Monday, June 04, 2018

Hoka One One EVO Mafate: Maximal Cushion, Highly Responsive, All Terrain Racer

Article by Sam Winebaum and Jeff Valliere

Hoka One One EVO Mafate
The Mafate was Hoka’s original shoe way back in 2009. Remember those years? Running was in the throes of Born to Run, minimalism, and Vibram Five Fingers. Well Hoka, founded by two ex Salomon guys with a deep knowledge of running shoe and ski design, and mountain biking had a different idea. Their Mafate was designed to be the running equivalent of a well suspended mountain bike or fat ski with maximum cushion and broad foot print on the ground for fast downhill running. Well we know how the story ends now a decade later with Hoka growing rapidly on essentially their initial formula with a broad line of shoes, some even not so maximal.

I first ran the original Mafate in 2010 and also used it to hike around the Mt Blanc in a bit more than five days.
2010 Cruising Park City Trails in the original Mafate
For sure it was well cushioned and leg friendly on downhills but it was hard to move along uphill or on the road as it was so stiff and massive. Rolling forward to 2018 the new EVO Mafate maintains its max cushion and vibe in a thoroughly modern dynamic shoe. Under development for a considerably time, very near production versions were run to great success by Tim Tollefson (3rd) and Jim Walmsley (5th) at the 2017 UTMB on a course ideally suited for a shoe where lots of vertical, technical terrain and smoother fast running are all in the mix.
The EVO Mafate uses 2 flavors of cushioning in its midsole: Hoka’s EVA and below that R-Bound a successor to Hoka’s dynamic RMAT now 9% lighter and more durable. It is shod with a versatile any terrain Vibram MegaGrip outsole, has some flexibility and is very decently responsive, even on the road.  I has a very commendable lightweight of 10.5 oz for a trail and for that matter road shoe with this much going on underfoot. We did not run its predecessor the Mafate Speed but Hoka tells us the main difference is the upper and the substitution of R-Bound for RMAT.
And what an upper the EVO Mafate has! It is made a single piece of engineered mesh with patented new MATRYX tech where the structure and support does not come from varying the weaving pattern of a single material but from varying densities of Kevlar thread woven in with the other more conventional threads. The resulting combination is non wicking while also having high abrasion resistance. Read on to see what our testers thought. They ran on a variety of surfaces in Colorado, Utah, and New Hampshire.

Approx.Weight: US M 9 10.5 oz/ 298 g
Sample Weight:  US M 8.5 10.26 oz /291g
Stack Height: 33mm heel, 29mm forefoot, 4mm drop
$170. Available July 1st, 2018

First Impressions and Fit
Sam: There is no mistaking the EVO Mafate for a Hoka and for that matter no question this is a Mafate of the bold original concept variety. No tuned down graphics here for this race shoe. I really like the bold but not to crazy colored look which approximates the yellow and blue of other 2018 Hoka. I hope there will be a more conservatively styled version as the Mafate is sure to be popular with walkers and hikers.

The fit is true to size and relatively spacious for a trail shoe as there are no overlays whatsoever beyond a few thin lines which appear to be mostly decorative. It has a foot conforming spacious fit but not an entirely foot hugging, soft fit or for that matter a snug dialed fit as the mesh while pliable is unstructured by any overlays or stiffeners even in at the toe bumper. I stubbed a toe a few times but was so high off the ground that the impact went to areas below the upper and didn't feel a thing.  All the structure comes at the dense and quite stiff thread level with the Kevlar woven in providing the structure and abrasion resistance.The fit is quite unique seemingly inadequate as there is no sense of targeted lockdown areas, yet all of a piece and secure in hold except maybe for the most radical technical trails run fast.

Jeff:  Like Sam, the original Mafate was my very first Hoka way back in 2010 and like many, I was a bit befuddled when I first saw them, but I quickly changed my mind on them however on my first run.  Yes, they were a bit sluggish and cumbersome, but I liked how I could steamroll the downhills and not really worry about finesse and they left my legs feeling fresh. Right then I knew Hoka was onto something.  The progression over the years has not been entirely linear, but Hoka has been on a steady rise and over the last year or so, that rise is getting much steeper with the Mafate EVO and Torrent.

I was initially very impressed with the seeming improbable low weight for such a stacked shoe (305 grams/10 ¾ oz. in my US Men’s size 10) and in awe of the deep lugs, however the lugs seemed a bit tall and skinny to me. Initial fit seemed accommodating, but I had a bit of trouble dialing in lace tension on my thin low volume foot. The Kevlar woven into the upper also seemed interesting, but offers little give and I questioned its effectiveness. A novel idea that could go very well, or quite bad.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and though I prefer toned down colors, sometimes I don’t mind a bit of flash if done right. In this instance, I like the colorway and graphics, I think it looks fast, modern and trick.

Sam: The innovative upper with its MATRYX technology is clearly the star feature.
The darker threads are the Kevlar woven into the durable high abrasion nylon. This is a different take on “engineered mesh” as instead of structure being created by variable weaving density or even thickness the placement of the threads and wires in the weave create the structure.
One can clearly see the additional darker vertical Kevlar wires woven in at mid foot.
Throughout the rest of the upper the Kevlar is used more sparingly and longitudinally. Looking closely one can see they are present at every mesh hole running front to back
The ankle collar and achilles collar are moderately padded and very secure. The tongue is very short, although seems to stay in place just fine. It is  only lightly padded and has about 20 large ventilation holes starting at the lace holder loop. It is a conventional with no bootie tying tongue to midsole which is a bit of a surprise as the mid foot upper has no overlays and is quite high volume. The mid foot hold works fine on most terrain but given the high stack and essentially unstructured beyond Kevlar wires upper I wonder if a bootie might have helped conquer that last type of trail, the super technical, very rocky taken at speed where the otherwise effective support of the upper can get overwhelmed. But maybe not… as this shoe is designed to plow through the UTMB and its steep and often wet but moderate terrain.

The toe box is roomy, decently well held and free of any pressures. The MATRYK construction creates a very pliable upper overall with the support seemingly concentrated at each and every mesh hole so a feeling of substance but without much stretch.
The Speedgoat 2 has a snugger overall upper, particularly upfront with its toe bumper and other overlays and with its 6th lace loop further towards the front of the shoe.  There is a clear contrast between the two and a tradeoff to be decided based on your running terrain, foot shape and volume, between the comfort and volume of the Mafate and the additional measure of security in the Speedgoat

Jeff:  Overall I like the Kevlar weave and think it is a durable and effective way of reinforcing the upper. The fit of the upper is generous and comfortable, but I had a real tough time over my first few runs finding a reasonable level of lace tension.  Not enough tension and my foot was sliding around, particularly on technical terrain. When I tightened to a point where I thought it was tight enough to keep my foot secure, I experienced a bit of pain and too much compression on the top of my foot, but my foot, particularly the forefoot still wavered.  After 50 or so miles, I finally was able to achieve a happy medium for running in semi technical terrain or easier, but on steep, fast, rocky, technical downhills, I still find myself treading somewhat more carefully. If running on easier terrain up to semi technical and for those with wider feet, the Mafate EVO will be a welcome change.  For hard charging technical terrain, the fit of the Speedgoat 2 might be preferable, or consider the Torrent.

The tongue is on the thin side as Sam mentioned.  Not particularly problematic, but I find myself spending a bit of time before a run sliding my finger in the shoe to make sure it is smoothed out and not folded over, as well as properly lined up.  It is also a bit short. I think it would be a great improvement if the tongue were a little more padded, a little longer and gusseted or stitched into a stretch booty design like the Torrent or many of the Salomons.  This would help with ease of entry, as well as foothold and security, which this shoe is lacking a bit of.

Midsole and Outsole
Sam: The midsole is made up of two materials: Hoka EVA and R-Bound. Below the foot we have Hoka’s EVA which here is slightly firmer than the what I feel is the Speedgoat’s overly soft and bouncy flavor. The Mafate is definitely more flexible than the Speedgoat. I notice some cross shoe indentations in the midsole below the sockliner which are not present in the Speedgoat which along with the deep forefoot cavities and grooves assist with flexibility,
PC:Sally Reiley
The foot sits down in the midsole in Hoka’s Active Foot Frame “bucket seat” which beds the foot deeply into the midsole. The Active Foot Frame is located in the pictures above and below (when removing the sock liner) at about the middle of the black midsole sidewall highlights.
Just above the outsole the bright blue layer is R-Bound a bouncy dynamic material that is 9% lighter and more resilient than its predecessor RMAT. These are fantastic foams first introduced in one of Jeff and my all time favorites the Huaka as well is in the lively Hupana with both having the entire midsole made of RMAT. The R-Bound, in combination with the relatively firm thick outsole, gives the Mafate its responsive any terrain feel while molding to terrain and tempering shock from the outsole.
Understanding that the upper is focused on long haul comfort, the underfoot platform is impressively stable. The rear view above shows the broad on the ground platform at the rear of the shoe.

Jeff:  This midsole is fantastic!  Firm but well cushioned with an impressive amount of snap and spring to it, not for just a maximally stacked shoe, but for any shoe.  This is really noticeable when climbing, fast downhills, fast flats, buttery singletrack, doubletrack and on the road even. If you shaved off the lugs, I think this would be an absolutely awesome road shoe as well.

Last year, I was quite impressed with the cushioning and reasonably happy with the response of the Speedgoat 2, but now after trying them side by side with the Mafate EVO, the Speedgoat 2 feels much more spongy.  Still good, but compared to the Mafate EVO, the midsole of the SG2 seems like a bit of a throwback, what a difference a year makes.

As Sam states above, the midsole here is reminiscent of the RMAT found in the Huaka, a shoe that still ranks in my all time favorites list, despite being ~5 years old (I still have two pairs, well guarded and only come out on special occasions…. ;) ).

Sam: The outsole is Vibram’s MegaGrip. I found it excellent in snow, more viscous mud, Moab sand, and on moderate NH roots and rocks. In early spring sticky, tacky Utah mud the deep crevices in the center forefoot “locked in” the mud making them very difficult to clear. Very small rocks can get jammed in the thinnest crevices and are hard to remove but quickly ejected from the three big forefoot cavities. 
I found the outsole to be excellent on road. Of course, the giant lugs are a bit slappy but the rectangular center shapes at forefoot and flatter than usual larger overall lug surfaces provide a broader landing and smoother toe off platform than in the usual trail shoe with the three front deep center cavities and other deep grooves contributing to flexibility and some spring. As Jeff notes below, the lugs are for sure noticeable on firm smooth terrain such as road and hard pack but for me in a good way that adds a sense of dynamism and consistent feel that more triangular lugs often lack. I did not find them wobbly on firm terrain or roads. Clearly, this outsole midsole combination was designed with input from the Hoka speedsters Tollefson and Walmsley who wanted road shoe worthy response and speed with any terrain traction in their long hauler.
Jeff: The outsole is a bit of a mixed bag.  The lugs are quite tall and pronounced, offering excellent grip on most terrain, especially loose dirt, soft ground, mud, sand and snow.  In the wet the outsole generally grips well, but gives a little on wet, smooth slabby rock and are average to slightly above when compared to most trail shoes in the wet.

Because the lugs are so vertical and pronounced, I find them to be very obvious underfoot and somewhat wobbly on hard surfaces, which wasn’t particularly problematic, but I was just always aware. As the lugs have worn some over time, they seem to have softened some and are less obvious and the shoe runs much smoother.

Durability was also a concern at first with some initial noticeable wear, but the wear rate seems to have slowed or leveled off after the first 40 or so miles and I actually prefer how they run now (with 70 miles) vs. when they were new.
There are a number of gaps in the outsole where rocks can collect in the cracks and crevices between the lugs, but has not yet been problematic.
Sam: The broader front lugs and deeply cored front cavities stand in sharp contrast to the Speedgoat’s outsole view. The Mafate has more front on the ground full contact, is more flexible due to the deep coring and grooves up front and is noticeably more responsive.

Sam: The EVO Mafate is unusual for such a maximal shoe, road or trail, in having a noticeable snappy response, no mushy feeling and relatively decent flexibility for such a giant stack. Moving along on all terrain I never had that feeling of maximal mush and they even had some terrain and road feel. I ran them in Moab on soft sand and red rock, UT spring snow and mud, New Hampshire roads and moderately rocky, rooty easier trails and the ride was always decisive and snappy with lots of cushioning that never bogged me down at any pace.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Hoka’s long hauler racer is true to the Mafate’s original super cushioned maximal heritage but dials in lively response, some dynamic midsole firmness and decent flexibility for the giant stack. all leading to any terrain and even road versatility. 

While the innovative upper is ideal for its primary long haul task with width, comfort, durability, and water absorption resistance, it may not be ideal for the roughest technical terrain taken fast, places I don’t go that often anymore at speed as Jeff does! it also is likely to high volume for very narrow feet if intended use is more technical trails.  I would love to see a road leaning version as Jeff suggests, reducing the lug heights and lightening the upper. We hear some Hoka elites have in fact shaved their outsoles down for smoother terrain racing and training, 

Overall the EVO Mafate is the most versatile, lively, responsive maximal shoe I have ever run, and not just for trails as on the road it runs more like performance trainer than a sofa.
Sam’s Score: 9.75/10
A touch more foot wrap and structure to the upper would perfect the EVO Mafate. Maybe a finer gauge softer thread in the weave, a fuller, more padded tongue and/or a midfoot internal strap or bootie? Some lower profile lugs would be welcome and make the shoe faster yet on hard surfaces.

Though I immediately recognized all of the positive attributes of the Mafate EVO, it took me a handful of runs to warm up to this shoe, as fit/upper security/foothold was my primary reservation. Since I primarily run on steep, rocky, technical terrain, foothold is paramount and I struggled a bit, but over the course of several runs, I increasingly became more confident in how to best utilize the Mafate EVO.  As I used them on runs that were less steep and technical, I became increasingly impressed. The level of response with a high level of all day cushion is amazing and coupled with the more roomy and relaxed fit, make them an ideal choice for those with wider feet or anyone just looking for more room for splay and swelling on long days.  
The EVO is really a fast shoe on the uphills, flats and semi technical to non technical downhills and I would not hesitate to race in this shoe at just about any distance, over all but the most technical terrain. If I were signed up for the Pikes Peak Marathon or running the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, or Hardrock, this would be my first pick and would highly recommend.
Jeff’s Score:  9.7/10
.2 for fit.  An advantage for some and a liability for other I realize, but I think some fine tuning could be done to increase security, particularly if they dialed in the tongue/wrap and made the shoe more bootie like as was done with the Torrent.
.1 for lugs.  This is a really minor nitpick, but I find them to be a bit tall and wobbly, particularly on hard surfaces.  I am not yet completely convinced on long term durability (when used in rocky terrain).

Hoka EVO Mafate vs, Hoka Speedgoat 2 (RTR review)
Jeff:  The Speedgoat 2 was at the top of my favorites list last year.  The SG2 is 6 grams lighter in my size 10, has a wider platform and a more secure fit, though some will find that fit too narrow and problematic, something I don’t often experience, but have experienced foot pain from the narrowness on just a small handful of runs.  The Mafate EVO is much more forgiving in regards to fit, which will be a huge benefit for those with wider feet and those running long distances on more mellow terrain where super secure foothold is not a top criteria. Last year I found the SG2 to be reasonably responsive and wore it when I won the Aspen Backcountry Half Marathon last year in a new course record time.  Looking back though, expectations have been re-adjusted with the introduction of the Mafate EVO and when worn side by side, the difference is night and day in favor of the EVO. Depending on fit, type of running and preferred terrain, you could save $40 going with the SG2.

Hoka EVO Mafate vs. Hoka Bondi 5 and 6 (RTR review)
Jeff:  Outside of the clear road vs. trail differences, the Bondi is heavier, less responsive and not nearly as nimble.  The Bondi does provide excellent cushioning that does not feel excessively squishy and is great for long road miles or mellow trails (as I have used previous versions for Grand Canyon double crossings), but the Mafate EVO is a much better choice for spirited running, though I do find the massive lugs problematic on smoother terrain.

Hoka EVO Mafate vs. Saucony Peregrine 8 (RTR review)
Sam: The Peregrine has a slightly better yet comfortable foot hold. While a superior performer on very rough terrain taken slower it lacks the lively response of the EVO Mafate elsewhere.

Jeff:  Peregrine is tops in foothold, but is heavier and not nearly as responsive as Mafate EVO.  Testing aside, I’ll pick the EVO over the Peregrine almost every time. The Peregrine 8 has a more durable outsole however and an overall better outsole in my opinion.

Hoka EVO Mafate vs.Salomon S/Lab Ultra (RTR review)
Sam: The S/Lab Ultra and EVO Mafate were the two shoes seen at the front of UTMB in 2017 and will likely be there in 2018 as well if the Hoka elites don't pick the somewhat more "minimal" Torrent (RTR review). They both weigh about the same and both focus on forefoot cushion. The S/Lab Ultra uses a PU insert up front to dampen shock and maintain resilience while the Hoka relies on its 29mm stack. The S/Lab is a more agile shoe with a narrow and at the limit for me front of toe box width. It is better suited to long hauls on very technical terrain, if it fits your foot , while the EVO Mafate is more responsive, slightly softer and more cushioned, and crosses over to hard smooth terrain better.
Jeff:  What Sam said above.  The S/Lab Ultra has a fit that will really limit it’s range for many runners, however the EVO is overall faster, lighter, better cushioned and more versatile, unless you are in more technical terrain, the S/Lab Ultra may be a better choice.

Altra Timp vs Hoka EVO Mafate (RTR review)
Sam: The Timp shares a 29mm forefoot stack with the Mafate and is almost an ounce heavier. It’s upper is very commodious and super comfortable, really to roomy and unstructured for any kind of technical terrain run fast. I prefer its more flexible “giant flipper” climbing capabilities to the EVO but once the terrain turns downhill (less stability) or flat (more ponderous) it is not nearly as much fun as the more agile and clearly more responsive Mafate.

Altra Paradigm 4.0 vs Hoka EVO Mafate (RTR review)
Sam: The Paradigm is another maximal option sharing close to the same forefoot stack at 30mm but as a Zero Drop shoes has 3mm less cushion and stack at the heel. Altra's elites often chose this shoe for dry conditions ultras as it has no real outsole profile but a broad on the ground foot print. It has a bouncy, slightly softer than Mafate's yet dynamic EGO midsole.When combining the midsole feel with less drop, I miss the heel height and more responsive ride of the EVO, especially on road and firmer trails. It is just harder to move along and despite the same weight feels heavier and more ponderous. Its upper is a soft engineered knit/mesh with the midsole reinforced by a medial Guide Rail. Due to its upper and the Guide Rail Paradigm is somewhat more stable overall. If I was on a long slow hike/run I would chose the Paradigm over the EVO in dry conditions. For everything else the EVO is more dynamic and responsive.

Brooks Cascadia 11 vs Hoka EVO Mafate (RTR review)  
Jeff:  Cascadia has a more secure fitting upper and a more durable outsole, but is heavier and not not nearly as responsive
The Mafate EVO will be available July 2018
Reviewer Bios
Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 2d Masters in 2015. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the Colorado 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several. 
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running and shoe geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half and as he turned 61 a 3:40 marathon to qualify for Boston. Sam runs his roads and trails in coastal New Hampshire and Park City, Utah.
The Mafate EVO were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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Wes Arnold said...

Fantastic review! I will be upgrading my Mafate Speed 2 with the Evo as soon as it hits the UK. I also like your review of the Torrent and was wondering what areas the Torrent excels in where the Evo might struggle. I'm not fast on the trails, favouring ultra distances when it comes to races but in training will do some shorter distance at speed. I'm thinking the Evo might cover all my bases - including soft grass and muddy conditions - or could there be a place in my rotation for the Torrent too?

sam winebaum said...

Hi Wes,
They are very complimentary shoes. The Torrent is lighter, more agile and has truly outstanding traction. It's upper is super comfortable but somewhat snugger and is more secure. It would very likely be a great choice for faster shorter runs in the UK including mud and soft grass. Our Torrent review here:
Our review index is below.
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated

Dan said...

I was eagerly waiting for this review and really enjoyed it. Thanks for all the comparisons to the SG2 as it's been my mountain racer/trainer since I got them. My feet are on the narrowish side (Altras are hit or miss) so I can't say that the wider last of the EVO would be all that beneficial. I will have to say after picking up and enjoying the Speed Instinct 2, why is Hoka, in 2018, still making shoes without a gussetted tongue?!

Σπύρος said...

I have the Speedgoat 2 but i find it too narrow in the forefoot and toebox. Which one would you suggest? The torrent or the EVO Mafate?

Jeff Johanson said...

I agree with Dan, why no gusseted tongue on a shoe like this? Even with the center lace holder the tongue still moves to much. This shoe should have a gusseted tongue even if it adds a few grams mercy me.
I am in the process of a 30 trial of the Mafate Speed 2 and have a few thoughts since it's the EVO's predecessor and I'm guessing built on the same last.
1st the toe box is most definitely roomier the the SG2. My feet measure an 11 on a device and I tried both the 11.5 and 12 SG2 and both were to narrow. I ordered the Mafate Speed 2's in both an 11.5 and a 12 and I feel the 12's are the correct size. With the 11.5's my toes can hit the front on downhills, no room for a thicker sock if I wanted and no room for a better footbed. So I would suggest you size up at least a 1/2 size if not a full size. My foot also measures 104mm at it's widest for reference and their were no issues in that regard.
I live in New England and have found the traction and grip on rocks stellar. This is vital for me anyway.
I am having an odd problem that I've never experienced before in any shoe and just my right foot. Both the 11.5 and 12's did this. the 2nd toe in from the pinky side and radiating back into my foot become more and more discomforting and then painful as miles add up. I thought maybe the shoe just needed breaking in so i took them hiking in pretty rocky conditions trying to break in more but by the end the exact same problem happened as while running and I couldn't wait to get that right shoe off it was so sore. very odd and like I mentioned never had this happen before. Really bummed out as I REALLY like these shoes and would recommend for sure. I guess they just don't agree with my foot. I may try the EVO version as maybe it's the Rmat of the Mafate Speed 2 that's the issue.
Anyway if the Speedgoat 2 is to narrow try the Mafate for sure. Why oh why they don't make a Speedgoat in wide is beyond me. I'll be it would outsell the regular Speedgoat.

Jeff in MA

Anonymous said...

Thoughts or comparisons to the Challenger ATR 4? I am hoping that you will be reviewing the Challenger 4 soon. Thanks for this exciting review.