Saturday, January 01, 2022

Hoka Kawana Review. 11 Comparisons!

Article by Sam Winebaum and Jeff Beck

Hoka Kawana ($140)


Sam: The Kawana is a brand new model Hoka intended to sit between the Clifton and Bondi in the Hoka line up as an all purpose daily road trainer and even other workouts shoe.  It is within a millimeter of the midsole stack height of the Clifton but sits on a wider platform.  

Using Hoka’s handy shoe sidewall “V”shoe volume markings,  Kawana will be at 712 cm3 vs. 655 cm3  for Clifton. 

The Bondi X at the nearly same weight as Kawana has a higher stack at 33/28 and as significantly higher volume at 884 cm3

I do not have volume data for Bondi but with its higher 33 x 29 midsole stack height and half ounce greater weight it clearly has higher overall underfoot volume than Kawana.

More significantly, the $180 Carbon X 3 has 736 cm3  volume and at my US8.5 weighs 8.24 oz / 233g to the Kawana’s 10.2 oz / 290g at the same size. The Carbon X has Hoka’s new supercritical foam and a carbon plate and is closer to a racer. 

All of these geeky comparisons indicate that Kawana’s new foam is denser and heavier than newer and even prior Hoka foams and we assume specced for durability and as Hoka describe is supposed to provide “solid rebound without packing out”  

Kawana includes a stabilizing and levering swallowtail increasingly seen at Hoka.  Here, while not as extreme in rear volume or as soft as Bondi X’s it  is more extended on the lateral side than medial, we see a clear indication that a stable heel striking landing and then lever forward effect was in the product brief. Pressing the foam we can tell this will not be a super soft mushy landing as the Bondi X was at slower paces for me.

The platform is very wide and especially so at mid foot and heel. It is shod with a podded outsole with thick rubber (the blue ocean like colors) covering key wear areas.

The upper is broad, very soft and pliable, and unstructured with a gusset tongue in the mix. It is made of vegan recycled materials.

All of this tech detail might point to a comfort cruiser, easier miles shoe, and an option for heavier runners, those with broader feet as well as new runners seeking a broad, stable and durable ride. Let’s test and find out!

Tester Profiles

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he is lucky training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA.

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.


Broad, soft, friendly yet secure fit: Sam/Jeff

Wide stable neutral platform: Sam

Deep protective cushion with a touch of rubbery bounce: Sam/Jeff

Stable heel landing with leverage forward at even slow paces from effective swallowtail: Sam/Jeff

Smooth, deliberate and effective any pace rocker: Sam

Solid slow paces, recovery, walking, beginner runner shoe: Sam/Jeff

Possibly the most “normal” Hoka trainer ever: Jeff



Weight : Sam

Somewhat abrupt and firm swallowtail feel at slow paces back on the heels: Sam

Notably dense heavy feeling midsole foam, if well cushioned and with some rebound : Sam/Jeff

Firmer midsole feel in colder weather than warmer: Sam/Jeff

Toebox is “Hoka good” but still relatively narrow: Jeff


Approx. Weight: men's 10.5 oz / 298g (US9) :: women's 8.4 oz /  237g 

  Sample: men’s  10.23 oz / 290g (US8.5), 11.18 oz / 317g (US10.5)

Stack Height: 30mm heel / 25mm forefoot   women 27mm heel / 22mm forefoot

Available January 2022. $140   

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Sam: A friendly cheery vibe here in mostly white with a greenish yellow midsole with some orange highlights. The more aggressive and lightly padded achilles collar and pronounced lateral side swallowtail visually point to heel stability and security. The design, weight at 10.6 oz and broad on the ground platform says comfort cruiser to me. 

The rest of the upper is a very soft, very pliable engineered mesh reminding me of the original Carbon X upper.but here thicker and lined. There are no overlays whatsoever with the tongue and its gusset as well as the foot sitting down in the midsole side walls providing the support and lockdown and effectively so.

The toe box is not only quite broad and rounded but given the mesh is so pliable and soft and the mid foot to rear hold so effective we have a fit that I think will suit a wide range of feet from my narrower ones to near a real wide. No wide sizing will be available at launch. 

Jeff: Sam is spot on, the colorway is the very definition of “cheery”. And wow, the asymmetrical swallowtail is eye-catching, though, right after slipping the shoe on the foot it becomes clear that it’s not just for aesthetics. I would slightly disagree with Sam on the toebox, while it is broad and round for a Hoka shoe, it’s still a little on the tight side width-wise. It’s close to great, another 1-2mm of width and I’d be waxing poetic, but as it is, just a little tight. 

The gusseted tongue doesn't give me any cause for complaint. It’s got Goldilocks-level of cushioning, it’s the right height, and doesn’t move at all. It’s one of those elements that gets everything so right it completely disappears.

However, the overall fit is really nice, and true-to-size. The platform is very accommodating, especially in the midfoot, and is nearly 4mm wider than the very comparable Clifton 8, and actually slightly wider than the massively midsoled Bondi X. I still get a little bit of pressure in the arch when going for an hour or more, but my foot is just a hair over D width, so I wouldn’t call it narrow.


Sam: The midsole is made of a new single density compression molded EVA foam said by Hoka to be “lively, providing solid rebound without packing out.. (and) accessible, delivering a well balanced ride.”

The marketing description above is accurate but every word must be carefully considered.  The rebound is solid, yes, but quite dense and on the firmer side (especially at the heel) with a quite muted but clearly noticed rubbery bounce. The feel is very consistent no matter the pace with a smooth transition to toe off from the rocker in a semi rigid platform with some flex. 

The platform is wide on the ground with as mentioned above significantly more overall volume (and I would say stability as well) underfoot than the Clifton, but less than Bondi.

The swallowtail is more than a gimmick.  It provides a noticeable lever forward from my heel landing style at slower paces. There is no sensation of lingering at the heel as this “helper” kicks me forward, if a bit more firmly than ideal. Unlike the Bondi X which is very soft on heel landings at slow paces, overly so for me, here the further forward you land as you pick up the pace the more gently felt its effect while the slower you go the sharper, firmer and more pronounced its nudge off the heel becomes. I can’t recall a shoe Hoka or otherwise with such a pronounced heel lever action.

The overall rocker on this 5mm shoe is not a speed demon near plated effect as the upcoming Mach Supersonic has with its firmer thick layer of rubberized foam on the ground. Even though Kawana is a considerably heavier shoe it is more consistent and smoother at all paces and especially slower than Clifton, where the slower I go the more awkward, soft, less stable and hard to roll the shoe becomes. So for Hoka fans, the Kawana could be a nice, easier days complimentary shoe to the Clifton, Mach 4 and upcoming Mach Supersonic.

Here all paces feel the same in cushion and roll with the swallowtail providing its greatest mark at slower pace by initiating the roll down the broad platform and past mid foot if somewhat firmly so way out back. 

Jeff: Sam describes the midsole very well. The asymmetrical swallowtail heel is interesting and very effective. I’m a midfoot striker, but on a few runs I forced myself into landing back on the heel, and the shoe transitions very quickly effectively from the back. My previously reviewed shoe was the adidas Adistar, which had a very different heel technology that dissuaded heel striking, and I think the Kawana heel is a massive improvement.

The midsole is decidedly not Hoka, or at least, it’s very different from every other Hoka made. Hoka midsoles are usually very heavy and soft, like in the Bondi, or very light and lacking much substance - almost like a question of midsole density. The Clifton or Rincon both have massive weight advantages over the Kawana, but neither one feels like a true every day trainer while the Kawana really feels like the Hoka version of a Glycerin or Triumph - but more on that in the Ride section.



Sam: The outsole has an array of thick connected rubber pods with deep grooves into the midsole separating them. Each pod is rimmed by foam to I assume help them resist shear forces. Plenty of well placed wear surfaces here. 

Interestingly one might expect the Kawana to be more flexible than it actually is.  There is some flex and for sure as this is not a rigid profile rocker shoe but one that combines both a clear rocker and some flex, something I like, The center mid foot to heel has 2 relatively shallow  decoupling grooves with mostly full ground contacting foam coverage. This wide ground contact at mid foot clearly contributes to the Kawana’s stability but I wish for a bit snappier quicker transition after the swallowtail’s noticeable kick toward the front of the shoe’s easy if not exactly snappy or dynamic toe off.

Jeff: The rubber covers the high wear areas very effectively, without going overboard. The decoupling grooves seem like they should give the shoe more flexibility than it has, but the density of the midsole clearly plays into the lack of flexibility. While it wouldn’t be my first choice for a snowy run, the outsole has enough traction and durability for most conditions. Between the midsole density and rubber, I could see this being one of the most durable Hoka road shoes ever made.



Sam: The ride is as Hoka says “accessible, delivering a well balanced ride.” Accurate but not maybe as exciting as it could be due to the weight, the dense rubbery rebound of the midsole, and the broad overall geometry. Beyond the impulse forward from the swallowtail, any strong sensations have been largely tuned out or given the rubbery (dampened out) feel delivering a reliable, well cushioned, easy to move, but not that inspired ride feel if a smooth one after the heel. There is nothing wrong with that.  We all for sure need some steady and consistent, well protected and stable to go with all the fast stuff,  a companion which has some bouncy and pleasing but muted and stable rebound, a shoe that won’t get you into trouble.

Jeff: The Kawana is a solid easy-pace daily trainer that’s soft, but not pillowy. The midsole’s density keeps you from sinking into the shoe at landing (be it a midfoot or heel strike) and the shoe’s geometry doesn’t inspire a very fast turnover either. While that might read as a major criticism, I found it makes a great day-in-day-out trainer. When it’s time for quick stuff, the Kawana shouldn’t be your shoe, but for the vast majority of your runs, the Kawana is ideal. And I really don’t think Hoka has had that shoe in their lineup before this, at least not in their road lineup.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam: It seems Hoka made a conscious choice here to prioritize a durable, reliable trainer that delivers a comfortable, consistent and stable ride with no particular pace or distance prioritized but which leans towards easier paces due to the weight of the shoe and the less than dynamic feel of the midsole. The upper fit is outstanding in its secure yet comfort focused materials and design and I think will be effective in accommodating a wide range of foot shapes, a wide not being offered at launch.

Basically it seems Hoka likely took the middle “accessible” road so as to compete with more forefoot cushion (there is plenty here)  from its lower 5mm drop and wider platform against higher 10mm drop shoes in the heavier duty daily trainer class such as the ASICS GEL-Nimbus 24, Nike Vomero 16, and Glycerin 19 as well as fill in a gap in its own line for a model between the lighter and more performance oriented Clifton and Mach 4 and the max max Bondi and Bondi X. 

Yet all of these competitors are lighter as they incorporate, at least for part of the midsole, livelier and less dense midsole foams.  And never mind Hoka’s own Clifton 8 which checks in almost 2 oz lighter on not as inherently stable or smooth at slower paces platform but is clearly a faster shoe. Or for that matter the Bondi X yet more massive with 884 cm3 of volume vs. a mere 712 cm3 here and weighing the same with clearly a lighter foam in the mix.

Nothing wrong with the approach, but I wonder what Hoka’s new supercritical type EVA foam (coming to Carbon X 3 and trail Tecton X) would have delivered on this same 30/25 platform.  For sure lighter weight and at 10.6 oz in a US9 we are up there. Would the durability of the midsole or stability (without the plate of those two) have suffered? Don’t know yet, but do know that getting to sub 10 oz with a livelier more springy than densely bouncy ride as here would be a strong plus. 

I have no doubt the value will be strong, and particularly so for the runner seeking a single trainer, or the Hoka fan wanting something a bit more than Clifton (more stability, more overall underfoot volume for cushion and support, potentially more midsole life)  in an easier days shoe not quite as extreme in its cushion as the heavier Bondi. 

Sam’s Score: 8.86 / 10

Ride:8.6 (50%) Fit: 9.2 (30%) Value:9 (15%) Style:9 (5%)

Jeff: At first I thought the Kawana was going to be a Clifton Plus, but was pleased to realize it’s a whole new thing for Hoka - the well-cushioned daily trainer. It’s not a lightweight shoe, or a massively cushioned behemoth aimed for the easiest of days, instead it’s the shoe that you should be wearing for that fabled 80% of your runs, the easy ones. The asymmetrical swallowtail heel will help heel strikers, while not being a hindrance to midfoot strikers. The upper doesn’t get much wrong (though another a couple of millimeters of width in the toebox would be a dream) and the outsole gives traction and durability without creating an inflexible brick. 

I like to speculate as well, and I agree with Sam, a Kawana with a lighter midsole could be something special. That said, I don’t know if that hypothetical shoe would have the durability and practicality that the Kawana brings - something the Hoka road line hasn’t had in the past. 

Jeff’s Score: 8.65 /10

Ride:8.5 (50%) Fit: 8.5 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Hoka Clifton (RTR Review)

Sam: The Clifton sits below the Kawana in weight that is for sure, almost 2 oz lighter and has almost equal the cushion delivered in livelier foam. It is not nearly as stable as Kawana and for me its upper is not quite as secure overall. It is a far superior faster paces shoe but not my choice for very easy pace runs when I want some stability and don’t want to think about form.

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. The Clifton’s weight advantage is appreciated, but it comes at the expense of density, or lack thereof. Lighter weight runners may feel like the Clifton could be a fun and light daily trainer, but for me they just don’t have enough underfoot to want to put many miles on them. Beyond the density, the Kawana midsole has a little more width to it, making a more stable platform, and a more accommodating fit. Kawana is a big step forward.

Hoka Mach 4 (RTR Review)

Sam: Pretty easy one here. Far lighter than Kawana, more stable than Clifton the Mach 4 is my favorite road Hoka.  It does not have the mass and density of the Kawana so heavier runners or those who focus on easier paces might lean towards the Kawana but for most others Mach 4 is way more fun and almost as equally protective and cushioned. 

Hoka Bondi (RTR Review)

Sam: I have not run the Bondi in recent years but in round two of our review Jeff Beck will chime in on this comparison but as stated above the Bondi has a higher 33 x 29 midsole stack height and half ounce greater weight.

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. The Bondi might as well be the Xerox/Kleenex of the soft and big stacked shoes that excel at the ultra easy days, but they bring just too much to the table to be a consistent daily trainer. The wide platform of the Bondi gives it good stability, despite its soft midsole, but the Kawana takes the cake when it comes to being a practical daily trainer.

Bondi X (RTR Review)

Sam: The $200 carbon plated Bondi X weighs about the same and has not only a 33/28 stack height, so 3mm more front and back than Kawana but also a more pronounced rear swallowtail. According toHoka’s volume marking the Bondi X  is at 884 cm3 vs 712 cm3 for Kawana so it is considerably more shoe underfoot. It’s midsole is softer and springy but that big heel and its super softness is a bit too much, while the Kawana’s tail and heel is a bit too firm. The Bondi X carbon plate is less about race shoe propulsion than giving you a chance to move along given all the rest. So while not as soft or as cushioned or as “pleasant” the Kawana is easier to move along especially at slower paces and is a pretty massive $60 less. For the ultimate in plush soft cush Bondi X,  for more practical if not as pleasant feeling but smoother running Kawana

Jeff: Kawana fits true-to-size, Bondi X runs large. Sam breaks these two down very well, the Bondi X isn’t that much of a higher stack, but overall it is a much larger and softer shoe. I struggled with the best use case for the Bondi X, while the Kawana is clearly aimed to be a daily trainer. Bondi X for the easiest of easy days, the Kawana as your daily trainer.

Nike Zoom Vomero 16 (RTR Review)

Sam: Slightly lighter, the Zoom Vomero 16 has a more traditional geometry with the same heel height as Kawana but a lower forefoot as it is a 10mm drop shoe vs. 5mm for the Kawana. As such, and with its grippy, lugged,  full contact outsole it is a more flexible and agile big shoe. It’s combination of an EVA outer carrier and Zoom X central core delivers both some spring and stability but don’t mistake the feel here for an all Zoom X midsole but clearly it is livelier and less dense feeling than the more rubbery and dense rebound of the Kawana. The uppers don’t compare with the Nike’s maybe a touch broader just ahead of lace up but with a less secure overall lockdown and even in normal D width with wides available. The Vomero upper may present challenges for narrower lower volume feet while Kawana more rounded toe box and overall fit is superior for narrow to even moderately wide feet. Relatively minor for me upper issues aside, I would give the nod to Vomero as I prefer a flexible higher drop more agile forefoot trainer which Vomero delivers even if its forefoot cushion is noticeably thinner.

ASICS GEL-Nimbus 24 (RTR Multi Tester Review)

Sam: The just releasing Nimbus is a 10mm drop trainer with a higher heel at 34mm than Kawana and about the same forefoot at 24mm. The Nimbus 24 despite its additional stack height and more complex construction actually weighs a few tenths of an ounce less than Kawana. It has a new Blast + foam that is springy and lively while Kawana’s is denser and more rubbery.  Both are inherently stable with the Kawana stability coming from its super wide platform and the Nimbus from denser medial foam and a plastic mid foot plate. Both have fantastic uppers with the Nimbus available in wide unlike Kawana. The Kawana relies on a rocker with some flex while the Nimbus is more traditional in ride and more flexible.  Clear preference here for the Nimbus for me with the only open question being will the lighter Flytefoam Blast + prove as durable as Kawana’s dense rubbery foam for the heavier runner. 

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. Very comparable shoes with lots of similar pluses. The Nimbus 24 upper is even nicer than the Kawana (with a wider toebox), and the midsole is more plush than the Kawana. The Kawana midsole is overall wider by nearly 10mm, but the Nimbus fit is somehow better and more accomodating. Hoka made the Kawana a real daily trainer, but the Nimbus has been doing that for decades, and it’s refinement shows. I’d favor the Nimbus.

adidas Adistar (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. Two new shoes from major players, the Adistar platform is substantially wider than the Kawana, with a toebox to match. The Adistar is also heavier, and the two shoes’ heels could not be more different. The Kawana’s asymmetrical swallowtail moves heel strikers forward, while the Adistar’s super firm heel penalizes heel strikers. The Adistar is arguably the biggest stacked shoe that can still function as a daily trainer, the Kawana is much more versatile as a daily use shoe - especially for heel strikers.

Brooks Glycerin 19  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size.This was my immediate mental comparison after putting a couple miles on the Kawana. They both have a soft, but not too soft midsole, and uppers are both comfortable. The little bit of extra stack of the Kawana is appreciated, but the Glycerin upper and fit are much more dialed in. Wider footed runners should lean toward the Brooks, others would likely appreciate the Kawana more.

Fresh Foam More v3 (RTR Review)

Sam: The More v3 is softer, bouncier, lighter by 0.6 oz / 17g and has yet more stack height at 33/29 vs 30/25 for Kawana. Both rely on their rockers to move you along given the big forefoot stacks and relatively low drops. The More really only comes alive and is fantastic for me at faster paces, faster daily training to tempo and off the heels while the more deliberate somewhat less energetic feeling and heavier (and noticed as such) Kawana and its swallowtail are easier to run and activate its rocker at moderate paces.

Jeff: Kawana fits true-to-size, the FFMv3 runs a bit large. This is one of the few instances where I disagree with Sam, I haven’t found that the Fresh Foam comes alive at faster paces, and similarly to the Bondi, is ideal for the super easy recovery runs. The New Balance is far more plush, while the Kawana is better suited for daily use.

ASICS GEL-Nimbus Lite 3 (RTR Initial VideoReview)

Sam: Quite a few similarities in concept here  with single density midsoles on broad platforms for some inherent stability in a neutral shoe.  The Nimbus Lite 3 has a softer landing at all paces but is a bit harder to get forward at slower paces than the Kawana with its leverage from its firm in feel swallowtail. As the pace picks up the Lite 3 pulls away and easily.  The Nimbus Lite 3 is considerably lighter, by an ounce plus and that is felt but…its upper is not nearly as polished and secure. 

Saucony Endorphin Shift 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: Full on rigid rocker with final toe off Speed Roll for Endorphin Shift vs some flex with rocker for Kawana.  Both have relatively firm and protective midsoles with the Kawana a bit more rubbery bouncy than Shift.  Slower runners and paces will find the Kawana more accessible while for heavy duty cushion (and more of it all around at a giant 39/24 stack) and  for longer efforts at faster paces Shift is the way to go

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. Sam absolutely nails it, the Shift is much firmer with a more pronounced rocker geometry. The Shift has a wider toebox, but fit is otherwise similar. Both can be great daily trainers, with the Kawana excelling at slower paces.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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