Hoka One One is best known for bringing maximum cushioning to running shoes. Now the California-based brand is hoping to do the same for hiking, with the launch of three new shoes—the Sky Kaha, Sky Toa, and Sky Arkali.
Since Hoka entered the market in 2010, it has catered to athletes—especially ultrarunners—who want to feel like they’re floating, not pounding, the dirt or pavement as they log training miles. Other than a foray into track spikes, the company hasn’t gone out of its way to target anyone other than distance runners.
The launch of the Sky series seems like a big new frontier for Hoka, but upon closer inspection, it’s really a natural evolution for a brand that’s always built shoes for people who want to spend long hours on their feet and be comfortable doing it. Now it’s just targeting those who travel slower than ultrarunners and might need more support.
At a media event in Boulder, Colorado, where I tested the Sky collection, Hoka’s product-line manager, Jared Smith, described the three models as “runnable” versions of typical hiking or approach shoes. Indeed, all three have the signature comfort and relatively high stack that you’d expect from Hoka.
The Kaha is a fairly burly, traditional-looking waterproof hiking boot with a leather upper, 31 millimeters of midsole foam in the heel, and five-millimeter lugs. The Toa is an exceptionally lightweight speed-hiking boot—the women’s version weighs in at 13.26 ounces, only slightly heavier than the most cushioned running shoes. It’s also waterproof and has a breathable synthetic upper. The Arkali is a hybrid climbing-hiking-running shoe designed for scrambling over vertical terrain, with heel and ankle straps to lock in the foot and laces that extend all the way down to the toe, like approach shoes, for precise fit on technical rock. Of all three models, the Arkali is my favorite.
My initial impression of the Arkali was that it looked too niche and might be useless for the majority of us who run and hike on well-worn trails. Then I wore a pair for a winter hike up Boulder’s Mount Sanitas. The route’s nontechnical singletrack is similar to what you’d find all over the country, but on this day, snow and mud added an extra challenge. The Arkali’s five-millimeter multidirectional Vibram lugs provided better grip than any hiking shoe I’ve ever worn, but my feet felt substantially lighter, so much so that it was easy to break into a run on the way down the mountain.
The Arkali is more versatile than it looks. And with more people than ever trying to travel fast and light in the mountains, a sleek shoe that’s capable on technical terrain seems timely. While it looks hardcore, it could actually be what a lot of hikers—even casual ones—are missing.