Hoka Vanquish 2

Hoka One One does some things really well and other things really not. I've been aboard for the entire Hoka journey, reviewing the original Mafate and the Bondi B, shortly after these models first came out, and when you read those 5-year-old reviews I think you get my sense back then that this wasn't just a shoe, but a movement.

Now, all that said, Hoka makes, and Hoka misses. In my opinion the original Conquest was a miss. Too much RMAT (great as an outsole, great as a strike plate, needs to be used sparingly in midsoles). The ride of the Conquest was too hard for my taste. To me, it ran contrary to the theme of the brand.

The Bondi 3 was a miss. Too wide. And this hurt, because I'm a Bondi devotee. The Huaka I thought it was a miss. Others like that shoe. It's a great selling shoe, especially in Europe. Not my cup of tea.

What I'm saying is, like Democracy, like Capitalism, I'm devoted to the idea of Hoka One One, but I don't always like the execution.

When I first saw the Vanquish 2 I was predisposed against it for a number of reasons. It has the same midsole motif as the Clifton and the Conquest rather than the solid midsole in the Bondi. Danger, Will Robinson. I like the Clifton, but not for training (for me, it's race-only in this shoe). And as I noted I didn't like the original Conquest (I have not run in the subsequent version).

Second, the seamless upper looked great for triathlon, for sockless usage, but I was afeared that, by the lack of strapping, I would be running in galoshes. I need structure in my life; and I really need structure in my shoe; and not just in the midsole. My feet need a kind of freedom, and a kind of bondage, all at the same time. The Bondi gives it to me. Would this shoe? I doubted it.

Finally, for all that I adore about Hoka consistency in how its shoes fit, model to model, is not Hoka's strong suit. The Vanquish just looked smaller than my Bondi.

Nevertheless, I pulled out the sock liner in the Vanquish 2 and – lo – my orthotic fit. Hmm. Then I stuck my foot in there and it fit too. Then I went on a run. Then I went on another run. And a third. Waiting to not like it. Waiting for it to fail to provide the structure I need in a shoe not especially designed to be structural. Waiting for my orthotic to break this shoe down on the medial side. None of those things happened.

The Vanquish 2 sits in between the Bondi and the Conquest weightwise, at well under 10 ounces for a size-9. Its lack of straps and stitching make this a good sockless shoe, though the traditional tongue design is probably not what you would choose if your goal was to make a sockless racer. The shoe fits my foot perfectly. The fit is snug. Not tight, but appropriately snug.

What I hear from a lot of runners is that Hoka's shoes are too narrow for them. I don't find this, and never have. I can only say that my pretty average feet (widthwise) slot into these nicely, but I like my feet to feel papoosed in my run shoes. You may not like this. The Vanquish 2 is a papoose.

This shoe has a 5mm offset, with a 30mm heel and 25mm forefoot, and the Vanquish 2 has about 3mm less total shoe height than the Bondi. But I didn't feel that the shoe was harder. It was appropriately cushioned, and the suspension did not bottom out. The Clifton has almost as much mid- and outsole height as this shoe, but I think the Clifton achieves its lightness in the lack of cradling midsole creeping up the sides of the shoe. I need a creepy midsole (the one case where I find creepy charming). I can live with the Clifton in a race, up to 10k, maybe up to a standalone half, but anything else and I need more shoe, both to hold up my (over)pronating feet and to support my orthotic which holds up my pronating feet. For me, leg soreness late in a run more than offsets the lack of support in a lighter shoe.

If you look above at the heel of the Vanquish 2 (left) the Clifton (middle), and the Bondi you'll see that the Vanquish 2 is more like the Bondi in midsole cradling, which is a feature I like and need (that creepy midsole creeping up around the upper). In fact, it might be a creepier midsole than on the Bondi. As I have written about Hoka's midsoles ad nauseum, this is the way to add lateral structure to a shoe, not through a gimmicky medial post in the midsole below the upper. This is a signature Hoka structural theme and to date no running shoe brand that I have seen understands and incorporates this. This slays me. This is every bit as important as Hoka's much-ballyhooed cushioning.

The Bondi has advantages over the Vanquish 2: it comes in widths; and it's $20 less dear. Otherwise, has the Vanquish 2 vanquished the Bondi? Yes. No. I don't know. I'm conflicted. I've yet to run in the Bondi 4 since I de-orthoticked my heretofore favorite in favor of the Vanquish 2. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. The Vanquish 2 runs well on the road, off the road, I don't know yet what the Bondi does that the Vanquish 2 can't do at an ounce less, and with what is certainly a better sockless experience for those so-inclined.

The Vanquish 2 retails for $170, comes in half-sizes through 12.5 and then full size from 13 through 15. There is a women's Vanquish 2 in 2 colors, in half-sizes (women's sizes) from 5 thru 11.