The HOKA Mach 4 Does Not Live Down to its Expectations

I’m a HOKA devotee and have been since the brands earliest days, but HOKA made a class of shoes that I just never considered serious run gear. Its Fly Collection contains some of these shoes, the Mach and the Cavu, and these along with non-Flyers like the Hupana are just not shoes I would ever run in.

But I got a tip that the Mach 4 is a shoe that deserves attention. I had big doubts, because I’m a moderate-weight runner at 170 pounds, and I’m an overpronator. I need fairly substantial medial control in a shoe so, for me in HOKA that's always been the Bondi (in certain iterations), and these days I’m alternating with the Elevon 2. For fast sessions maybe the Clifton, and then I’m racing in the Carbon X. The Clifton barely has enough structure for me, and I would almost never run in that shoe two days in a row.

How would the Mach 4 elbow its way into my rotation? Especially because nothing about the Mach series has ever impressed me as a shoe I would ever run in once.

I’ve now spent quite a bit of time running in the Mach 4 and… wow. As per use case, it out-Cliftons the Clifton. The Mach 4 is slightly lighter than the Clifton, and for that matter lighter even than the Carbon X (the latter 2 shoes are about 8.6oz for a size-9 and the Mach 4 is 8.2oz), but the Mach 4 is, somehow, a better shoe for me.

As in, it’s an almost everyday shoe, bearing in mind it’s strictly a road shoe, road and treadmill. I do a lot of offroad running and I do that in a Bondi B or an Elevon 2, not in the Mach 4.

What you’ll find with this shoe is how eager it is to go. It’s like running with an enthusiastic dog on the other end of the leash pulling you forward. It’s a very cushioned shoe, but that doesn’t really account for the giddyup in it. I think it’s a combo of the cushion, the light weight, and the early-stage rocker, which is to say, it has an architecture underfoot that encourages and rewards a faster clip (faster being, ahem, relative in my case). And, perhaps, the ProFly foam motif. This has to do with the way lighter and heavier density foams are deployed. I haven’t made a study of the ProFly system but, whatever it is HOKA did, in this shoe it works.

Some folks complain about an overlong lace in this shoe; okay; laces are a minor issue (I stock and replace the horrible 54” round laces that come in my Bondi B with a flat lace), but I don’t mind the lace length in the Mach 4 because I have for years employed a “runner’s loop” for all my shoes (except those with lace locks for race purposes only), and that lacing system requires a longer lace.

The upper is just superior. HOKA in its formative years had a hard time getting the upper right, and the most significant advancements in its shoes over the past 3 or 4 years has been the fit and feel of these seamless uppers. For those who complain of not enough forefoot volume in HOKAs, this shoe should make you happy. Me? I like the shoe to really grab my foot, and I have to wrangle these laces down tight (as you can see in the images) just as I need to do with the Carbon X, but I don’t mind, and the shoe allows for this.

Speaking of the Carbon X, I think the Mach 4 borrows a bit from that shoe. The Mach 4 feels kind of like the Carbon X, to me, which is odd because they aren’t built very much alike. The Carbon X outsole (the bottom of the shoe) is narrower by a little in the forefoot and by a lot in the heel (see image above). I thought perhaps the “dovetail” (HOKA’s term) heel in the Mach 4 may allow for a kind of independent suspension in the back of the shoe to grant the runner a softer transition from heelstrike to forefoot weighting. For all the hoopla a decade ago about “natural running” the Mach 4 is, really, natural running.

But if you look at the wear pattern in the image below, I’m not striking at the back of the outsole, so, I’m not so sure my original theory is correct.

Which made me look at this shoe versus the Carbon X more closely, and if you line up these two shoes so that the uppers match, you’ll note that all the extra width in the Mach 4’s outsole is on the medial side of the shoe. Which (as you see) is not where I strike, and it’s almost certain you heelstrike on the outside of the shoe as well. This is probably why the extra width in the heel of the Mach 4 doesn’t create a different or clunky feel versus a shoe like the Carbon X.

As a moderate-weight overpronator I’ve always struggled with competing themes: a shoe that wrestles down my foot, refusing to allow my arch to collapse, while allowing for an unfettered capacity for my gait to express itself. The Mach 4 comes very close to achieving that. This is a shoe that I could run in 2 or 3 days consecutively, but I probably won’t very often because, as noted, this shoe urges me to run in the orange zone every time I lace it up.

The strategic problem for HOKA might be all the shoes this one renders unnecessary. The Clifton 7 certainly. Perhaps the Elevon 2 (though I find this shoe fine for offroad and the Mach 4 not so much). I would even include the Rincon as a shoe the Mach 4 outperforms except that the Mach 4 is does not have triathlon features, like a heel loop for quick entry (in the image above you see the Carbon X's heel loop, which the Mach 4 lacks).

This is just a terrific shoe. I apologize I don't have more for you. I have heard that it'll cost like the Mach 3, about $130. I hope HOKA projected ambitiously because it’s going to sell very well. It is due to be out in March in 4 colorways (so I hear). I don't have images or drawings of the colorways, nor the sizing options. My advice is that you not do what I did, which is to make an assumption because it's a linear edition of the Mach series. HOKA has, in my opinion, not hewn closely to the theme of each of its model silos. For example, the Clifton Edge isn’t even remotely a Clifton. The Bondi has morphed away from its original sprightliness. What I mean to say is, if you track HOKA’s shoes by use case, Bondis, Machs, Cliftons sometimes change in use case as you get from the 3 to 4 to 5 to 6 and so on. The Mach, up through the Mach 3, wasn’t a serious run shoe. But it is one now. In fact, it may well be the best run shoe, all-told, that HOKA now makes.