In 2010, a small shoe company called Hoka One One (Maori for “let’s fly”) bucked the trend of minimalist running shoes and began producing ultra-padded, thick-soled, squishy-soft pairs of running shoes boasting “stack height”—that’s the padding between your foot and the bottom of the shoe—that was more than double that of regular shoes. Ultra-runners were the first to adopt maximalism as an experiment to reduce impact on long runs. As their enthusiastic endorsements began to flow, the shoes flew off the shelves, and other manufacturers introduced their own offerings. Designs have since improved (they don’t totally look like clown shoes or moon boots anymore) and options abound. For people like me—with bad knees, weathered heels, and sore ankles—it’s been a nice development. Here are six aching-knees-approved pairs to help cushion adventure.
Courtesy of Hoka One One
I bought my first pair of Hokas in 2014 on a doctor’s recommendation. They looked goofy but enabled me to run without pain for the first time in years. Since then, Hoka has expanded into trail shoes and even ultra-cushioned high-top hiking shoes like the sizable Tor Ultra Hi WP ($230). My current shoe of choice, the Challenger ATR 2, is pretty lightweight (9.5 ounces), has good, grabby treads, and with a 33mm stack height, provides ample support and cushioning without feeling too squishy.
Courtesy of Altra
Recommended by my friend Liz Thomas—who wore Altras on her record-setting Appalachian Trail thru-hike—these shoes are the…