Hoka One One Stinson Evo Tarmac

OK I can hear the hoots and howls of derision already: a shoe named “Tarmac” on a trail running site. Well buckle up and come for a ride and let me introduce you to the latest offering from the Hoka One One stable.

In an ideal world I would live 100 metres from a trailhead. I could slip out my door in my fav trail shoes, tiptoe across the 100m of bitumen and then cut-loose on some gnarly trail. But reality sucks and I spend most of my weeknights on pavement, the odd gravel track and occasionally grass or better still, a golf course. The weekends and a car drive are my ticket to real trail.

Enter the Hoka One One Tarmac. No doubt designed for sealed surfaces these babies are pure Hoka pedigree and chew up all before them. The thick EVA of the midsole soaks up lumps, bumps and even rocks and roots, if I manage to find any. So for me the Tarmac are the perfect weekday machine. Their smooth outsole is a dream on pavement and when I hit the gravel or grass or the blue-metal rail trail, or the tussocks of the fairway, some chip-bark or whatever I can find, the transition is seamless and the Tarmacs don’t miss a beat.

Think I am stretching things here? Well Karl Meltzer runs and wins Hardrock100 in the Bondi Bs, of similar pedigree to the Tarmac. Hardrock is as rough and tough as they come but the Bondis eat it up. The Evo Tarmac could do likewise. The extra surface area on the sole of the Hokas provides not only extra absorption but it provides a greater surface area for friction, which translates to traction. After running in these babies for a few weeks I found myself pushing them further and further off the road and was impressed by their performance. Over a variety of surfaces I never had to think twice about my footing. Of course they are never going to compete with a dedicated mud runner in real slop. But then none of my regular trail shoes will either. And I am yet to find anything that will stick to wet slick rock or roots.

But where these Hokas really excel is on hills. They are deceptively light, helping to plug away on the climbs. And if you haven’t yet run down a hill in any of the Hoka stable yet then you are depriving yourself of one of life’s simple pleasures. They almost make you enjoy running hill repeats. Almost. I am not that sick. If you could just run down the hill life would be sweet.

The big question will be how do these differ from other models of Hokas and why would I buy these over any other model? To be honest, they are not much different to the Stinson Evo Trail model. Perhaps that explains the use of the same name. The only real difference seems to be in the tread. The Tarmac lacks the nodular tread pattern that the Trail version has. But this trade-off makes them really smooth on sealed surfaces. It doesn’t seem to affect performance on gravel and dirt. It really only becomes an issue in slippery mud, but hey, like I said, same with most trailies.

The rest of the shoe has the same make-up as the Trail Stinson Evo. And I have taken the Trail version on some pretty serious trail and now have full confidence in them. There is a substantial reinforced toe-bumper. You ain’t ever stubbing a toe in these puppies. The leather-look return across the top of the toe-box was a little stiff at first, which caused it to crinkle into my toes when the shoe fully flexed (really only when walking) but that softened up pretty quick. The incredibly wide sole means there is considerable support for the foot without the need for specific posting. The uppers are light and breathable and drain well. Any water trapped by the recessed foot bed drains into a ‘well’ below the insole. The rocker bottom outsole profile is designed to enhance turnover of your stride to improve efficiency. Seems to work pretty well. The standard Hoka 4mm drop from heel-to-toe satisfies those trying to improve their form and get onto their forefoot. And they are deceptively light. Mine weigh just 395gm each at size 12. They come with the fixed speed lacing but you can switch that out to conventional laces. The tongue is a flat piece of microfiber but I find it rubs on the front of my ankle, which is annoying but not a deal-breaker. I have other shoes that do this too and much prefer a thin, soft, padded tongue.

I guess the ultimate test is when a shoe is sitting on the rack surrounded by other options. Which ones have I been grabbing spontaneously as I head out the door? The Tarmacs.

Thanks to Hoka Aus for the test shoes. They are a tad dirty now so guessing you won't want them back.