Vertical Life’s Simon Madden reviews the Hoka One One Arkali
I don’t even know what a ‘hiking’ shoe is anymore and to be honest I’m not really sure it matters.
It’s hard to decide what to wear on those long hikes to the crag nowadays; my co-editor wears canvas street shoes unless he is on a four-day death march. Personally, I am a help-the-aged approach shoe kinda guy, every little bit of assistance helps. You also see people kicking it in souped-up trail runners (probably because everyone is trading climbing time for trail running time and so trail running kit already features heavily in their default outdoor gear matrix), the old-school hiking boot is not really the go-to anymore, so maybe the newish Hoka One One Arkali, which has the spirit of a trail running shoe and the ambition of a hiking boot, will win some people over.
The Arkalis do not look like the first pair of hiking boots that you bought.
The Arkalis looks wild, so if you are a conservative type, averse to change and bolted on to the comfort of a knowable past then they are not for you. Straps and sleeves make for a futuristic aesthetic, but I like the muted colours (mine are black/grey). Some of the Hoka trail shoes are very colourful – bird of paradise colourful – and I am not sure that hiking shoes should be. The two serve very different needs, so personally I would shy away from very lairy hiking boots, which is saying something as I am definitely not averse to a little lairising.
They sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to weight. The lacing system is broad. The combination of the sleeve and dual Velcros make for a snug fit. Add in the beefy sole and the shoe feels very stable, probably not a surprise given Hoka’s maximalist pedigree. A bonus of the sleeve is that it also affords good protection from debris getting down into the shoe – nobody wants a boot full of scree. One can also strap down one’s Achilles so the rising of one’s Achilles heel need no longer be one’s Achilles Heel.
The toe box (which is the front bit where your toes go) is surprisingly tight given that the shoe is trying to be a comfort-monster. And though it is a comfortable shoe, even right out of the box, I really didn’t think that it was ultra-comfort-max, or at least not as much as it looks. Maybe it’s expectation management, when you feel like you are going to be sleeping on a hundred mattresses a single pea can be infuriating..
They are made for the muck and the dirt and the rock and the wet slime and they perform admirably across varied terrain and don’t lose traction in the wetness, though the materials tend towards getting soggy if you are in the pouring rain or fall into a creek – in fact they are probably best suited for cool, dry conditions. The sole is peppered with big, bitey lugs and the deep ravines between lugs can get filled with mud and crud, which could compromise grip I guess, but I just found that made the boots noticeably heavier and compromised your ability to walk indoors lest you ‘Track that bloody mud all across my newly mopped floors!’
The Arkalis are on the warm side. I found that they didn’t dump much heat so bear that in mind. That also meant that they had a tendency to get a bit pongy, and I did find that my feet did stink a bit. I wouldn’t say that I am a natural stinker either [co-editor’s note: not true!].
For shits and giggles I wore them running on the trails a few times just to see what they felt like and they weren’t too bad. Although obviously more clunky and warmer than a dedicated running shoe they were way better to run in than clod-hop-running in traditional hiking boots. Is there the potential that you will need to outrun a predator when you are out climbing? Makes you think.
Mine have proved very durable. They have taken a bit of a beating on sharp rocks and dusty trails, through swampy approaches, planes, trains, automobiles and, accidentally, into the salty ocean off the side of a boat, and the things still look pretty new. There has been no problems with delamination, the upper has no real abrasions to speak of and the sole still looks like it did when I first got them. The toe rand has given a good kicking to a few boulders and it is still fine as. No complaints about the Arkalis on the fall-apart-o-metre.
One of the best things about this shoe was that I took it over to Greece and Croatia on a climbing/sailing/trail running trip (it makes me cry to write that, the lives we had…) and when they were first out of the box, with the right pants they could pass as less of a mountain boot and more of a street shoe. This was aided by the neutral, non-colour colourway and the of-the-future styling. I reckon because it is so unconventional the bells and whistles actually make it look a little less technical under the right circumstances. Newer models with more colour might take away from this. Equally, I am not sure that is going to be relevant in the next few years, as post-COVID-19 are you really going to sail around Croatia knocking off trails runs and then go climbing in Greece? Probably not.
I have not run in the Hoka line of ‘uuge sole trail shoes, they are not for me, but they are for plenty of other people. If you run in Hokas and love the maximal sole then there will be few barriers to entry for you taking a look at the Arkali. If you are into bells and whistles, then they might be for you. If you are into signalling that you are not a normcore hiker by wearing something that is not normal, then they could be for you. If you always wear sneakers and want to carry that over to your hikers, they might be for you.
For more information see the Hoka site.