Monday, June 06, 2016

Review HOKA ONE ONE Vanquish 2: Maximum Cushion and Heel Stability

Article by Derek Li and Sam Winebaum. Editor Road Trail Run

Editor's Note: Derek Li from Singapore joins me for this joint review. Derek is a family physician and 2:42 marathoner. 

The $170 Hoka One One Vanquish 2 sits at the "premium" level of the Hoka line and has what Hoka calls Ultrasize cushioning. This 37mm heel/32mm forefoot maximally cushioned shoe weighs a mere 10.1 oz/ 286 g men's US 9, women's 8 weighs 8.8 oz/249 grams according to Running Warehouse. My 8.5 weighed 9. 6 oz so in line with those weights. Available now.
Hoka One One Vanquish 2

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
Derek: I’ve been looking for something to fill the void between the Stinson (which I use for recovery runs) and the Clifton/Odyssey (which I use for faster long runs) and on paper, the Vanquish 2 seemed to fit the bill. I’ve had a couple of runs in the shoe, in the 5-9 miles, and I must say overall, the shoe does not disappoint.
Sam: I was intrigued by the possibility that a Hoka could be super cushioned, responsive and stable and not mushy at the heel, as I found both versions of the Clifton (review here) were, while at the same time not being as motion controlled as the Infinite (review here). The Vanquish 2 is super stable and super cushioned and despite its responsive 2 layer midsole is for for my tastes a bit stiff and disconnected from the road, a bit to much Hoka, It is none the less best of the truly maximal Hokas to date for me and the state of the art in what can be achieved in trying to combine light weight and a superbly protective ride.

UPPER
Hoka One One Vanquish 2
Derek: This is perhaps the only area for me where the Vanquish 2 comes up short. Aesthetically, it looks great (and I have both the Blue and the Black). It fit true to size length wise for me, but feels slightly snugger in the arch than a Stinson or Clifton, possibly because of the bootie construct. The toebox, feels about the same as a Clifton for width, so if the Clifton was narrow for you, then the Vanquish is likely to be problematic too. The external web design of 3D Zonal printed overlays does a good job of holding up the structure of the shoe, and overall volume was about right for me, although I tend to prefer a slightly looser fit for a daily trainer / long run shoe. Also, for some reason I felt that the combination of the mesh and the web design created a rather dense upper that didn’t seem to breathe very well, compared to e.g. Clifton. Perhaps this was a development based on feedback on the less structured uppers like the Huaka, but I felt that for a shoe that is supposedly poised at a weight range one rung lower than the Stinsons, this upper was a little overbuilt.
Sam: I agree with Derek that the upper looks great. The use of a consistent pattern of diamond printed overlays, applied without any glue in the way between overlay and mesh, from toe to heel, creates not only a seamless upper but a seamless feeling one. The upper has a similar feel to the Hoka Clayton (review here) which shares such a printed approach. The upper has some give and stretch but never a feeling that the foot is not perfectly held. It is fairly narrow and snug in the toe area and pointy. The arch area fits me fine.
Hoka One One Clifton LEFT, Hoka One One Vanquish 2 RIGHT

The Infinite and Clayton the two shoes to the right in the photo share a somewhat wider higher volume toe box construction and external soft rubber bumpers.
Left to Right: Vanquish 2, Clifton 2, Infinite, Clayton

Vanquish 2 is narrower fitting than the Clayton, Infinite, and even Clifton but for me more comfortable than Clifton with its thick somewhat awkward front firm overlays. Comparing to the Clayton, Infinite, and Clifton 2 the toe bumper is interior to the shoe and stiffer in the Vanquish than Clayton and Infinite. An exterior softer bumper would give back some volume as the foot moves forward but... the aesthetic might suffer. The Vanquish 2 fit me true to size.

MIDSOLE/OUTSOLE
Hoka One One Vanquish 2

Sam: The midsole has a dual density of EVA with the softer gray underfoot and the firmer higher rebound white below. In a twist the gray layer is suspended and held stable at the heel by a plastic cage/cradle in fact a suspension system encompassing  2 vertical blue pieces laterally and medially as well as 2 more wrapping the heel. There is a horizontal stabilizer extension on the medial side at the heel cup and the second vertical plastic piece is further forward on the medial than lateral side to provide light pronation control.
Hoka One One Vanquish 2
The cradle also wraps the edges of the large midsole cut out, again I think providing rear foot stability  Daylight can be seen through all of these slots. To the front the gray foam fills slots in the white layer, no plastic we can see here and no pass through channels to the other side as the Altra Impulse effectively implements. The rear assembly provides a tremendous amount of heel and ankle stability, the most I have ever experienced in a shoe. The cushioning is sublime with zero road shock and I agree with Derek it is somewhat bouncy while in no way being mushy and certainly not as unstable as the Clifton was for me. A great shoe for pounding out hard downhills with no damage but a bit ponderous on the uphills.
Hoka One One Vanquish 2
Towards the front, the 4 non caged foam inserts help provide a bit of flexibility and have softened somewhat with mileage but this is a fairly stiff shoe that relies on the late stage rocker for propulsion. As in my first impressions the net result of all the cushioning is a very stable ride but one without much feel or soul as for example the Clayton or Huaka have. You cruise along mile after mile, and decently fast but its a bit boring and oh so well cocooned.
Derek: The dual density foam just about hit the sweet spot for me, cushioning wise, for a daily trainer, just soft enough to erase ground feel even with imperfect form. The cradle design makes for a very stable, if somewhat rigid framework for foot strike; if I land mid-foot and supinated, I feel the shoe slapping down fairly quickly on the medial side, rather than a gradual roll I can achieve with a more flexible shoe. I had a similar impression with the Brooks Transcend 1, and it does take some getting used to at first. The shoe also has a very consistent bouncy feel from heel to toe, which I like.
Outsole traction seems good, and will feel familiar to people using the Clifton as they have fairly similar outsole designs. I’ve used the Vanquish 2 on some rolling terrain and in the rain twice, and never felt anything but confident striding out on the downhills. From past experience, Hoka’s heavier trainers tend to have fairly durable midsoles, so durability will likely hinge on outsole wear, more specifically the exposed EVA in the midsection.

RIDE
Photo Credit: Derek Li

Derek: The Vanquish 2 does not ride like the typical maximalist Hoka e.g. Stinson/Bondi which are soft to the point of feeling sluggish at times, despite their best efforts with the meta rocker geometry. It gives a moderately soft, bouncy feel and a very predictable transition from heel to forefoot, and cushioning-wise sits between the Valor and the Bondi/Stinson. Think of it as a long run version of the Huaka; if a Huaka beats you up after 10 miles, this will probably get you that extra 10+ miles. Though it appears to be marketed as a neutral trainer, the cradle design provides some very good lateral stability, which is immediately noticeable when compared to a Stinson/Bondi. The weight of the shoe is also very well distributed, and that makes it feel less bulky and it could be. It tolerates slower recovery paces fairly well, though I find that it shines best at easy tempo paces where your foot just rolls along with the cushioning and meta-rocker geometry. It does struggle to handle pace injections for me up to a point, and I really start to feel the weight below 7:00/mi pace but by and large it is a very versatile shoe.
Sam: I agree with Derek that the ride is not sluggish. It is purposeful and directed. There are none of the usual Hoka Bondi or Clifton issues of "getting off the heel" at slow speeds. This said the stiffness and thickness of the front of the shoe is more than I favor and more than the Clifton and Clayton. Those with a strong knee drive will get the vertical energy to push off but I have very little of that at this point.  The rebound is there but this is not a particularly agile or lively shoe for me. To its credit the light weight for so much shoe is noticeable allowing a quick turnover. This is a shoe for long miles and with such Hokas you will be no worse the wear the next day pretty no matter what you do.

DEREK's COMPARISONS
adidas Energy Boost – I compare these as they are near identical weight. The EB and Vanquish have very similar heel cushioning for me, EB being slightly firmer. However, the high drop of the EB means that I only really feel the full plushness of Boost when heel-striking whereas the Vanquish provides more uniform cushioning over a much wider landing area. If you wanted an EB with a lower drop and more forefoot cushioning, the Vanquish 2 should be on your shopping list.
Hoka Valor – The Vanquish 2 is slightly softer overall, and has a wider fit, especially in the toe box. The big difference is the upper. The Valor upper is my favourite Hoke upper, thin and flexible yet never had problems with durability. If ventilation is a concern for you, I think the Valor would be a better choice. If you like the feel of the Valor (which to me is essentially a high mileage Clifton), but need a little more lateral stability without the arch support, then the Vanquish is for you.
Brooks Pure Cadence 3/4 – This might seem like an odd comparison but the degree of “give” and rebound is really similar to the (older) Pure Cadence series, but with higher stack and less ground feel. I searched for a long time for a plusher version of the Pure Cadence, and this is pretty much it.

SAM'S COMPARISONS
Brooks Transcend 3 (review here)- the identically priced 8mm drop Transcend is heavier by more than an ounce and more flexible (review here). It  has similar rear of the foot stability through its Guide Rails. Its denser single layer foam is not quite as responsive but provides a similar level of maximum cushioning and stability in the heel with more than adequate forefoot cushioning. Its upper is outstanding, soft supportive, roomy. Slight nod to the Vanquish for its lighter weight.
adidas UltraBoost (review here)- the far heavier 11.4 oz Ultra Boost also has plastic supportive elements in the heel area. It is a far softer less structured ride, particularly in the forefoot where the softness and lack of real outsole makes it only suitable for me for the mildest slow cruising.
Hoka Clayton, Clifton, and Infinite
For most of my runs the Clayton (review) is just fine. I will trade some cushioning, and this is a relative term when talking Hokas! for a snappier, lighter ride. Clifton will get wider in version 3 (article here) but its soft heel is just too unstable for me. I prefer the firmer ride of the Infinite (review here) to the Vanquish but really don't need the extra width of midsole that provides the noticeable pronation support or the Infinite's greater stiffness.
New Balance 1080v6 (review here)  and Saucony Triumph ISO 2 (review here)
These 2 very similar premium neutral shoes provide near maximal cushioning in a more "traditional" ride; namely, 8mm drop vs. Vanquish's 5 and a more flexible lower 21-23mm forefoot vs. the Vanquish's 32 mm and both weigh only a few tenths of an ounce more. They have comfortable relatively roomy uppers with the ISO 2 having a particularly agile ride for such a cushioned shoe.
Hoka One One Vanquish 2
RECOMMENDATIONS
Derek: Some shoes just feel like all their weight is centred in the midsole, usually the heel. The Adidas Energy Boost comes to mind, as does the Clayton. Others, you feel it more evenly distributed throughout the shoe, e.g. Brooks Launch. I tend to feel that shoes with more balanced weight distribution give you the sense of the shoe being simply an extension of your foot rather than a weight hanging off your sole. The Vanquish 2 feels like the latter to me. Very comfortable fit and ride, with the only knock being the breathability of the upper. It probably isn’t noticeable if you run in cold or cool climates but I would be mindful of this for long run usage in summer.
I suspect the cradle design acts somewhat like the plastic heel wedge in an Adidas Boost; without it, you would have lots of soft EVA creating an unstable landing platform. Hoka has essentially done what Brooks perhaps should have done with their guide rails in the Transcend, and taken the next step in their wide footprint approach to stability. This said the Transcend is a far more flexible shoe, if heavier.
The cradle design, the Active Foot Frame, has been with Hoka since I first tried them in 2011. It just wasn’t that apparent from looking at the shoe. It was only when you wore it that you realised your foot sat low in the shoe and the midsole rose up around the edges of the shoe to provide stability. Subsequently, models like the Clifton and Conquest exhibited cutouts along the sides, presumably to shave more weight. This is the first time that it has evolved into a boot-in-cradle design, effectively generating a suspension or “trampoline” effect to generate greater bounce in the ride.
People who are accustomed to the extremely soft feel of the Stinsons and Bondis may not find the Vanquish 2 to be their cup of tea, as it is much closer to a Valor/Odyssey type of feel. However, for people more accustomed to more traditional-feeling premium daily trainers like a Brooks Glycerin, NB 1080 or a Nike Vomero, this would be a solid and relatively lightweight introduction to what maximalist shoes can feel like. I think it may potentially benefit a small subset of people with poor ankle stability the most, because of the cradle stability. I’m not sure about any benefits for Plantar Fasciitis, as toe-springs and narrow toe boxes generally don’t help PF.

Sam: I agree with Derek that the suspended dual midsole layers create a distinct bounce while providing best in class stability to the whole rear of the shoe. It is a very neat innovation and wrinkle on the Active Foot Frame midsole Hoka is known for.  I wish that the dual density midsole and the suspension was put in a somewhat lower profile Hoka, something with around 29 mm in the heel and 24 mm in the forefoot to shave weight, and increase flexibility and responsiveness.

Best for runners looking for
- Maximally cushioned shoes that are not exceedingly sluggish to run in
- Ankle stability and a touch of early pronation control but without the need for noticeable arch support
- Snug fit
- Heavier or heavy heel striking neutral runners who tend to "mash" the heel of other Hokas with resulting instability and foam break down.

Derek's Score 4.3 out of 5
-0.1 for weight
-0.5 for breathability in my typical high humidity (70%) and temperature (80's F/25C+) run environment
-0.1 for slightly narrow width
Sam's Score 4.65 out of 5
-0.1 for stiffness relative to Clifton and Clayton
-0.15 for disconnect from road feel, lack of agility
-0.05 for narrow front of toe box
-0.05 for premium price

Sam's Vanquish were provided at no charge, Derek's were a personal purchase. The opinions herein are entirely our own.


Derek Li Run Bio
Derek Li is a family physician by profession, and has been running marathons (PR 2:42) for the past four years. He started running for triathlon training in 2003, and now focuses purely on running in a bid to run all the Marathon Majors. In his free time, he likes to review running shoes and related products at his blog Running Commentary.

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