WTF Is up With the Hoka TenNine?


Photo Credit:Runner’s World

This downhill trail specialist lets you pick up the speed on technical descents.

Massively cushioned on steep descents
Broad sole makes it nearly impossible to turn an ankle
Limited usefulness
It costs $250
Other media outlets are reporting that this is the biggest running shoe on the market, as if that’s a special selling point. Or how it’s unsafe to wear while driving a car.
I’m here to tell you that it’s also completely unnecessary, overpriced, and destined to be used by only a small number of people who want to run as fast as possible down ski slopes. But, that’s all part of its charm. Here’s why.
Why Would You Want It?
You’re really only going to strap on the TenNine if you plan to hammer downhill.
Running steep descents
can be a heck of a lot more treacherous than going up. As gravity yanks you downward and you scrap for any kind of footing, one misstep could leave you bruised and broken. It’s that very logic, by the way, that led Adidas to extend a rubber flap off the back of its Response Trail shoe decades ago. That extra surface area gave you a little extra traction and braking power on steep downhills. But, between it and your foot was always a fairly typical amount of EVA foam.
Not so here on the TenNine. The heel protrudes so far that, when you look at the shoe upside down, it looks like it might be a trail shoe built for Shaquille O’Neal. When viewed from the side, it had our staff scratching their heads wondering what they were looking at.
That foam is super soft, squishy EVA—like you find under other beefy Hoka models—designed to completely swallow trail obstacles as you stomp over them. Unlike other shoes that have rock plates to keep you from bruising your sole, Hoka’s layer of foam is so thick that rocks never make it to your bony bits, generally.
Testing the TenNine on our local mountainous singletrack.
How Does It Run?
I first pulled on the TenNine at the trailhead of our local mountain, which features a 500-foot climb and descent over a mix of highly technical singletrack with pointy sharp rocks and buffed mountain bike trails, and poured on some speed.
As we headed out on the initial climb, I was skeptical about how it would perform. The trail is littered with closely spaced rocks, which I was sure would throw me off-stride as I bashed the protruding heel into them. But, amazingly, it just stayed out of the way and went largely unnoticed as we ascended. Here, I would have liked a more nimble shoe with better ground feel, but the TenNine was surprisingly capable.
Unlike most shoes, which have a beveled heel—it curves upward where you might otherwise heel strike to smooth your landing—the TenNine’s sole actually sticks straight back, so it sits flush on the ground. It was most noticeable whenever we were cruising smooth dirt trails along flat terrain. As I made heel contact, I could feel the extra foam pushing my foot down onto the soil.

But, because the sole is so insanely broad—it’s four inches wide across the midfoot, its narrowest point—the shoe always stayed planted firmly on the ground. It feels virtually impossible to turn an ankle.
As we crested the ridge and headed back down, I consciously tried to break away from my normal downhill technique and go into a free fall. Usually, I take quick, short strides, running straight ahead and dancing over rocks. But, it takes real effort to open your stride and trust that a shoe will keep you from careening out of control. That’s largely what happened, however, during a few short bursts. Even with rocks and roots between me and the ground, the shoe felt secure and engulfed anything in my way.
My one gripe is that the broad midfoot can be slick. After going through a small patch of mud, I slid off an exposed root because there’s nothing more than foam in the middle of the shoe. Of course, that’s a tradeoff in the construction in order to keep weight in check. While it’s not exactly a lightweight shoe, it’s not terribly heavy for its size, either. My men’s size 12 checked in at 14.7 ounces. If there was full rubber coverage on the sole, that figure would be far higher.
Is It Really $250?
The only thing crazier than that chunky heel is the price tag. Sure, it’s a novel design and some runners will definitely whip out their Visa cards to get a pair. But, the normalization of a $250 shoe is getting out of hand. Some blame lies with Nike, which priced the original Vaporfly 4% there. That shoe used expensive midsole foam and a carbon fiber plate—and it was the first of its kind. Other brands have followed suit, seemingly pricing their shoes in that range because, well, it’s kind of expected if the shoe is any good—even if it’s made with a cheaper material like EVA foam that’s been used for decades.
We wish the sole had Vibram rubber.
Lakota Gambill
To be fair, the molds to make midsoles are expensive. But every shoe requires a mold. And there’s more foam here, sure. But it’s just EVA. Is it $250 worth of midsole foam and extra tooling? By comparison, for $80 less, you can get the
EVO Mafate
, which also sports an indestructible Matryx upper and sticky Vibram Megagrip outsole—both drive up the cost of a shoe, but neither is found on the TenNine.
Then again, if steep is your thing, the TenNine might just be the right tool for the job regardless of its price.
Jeff is Runner-in-Chief for Runner’s World, guiding the brand’s shoes and gear coverage.
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