Altra and Hoka are two running shoes brands that are enjoying a surge in popularity. Both were once niche brands, catering to different types of runners who steered clear of the big brands in favor of some unique design aspect.
Altra gained popularity among the minimalist running crowd, since they are generally zero-drop shoes, across the whole brand. Hoka gained a cult following for a very different reason: maximalist cushioning and super-thick midsoles.
If you’re looking for a cushioned shoe or a zero-drop shoe, chances are that these two now-popular brands—Altra and Hoka—have crossed your path.
While they both remain niche shoe brands that fit in the same broad category, these shoes are very different. So it’s important to know the key differences to see which one will be best for you.
This article will cover everything you need to know about the fit, price, and other considerations of Altra shoes versus Hoka shoes.
Altra’s running shoes are designed to mirror barefoot running. That being said, they are no “barefoot shoes” – they retain the cushioning and support of a standard running shoe. The most unique feature is that Altras are zero-drop shoes. In other words, the heel and the forefoot are on the same level.
Minimalist shoes are known for having a low or zero-drop design. Such shoes are supposed to be more “natural” and help to strengthen the Achilles tendon and lower calf muscles. Zero-drop shoes are supposed to put less impact on the lower body.
Altra also has a unique foot-shaped design. It’s wide in the front, with a standard midfoot and heel. This allows your toes to move around as if you aren’t wearing running shoes. Altra takes this traditionally minimalist shoe model and adds cushioning and support so it’s more comfortable than a barefoot shoe.
Hoka is the exact opposite. They are known for having max-cushioned shoes with a large stack height built from tons of soft, cushioned foam. All maximalist shoes have a stack height over 30mm, but Hoka has one of the highest.
Additionally, Hoka is known for having unique-looking shoes that are bright in color. The distinctive rocker bottom is supposed to help propel you forward.
In general terms, Hoka running shoes provide an unnatural amount of cushioning. Altra running shoes aim to make you run naturally.
Altra and Hoka shoes are constructed very differently. The shape of your own feet may be much more well-suited to one or the other. This section is where there is the greatest difference between Altra and Hoka shoes.
Hoka is traditionally known for having a smaller toe box. There have, however been updates recently that have widened the toe box to make it more comfortable for more runners.
On the other hand, Altra is known for its distinctive FootShape toe box. This design is quite a bit wider than a typical toe box. It looks a little bit like a clown shoe, but an Altra toe box is known for being more comfortable because it allows your feet and toes to splay.
This in turn reduces irritation to bunions and hammertoes. They are especially ideal for runners with these conditions or runners who have wider feet. Additionally, it helps to prevent Morton’s Neuroma, a condition common for women who wear shoes with narrow toe boxes.
Altra also adjusts for differences in men’s and women’s feet by making women’s shoes with a narrower heel and midfoot as well as a higher instep and longer arch.
In other words, Altra shoes have a female-specific midsole, cushioning, metatarsal positioning, upper, shape, and outsoles.
Hoka shoes are sometimes known for having high arches. If this doesn’t match your feet, you can fix it by switching in an insole made for low arches. In fact, Hokas are known for being able to fit most orthotics if that’s a need you have.
If you want an extra cushioned midsole, you’ll get that from Hoka shoes. The company calls their midoles the “bucket seat” because your foot is nestled in the shoes without any posts or guide rails.
For Hoka, their midsoles is the centerpiece of their “max cushion” design.
Hoka has rubberized foam outsoles, since their shoes are known for being foamy and cushiony. The rocker bottom also ensures that Hoka shoes have oversize outsoles. These can be challenging for some people to get used to.
Altra is specifically known for two outsoles. One is its TrailClaw outsole. This design has lug traction along with additional “claws” near the toe of the shoe, making it ideal for snowy, slick trail running. The FootPod outsole, on the other hand, is known for responsiveness and flexibility. It’s a great all-surface, general outsole.
In this section, you’ll see more similarities between Hoka and Altra shoes. Their biggest differences really are in shoe construction. However, if you’re on the fence, there are still differences between the two shoes in areas other than build.
Altra shoes have a reputation for being less durable than other running shoes. Certainly, some runner can get over 500 miles in them. But there are a good number of runners who regularly get less than 300 miles. When you’re paying over $100 for a shoe, durability is a reasonable expectation.
You’ll be able to put miles on your Hoka shoes, but you may have difficulties if you try to use shoes that are designed for the trail on the road. Hoka shoes are known for being very foamy and cushiony, and don’t hold up as well on the road if you don’t get a road-specific model.
Altra and Hoka are both known for their cushioning, but Hokas tend to have much more. Twice the cushioning found in most running shoes, to be exact. That’s why they tend to be popular among master’s runners and anyone looking for a plusher ride.
Altras are also well-cushioned, but they’re more like a traditional running shoe. They don’t have nearly the cushioning of Hoka.
Overall Fit and Comfort
Because Hoka provides a more conventional fit and drop, they tend to be a better choice than Altra for many runners. Master’s runners who love the extra cushioning and the rocker bottom especially go for Hoka.
Because they are zero-drop with some extra cushioning, Altras can take some time to get used to. If you don’t ease yourself into using them, you may find yourself with an injury. Zero-drop shoes are different from standard running shoes, and your body needs time to adjust.
Some runners find that they don’t get as many overuse injuries using zero-drop shoes. But other runners seem more prone to injure themselves with zero-drop shoes like Altra. The most common injury when adopting zero-drop shoes is a calf strain.
Altras are particularly popular for runners who have wide feet, because most other running shoes—even ones that are marked wide—do not fit their feet. The wide toe box also appeals to anyone with issues like bunions.
Hoka shoes are definitely not cheap. The average price is around $150, although many runners report getting at least 500 miles out of a pair. One runner figured out that if he could get Hokas online at $130 and could wear them for 500 miles, meaning that it cost just over 25 cents/mile.
By contrast, the average price for Altra shoes is around $120. So they are slightly cheaper up-front. However, as we mentioned above, durability is the one big complaint against Altra. If you’re buying two pairs of Altras to cover the miles you would get out of one pair of Hokas, they aren’t actually cheaper.
However, since Altra and Hoka shoes are such completely different shoes, it would be better to go on what’s the best shoe for you, rather than cost in this instance. If you want max cushioning and a high stack height, it’s worth the extra $30 for a pair of Hokas.
Altra and Hoka are both known for cushioning, but the similarities stop there. That’s why it’s especially important in this case to know what you want and need.
If you want a zero-drop shoe that is designed after barefoot running shoes, Altra’s the brand for you. If you want a wide toe box that gives your feet room to splay, Altra’s your brand. Women looking for a female-specific shoe, again, should pick Altra.
However, if you want a high stack height, pick Hoka. If you want a rocker bottom, you have to go with Hoka. If you want crazy colors and two times the amount of cushioning you’ll find in other shoes, Hoka’s the best brand for you.
In the end, like most things in running, it all comes down to personal preference and the design of your body, including your feet! People with wide feet will likely never feel comfortable in Hokas, but people who need more support from a shoe likely wouldn’t like Altras. It all comes down to you.
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