Enter more "minimal" Hoka, the Rapa Nui Trail and Tarmac.
|Hoka One Rapa Nui Trail|
Update: Boulder Running Company has an early US release of the Rapa Nui Trail (model I have) and Rapa Nui Tarmac (road version) both $129.95 available today November 20th, 2013.
Height: 20mm forefoot height/26mm heel height: 6mm drop. About the same as other Hokas.
Weight: exactly 10oz for my size US 8.5 so likely about 10.3oz for standard 9. At least an ounce less than the comparatively svelte (for Hokas) Tarmacs.
Upper: Mesh with welded overlays. Unlike many 2013 shoes there is still stitching particularly in the toe box area. This likely adds to weight. The tongue is a thin suede like material with a bit of mesh cushion on the inside. Similar to the Tarmac's tongue but thinner and softer. The tongue (white in picture) extends almost all the way to the toe, unusual construction as part of the toe box is actually the soft tongue.
|Toe Construction: Hoka One Rapa Nui Comp|
The sides wrap around the foot and over the tongue like a burrito up to the stitches by the toe. I believe this helps with overall flexibility but means several seams over the toes. These seams have not been an issue at all so far. Fit is comfortable with decent forefoot volume if a bit narrower than Tarmacs. True to size with my high arch, narrower feet wearing thin socks.
Update: The new version of the Rapa Nui now coming on sale in the US has a new toe area construction. The somewhat complex "burrito" construction with many seams is replaced by a open toe box.
|Photo Boulder Running Company: Hoka Rapa Nui Trail Toe Box|
Midsole: EVA as other Hokas but at 1.5x volume vs. 2x volume for older models. The Rapa Nui has injection molded EVA (IMEVA) vs. the compressed EVA in all other models for what is claimed to be a more responsive feel and more rebound. I think this is true, if subtly and may also contribute to the fact they also have more forefoot flex by far than other Hokas I have run in.
The midsole extends up and around the upper to create a "bucket seat" for the foot, a signature of all Hokas and what also creates the illusion they are far off the ground and somehow not stable, not true.
Outsole: Decent lugs for most trail terrain. Lugs are are not noticeable on the road. Harder rubber (black) in heel and toe areas. I am seeing some accelerated wear in a few of the heel lugs as I have run many miles on the road. Par for the course for Hokas. The Shoe Goo may come out in a month or so...Carved out areas in the midsole for increased flexibility, and these Hokas flex in the forefoot as well as any trail shoe, a first for Hokas.
|Outsole: Hoka One One Rapa Nui Comp|
Overall geometry: overall width of outsole is narrower at heel and forefoot than Tarmacs. This is positioned as a racing Hoka. Far more flexible than other Hokas. The rocker effect is less pronounced.
Laces: One pull speed laces as on Tarmacs. I have found them effective
I have run 190 miles so far [Update: 300 plus miles] in the Rapa Nui, about 150 road miles. Still very much the cushioned like running on grass while on the road Hoka feel. A bit surprised that they felt almost as cushioned particularly in the heel as Tarmacs which have about 10mm more of foam cushioning front and back.Of course super cushioned even more so than the adidas Energy Boost I reviewed earlier but responsive and smooth in a way similar to the new Pearl Izumi E:Motion Trail N1, also reviewed here yet without nearly as much of what is almost a too firm road trail feel.
At the forefoot they generally feel as flexible as a "normal" running shoe and the characteristic rocker effect of other Hokas is far less noticeable. I have not had the occasional metatarsal pain at my big toe that I have on occasion experienced with the Hoka Mafate and Tarmac. The soft forefoot cushioning and flexiblity seems to lack a bit of stability on the very technical rocky, rooty NH trails of my first trail run. A band of denser rubber outsole on the outside of the forefoot to the midfoot such as on the New Balance 1210 Leadville or or an embedded rock plate, web or frame of plastic such as in the Inov-8 or my adidas Energy Boost could help make them a bit more stable.
I have run and hiked about 90 miles on the smoother less technical trails in UT and the RapaNui climb far better for me than other Hokas. Much more trail feel with no rock push throughs despite no rock plate. Not quite the bomb proof downhill performance of "traditional" Hokas but nonetheless very smooth over obstacles.
At speed on the road they felt great. I did a test 3 days apart on essentially the same 6 mile course running at a moderate easy pace for 5 miles then clocking a fast last mile on a Strava segment. First run was in Nike Lunar Fly racing flats from several years ago. Second run in the Rapa Nui. I was overall 50 seconds per mile faster , I did push a little harder on the easy miles the second time, but more significantly my last fast mile was to the second identical to the prior run and a segment record for me, with less perceived road shock and effort.
I think the Rapa Nui will, given their lighter weight, lower profile, and flexibility be a faster shoe than prior Hoka models and a good candidate for my mostly downhill fall St. George Marathon as well as Park City's Jupiter Peak Steeplechase with its 3000 feet of climbing and then fast downhills. I believe as with all Hokas this is a great shoe for folks struggling with injuries such as PF or worn out joints.
Given the flexibility I believe Rapa Nui's is a more responsive uphill trail running shoes than the bigger Hokas. As slope increases and the rocker angle of traditional Hokas is exceeded (about 10 degrees) I have found you need to have plenty of knee lift to drive up and forward. Last year I ran most of my trails in Tecnica X-Lite, a lower profile close technological cousin to the Hokas, a great shoe but quite heavy and with a somewhat loose upper. As far as downhills Rapa Nui have the great confidence building Hoka cushion on a somewhat narrower less stable platform but also have greater responsiveness and terrain feel than its beefier cousins: Mafate, Stinson, and Tarmac.
A little less of the Hoka "cloud", more flexibility, less weight. What I have been waiting for from Hoka in a longer run trail and also road runner. A true hybrid good for anything you can throw at them except maybe a 5K-10K road race with no compromises for road, trail, and hiking.
Another great review of the Rapa Nui over at Runblogger