The Houston Marathon is less than six weeks, and for all of my tempo workouts and hard long runs — including multiple 10K’s at race pace and distances up to 24 miles — I have been wearing the new Hoka One One Cavu. The Cavu is a neutral lightweight road trainer that is moderately cushioned, responsive, and fast. It will best fit feet with average width and volume.
The Cavu is more durable and cushioned than a racing flat like the ASICS GEL-Hyper Speed 7 (my review), but more nimble than a standard road shoe like the Hoka One One Clifton 4 (my review). For Hoka’s trio of sub-2:14 marathoners, the Cavu may be a delightful daily trainer. For veteran but non-elite runners like me, it’s best for workouts or marathon+ races. And for others, it could be racing-worthy.
Want a pair? Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until February 2018. I was able to obtain a production-quality sample in my size from Hoka for review. It will be released around the same time as the new Mach, which is the next generation Clayton 2.
Key product specs
- Weight: 8.2 oz (men’s size 9), 6.6 oz (women’s size 7); 9.0 oz for men’s size 11.5 (verified)
- Stack height: 24/20 mm (men’s), 22/18 mm (women’s) for heel/forefoot
- Drop: 4 mm
- Engineered mesh upper
- ProFly midsole: firm forefoot, softer heel
- RMAT outsole (blended rubber & foam) with exposed midsole foam
- $110 MSRP
- Release date: February 2018
- More info
Average-width feet will best fit the Cavu. However, wider feet may find that the soft and unstructured upper is acceptably forgiving, and narrower feet (like mine) may feel secure enough with a simple tightening of the laces.
The Cavu shares the same last as the Clifton 4 and new Challenger ATR 4, but it fits and feels differently than both. To me, the axis of the Clifton 4 feels off by a few degrees, with my big toe and arch skewed towards the inside edge of the shoe. In the Cavu, I feel more centered, as I do in the Challenger ATR 4 as well. However, the Challenger has a vastly different outsole (4 mm lugs), midsole (softer), and upper (reinforced toe bumper and forefoot overlays).
Versus the Clifton 2 and Speedgoat 2, the Cavu is wider throughout, particularly in the toebox.
I am size 11.5 in other Hoka models (Clifton 2, Clifton 4, Speedgoat 2, Challenger 4) and with other brands, including Altra, Merrell, Salomon, and Salewa, and 45.5 in La Sportiva. The Cavu fits true to size, based on my experience.
Ride & midsole
The Cavu is a neutral trainer with only 4 mm of drop from the heel to toe; it has no deliberate stabilizing or supportive features. As a runner with generally efficient biomechanics, I prefer it this way.
The Cavu’s ProFLY midsole is soft in the heel, for a forgiving landing, and firmer in the forefoot, for a more responsive push-off. The transition between soft and firm foams is continuous, not abrupt — the two midsole foams transition over a zone, without a concrete line or seam.
The heel cushioning feels on par with the Clifton 4 or Challenger ATR 4, but it’s not “marshmallowy” like the Clifton 2 or Speedgoat 2. The forefoot is stiffer than any Hoka shoe I have worn. However, it’s still pliable, not slappy; and with 20 mm of foam and soft foam/rubber outsole under the forefoot, it does not feel “thin” like other fast trainers, such as the Salomon Sonic Pro 2 (my review), which is only 16 mm at the toe and which uses a harder outsole compound.
As a neutral shoe with a responsive forefoot and 8.2-oz weight (in men’s size 9), the Cavu feels suitable for and natural at high speeds. For context, my Houston goal is sub-2:30, and my harder efforts are in the low-5:00 minute/mile range. The only faster shoe in my closet is the aforementioned Asics flat; the Odyssey Pro 2 is on par, but the Cavu has a smoother heel-to-toe transition and better cushioning.
In high-friction areas on the outsole (e.g. forefoot and heel), the Cavu features a thick layer of proprietary R-MAT, which is a blend of midsole foam and rubber. It’s lighter and more cushioned than pure rubber, but more wear-resistant than pure foam.
In low-friction regions like the arch, midsole foam is directly exposed. My initial skepticism about using abrasion-prone foam as an outsole material proved unfounded by other Hoka models, so long as the foam is not in high-stress spots.
On asphalt roads, concrete multi-use paths, and paint stripes, I have found the Cavu’s outsole grip to be more than adequate. On pea gravel bike trails and sandy road shoulders, there is some slipping; it’s decidedly not a trail shoe.
R-MAT is not as durable as a conventional outsole rubber, but this shortcoming is partially offset by its thickness on the Cavu. After 135 miles of use, the outsole appears to have at least two-thirds of its life remaining, probably more.
The Cavu has a secure heel counter, but otherwise the upper is slipper-like: a seamless, stretchy bootie covered by a soft and slightly stretchy engineered knit mesh, with no reinforcing overlays and a minimal toe bumper. The upper is very comfortable, with no pinching or pressure points.
Lateral and fore-and-aft control is supplied mostly by the elasticized bootie. If you have narrower and smaller-volume feet like mine, you might wish for a more snug fit, but it’s a shortcoming I can accept — unlike while trail running, I rarely encounter tight turns or steep descents while training or racing on the roads.
Fabric breathability is excellent, and it should dry and expunge water quickly (though I can’t yet verify this first-hand).
By Hoka standards, the Cavu has wickedly understated looks. Its lines are clean and natural, and its colors will not offend (although the predominant blue is a shade too close to Carolina blue, in the opinion of a former Duke runner). I welcome this design change — I’m not a flashy person or flashy runner, and previous Hoka color schemes have given me a reason not to buy an otherwise worthy shoe.
Questions about the Hoka One One Cavu? Leave a comment.
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Looking forward to giving this shoe a chance. Thanks for the review! More than anything, I’m excited about the upper, which looks way more comfortable than anything I’ve seen on a Hoka in the past.
What do you plan on racing in at Houston? Curious to hear your thoughts on Nike’s 4% shoe. As a gear head obsessed with data, I’m sure you’re intrigued, even if you don’t believe the hype.
The upper is slipper-like, as I said. If its shape is compatible with your foot, you’ll love it; if not, there’s little you can do to “correct” it because it has so little structure.
I plan on racing in the aforementioned ASICS again, at least at the moment. I thought they raced well for Boston and they haven’t been used since, so plenty of life still.
Yep, intrigued by the 4%, but too cheap to spend $250 on shoes, unless they’re timeless dress shoes like my Timberland Boot Company Chukka Boots that I can wear almost daily for 10 years straight.
Do you have more information about the heel counter? I trained in the original Tracers that had almost no stiff heel counter which worked out nice since I’ve been developing Achilles issues this year. My issue with the Tracers was the narrow toe box which it seems these may have addressed. If the counter isnt rock hard, I may consider these.
The heel counter stiffness is one notch greater than what you’d expect of a true racing flat — it’s more than just fabric, but it’s fairly pliable. Its angle is not aggressive. Overall, I doubt this shoe would be any worse (and probably quite a bit better) for preexisting Achilles issues.
Unless you have paddle feet, you will not complain about the Cavu being too narrow.
Thanks for the response. I had the Adidas Boston 6s which I consider to have a very firm heel counter which I wonder what caused my achillies to flair up again. Currently giving the Saucony Kinvaras 8 a shot which seem to have something in the middle. Good information here. With my luck with past Hokas, I may have to look into these in the future.
Andrew, what defines a trainer shoe? I haven’t been able to find a good explanation online.
It fills the space between a racing flat and a normal everyday running shoe. They’re light and fast, but durable enough for more regular wear.
Thanks for the response. I’ve really enjoyed your running posts over the past year or so.
What are your thoughts on Cavu vs Mach?
Very similar, to the point that I wonder why they developed both. The Mach is slightly softer throughout the landing-to-pushoff, because it has full-length foam/rubber outsole. And I prefer it’s slightly more form-fitting upper (but YMMV). Overall, I used both shoes for the exact same application: long road runs, and faster road work.
I haven’t worn them much. The outsole is very aggressive and the lugs are very sticky. That tends not to work great for my runs, which start and finish on road and which have hard-packed dirt and rock for the rest.
And thoughts on Evo Mafate?
Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll be checking out the Mach.