Altra and Hoka have been a mainstay on the trail scene for a long time. They share common DNA but have fundamental differences that will likely be a huge decider when looking for your next road or trail bashers.
In this blog post, I’ll introduce the similarities of the brands but then jump into the nitty gritty and expose the key features that set them apart.
So if you’ve been stuck choosing between Altra and Hoka, or if you’re using one brand and wondering what the other side feels like, keep on reading!
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I thought I’d start with the biggest difference because that’s likely what you want to know!
That difference is the fit.
Altra is all about their foot-shaped shoes, and Hoka sticks with the traditional, often narrow-toe boxes. If you’ve never heard of Altra’s foot-shaped design, it’s going to sound a bit silly but let me explain.
They’re shaped like …… a foot. And here’s the proof.
Take your shoes and socks off and stand up.
Make an outline of your foot and compare that with the following shoes…..
Which do they look like?
No doubt you’d say Altra.
No foot on the planet is shaped like the aggressive arrow toe box that Hoka provides.
They may look strange to you, but Altra are truly foot-shaped, designed to allow your feet to perform to the maximum.
But does that matter?
I’d say yes, but I’m a biased barefoot buffoon.
Do you think your foot can function correctly when it’s squished inside a coffin?
Some, but not all, Altras are forgiving in width and depth. The original fit of Altra was large and sloppy, and while the Lone Peak is still mostly the same, newer models have become more and more narrow. You can use Altras “Footshape” to determine which of the range would work for you. Original, Standard, and Slim. And as you can imagine, Original is the widest, and slim is…. Slimmer.
Hoka’s European heritage often means a “precision” race fit. For some reason, there’s a common trend across European brands of having a tight fit. The likes of La Sportiva, ON running, and Hoka all fit very snugly. So if your foot is anything other than narrow, you will have to squeeze in Hoka’s. And if you’ve not noticed it before, try some “foot-shaped” shoes, then go back to Hoka’s. You’ll for sure feel the difference.
Which Altra Shoe is for you?
Take a quick 4-question quiz to identify the perfect Altra running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!
Hoka has a very distinctive rocker built into all their shoes. This rocker causes you to roll forward onto your next step and hopefully reduces the amount of work your body has to do. You physically see this rock in the profile of any Hoka shoe. The toe is aggressively flared upwards, starting around the ball of the forefoot.
Altra shoes are mostly flat to the ground, offering little to no rocker. There is still a hint of upwards flare around the toes of Altra shoes; that flare starts much closer to the toes, so there’s little rolling forward rocker feel.
Pairing the minimal rocker and the flexibility of Altras forces more activation from the feet and lower leg. As I said, the rocker is minimal in Altras, and in most models, there’s a high degree of flexibility, which pushes more activation into your feet and calves. That may sound like a bad thing, but the theory is that it promotes a more natural running gait and avoids shoe-provoked injuries.
The cushion of both brands vary across the ranges, but in general, they’re both cushy. And although you’d expect a similar cushion to produce similar results, you’d be wrong. The difference between the rocker and flexibility contribute to a very different feelings from each other. A squishy rocker in a Hoka still rolls you forward, and flexibility in an Altra still requires foot strength, so I can almost guarantee your gait will change between brands.
Altra and Hoka’s range of stack heights (the amount of material under your foot) are pretty similar. So you’ll likely find what you’re looking for in both brands.
Hoka ranges from 38mm stack height, with the Stinson, to the Torrent at 23mm.
Altra range from 33mm of stack height, with the Olympus, to 21mm with the Superior.
Altra has had their durability woes in the past, but it’s gotten somewhat better. Long ago, when I was first selling Altras, I had to downplay the longevity expectations. We’d often see customers return after ripping out the side of the shoe after only a few 100kms. And if it weren’t that, the super soft cushion they used would flatten out early, and the shoe would become lifeless.
I’m happy to tell you that Altra has come around, and their shoes last a little longer than in the early days. But that doesn’t mean they’re entirely out of the water.
I’ve heard reports of Vibram mega grip ripping off the bottom of the Olympus and eyelets ripping on the Superior, but these are mainly manufacturing flaws rather than design issues. If you find this happening to your shoes, go straight back to where you bought them from! Basically, let Altra know about issues!
Hoka doesn’t score the highest for durability, but their record is “ok.” Overall, I never really heard longevity complaints about Hoka, or at least not manufacturing issues. Just some outsole wear and flattening out of the cushion.
That said, there’s more variation in the Hoka range than there used to be.
In the recent version of the Speedgoat, we’ve seen premature foam and rubber breakdown. We’re talking less than 200km.
And the new Carbon line often had issues with the outsole wearing even within the first 50km! But it is technically a racing shoe. Maybe you can let them off?
In general, the brand’s uppers now last the shoe’s lifetime. It could be new materials on the market or better manufacturing, but I see fewer issues with uppers from both brands. The trend towards thin, flexible weaved uppers has brought a ton of comfort, and pairing these materials with strategically placed welded overlays has meant no more toes poking out the shoes at the end of races!
If you buy into the foot-shaped story, you have no choice but to go with Altra. Hoka’s do not give room for your feet to activate, and the rocker design completely changes your running gait.
If you buy into the story that an aggressive rocker and max cushion optimize your gait, you have no choice but to go with Hoka. Many runners find the Hoka feel pleasantly unique compared to the rest of the market. And other shoe companies have been catching up ever since.
Altra’s can be a great stepping stone into more serious minimal shoe running. As a barefoot foot advocate, I strongly recommend thinking about a natural running gait. Not just to reduce injuries but to make feet and lower legs more resilient.
You can save Hokas for your long runs and races! I view barefoot training like strength training. It’s part of your training plan to become a more optimal runner and reduce injuries. And that doesn’t mean you must be barefoot 100% of the time. So grab your Hokas for your long runs and races! And your Altras for training runs 😉
If you’d like to learn more about integrating barefoot running into your training plan. Start with “The case for Barefoot Running.”
And if you’d like to see specific Altra Reviews, I have plenty of them here.
Not sure which Altra is for you? – Try this post – Which Altra shoe is for you?
i used to like Hoka but the selection is limited on wide fit and seems like the fits and profiles change on the shoe models.
i was pretty irritated when i found Challengers that fit in the past but all the sudden because of slight changes to the profiles and sizes, that the fit couldn’t be replicated .
So, went to REI recently and the Altras actually have wide fit shoes and even come in half sizes.
It’s just not even close. And, The Altras are way better looking. i don’t miss Hoka’s goofy colors, which are straight out of Miami Vice.
Yeah, some of the Hoka models are unreal! I tried the speedgoat in the past, but there’s no chance I could fit in them now.
Good article. I appreciate both shoes for the exact reasons you mention, & alternate between brands. I favor the Altras for shorter, easier runs & completely agree with your “strength training” assessment. In fact, I believe they help keep my feet strong & alleviate the plantar fasciitis I used to experience. I enjoy the Hoka shock absorption for longer runs & the more accentuated “rocker” for up-tempo. At the end of the day, I find Altras more comfortable, but Hokas a little more performance-oriented.
That’s great. It sounds like you’ve found your rotation.
It’s funny. It’s almost the same as mind, but I use minimal/barefoot shoes for foot strength and Altra’s for performance! 🙂 Sadly can’t squeeze my feet in Hoka’s anymore.