary exaggerated cushioning in the sole. The Kaha has taken the principles of momentum, comfort and cushioning pioneered by its French trail running designers ten years ago, and put them into a boot that is light, bright and flexible.
I’d not tried Hoka One One footwear before, and wearing Kahas for the first time I had to reset my expectations of walking boots. They looked different. And they felt very different.
The oversized sole cupped my foot and did indeed make me feel like I was walking on air. But it was more than the cushioning; the shape of the sole rolled my foot in a forward motion, adding a spring to my step. It was more like wearing trainers – on steroids. Not only are they the antithesis of the minimalist trend towards mountain footwear, but they somehow manage to cram an eVent waterproof lining, full-grain waterproof leather and a Vibram Megagrip high-traction sole into a very lightweight package (just 1004g a pair, compared to my trusty Alt-Bergs at 1512g).
Hoka chose Iceland to launch the product in Europe, on relatively easy mountain paths and in deep snow. Perhaps not the terrain the designers originally had in mind, but more than enough to covert me into a Hoka One One fan. The comfort level was outstanding. Most surprisingly after five hours of walking in the mountains, back in the bus I had none of the usual desire to take off my boots; it was like I’d already got my slippers on!
The boots lack a heel breast (the notch in the sole that aids braking downhill), as this is sacrificed for the deep midsole cushion. But this omission is made up for by the direction and spacing of the 5mm lugs, which along with the more flexible and sticky material of the sole provides increased grip.
In use, I found the sole super-sticky on rocky terrain, the softer material creating a larger contact area with the ground, like big fat off-road tyres. They aren’t the ideal choice for scrambling as they lacked feel, precision and stiffness. However, on rock and snow I found the grip to be solid and stable.
Back home in Snowdonia the boots coped equally well on rough mountain terrain and provided a comfort level I’ve never previously experienced in a walking boot.
The materials used are good quality and feel well-made. How hard wear over time will affect the softer materials is unknown for now. It is likely a traditional brown leather boot will outlive a Sky Kaha; but if you’re not a very heavy user the comfort factor may well be worth it.
An excellent addition to the hillwalking boot market, offering something totally different in looks and feel. You’re likely to either love them or hate them. But if they fit you correctly, we bet you won’t find a comfier boot for mountain walking.
In use 5/5
Value for money 5/5
OVERALL SCORE 96%
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Chubby-soled and you’re saying the brand name wrong – but here’s why Hoka one one’s ultralight kahas are need-to-know boots in 2019.
Upper full-grain leather, eVent waterproof lining
Outsole Vibram Megagrip
Weight 483g (size UK7 men’s)
Hoka One One is a brand you’re going to need to know about sooner or later. They’re a disruptor of conventional wisdom, and in spite of their almost wilful oddity (French company, Californian-owned, Maori-named, pronounced ‘Hoka oh-nay oh-nay’) it’s working: Hoka is the fastest-growing running shoe maker in the world. But their big ideas, they say, apply at least as well to walking as to running, as they launch their Sky range of boots – the scrambling-focused Sky Arkali (£170), speedy-hiker Sky Toa (£150) and the full-leather, waterproof Sky Kaha we’re focusing on here.
The big idea is that for too long, boots have been too heavy, too unforgiving underfoot, and too clumpy and stop-start in the gait they enforce. From the moment you set off in the Kahas you get the idea. At 481g per boot (men’s size 7) they’re fully 20% lighter than equivalent conventional boots, and they feel trivially lightweight. A bit like that momentary feeling of weightlessness you get after taking off your pack at the end of a day’s walk.
The spring in your step is consolidated by the shape of the sole, which has a heel-to-toe arc which gently urges forward motion in favour of standing still. But what strikes you most of all as you power off along stony, rooty or rubbly trails is the absorption provided by the Kaha’s gateau-like sole. Where before you could expect to deflect off roots, pivot over the top of sharp stones and have to plan each step with the avoidance of discomfort and the search for a stable foot placement upmost in mind, now you don’t. The Kaha’s soles – comprised of three generous layers of different density rubbers, in which your foot is comfortably cradled – act like balloon tyres, absorbing intrusions and establishing grip and stability quickly and carelessly. It’s liberating – and particularly advantageous going downhill toward the walk’s end, when instead of nursing tired feet and knees, you can stomp on down with abandon. The extra width of the oversized sole makes going over on your ankle almost impossible to do too.
Part of what makes the Hokas look unconventional is the absence of a heel breast – the step separating heel from instep and forefoot, which from time immemorial has been a boot-sole hallmark. Hoka’s instep instead is filled with lugs – more than enough extra surfaces perpendicular to the direction of travel to perform the heel breast’s ‘handbrake’ function says Hoka – while being formed out of softer rubber, meaning the instep is still there when you need it, like when you’re stood across the crest of a sharp boulder and need that anchored feeling.
Hoka says in its early days ‘we knew people were laughing’ when they saw their running shoes, but that scepticism never survived a road test. Its Sky Kahas – styled to be less alienating than its earlier offerings, yet still unmistakably different – face a lower hurdle, perhaps, but a hurdle still. Don’t dismiss them. They might look like anti-gravity boots from the future, but in some ways they really are. And they’re certainly the most stable, untiring, and lightest full-leather boots you can buy today.