Hoka One One Sky Arkali
Weight per pair: 2 lbs. 0 oz. (men's size 9)
What we like: Above-average traction on wet surfaces and robust build.
What we don’t: Comfort falls short due to minimal arch support and a narrow toe box.
See the Men's Hoka Sky Arkali See the Women's Hoka Sky Arkali
New for 2019, Hoka One One’s Sky Arkali blends the lacing of an approach shoe with the midsole of a trail runner and the height of an over-the-ankle hiking boot. Billed as a “do-anything” trail shoe, we were eager to see if the radical Arkali could truly tackle any terrain. In short, the shoe’s exceptionally grippy outsole, durable build, and feature-rich design performed well for a handful of day hikes in the Cascades and a backpacking trip along Washington’s Olympic Coast. However, we came away with major concerns in two key areas: comfort and fit. Below we break down the Sky Arkali’s comfort, traction, breathability, durability, fit and sizing, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our articles on the best hiking shoes and hiking boots.
Hoka One One is often lauded for their comfort-first designs, but unfortunately that wasn’t my experience with the new Sky Arkali hiking shoe. Overall, the liberal use of heavy-duty materials including the burly synthetic upper and robust rubber toe cap made for a stiff-feeling shoe. The general shape also didn’t map well with my average foot. The toe box was notably narrow (bad news for hikers whose feet tend to swell as the miles add up), and the shoe lacked the arch support for comfortably covering long distances. To be fair, the Sky Arkali went straight from the box onto my feet for a two-day backpacking trip, which wasn’t ideal for testing. However, I’ve since taken the shoe on a number of outings and there has been no improvement. In the end, I came away disappointed that the Sky Arkali lacks the cloud-like and max-cushioned comfort I’ve come to expect from Hoka.
Weighing in at 2 pounds on my scale for a men’s size 9 (the listed weight is 1 pound 14.5 ounces), the Sky Arkali’s weight falls in the middle of the pack for mid-height hiking options. For comparison, the Hoka outweighs popular lightweight models like the Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid Mesh (1 pound 8.6 ounces) and Vasque Breeze LT Mid GTX (1 pound 11 ounces) but manages to undercut more traditional boots like the Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mid (2 pounds 2 ounces) and Keen Targhee Vent Mid (2 pounds 1.2 ounces). All in all, considering the use of thick materials, aggressive outsole, and unique features, I think the Sky Arkali’s weight is perfectly justifiable. The shoes never felt heavy or cumbersome on my feet, but they were noticeably less sprightly than the lighter options listed above.
Billed as a do-everything, go-anywhere shoe, the Hoka One One Sky Arkali offered exceptional traction on varied terrain. From slippery wet rocks to sub-alpine scrambles on granite, the Vibram MegaGrip outsole confidently gripped everything I threw its way. On one outing in particular, while exploring the tide pools of Washington’s famous Shi Shi Beach Trail, I had no trouble traversing slime-covered rocks and wet driftwood. In fact, the shoes were almost too tacky at times, causing my feet to get hung up on trail obstacles. But once I got used to the aggressive grip, I had no issues. Although I haven’t yet gotten the chance to test the shoes in mud, I’m confident that the widely spaced, tall (5mm) lugs will continue to perform well.
Stability and Support
The Sky Arkali’s combination of a snug and narrow fit (more on this below), to-the-toe lacing (similar to an approach shoe), and stiff overlays made for a very secure-feeling shoe. An adjustable Velcro strap at the heel—unique among the hiking shoe competition—further adds to this locked-in feeling and kept foot movement to a minimum. And while the flexible neoprene cuff didn’t add much support, I appreciated the additional height for sealing out dirt and trail debris. Whether I was loaded down with a 40-pound pack or simply out for a day hike, the Sky Arkali offered ample assurance and protection—even when boulder-hopping and scrambling up loose talus fields.
Despite its non-waterproof design, the Hoka Sky Arkali came up short in the breathability department. Put simply, the heavy-duty synthetic upper and oversized rubber toe cap weren’t able to dump much heat. To be sure, the shoes breathed better than Gore-Tex-lined boots (like Vasque’s Breeze LT Mid GTX, for example) but ran significantly warmer than mesh-heavy shoes (such as La Sportiva’s Wildcat). To illustrate this, my most recent outing in the Sky Arkali was a 7.5-mile hike with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 80-degree (Fahrenheit) weather. At the turnaround point, I removed my shoes to take a swim in a small alpine lake and noticed that my socks were drenched in sweat. While this was partially due to the temperature, I didn’t expect my feet to be soaked so quickly. If you frequently hike in warm weather, I recommend considering more mesh-heavy options like Altra’s Lone Peak 4 Mid Mesh or a non-waterproof trail-running shoe.
The Hoka One One Sky Arkali is a premium, well-made hiking boot that is built to take a real licking. After substantial mileage, the double stitching around the toe cap is free of any defects, the beefy upper shows no wear or abrasion, and the Vibram outsole looks as new as it did on day one. Even the metal eyelets have a burly look and feel to them. And perhaps best of all, there are no signs of delamination—something that plagued other lightweight hikers including the Vasque Breeze LT Mid GTX and Altra Lone Peak 4 Mid RSM after similar trail mileage. You can realistically expect a shorter lifespan than you would with more robust (and heavier) boots like the Oboz Sawtooth II Mid or Salomon Quest 4D 3 GTX, but so far all signs are positive that the Sky Arkali will continue to withstand significant use and abuse.
As far as fit and sizing go, the Hoka Sky Arkali has a very unique shape that might not fit every hiker. I ordered my standard men’s size 9 and found both the heel and toe box to be narrow, while the midfoot was notably wider than the rest of the shoe. Even after adjusting the laces and Velcro straps multiple times, I had issues with my toes feeling crammed and going numb, especially on steep downhill sections of trail, and both of my heels developed hotspots. While I never got any blisters, the Sky Arkali was simply not a great match for my average-shaped feet. Alternatively, in a separate test of Hoka’s new Sky Toa, our narrow-footed tester reported no issues. In other words, we recommend trying on the shoe before buying to ensure a good overall fit.
Other Versions of the Hoka One One Sky Arkali
For this review, I tested the men’s Sky Arkali. Hoka One One also sells the shoe in a women’s version for the same price. Differences include a slightly lower weight (1 pound 10 ounces for the women’s pair) and varying colorways (although both are available in a black and grey version). Hoka does not offer the Sky Arkali in low-top or waterproof versions at the moment, but we hope those eventually make their way into the lineup for hikers who don’t need ankle-height support or who frequent the wet.
What We Like
- Vibram MegaGrip outsole excels on just about any terrain, including wet and slippery surfaces.
- Above-average stability and support inspire confidence both on and off the trail.
- Combination of to-the-toe lacing and Velcro straps allow you to effectively customize fit.
- Tall neoprene upper does a great job of sealing out trail debris.
What We Don’t
- Narrow heel and toe box and wide midfoot made for an awkward fit. We heavily recommend trying the shoes on before buying.
- Comfort was a big area of concern: unlike other Hoka shoes, the Sky Arkali is notably stiff and lacks arch support.
- Breathability falls notably short for hot-weather hikes (which was surprising given the shoe’s non-waterproof build).
- If you’re looking for a streamlined and svelte hiker with few bells and whistles, this isn’t it.
|Hoka One One Sky Arkali||$200||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 14.5 oz.||Yes (eVent)||Synthetic/mesh|
|Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX||$165||Hiking boot||1 lb. 15.7 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather/synthetic|
|Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mid||$110||Hiking boot||2 lbs. 2 oz.||No||Suede leather/mesh|
|Hoka One One Sky Toa||$170||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 14 oz.||Yes (eVent)||Synthetic/mesh|
|Vasque Breeze LT Mid GTX||$170||Hiking boot||1 lb. 11 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Synthetic/mesh|
The Hoka One One Sky Arkali is a bit of a standout in the hiking footwear market with its combination of approach shoe-like lacing, trail runner midsole, and over-the-ankle height. For those looking to stay under 2 pounds, Salomon’s X Ultra 3 Mid GTX is a top hiking boot competitor. At 1 pound 15.7 ounces per pair, the X Ultra 3 Mid GTX weighs about the same, comes in significantly cheaper at $165 (the Arkali is $200), and offers impressive comfort and an accommodating fit (especially with the wide-fit option)—two areas of concern we had with the Hoka. However, we found the Sky Arkali’s Vibram MegaGrip outsole is slightly stickier than the Salomon’s Contagrip, and the Hoka’s to-the-toe lacing and Velcro heel strap add stability when the trail turns technical. For strictly hiking duty, we prefer the cheaper X Ultra 3; for those who plan to venture off-trail, the Sky Arkali is slightly more capable.
Those looking for a more traditional hiking option might like Merrell’s popular Moab 2 Ventilator Mid. The Merrell features a supportive footbed, good arch support, and a well-cushioned collar and tongue—all areas where the Hoka Sky Arkali fell short. At 2 pounds 2 ounces, the Moab 2 Ventilator is 3.5 ounces heavier than the Sky Arkali but costs a whopping $90 less. Another selling point is looks: if the basketball shoe-like design of the Arkali isn’t your cup of tea, then the traditional Merrell boot might be a better fit. Similar to the X Ultra 3 above, the Moab 2 Ventilator is lacking in support for scrambling on rocky and rough trails, giving the Sky Arkali the edge here. However, for all non-technical hiking, we prefer the cheaper Merrell.
Hoka One One’s new hiking lineup also includes the Sky Toa, which is aimed more at day hiking than technical trekking and backpacking. With this use in mind, the Sky Toa features a soft and cushy midsole that’s reminiscent of the brand’s trail-running models, utilizes a waterproof eVent bootie to seal out moisture, and is notably flexible and plush (for more, see our in-depth Sky Toa review here). In practice, we found that the Sky Toa required zero break-in time and was comfortable right out of the box—a major departure from our experience with the stiff and unforgiving Sky Arkali. The two shoes are nearly identical in weight, so a final decision should come down to expected terrain. If you need a shoe that can withstand technical sections of trail, we recommend going with the $30-pricier Sky Arkali.
A final lightweight hiker that impressed us this season was Vasque’s Breeze LT Mid GTX, which we took on a tough 35-mile backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon. Despite the addition of a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, the Vasque (1 pound 11 ounces) undercuts the Hoka (1 pound 14.5 ounces) by a considerable 3.5 ounces while providing much more arch support and out-of-the-box comfort. That said, we did experience premature durability issues with the Vasque, including delamination along the boot’s instep after only 15 miles on the trail. In addition, while the Breeze offers a decently nimble and stable ride, it doesn’t quite match the Sky Arkali’s performance on especially technical and off-camber terrain. In the end, it’s important to consider where you’re headed and how much time you expect to spend on challenging ground.
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