Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hoka One One TenNine Multi Tester Review: Radical! Crazy! Effective?

Article by Canice Harte, John Tribbia, Jeff Valliere, and Sam Winebaum


Hoka One One TenNine ($250)

Stats

Estimated Weight based on sample: 12.35 oz / 350 g US9

Sample Weights: 330 g / 11.75 oz men's US8, 369 g / 13 oz men’s US10

Stack Height: Heel: 37mm Forefoot 33mm (including sock liner), Offset: 4mm

$250. Available March 2020 including Running Warehouse HERE

Shoe size: unisex M7/W8 - M13/W14


Introduction

Sam: Born in the French Alps and created by two ski and sport gear designers who "on the side" were also superb ultra runners.  Hoka emerged during the height of the minimalist running movement with the super cushioned Mafate, a shoe the founders cooked up to be able to bomb downhill runs with the the running shoe equivalent of the suspension of a downhill mountain bike. As at the beginning the Hoka motto is “Time to Fly”.

2010 Original Hoka One One Mafate I hiked around the Mont Blanc in

The rest is history as their super cushioned approach has swept the running world and the brand now owned by Deckers has grown tremendously with road, trail, walking, and lifestyle extensions.

But like all great companies Hoka has never forgotten that fast downhill DNA and original and still current motto "Time to Fly". The TenNine reaffirms that DNA with a radical shoe designed to maximize ground contact with a focus on downhills.


The TenNine name comes from the size. As we were re-defining oversize the initial name was Giga. Following  physics representations Giga is represented 10 to the power 9. This is where Tennine is coming from.


We designed this product as a piece of specialized equipment specifically for running. It's not a lifestyle shoe or a hybrid shoe. Think of these like ski boots or cycling shoes.  Using this product for anything other than running may impair balance and dexterity. So, don't wear these on stairs or while driving. 


That is how Hoka describes the TenNine so what did our test team discover?


The ground contact surface is truly enormous. In the photo below a Speedgoat EVO, already a relatively gigantic on the ground contact  surface is compared to a half size smaller TenNine.


While it did not immediately occur to me it appears to me Hoka is doing what ASICS did with the Metaride which was also about extreme new tech and price in a deliberate "concept shoe" approach with new Hoka technology in the mix: Hubble geometry midsole with outrigger heel and more pronounced rocker and flexibility for Hoka and the Guide Sole for ASICS. 


From MetaRide ASICS rolled out three very successful less extreme and lighter in weight and price variants, all with Guide Sole: Glideride, Evoride, and Metaracer. 


While we have no advance knowledge of what may come next for the TenNine concept, based on what we experienced testing it, I could well see a less extreme outrigger heel in a lighter and more moderately priced shoe with a similar upper and overall midsole/outsole design and geometry being part of the evolution of Hoka for both road and trail.


Pros:  

Jeff V:  Fit, comfort, breathability, stability, cushioning, traction.

Canice: The upper of the TenNine is fantastic and as you would expect from Hoka, there’s all the cushion you could ever ask for.

John/Sam: Fit, breathability, stability and cushion when downhilling on long dirt roads, novelty, deceptively light for how large this shoe is in volume


Cons:

Jeff V:  Heavy, awkwardly large, not agile, expensive, not versatile

Canice: Looks strange,expensive and weighs more than you would like.

John: Weird and bulky

Sam: Promising but overly exaggerated heel geometry leads to excessive weight and versatility limitations


Tester Profiles

Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100, Western States 100, and Leadman as well as many other ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as in traditional road races and triathlons.

Jeff V. runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.


First Impressions and Fit

Canice: It’s virtually impossible to not notice the heel of the shoe and to wonder what in tarnation is going on there? It’s big and bulbous and sticks out like a witches nose on Halloween. But surely the geniuses at Hoka must know what they’re doing and this can’t be a mistake? Well guess what? It’s not a mistake and it actually works, and works great.


Canice: Now don’t get me wrong, the shoes are still big, crazy looking and heavy, not to mention expensive but so were the first Hoka’s when they were released. Pushing boundaries is what Hoka does best and the TenNine is no exception


Canice: The TenNine  feels great charging downhill and you don’t really notice the heel when climbing. The upper of the TenNine is actually a work of art and I hope they use it on other shoes. So the real knock on the shoes are weight and running on technical trails. Everything else is quite good if not great. The fit is true to size.


Jeff V:  Where to begin?  For starters, the gigantic size and bulbous heel is the elephant in the room so to speak, as this shoe is absolutely massive!  For the size, the weight is reasonable at 13 oz in my Men’s size 10, but it is still a lot of shoe. Fit is excellent, true to size and enough room in the forefoot without feeling loose, secure heel and midfoot.  As soon as I got the TenNine, I immediately sought out my very smallest shoe in the same size, the Salomon S/Lab Sense 7 SG to compare.  


It is hard to believe the two shoes are the same size.  One looks like a shoe for an elf and the other for Shaq (who I have sat next to and can confirm the relative shoe size).  

Just wearing around inside of the house, I was stumbling and tripping over them going about my business of preparing dinner.


John: This is crazy! I’ve never seen or worn a shoe quite like this. Admittedly, it is a bit head scratching to fathom how this shoe can even function on trail, but I’m excited to try it. As Jeff says, the huge heel cannot be ignored. Wearing them through the house, the TenNine fits really comfortably and it is true to size, but it is wide, long, and bulky. On an initial run, I took it to a short, but steep, trail with some technical features. As Canice mentions above, downhills were blissful and the bulk is mostly unnoticeable going uphill. I have this awkward habit when fatigued where I brush my opposite calf with the inside heel of the shoe going forward. The TenNine magnifies this habit with so much shoe protruding outside of the upper perimeter.


Sam: I was provided a pair a half size down from my normal and but for being a touch short they fit just about right, The upper aided by a very prominent Active Foot Frame midsole side walls,(another Hoka signature element reimagined here), whichwraps the foot super securely all over with the front lycra gusset as seen on the Speedgoat providing some give to the width. Walking around the house and tackling some stairs I immediately noticed the long rear outrigger in the way. A short walk around the neighborhood on pavement confirmed they are not designed for walking the flats. And definitely don’t drive in these. 

My first run was on packed groomed  snow. The wide footprint on snow was fantastic in the sense of keeping me on top of the surface with climbs easy and fluid and downhills stable and fast. One of the best rides on snow ever for me, A return on road down a steep paved section of road confirmed a super stable super cushioned heel landing. Unlike any Hoka I have ever run the rocker to toe off didn’t need to be forced by knee lift and miracle of miracles there is actually some front flex to the sole.


Upper

Canice: The upper of the TenNine is brilliant. I found it to be incredibly comfortable while holding my foot securely in place. The stretch gusseted tongue works perfectly and the TenNine strikes a great balance between breathability and durability.


John: Like Canice points out, the upper is very comfortable and breathable, and hugs the foot really well. As a countermeasure to the extraordinary engineering of the shoe as a whole, the upper is aesthetically a little boring, but I’m okay with the conservative colorway given the shoe has an attention grabbing profile. The feel of the upper is quite plush, soft, and comfortable. As Canice also mentions, the high part of the heel ensures there is minimal heel slip.

Jeff V:  The upper is fantastic, with very good fit, security and ventilation and is by far my favorite feature of the TenNine.  The higher heel and achilles collar assists in security and stability and is very comfortable. While I find fit and security to be quite good just wearing casually, running flat and on uphills, I discovered that the large heel upon landing on steep downhills (and even more so on fast steep downhills), leverages the shoe in such a way that it forces the upper to contort in such a way that my foot would become a bit hot and chafed.  I never got a blister, but my longest continuous downhill was only 6 miles and wonder if it would become problematic on a 13+ mile downhill like Pikes Peak.


Sam: The upper has familiar Hoka elements such as the soft lycra forefoot vamp insert as found on the Speedgoat and EVO Mafate to allow some width expansion without compromising side of upper structure and support and the Active Foot Frame that seats the foot deep into the midsole, very deeply here,

Familiar elements aside, the mid foot features 3 wings tied into the laces in similar fashion to Saucony ISO Fit to draw the upper over the foot in a more customized volume fit than prior Hoka and unlike many ISO Fit shoes it works very well here. The inner stretch gusset tying the tongue to midsole is stout with a bit of stretch. 

I think a big part of the secret to making the mid foot work so well is the tongue itself which Hoka calls Ariaprene.  

The same open grid of mesh as seen lower in the tongue is laminated with a fairly thick overlay with the assembly both padded and decently structured to tie tongue to the rest of the mid foot wrap.

The rear ankle collar is well if firmly padded with the achilles collar narrower and more plushly padded. The top tip of the achilles is stiffened a bit to serve as a pull on tab, There is not plastic heel counter per say in any of the gray areas which are pliable but the foot sits a solid inch down into the blue side and rear midsole. The result is a super secure and super stable rear hold that has plenty of padding and no harsh or rigid elements.


Midsole


Canice: The TenNine is all about the midsole and the “ride” it produces. Hoka says “With innovative new midsole geometries designed to provide extensive ground contact for a smoother, more stable cruise over any terrain, this shoe manages to take something you already know – running – and make it into an entirely new experience.”.  What they’re talking about here is that as you run and extend your stride forward the heel comes into contact with the ground before your brain thinks it will and the midsole of the shoe softly lowers your foot to the ground before you feel your heel impact the ground. This creates a very stable platform for someone who heel strikes, and let’s face it, no matter how much someone tells you to midfoot strike, most everyone heel strikes.


Canice: As it relates to the midsole and not the “Ride” the Hoka TenNine has all the cushion you have come to expect from Hoka and the weight gain here is from the “amount” of material as opposed to the material itself. We’ll discuss running in the TenNine further in the “Ride” section of this review but the midsole itself works great.


Jeff V:  While the midsole provides excellent cushioning and I understand the intention behind it as Canice describes so well above, I never found a circumstance where the added heel felt like an advantage.  I noticed the earlier than usual landing with the existence of the heel, but it felt awkward and out of place to me and instead of urging me to go faster on the downhills, I felt myself struggling to overcome the bulk and mass.

John: If nothing else, I found that the midsole does exactly what it is designed to accomplish. The midfoot as well as the rear and heel cushioning are both soft and firm. It isn’t squishy, which allows the runner to find a decent rhythm at a high cadence regardless if they are ascending or descending. In contrast to Jeff’s observation, I found long sustained non-technical descents (greater than 2 miles on service roads) to be the optimal use-case. I am a major heel striker on those types of descents, so that might be why I like them for such a purpose.


Sam: I agree with John. The purpose here is fast downhill running and I would agree downhills that are not technical, and that includes road downhills where I found them sensational in their cushion and stability.


Overall the midsole feels similar to the EVO Speedgoat some squish but in no way mushy and here given the giant width and the considerably more segmented lower overall coverage outsole with plentiful and deep decoupling grooves, say compared to a MegaGrip shod Speedgoat the Early Stage Meta Rocker actually works. Notice how the rocker is yet more pronounced at the very front than say in the EVO Speedgoat (picture below) where the rocker in combination with some flex is much more to my liking than in the regular Speedgoat. 

And I will say it again miracle of miracles for most Hoka, there is also a fairly decent forward flex point reminding me of many La Sportiva which helps climbs along very decently indeed. No exaggerated knee lift as in most Hoka to move along for me here flat or climbs. 


The rear midsole geometry is… the elephant in the room.  I found it highly effective for its intended purpose of stabilizing and cushioning the heel for downhill running but it is exaggerated in scale to the rear and side flare more than it needs to be to accomplish its "mission" adding to weight (12.35 oz / 350g is up there in a US size 9)  and limiting versatility for more technical downhills as the guys found out, and overall. 

The picture above and below shows the TenNine platform relative to the already substantial EVO Speedgoat with the TenNine a size 8 and the Evo a size 8.5

The issue is not about running both up and down on road or more moderate terrain where I found it perfectly fine with the giant footprint particularly effective on hard packed snow. Further, its scale limits its use for walking, going up and down stairs, and driving.  I hope a next version will reduce the length/ scale of the rear outrigger and keep the rest of the excellent midsole geometry, 

 

Outsole


Canice: The outsole is unremarkable and there’s not much to say about it other than its good and functions well. The yellow rear small lugs are firm durable rubber glued into a softer yellow carrier which extends through the midfoot with the front gray chevrons also firmer rubber.  The larger midfoot yellow surfaces are a softer outsole rubber of about the same firmness as the blue midsole

Jeff V:  While the look and tread of the outsole is unremarkable as Canice states, I was surprised at how well it performed.  There were many occasions where I was certain that I would slip, like on icy snowy trails, or loose off trail, the massive surface area provides so much ground contact that it sticks better than expected given the low profile tread.


John: Like Jeff, I was able to take the TenNine on a variety of surfaces. The combination of a wide landing surface and somewhat aggressive tread provides a secure outsole on dirt and snow. I did feel some slipping on off-trail damp grassy terrain, but not many outsoles perform really well in such a test.


Sam: I concur. The outsole performance is excellent on all surfaces from snow, to trail, to road. The outsole midsole underneath is well decoupled leading to a smooth flow on the run,


Ride

Canice: This is what the TenNine is all about. It’s new, it’s crazy and interesting looking but does it work? In short, yes. Yes it works and works incredibly well. Now I’m not saying you need to run out and purchase a pair but as to the million dollar question whether the TenNine is legit, it absolutely is.


Canice: The heel of the TenNine contacts the ground before you realize it and it sort of lowers your heel into place. Now I know this is a trail shoe but where I found this worked best was running downhill on the road. So I next took the TenNine onto the single track to give it a go and on open to smoother trails it worked great there too. Where I struggled was on technical trails where precise foot placement was demanded, but then again, you wouldn’t normally take the TenNine on these trails.


Canice: Running uphill in the TenNine is fine. You don’t notice the heel while running up but you sure would love to drop a few ounces of weight. Running flats feels a bit strange at first but you quickly get used to it. The place the shoe feels the strangest is when you’re trying them on for the first time in your local running store. You’ll definitely notice the heel and don’t think about driving your car to the local trailhead with these babies on. That’s a no go for sure.


Jeff V:  I found the ride of the TenNine to be smooth and well cushioned, but somewhat slow and not responsive.

John: Canice sums up the experience quite well. In short, the huge heel basically catches your foot going downhill, which slows down the foot before it makes hard contact with the ground.

 Watch John's Slow Motion TenNine Descent Video HERE


I tried finding the sweet spot in my gait where the heel functions best; for me, I make a slight hip tilt forward to give my heels the okay to lead. I’m not a physiologist, but I definitely felt like I was overstriding and would risk injury if I were in any other shoe. On technical terrain, accurate foot placement is not really an option given the girth of the shoe.


Sam:The best ride here for me was on firmer smooth snow and steeper road downhills. The giant on the ground contact sits somewhere between a running shoe and a snowshoe providing some “floatation” on snow! Both uphills and downhills on snow were truly dreamy and fast with great grip on the uphills with that smoother rocker highly propulsive and with downhills confidence inspiring. The same confidence applied to smoother largely obstacle free trail and road downhills. You can really feel the far back heel acting as a gentle lever rolling forward all the way to toe off at the effective front rocker. As clearly a heel striker on downhills, I really appreciated the controlled landings here with for all intents and purposes very little shock and a smooth roll forward. On flats the weight was more noticed than on ups and downs


I also ran them as a “road to trail” recovery shoe and they were more than adequate for that purpose but did notice a few more ankle kicks than I would like,t not surprising given the heel width. While the heaviest shoe in my collection, they do run lighter than their weight I think due to the excellent front rocker. They do not feel particularly heel heavy but as Jeff says they are not super responsive or agile.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Canice: I’m a fan of Hoka and I have worked in the footwear industry for a long time and I still can’t get past the look of the heel. I know it works but it is ugly as it gets and at $250 I want more versatility.  But it really does work. Hmmm…

Canice: 8.6/10



RIDE

FIT

VALUE

STYLE

Traction

Rock Protection

Overall Score

Percentage of Total

30%

30%

10%

5%

15%

10%


Score

8

10

6

6

9

9.5

8.6




Jeff V:  I too am a big fan of Hoka and have run in most trail models and a nice selection of road shoes since they hit the scene in 2010 with the very first Mafate model.  I have worn Hokas for just about all of my trail races and road races, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim, PR/FKT attempts on Colorado peaks. Hoka is all about pushing the limits of innovation and the TenNine is the poster child of their throw caution to the wind approach.  While I ran on a variety of terrain and they run surprisingly well uphill, I sought out long, steep downhills where I could run fast and push the heel to the limit, but I just never found them to offer any sort of advantage. The heel landing leveraged the shoe somewhat awkwardly, throwing off the fit/comfort of the upper and I found it to generally get in the way, especially if the terrain was even slightly technical.  The altered gait and landing created by the heel also taxed my quads and glutes, slowing me throughout the run and causing surprising soreness, despite being very well conditioned and adapted for long, fast downhills. Every time I ran downhill, I longed for a normal Hoka, such as the EVO Speedgoat, Speedgoat 4 or EVO Mafate 2. In fact, after every run in the TenNine, I ran in one of the above listed Hokas to compare, finding each one to be faster, more nimble, agile, versatile, as well or better cushioned and easier on the legs.  Hats off to the innovation team and I applaud their propensity to push the envelope, but the TenNine just did not work all that well for me.

Jeff V Score:  7.6/10

Ride: 8 (30%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 2 (10%) Style:1 (5%) Traction: 9 (15%) Rock Protection: 9 (10%)


John: For a short time, Karl Meltzer used to organize a sister race with his Speedgoat 50K called the “Quadbanger”. The race attracted a select few courageous runners who would start at the top of Snowbird ski area and run downhill to the base. Upon arrival at the base, runners would hop on the tram back up to the top where they would descend again, for a total of four descents (that’s where the Quad in Quadbanger comes from). I never raced it, but I know several who did and they could barely walk for weeks after (which is the other reason for naming the race Quad). I can only imagine that the TenNine would be in its own league for such a unique event. And I think that’s what makes this shoe so interesting - it is unique and niche and bizarre just like the Quadbanger event. Moreover, if you are a mid- or back-pack runner who is out running iconic events like Pikes Peak Marathon or Imogene Pass Run, I think these would be a fun and leg-saving shoe to have for the longer, steeper, sustained downhills while having enough efficiency to navigate the minimally technical uphills. And, although the TenNine doesn’t have a wide range of use-cases nor is it very versatile, I think this major swing in design is sure to influence how Hoka and other brands customize or add features to their shoes for downhill running efficiency, stability, and comfort. 

John’s Score: 8.0 /10 

Ride:8  (stable and effective downhill)

Fit: 9 

Value: 6 (niche shoe at a high price point)

Style: 7 (conservative colorway and aggressive silhouette) 

Traction: 8 (decent traction)

Rock Protection: 8


Sam: The TenNine is clearly a bold statement. It represents an extreme new approach to midsole geometry which harkens back and re expresses Hoka’s origins, and their first shoe the Mafate which was designed to bring the suspension of a mountain bike to downhill trail running. Hoka is clear in their marketing as to the intended use:

We designed this product as a piece of specialized equipment specifically for running. It's not a lifestyle shoe or a hybrid shoe. Think of these like ski boots or cycling shoes.  Using this product for anything other than running may impair balance and dexterity. So, don't wear these on stairs or while driving. “

Practically speaking their ideal use for me has been on hilly hard packed snow where they are incredible and on smoother largely obstacle free trails and hilly dirt and paved roads. The massive on the ground contact, very stable “levered” downhill landings and smooth rocker are unique in their effectiveness in these conditions. The upper is superb in its security and comfort, the best I can recall from Hoka. Visually striking in an overly extreme way, it runs surprisingly well and accomplishes its mission but has limitations. Limitations include weight at 12.35 oz and the sheer size of the rear outrigger which make technical terrain difficult to get through. Walking flats are awkward as are stairs and driving with them on, just don’t do it.  As such I can’t say they are a great value at $250.


If one considers the TenNine as a “concept car” showcasing new technologies there is much to like here: the levered rear landing, the super broad on the ground overall geometry, the smooth and effective rocker, and the great upper. If the next iteration tones down the rear outrigger reducing weight while making the platform more versatile, Hoka will have a winner that is true to its origins, yet evolved. In the meantime, it is a solid option for smooth non technical trail running with long fast downhills, recovery road running, and could be a good choice for downhill road marathons for slower pace runners.

Sam’s Score 8.5/ 10

Ride: 8 (30%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 6.5 (10%) Style: 8 (5%) Traction: 9 (15%) Rock Protection: 9.5 (10%)


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Canice: There really is nothing to compare the Hoka One One TenNine to. It’s a shoe in it’s own class.


Jeff V:  Yeah, no real comparisons, aside from perhaps snowshoes and Shaq’s shoes’


I guess the most obvious comparisons however would be to other Hoka shoes.


I’ll sum up instead of breaking down each model, but as I touched upon above, the TenNine feels bulky enough to throw off my gait, slow me down and feel awkward, whereas many other Trail and Road Hokas offer the same stack height/cushioning, are faster, more agile, nimble, many have better traction and are more versatile overall, at a much lower price.


John: I haven’t run in the Nike Next%, but in terms of innovation swing they seem comparable in that regard. Otherwise, the TenNine is in a league of its own!


Sam: Way out there for sure much as John says the Next% is but more focused on the narrow task of downhill running.


Watch Sam and Canice detailed first run review video here with comparisons to Hoka's original Mafate and the current Speedgoat 4 (13:00) HERE


Read reviewers' full run bios here

The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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