Sunday, January 05, 2020

Hoka One One Cavu 3 Review: Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited

Article by Peter Stuart and Michael Ellenberger

Hoka ONE ONE Cavu 3 ($120)


Peter: This is my first Cavu, so I don’t have a great frame of reference as to prior Cavu models. This  is a light and fun daily trainer from HOKA ONE ONE--and has been a pleasant surprise all around. It’s sub 7 oz for a Men’s 9, has stack heights of 26mm in the rear and 20 at the forefoot and has a new stretch knit upper whereas previously it had engineered mesh. There’s not a lot of pizazz here and it might be easy to overlook, but it’s one of my favorite shoes at the moment!

Peter: Light, protective, fun
Michael: Zippy little shoe; no-nonsense, but not no-technology

Peter: Stretch upper can irritate a bit at the ankle.
Michael: Upper is as restrictive as I’ve found, any higher-volume feet take warning; those seeking “Hoka” and thinking “plush” will be disappointed

Weight:: men's 6.9 oz /(US9)  / women's 5.2 oz / (US8)
Stack Height: M 26/20, W 24/18, 6mm drop
Available Jan. 2020. $120

Tester Profiles
Peter lives in Austin, Texas and has been a sub 3 hour marathoner as well as a 1:25 half marathoner in recent years
Michael is his 20’s and is a 1:07 half marathoner. He runs 50-60 miles per week, generally in lightweight trainers or racing flats at around 6:00-6:30 minutes/mile. 

First Impressions and Fit
Peter: I got 3 HOKA’s on the same day, the Mach 3, the Cavu 3 and the Elevon 2. Of the three, the Cavu was the most unassuming. It’s just plain black, almost looks like a lifestyle shoe rather than a running shoe. I ran in the ELEVON first (too heavy), the MACH (so stiff), and the Cavu...JUST RIGHT! The fit is true to size. The upper is very stretchy and holds the foot well. It’s a shoe that you might not even have to use laces on (but of course I do). The overall step-in experience reminds me of early Nike Frees, but the underfoot feel is definitely more modern and refined. First run in this shoe was a really pleasant surprise and it’s only gotten better from there. 

Michael: I’ve never owned a Cavu before, but friends of mine have touted its benefits, as Peter suggests, as a wear-around shoe rather than a runner. Compared with something like the Rincon or the Clifton, it certainly doesn’t look like a “Hoka running shoe” at first glance. Still, I was more than willing to give the Cavu 3 a chance as a trainer, and came away generally impressed. It fits snug - the stretch knit upper to my foot was quite tight, and while it did loosen over a couple runs, it’s still something that those with higher-volume feet (or just plain higher arches) may have issues with. Moving past that, and lacing the integrated tongue up to go for a run, the Cavu feels like a lightweight trainer - my first thoughts were to the Brooks Launch and the Enda Iten. Time to run.

Peter: I’m not the biggest fan of stretch knit uppers, but this one is pretty great. It holds the foot well and has enough give that there are no hot spots or points of irritation. There’s no tongue, but I’ve had no issues at all with pressure on top of the foot. I have had some minor irritation along the top of the foot/bottom of the ankle--but only on first few minutes of runs and then it disappears. It’s super minor. There’s ample ventilation. It’s a very simple upper that works very well. 
Michael: I’ll go on record as a fan of knit uppers - having a generally smaller and narrower foot helps in that regard, I think - but I was still cautious about the construction on the Cavu 3. As I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a lot of rise or height to the material here; the upper actually reminded me somewhat of the New Balance Fuelcell 5280, though I think the NB is slightly stretchier. Having such a malleable upper meant a comfortable and largely irritation-free ride for me (unlike the stiffer upper of the contemporaneously-reviewed Launch 7) and once it loosed with a couple runs, I found the Cavu 3 quite pleasant.

Peter: The Cavu midsole is comprised of two layers. There’s a top layer of PROFLY material and then a layer of EVA below that. This brings the best of both worlds together. I find the PROFLY on the Mach 3 to be overly firm, and on shoes like the Clifton, I find HOKA’s EVA to be too soft. Having a top layer of PROFLY over a layer of EVA midsole brings about a nice amount of cushioning that feels soft-ish but not mushy at all. 
Michael: Here is where, in my initial pros and cons, I wanted to highlight the delightful “secret” of the shoe. It looks about as un-assuming as any shoe on the wall - perhaps more dull, even. But in reading the tech sheet - and running in the Cavu 3 - you’ll see that this trainer actually packs a punch. Hoka blends their PROFLY (which, like Peter, I think is a little too firm on the Mach line) with an EVA blend down below. It’s a neat trick, and gives the shoe not only a rare visual quirk (our black and white models look quite stoic) but also a darn smooth ride.

Peter: The outsole is Rubberized EVA. The front and rear of the shoe have what seems to be harder rubberized surfaces while the middle of the shoe is exposed EVA. The forefoot is a bit firmer than the heel. Grip has been good and wear is normal. 

Michael: Not much to say, except that I didn’t find this the most stable shoe over slushy/icy sidewalks. There’s no blown rubber here - only rubberized EVA - so it’s not a huge surprise that this isn’t the world’s best winter shoe, but somehow I was hoping there was something more magical. There isn’t. I wouldn’t normally recommend a shoe without blown rubber for serious winter running, and the Cavu 3 is no exception. The Nike Streak models used to have a similar composition, then would layer on some rubber - why can’t Hoka? On the treadmill, this was one of my favorite trainers. Like Peter, I experienced no issues regarding wear across about 30 miles.

Peter: This is one of those shoes that is greater than the sum of its parts. I love the way it rides. It’s firm enough to feel really fast on a tempo day (though I would think of it as a fast trainer rather than a race shoe). The cushioning is really forgiving without being at all mushy. This is a shoe that just doesn’t beat me up. It really works with my natural biomechanics to help me feel like I’m running gracefully and efficiently. The ride reminds me of early Kinvara models. 

Michael: Hoka HQ claims this shoe is everything - a racer, a trainer, a workout shoe, a (non-running) workout shoe, and more. And you know what? They’re not so far off the mark. Like Peter, I’d cut out racing, but if I was ending my run at a gym to do core, or had a long session integrating faster and slower running, or was just setting out for a weekend long run, I’d want the Cavu 3 to be top of mind. Call it a Launch, Kinvara, or Boston competitor, and give it a real shot. That said, those approaching this by brand, rather than model, may be disheartened - though I think the Cavu is bouncier than the Mach, neither is particularly “plush” (more forgivable here than in the Mach line), so those stepping down from the beefier Hoka models should be aware.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Peter: The Cavu 3 is my pick for favorite Hoka. It’s a Hoka that I would take as the only shoe on a trip if I wanted a simple shoe that could do whatever I throw at it. It’s comfortable, cushioning is good, it’s the right amount of firm and I haven’t had a bad run in them. Strongly recommend. 
Peter’s Score 9.5/10
The tongue-less tongue area sometimes irritates my ankle a bit. I’d like to have this same mid and outsole on an upper more like the Mach 3. 

Michael: One of my running shoe-related goals for 2020 is to be more discerning in reviews; while I stand by the fact that most shoes these days are good, I want to more effectively convey which shoes are baseline good, and which shoes are truly terrific. The Cavu 3, as my first review of 2020, immediately complicates that, because it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s really fun and zippy to run in, and proves to be my go-to for those not-workout-but-not-easy training days. And yet, the Cavu 3 is is not without its issues, and I can’t let those go entirely: the upper is too low-volume to be considered great, the outsole could use a little more tread to secure things, and - though this is totally subjective - this feels like a $100 shoe to me. This will make many runners happy - and many more jealous that it’s not for them. 
Michael’s Score: 8.8/10

Comparisons  Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Saucony KInvara 11 (RTR Review)
Peter: M 11 in both. Kinvara is stiffer, upper is more built up and it’s just not as fun to run in. The Cavu reminds me more of the OG Kinvara or Vittara (was that the name? )

Brooks Launch 7  (Initial Impressions, full review coming soon)
Michael: M8.5 in both models; the Brooks offers a roomier fit through the mid and forefoot than the Cavu, but the harder heel counter gave me some nasty blisters, and I didn’t find the ride in the Launch noticeably better than the Cavu. For those who can’t fit into the Cavu, I think the Launch is a good bet (and they’d save a little cash in the end as it is $100 vs.$120 for the Cavu), but the Cavu ultimately provides a more exciting and versatile ride.

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 2 (RTR Review)
Peter:11 in both--actually pretty similar. Beacon feels like a little more shoe and is probably a bit softer, but they’re in the same general category. I like both, but would pack the Cavu 3 in my suitcase before the Beacon.

Hoka One One Rincon  (RTR Review)
Peter: Rincon has a bit more cushion and the fit is more accommodating. The Cavu has a little less overall volume, feels a little bit snappier and, for me, works with my stride in a more organic way.  

Hoka Mach 3 One One (RTR Review)
Peter:I would have guessed that the Mach would have been my preference, but the Cavu won me over. A little more forgiving, a lot more fun. 

Michael: M8.5 in both. I came too late to the Mach 3 to be in the multi-tester review, but found it a firm trainer with a too-narrow mid and forefoot that caused issues on runs over 6 miles. Still, I never completely abandoned the Mach, as I enjoyed it as a snappier treadmill trainer. Between the two, I think the Cavu is an overall better trainer, though those wanting something heavier-cushioned shouldn’t entirely discard the Mach.
Hoka Cavu releases January 2020

2020 Run Introductions YouTube playlist HERE 
Shoe Reviews YouTube playlist HERE

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

RoadTrailRun receives a commission on purchases at the stores below.
Your purchases help support RoadTrailRun. Thanks!
Shop for Hoka Cavu 3
USA  Men's & Women's HERE (Cavu 3 available now!)
FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns
EUROPE Men's & Women's HERE
AUSTRALIA Men's & Women's HERE

Men's & Women's HERE
Join VIP Family, Get Free Shipping and 15% in VIP Benefits on every order, Details here

Men's & Women's  HERE

Men's & Women's HERE

RTR YouTube 2020 Run Introductions Playlist

Please Like and Follow RoadTrailRun
Facebook:  Instagram: @roadtrailrun
Twitter: @RoadTrailRun You Tube: @RoadTrailRun


Will said...

Michael, your goal is awesome... I think this site is very awesome, but it seems that the scale is generally 9.0-10.0, leaving the other 9.0 out. I get that shoe tech is much better than in the past, but perhaps the bar should be reset to acknowledge this? All that said, multi-tester reviews and giving bios that differentiate each tester makes parsing things for the reader much more solid than reading some general site... but having negatives count can't hurt.

Thanks all for such great work.

Michael said...

Hi Will (apologies if you get this message twice, my phone had some issues with the last post). Scoring is hard. I like the idea of moving towards a less granular, schoolesque A-F scale (I’m imagining people are more forgiving of a “B shoe” than a “6/10 shoe”) but it’s not always a simple switchover. I think largely you’re right, though - 9.0-10.0 is “normal,” with some 8.5s from time to time. It’s imperfect. Comparisons are always a better bet, I think.

DH said...

The Cavu 2 has been my favorite Tempo and half to full marathonon race shoe - really looking forward to trying the 3's!

I found the Cavu 2 sizing at least 1/2 size large. Most shoes are size 11 for me, but my Cavu 2's are 10-1/2 and still slightly large. Just wondering what size to order?

Michael said...

Hey DH - I found the Cavu 3 to fit on the smaller side, actually - I had an 8.5, and while the length was generally okay, it’s quite a snug fit across the midsole and even in the toebox. Since you’ve sort of experienced the opposite, I would suggest starting at your native 11.

Unfortunately I don’t have a pair of the Cavu 2 on hand to run a direct comparison!

DH said...

Thanks Michael - I ended up ordering the 10-1/2, and the sizing is more or less the same as the Cavu 2, but I am sending them back - reasons below ...

Positives: 1. Shoe laces are appropriate length (Cavu 2's were way too long), and the lace holes are now elongated and angled so as to align the laces and prevent bunching and twisting, (I wish this were the default for all athletic shoe lacing). That's it for positives.

Negatives: 1. Toebox is way too low, and the upper in that area is covered with a stiffer restrictive overlay material - not soft and not strechy at all in this area. 2. The booty like upper in the tongue area is way too tight - difficult to get in and out of the shoe, and not very stretchy in this area either, and a bit thin also. 3. The midsole/outsole are firmer, stiffer, lumpier and not as soft or flexible as the Cavu 2.

Overall a huge and unworkable update for me. :(

Anonymous said...

I actually gave the Cavu a couple test runs based on the overall positive review. I have an average foot shape and can pretty much run in anything that is comfortable.
I found the upper to be absurdly stiff - especially the piece on top of the toebox. The laces were very difficult to adjust as well. The midsole feels like running on a board. I was waiting for the fun ride and it just wasn't there.
As the owner of a running shoe store I test lots of shoes and appreciate all that you contribute. But this one, I just don't get.