Hoka One One Sky Series | Review - Outdoors Magic

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Hoka One One Sky Series | Review

The ultra marathon brand have flung all their shoe-making experience into the hiking market with three new pairs of walking boots

As hiking trips go, there isn’t really a more beautiful place to visit than the rugged volcanic terrain of Iceland. As you turn around each corner of the island, you’re greeted with peaks reaching up thousands of metres straight from sea level, glaciers carving their way down from active volcanic peaks and waterfalls pouring down huge gabbro cliffs.

Not only is Iceland a stunning place, it’s also a perfect area to test a bunch of hiking boots – and that’s just what I’ve been doing with Hoka One One‘s all-new Sky Series (which we previewed back in November). The French born, Mauri-named company are best known for their highly-cushioned running shoes which defied conventional thought that running shoes required minimal cushioning when they were first released back in 2009.

Ten years on and Hoka One One now boast a passionate following behind their chunky foam midsole that was initially designed with the intention of giving you speed on the descent during ultra-distance trail runs.

The company was founded by ex-Salomon employees, Jean-Luc Diard and Nicholas Mermoud. Jean-Luc and Nicholas were not only able to take all of their experience from Salomon and bring it into their new company, but they also stole a gem from Salomon, in their new head of design Christophe Aubonnet.

Whilst Jean-Luc and Nicholas have been guiding the company into what it is today, Christophe was always in the background, tinkering with and adapting prototypes to create the shoes that we see today, and he was heavily behind the Sky Series and was on hand during our testing to give the rundown on how this new formula of hiking boot came to be.

The cushioning on the Sky Toa gives great responsiveness when trail walking.
Sky Toa. Photo: Elli Thor Magnusson/HOKA ONE ONE
Sky Toa river crossing. Photo: Elli Thor Magnusson/HOKA ONE ONE

Sky Toa

The ’Toa’ was first up to be tested out in Iceland. The lightest boot of the Sky Series, it has a waterproof eVent lining to get through pretty much all weather conditions that a fast hiker would expect to come across.

You can really tell Hoka One One’s history with the Toa as this boot is light. An extremely lightweight upper and midsole are employed and you can feel this (lack of) weight when you’re moving – particularly as we walked up the valley towards the Solheimajokull Glacier, over rivers, rocky moraine and down muddy banks. I had that similar feeling that I get when I’m wearing my trail running shoes, albeit with the extra protection of a mid-weight hiker.

We spent some time on the glacier, which I must add these boots are not designed for, there are many other three or four season boots perfectly designed for glacier travel. Still, it made for an interesting way to test them…

One thing that I did notice whilst on the glacier was that the midsole and sole on these boots are extremely insulating. I was expecting to start to feel a cold spot underfoot after spending a long period of time on the snow, but my foot remained warm, which I can only put down to the extra thickness of the midsole.

When back onto the trail, I really began to appreciate the cushioning these provide, with each step feeling like it was giving me a little extra rebound. I’m not usually one to reach for highly cushioned shoes, but after spending some time walking along the trail (more appropriate territory to test these), I could really see the benefits in not just comfort, but also performance that the extra bit of cushioning offers.

Being so lightweight, Hoka One One have sacrificed some durability with the Toa. My main concern with durability would be through the sole, which has parts of EVA foam exposed directly under the arch of your foot. The areas that will be taking the majority of the wear have been beefed up with a Vibram sole, which is good to see.

Christophe: “There is 75% Vibram rubber and 25% exposed EVA (foam) on the new Sky Toa. With the old Tor Ultra, it was 50/50 and we learnt that the weight to durability split was too low with this boot. The 75/25 split has come from many years of development and putting the boots through 40 days of durability testing where we were able to fine tune the rubber-to-foam split.”

Price: £160
Weight: 426g
Size (EU): 40 – 49

Sky Kaha. Photo: Elli Thor Magnusson/HOKA ONE ONE

Sky Kaha

Following on from the lightweight design of the Toa, the Kaha offers a beefed-up design for those looking to hike longer distances and with a heavier pack, I’m thinking classic hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc and the West Highland Way.

A tougher and more durable Nubuck leather has been used for the upper of the Kaha which offers a welcome increase in support for those longer journeys. We took the Kaha on a five-hour walk up the Valley of Thor – Thórsmörk – to test how these boots held up to real mountain usage.

Similar to the Toa, I was surprised by their out-of-the-box comfort. The lack of weight felt on my foot was a highlight for these boots, particularly when you consider the category that they’re designed for.

Don’t expect the same breaking in period that you’d usually have to suffer through with traditional leather boots, the Kaha is able to offer comfort from the get go.

This increase in comfort has not only been achieved through the use of Hoka’s liberal use of cushioning throughout the midsole, but the flex of the boot is soft (for its category), which means that you’re never fighting against the boot.

Adding to the softer flex, Hoka One One have taken the ‘Meta-Rocker Geometry from their running shoe range. This natural curve to the sole gives you a smoother roll from when you first plant your foot through to when your toe leaves the ground – again, a world away from the more traditional stiff soled boots.

As you can see from the photos from the day, the weather didn’t quite play ball, with heavy snow creating some tricky testing conditions for the boots. It’s got to be said that these boots aren’t designed for winter mountain use, where you’re better off with a stiffer boot that can kick into the snow beneath.

I don’t want to bash on too much about the durability of these boots, as that is clearly not their number one design aspect, but I feel like it must be said that much of the EVA foam of the midsole on these boots is still exposed in the sole area, creating a point of weakness. Only time will tell to see how this holds up in the real world.

Christophe: “We want to stay lightweight. With each model we have created in the Sky Series, we are 10 – 20% lighter than the competition. The Kaha is a 500g boot, compared to around 650g competition. We didn’t want something overly stiff. This has been achieved through many years of testing and adapting the stiffness of our prototypes to get the correct amount of flex that we can then implement into the Sky Series.”

Price: £180
Weight: 508g
Size (EU): 40 – 48

Sky Arkali

We sadly didn’t get time with the Arkali after running out of days in Iceland – I’d have happily taken one for the team and extended my stay in Iceland, but couldn’t quite sell that to the Hoka team (or my publishing manager…)

The Arkali is a niche shoe, which claims to combine running shoe technology, with climbing shoe technology and hiking boot durability. If you’re looking for a UK scrambling companion, then the Arkali looks like it could be a great choice.

We’ve not got our hands on the Arkali, but are interested to see how the classic Hoka soft sole works out when edging on smaller ledges whilst scrambling.

Price: £170
Weight: 432g
Size (EU): 40 – 48

For More Like This:

Hoka One One Sky Series Boots | Preview
Hoka One One Mafate Speed 2 | Review

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