Hoka Running Shoes: Maximalism and The Rapa Nui 2 Review

by Jason Fitzgerald

The latest evolution of the running shoe industry is what many are calling maximalism.

I’m undecided if I actually like the term “maximalist” but I’ll use it because most runners understand the type of shoe the term implies.

These shoes are typically highly cushioned. But other than that one similarity, it’s hard to lump all highly cushioned shoes into this category.

Recently Pete Larson wrote about the maximalist trend and said:

Maximalist has no coherent meaning as a defined category of footwear. I’d go so far as to say that maximal grew out of minimal – a lot of runners liked certain aspects of minimal shoes but wanted more cushion.

In fact, only a few of these so-called “maximal” shoes are really maximal above and beyond what some of the best selling shoes out there have had for years.

I agree with Pete on this. When you look at the shoes available that most consider maximalist, they often look very similar to minimalist shoes with low heel-toe drops, light weights, and no dual-density midsole to correct pronation (not that this actually works…). They’re essentially highly cushioned neutral trainers with some elements of minimalism.

The differences are that they’re as cushioned or more cushioned than most traditional running shoes and they’re less flexible.

If you like the low heel-toe drop of minimalist shoes but want more cushion and don’t mind being situated higher off the ground, then you may enjoy a maximalist shoe like the Hoka One One.

Recently I’ve been wearing the Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac to test them and see how they can be used during training. Let’s take a look.

The Hoka Rapa Nui 2 Review

Here’s a description of the Rapa Nui from Hoka One One:

The Rapa Nui 2 features an over-sized Hoka One One proprietary injected EVA midsole providing lightweight cushioning, lower heel drop offset and a responsive ride. A 5mm heel-to-toe drop and balanced stage meta-rocker helps increase economy of running performance.

A highly breathable no-sew upper construction provides a secure fit.  This is the ideal shoe for runners looking for a lightweight, responsive and performance cushion running shoe with a faster ride.

First, let’s talk about what I like about the Rapa Nui. The general premise that an overly cushioned shoe can help you run more is a good one. Just like minimalist shoes with less support will put more stress on your feet and lower legs, maximalist shoes won’t.

As long as the heel-toe drop isn’t too low (and in the Rapa Nui case, it’s still a little too low), the shoe will help your legs recover more fully since the stress being applied from the run is less.

I’ve always been a proponent of rotating shoes and using them as training tools. In this case, Hoka’s are best used for:

  • Easy days when recovery is a priority
  • Distance runs where your legs feel sore or achy
  • Long runs (or ultramarathons)

Because the Rapa Nui’s sit over 20mm high, I wouldn’t recommend them for a few situations:

  • Faster workouts (not responsive enough)
  • Shorter races where you’re running significantly faster than your easy pace
  • Technical trail running (not enough groundfeel and when you sit so high above the ground it’s an injury risk on uneven terrain)

I ran many 4-7 mile runs in the Hoka One One Rapa Nui shoes to see how I liked them. And I was pleasantly surprised that I did like them! Usually I shy away from both ends of the wide spectrum of running shoes: those that are very minimalist and those that are overly cushioned and supportive.

But the Rapa Nui’s strike a nice middle ground. While they do provide a significant amount of cushion, they also have features that I like:

A low heel-toe drop of 5mm. Anything less and I can’t run for longer than about 8-10 miles without a lower leg issue.

Lightweight (relatively) at 11.1 ounces. About two ounces more than I usually prefer, but I didn’t notice the extra weight. My theory is that heavier shoes typically have higher heel-toe drops. Since the Rapa Nui’s have a low heel-toe drop, the added weight wasn’t a problem for me.

True to size. I wear a size 10 and was pleasantly surprised to find that the Hoka’s fit perfectly. Often with a new brand I have problems finding the right size, but they worked perfectly for me.

You can check out the Rapa Nui’s on Amazon here.

My Problems with Hoka Running Shoes

Here’s a video demo of the Hoka Rapa Nui 2:

For the most part, this is a great overview of the shoe. It’s lightweight and has an oversized sole with a low heel-toe drop.

But what irks me is their liberal use of the word “responsive.” How is a shoe that is 21-26mm off the ground responsive?

When you run fast and apply force to the ground, you don’t want a highly cushioned shoe which is going to reduce the spring-like function of your legs and consequently, the responsiveness of the shoe. Essentially, the shock-absorbing function of the Hoka’s make them slower and less responsive.

The only time when responsiveness isn’t an issue is during a very slow race – like an ultramarathon, just the place where more runners have begun wearing Hokas. Matt Frazier credited them as saving his feet during his 100-mile ultra last year.

But I’ll bet my left foot that you won’t find any fast runners wearing Hoka’s during a shorter race.

Hoka’s marketing materials claim that the shoe provides an “inherently stable ride.” But in my experience they were anything but stable. Being over 20mm off the ground made me feel like I was on stilts.

Trail running with that much cushion delays the feedback your foot gives your brain so there’s less time to respond if you start to turn an ankle. The experience was awkward, unstable, and potentially dangerous. If you’re not that athletic or lose focus on the trails, the Rapa Nui is probably not a good fit for you.

For some reason, they also irritated my Achilles injury from January by putting pressure on the tendon where it connected to the heel. This problem happened in many of my casual shoes and my Adidas Adizero Boosts as well, so I know it’s not specific to the Hoka’s.

And while my Achilles hasn’t prevented me from training recently, I’m going to wait until the injury is 100% cleared before I run in the Rapa Nui’s.

Should You Wear Hoka Rapa Nui Shoes?

Whenever I’ve reviewed running shoes, I’ve always said a variation of the same thing:

Wear what fits and what feels good on your feet. That’s the best advice on shoe selection you’ll ever get.

That still holds true today and during any review – whether a minimalist shoe like the Merrell Trail Glove or a maximalist shoe like the Rapa Nui – you must take my suggestions with a grain of salt.

That’s because you’re a different runner than I am. My biomechanics, stride, workouts, and mileage are different than yours. What works for me won’t work for you (and vice versa).

With all that said, I firmly believe a shoe like the Hoka One One Rapa Nui can serve a great purpose in most of our running programs. It’s best used for recovery runs, easy days, or when you feel like you need extra protection from the pounding of running. And if you’re an ultra runner, you may think about wearing them for some or all of your race.

Ultimately, the best way to use running shoes is to rotate 2-3 pairs to vary the stress your legs experience on a daily basis. I cover this issue of variety in much more detail in Injury Prevention for Runners, but shoes are one simple way to help reduce your injury risk.

My question for you: do you run in “maximalist” running shoes? If so, why or why not? Which models have you tried?

If you’d like to purchase a pair, you can do so on the Hoka website here or on Amazon here.

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