Friday, January 17, 2014

Hoka Rapa Nui 2 (Trail and Tarmac) Shoe Review

I don't know if I've ever anticipated getting a shoe longer than the Hoka Rapa Nui.  I first saw them on Karl Meltzers feet, then saw a post about them on Ian Corless' blog in August of 2012.  I was extremely intrigued.   I have had every single model that Hoka makes, eventually deciding that my favorite was the Bondi Speed.  I have run thousands of miles in Hokas, even naming the Bondi Speed my top trail shoe of 2012.  It was like a late Christmas present when I finally received a pair three weeks ago.  (Note: these shoes were provided at no charge by Hoka as a media sample).

Obviously the brand has grown huge amounts in the last 3 years.  Once an oddity, it seems that now they are the dominate player in the (super) long distance shoe market.  In reality, they created an entire new market and the response from runners falling in love with the pillowy soft cushioning has spured the industry to create a new segment.  It seems that the biggest trend for 2014 is the "Maximal" Cushioned shoe.

While all that was/is going on, Hoka has actually produced a shoe with LESS cushioning!  The Rapa Nui was designed as a faster, more minimal shoe for the racier crowd.  "Relevant" is the word that comes to mind, as the words "minimal" and "Hoka" really don't belong anywhere near each other.  Only in Hoka land can a 11.7oz (my actual weight of a size 10.5) shoe with 21/25mm of cushioning be considered minimal.  But, in relevance to their other offerings it is.

The Rapa Nui addresses my biggest concern with the other Hoka models, which is to much "squish". While the others feel awesome at first, I actually find that they cause a certain type of fatigue that no other shoe does.  Specifically, my hamstrings and periformus seem to get overwhelmed after very long runs in those shoes.   Unfortunately, this problem has led to several DNF's in races where I have worn Hokas from the start.  I have actually had races where I changed out of Hokas after 60-70 miles into a more traditional shoe and felt way better.  Knowing this, I changed my shoe strategy for 100 milers this year.  At the VT100, where I got 9th place with a PR of 18:53, I wore traditional shoes until mile 81.  Then I switched to my beloved Bondi Speeds and felt invigorated enough to run the fastest last 19 mile split in the 4 times I've run that race.  

So when I heard that the Rapa Nui had 1.5x the level of cushioning of a normal shoe rather than the usual 2.2x I was excited.  Could this be the shoe that strikes the perfect balance of maximal cushioning without being overkill?

I have read other reports that this shoe is more flexible than other Hokas.  Well, yes and no.  It is way more flexible than their thickest offerings, the Stinson Evo and Mafate.  Both of those rely on a rockered sole for a smooth ride.  The sole on both of those are quite stiff.  The flex on the Rapa Nui is similar to the Bondi.  Still very stiff in the traditional world.

The EVA foam sole feels more like the Stinson Evo, but because of the lower volume it flexes more.  It also has a much less pronounced rocker effect.  Frankly I don't feel the rocker effect at all on this shoe.

One thing that really worried me before I received them was that the toe box looks extremely narrow in pictures.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they don't feel narrow.  They actually have more room than my Stinson Evos.  It's not only the internal width, but the height of the toe box as well.  This combined with a nice snug fitting mid foot creates a very comfortable shoe.  They fit true to size with a fair amount of room in front of your toes.

So, was the wait worth it?  Yes, it was.  I absolutely love these shoes.  They have a feel that seems to provide a nearly perfect level of cushioning, without feeling like they are robbing energy.  The climb better than my other Hokas, they have the best level of traction due to the chevron shaped lugs, and they have the best fit of any Hokas I've used.

I find myself running longer than I planed to when I wear them.  I just want to keep running because my feet are so happy!  I do need to report that the longest I have worn them for at this point is only 15 miles, so I still haven't tested them on any really long runs.  But based on how they have performed so far I doubt that I will have any trouble wearing them longer.

Road Version, the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac

The only difference is the tread pattern.
After 80 or so miles, with about 1/2 of that being on pavement, the rear most lugs are starting to wear.  I don't by any means consider it excessive, but since I want these to last as long as possible I purchased a pair of the Rapa Nui 2 Tarmacs (previously called the Kailua) from Boulder running company.  I have been using them for the treadmill and road runs.  Except for the tread, they feel and fit exactly the same as the off road versions. Hence, there is no need for a separate review.  For my first run in them I had planned on running 4-6 miles.  I was having so much fun that I went 13.  And that sums up how I feel about them.


Andy said...

I have been wearing the Stinsons exclusively since they came out but the new trail shoes look awesome! I hope I can grab a pair soon.

Rod said...

How do you think the road version would hold up on trails? I run more roads in the winter. On the weekends I do a long trail run. I wear the Bondi B now but would like something less squishy. I have had some pirifomis issues lately. Never connected it to the HOKAS but now I'm curious. Thanks for the review.

PatrickCT said...

Nate - totally agree. I used the Rapa Nui's all last summer in my NE trail races - they are a huge improvement over my Bondi B's, which I loved on the downhills, but always felt 'too squishy'/energy robbing on the uphills and flats. The Nui's seem to 'give back energy' but still provide cushion - my new favorite too -- thanks. Patrick

Nathan Sanel said...

I think that the uppers will hold up just fine, as they are exactly the same as the off road version as far as I know. The only issue might be with traction. But if you didn't have any trouble with the Bondi then you should be fine.

Matt said...

What are the changes from the original Rapa Nui to the Rapa Nui 2? I've read something about a seamless upper, but that's all I've been able to find out.

Anonymous said...

I love the road version but they are terrible on trails. The Bondi 2 has much better traction than the Tarmac.

harris said...

Nate great review I found the new Rapa Nui Tarmac a bit firmer than the original but still has that Hoka feel. I will be trying out the new Conquest on Monday it should be an interesting ride.

Anonymous said...

Are the Rapa Nui 2 (trail) any different to the first version?

I've a pair of the latter, which helped me get through my first ultra despite getting PF during training. The cushioning and 'rocker' sole were a great relief but the toe-box was WAY too narrow, I had to tape and lubricate my toes to avoid blisters. Also, the lacing system didn't help - the leverage of my foot further tightened the shoe at the front, especially on descents.
Removing the existing lace from the bottom two holes, and replacing it with X-Tenex elastic laces, helped stop the toe-box from tightening up whilst keeping the forefoot in place.

Nathan Sanel said...

The only changes I know from the first version to the second is the upper. The majority of the changes are in the toe box design. The new version also has a roomier toe box from what people who have run in both have reported.

Corey Singletary said...

Nate, how would you compare the Rapa Nui to the Skechers GoRun Ultra? I grabbed a pair of Stinson Evo Road late last year and after spending a few miles bopping around the HURT 100 course this weekend, I've been convinced of the utility of maximally cushioned shoes as I was able to bomb over terrain that has historically slowed me to a crawl in the NB MT110, my 50k race shoe of choice to date. I did however find the fit of the Stinson in the midfoot and heel to be a bit sloppy though. At the size that gives me enough room in the front of my toes, I have to cinch the laces all the way to the max in order to prevent sliding around in the shoes? How does the midfoot and heel fit compare between the Stinson, Rapa Nui, and GoRun Ultra?

Nathan Sanel said...

I had/have the same problem with the Evo's. I find the Rapa Nui to be a better fit. By comparison, the Go Run Ultra has a much softer and flexible upper. The toebox is wider too. But..if you have to cinch your Evos tight then you will most likely have to on the GRU's as well. The foam is softer on them too. Hope that helps!

Russ Bestley said...

I've been using the Rapa Nui Trails since mid 2013 and absolutely love them - moved on like you from the Stinsons (Road and Trail models) which were good but I did find a bit too squishy and bulky for quicker running. Used the Rapa Nuis straight out of the box for a 100km race back in July and they were brilliant, bought a second pair near the end of the year that have just come out to play.

Raced the Centurion Winter 100 in them back in November, and even though I took spare shoes for my drop bag I never felt the need to change and ran a strong race to finish 9th in 18:36. I've also been using the road model (Kailua) and they are great too - comfortable, protective but still QUICK like the Rapa Nui Trail.

The only problem I've had here in the UK is actually getting hold of them - they sell out right away in all suppliers online and I have to be on the ball for new stock as soon as it arrives in store. I need a new pair of the road model as I have the GUCR 145 miler in May and Spartathlon 153 miler in September.

Steve Kooyman said...

Nate, I hope you are doing better and are out now testing the Altra Olympus shoes! Curious how they rate to the Rapa Nui 2 -- both seem like excellent plush choices.

Nathan Sanel said...

Hi Steve,
My foot is doing much better, thanks! I just received my Altra Olympus' and have only done minimal miles in them. They are more of a competitor for the fully cushioned Hokas (but they are a bit less mushy). The Rapa Nui is a bit more responsive and less cushioned. The Altra has that awesome fit and nice toe box. I need to put a bunch of miles on the Olympus, but plan on doing a review within the next few weeks. Stay tuned!

Robbie T said...

Biker Nate; I'm 2 for 2 on following your recommendations on shoes for me. The Hoka Bondi S and the Rapu Nui have been perfect for me. Been wearing the Bondi S for a while now for all runs (rotating 2 pair) and had my 1st run in the Rapa Nui Tarmac; great fit and felt like i was flying. Did have to down-size by a half on the Rap Nui, but really pleased with the shoe and can't wait for my next run in them. Thanks for the great reviews!

Anonymous said...

How is the heel counter in these Rapa Nui 2s? Like you I prefer a soft or non-existent heel counter. This is a deal breaker for me when it comes to running shoes. So any help you can provide would be much appreciated.

Nathan Sanel said...

The heel counter is fairly stiff, but not super thick. For some reason it doesn't bother me at all.