Shoe Review: HOKA Kawana

A side view of the HOKA Kawana.

The Kawana is a brand new shoe from HOKA that’s designed to be a stable, smooth-riding, durable everyday trainer for runners with a neutral-oriented gait.

The Kawana is built on a responsive, semi-firm midsole chassis with a modern swallow-tail geometry, a wide, stable profile and a comfortable, secure upper. It’s a shoe that fits between the soft and squishy Clifton 8 and maximally cushioned Bondi 7 in the HOKA line, but meant to be a versatile mid-range shoe that can crossover as a gym training model.

Our reviewers generally liked the smooth, springy, semi-firm ride and intimately comfortable fit of the Kawana for moderate training, even if some were surprised that it wasn’t opulently soft.

Here’s what you need to know about this interesting new shoe in the HOKA lineup.


Tech Specs

HOKA Kawana

Weight

8.4 oz (W), 10.2 oz (M)

Drop

5 mm

Category

Neutral

Use

Daily training, hill repeats, tempo work

Surface

Road, Track


Unique Geometry Creates Smooth Ride

The heel of the HOKA Kawana.

The first thing we noticed about the Kawana is the beveled, swallow-tail heel previously seen on the Clifton 8 and Clifton Edge shoes. The swallow-tail is a unique design feature that provides a broader, flatter surface designed for smoother heel strikes. In essence, it creates a semi-custom crash pad, providing a smooth sensation whether your foot initially strikes the ground in a neutral pattern or slightly tilted inward or outward.

The Kawana has an early stage meta-rocker design that HOKA shoes are known for, and the swallow-tail design, semi-firm properties of the midsole foam and wide, stable platform of the outsole create a smooth sensation in every stride. The outsole is made of an array of durable rubber pods separated by deep flex grooves that help take the edge off the semi-firm feeling of the midsole. Although there are no stability-enhancing mechanisms built into the shoe, the wide platform and semi-firm midsole provide reassuring support for neutral and slight overpronators.

“The Kawana seems to assist in the transition, but you don’t feel the distinct rolling sensation. Instead there’s a feeling of complete ground contact on the run, and I like it,” one tester reports. “It feels stable and smooth at the same time. But it’s distinctly different from what I think of as a shoe with a rocker shape.”

Vibrant Compression-Molded EVA Midsole Offers Durability, Versatility

The sole of the HOKA Kawana.

The secret sauce of the Kawana is its lively compression-molded EVA cushioning, a midsole platform that offers both shock-absorption and propulsive pop. But before we get any further, it should be made clear that this new foam is denser and heavier than any foam HOKA has ever used in a shoe. It’s not at all marshmallow-y soft, but instead it might be best described as a blend of mildly soft and moderately firm.

While its not quite as thick as some of HOKA’s more popular maximally cushioned shoes, the resilient properties of the foam allow the Kawana’s medium stack-height geometry (30/25mm for men’s models, 27/22mm for women) to feel modestly cushioned, agile and mildly responsive with a stable ride.

The unique characteristics of the midsole/outsole chassis not only make the Kawana extremely durable, but also versatile enough to tackle mid-length runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, longer intervals and recovery runs, as well as stadium stair workouts, gym workouts, CrossFit and lifting sessions.

“It’s different from what other HOKAs feel like because the midsole foam is more firm and dense, but it’s also resilient and responsive,” one wear-tester said. “On one of my wear-test runs, I was inspired to do a hill repeat session and appreciated the energetic pop once the fatigue set in. I also did a CrossFit session in them and loved the stability and moderate sense of cushioning.”

The Comfortable Upper and Interior are Exceptional

The upper of the HOKA Kawana.

While our wear-testers are mixed on what they think of the feel and ride of the Kawana, they unanimously like the fit of the shoe. Although it doesn’t have a luxuriously plush interior feeling, it is comfortably appointed with above average interior volume and seems to fit a wide range of foot shapes well.

The cleanly designed upper is made from a soft, recycled jacquard engineered mesh that helps provide a moderately snug, connective feel without any additional overlays. It has a similar elf-like heel entry as the Clifton 8 and Clifton Edge to reduce any chance for strain on the Achilles tendon.

A soft, medium-padded gusseted tongue and heel collar cushioning help round out the fit, offering additional comfort and security. The rounded toe box is semi-roomy compared to other HOKA shoes, giving more wiggle room for the toes and the ability for the forefoot to flex.

“These shoes fit true to size. I love the soft mesh upper and the tapered heel collar,” one wear-tester raves. “More shoes have been doing this lately and it helps alleviate any blistering or irritation on the backs of my heels. I also like the plush tongue with it’s sewn-in bootie construction. It adds a nice, premium feel to the shoes.”

Kawana vs Clifton Edge

While the Kawana closely resembles the dimensions of the HOKA Hupana (a shoe that was recently discontinued), we compare it here with the Clifton Edge and Clifton 8 because of its similar shape and profile.

In many ways, the Kawana is a sleeker take-down of the Clifton Edge, which has a slightly thicker midsole cushion and is generally just “more” shoe even though it’s noticeably lighter than the Kawana.

The Clifton Edge was one of the first shoes in the HOKA line to include the swallow-tail heel and sloping heel collar to reduce Achilles strain, and the Kawana carries that over in a slightly less dramatic way.

Compared to the Clifton 8, the Kawana is a tad heavier and the midsole is considerably more firm.

A close up of the HOKA Kawana.

Final Thoughts

We find the Kawana to be a delightful, well-designed new shoe, but you’ll only agree if you appreciate a shoe with a firmer feel. This is a step in a new direction for HOKA, and perhaps the least HOKA-like shoe we’ve seen. The fit and feel are exceptional and the semi-firm feel will grow on you, especially as you realize how responsive and stable it is.

“These shoes feel surprisingly firm coming from the HOKA lineup,” one reviewer says. “The foam isn’t hard, per se, but if you’re looking for that signature HOKA squish, this is not where you’ll find it. The underfoot feel is similar to the carbon plated shoes like the Carbon X or the Rocket X, but without the carbon plate.”

Based on our wear-testing, we believe this shoe will appeal to a wide range of runners, including newer runners, runners who run low to medium weekly mileage, taller/larger runners and runners who dabble in other types of workouts. The comfort and durability are remarkable, even if it’s not as well suited for runs longer than an hour. Because you might not run the mileage in the Kawana that you would in other models, this could be an extremely long-lasting pair of shoes in your quiver.

“It’s an interesting shoe for sure, and I like it for what it is,” another wear-tester says. “It’s not my first choice for doing long runs, but I loved the comfort for running four to seven miles in it on casual group runs, the stability for gym workouts and just the overall vibe of wearing it around as an everyday casual shoe.”

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