HOKA Kawana review: firm running shoe for shorter runs and gym use

Are the HOKA Kawana’s the right running shoe for you? We tried and tested this hybrid trainer and here’s our verdict

HOKA HOKA Kawana review
(Image credit: Future)
Fit&Well Verdict

The HOKA Kawana is a stylish running shoe for novice and veteran runners looking for a firm and supportive experience on shorter runs. This shoe will perform nicely for those who typically run low to medium mileage and any runners who also hit the gym. Though we don’t think this model is best suited to longer runs, it’s certainly a durable and supportive running shoe.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Great shoe for shorter runs

  • +

    Firm and bouncy

  • +

    Secure fit

  • +

    Good for cross-training

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Stiff feeling

  • -

    Limited response

The HOKA Kawana is an innovative entry to the running shoe scene. HOKA designed this shoe with a vision for people to use it for running, the gym, and just for walking around in. 

This HOKA design is definitely a worthy contender for our best running shoes for women roundup. It’s the ideal running shoe for anyone who enjoys regular runs of around four to seven miles and wants to head to the gym as well. This very much applies to beginner runners too, because the Kawana provides a suitable level of bounce as you find your stride on shorter runs, and is wearable for other forms of exercise as you increase your overall fitness abilities. These are great for any HIIT style training or treadmill workouts but I'm not convinced this shoe is best suited to weight lifting after my testing.

Featuring a lower stack height (the amount of shoe material between your foot and the ground) than other HOKA trainers, this model feels less platform-y and has introduced a swallow-tail design to the heel for reducing landing impact and aiding smoother transitions. The Kawana also features a new compression-molded EVA midsole, which I didn’t find to be as responsive as promised but if you enjoy a firmer running shoe you will enjoy this latest addition to the HOKA lineage. 

HOKA KAWANA REVIEW: PRICE AND FEATURES

Newer to the HOKA family, the Kawana arrived on the scene in January 2022 and currently is available in the US for around $140 and in the UK for £125. 

After testing this pair of running shoes I’d say this is a tad steep for a running shoe that doesn’t suit longer mileage. But I guess the Kawana makes up for this in being suitable for gym use and wearing out and about on errands, or on the way to work.

The asymmetrical swallow-tail heel provides a wide and stable landing base for any heel strikers out there and will assist in transitioning you to the midfoot easier. If your heel hits the ground first followed by the rest of your foot when you run, this means you run with a heel strike, and opting for a shoe like the HOKA Kawana could help you make your running more efficient and help to avoid injury. There’s a lot you can learn from understanding your running style better and why every runner should get a gait analysis.

The Kawana advanced design (which I’ll move onto in a moment) promises a lot and you have to credit HOKA for this ambitious hybrid shoe. However, I didn’t find the shoe delivered on the level of comfort advertised in the new design elements. I also didn’t find the shoe overly responsive or soft to land on but I know that many runners who enjoy a firmer ride will benefit from training in these.

For these reasons, I do find that HOKA hasn’t skimped on the finish of these shoes but I wouldn't splash out on this pair if you're a long-distance runner looking to run hefty miles. You'd be better off with something more forgiving like the ON Running Cloudflow shoe.

HOKA Kawana review

(Image credit: Future)

HOKA KAWANA: DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY

To begin with, the upper design was a real triumph for this shoe. The engineered jacquard mesh material above the foot feels good quality and is very breathable for stuffy runs and gym sessions - plus it has been made with recycled materials. It also features a nicely padded tongue avoiding any bruising or uncomfortable pressure on the talus bone.

HOKA has added a CMEVA foam sole to the Kawana model, this is meant to offer a ‘lively, responsive experience’. I did feel a bounce in these shoes, for example, when I tested these shoes on an easier run they did offer a gentle boost but I wasn’t overwhelmed at the response rate from this shoe. It didn’t feel like a lightly-padded bounce when I took my strides. Those who have owned other HOKA models will probably notice this heavier feel instantly. This firmer foam in the midsole is there to make the Kawana suitable across various training such as tempo runs, mid-length runs, recovery runs, gym workouts, and CrossFit.

The Kawana features the key ingredient of other HOKA shoes, which is a meta-rocker design. Essentially this combines a low heel-toe drop and a round shape to the sole assisting your natural stride and helping to move your forward easier. In testing, I felt assistance in my transitions but I wouldn’t say the rolling sensation was particularly memorable for me. However, other runners may find this supports their momentum more than others.

Runners will either love or hate HOKA for their signature high stack heights and depending on preferences many will be happy to hear the Kawana has a reduced stack height of 30mm. Stack height refers to the amount of material between your foot and the floor. From my experience of testing the Kawana, this was neither an issue nor a bonus for my training. It just did the job.

The firmer, more stable feeling is suitable for the gym, especially if you like to get your cardio complete at the gym. The slight rocker effect on this HOKA shoe wasn’t flat enough for me to feel stable when lifting but I can definitely see plenty of fitness enthusiasts jumping from a 5k into a HIIT workout or Cross-Fit session in this pair of shoes. 

HOKA Kawana review: swallow-tail heel

(Image credit: Future)

HOKA KAWANA REVIEW: FIT, FEEL, AND COMFORT

I found these shoes were true to size. The UK-size 6.5 fit like a glove for me. I stepped out on my first test run feeling extremely supported. I felt a few niggles in my mid-foot on my first couple of runs but have put this down to wearing the shoe in.

I felt confident running in them, which of course has a large impact on overall training experience and performance. The laces are reliable, there’s nothing worse than stopping to retie or tighten your laces midrun unless you need an excuse to catch your breath (this we all do on occasion).

After trying the HOKA Kawana out on a short run, speed run, and long-run I have concluded that they aren’t the most forgiving running shoe. But there's still a suitable degree of cushioning and the firmer feel helps to avoid sloppy running. 

HOKA KAWANA REVIEW: USER REVIEWS

The HOKA Kawana is barely a month old at the time of writing this so user reviews are scarce right now. However, Fit&Well will update this as more people buy and wear the HOKA Kawana.

A few eager HOKA customers have left reviews on the brand’s website and here’s what we found. One user who likes to switch from short runs to workout exercises for their training found the shoe really functional for this. Another reviewer states how they enjoyed the lower stack height on the Kawana, this made them feel less like they were running on a platform like other HOKA models. Others collectively agreed they felt supported and comfortable wearing these shoes on both runs and walks. 

There was less negative feedback than positive which is always a good sign. One person said the Kawana felt a little narrow when they first wore them but this was quickly amended by loosening up the laces more. Others said they had to size up a half-size.

HOKA Kawana review

(Image credit: Future)

HOKA KAWANA: VERDICT

My concluding thoughts on the HOKA Kawana as a running shoe is that they are an ideal foot-to-ground companion for the 5K and 10K lovers out there. They will feel too heavy and restrictive for anything more than seven miles. However, all shorter distance runners and beginners can reap the benefits of the firm, yet cushioned sole, which provides a firm ride and is a stable entry for gym use too. 

They feel and look like a durable pair of trainers that will offer a lot of mileage and they perform well across various different activities. The shoe’s durability appeal certainly doesn’t sacrifice how the shoe looks either, I would happily wear these shoes for everyday wear. Just watch what color you opt for as puddles and mud might not be very forgiving on the pristine white  ‘Blanc de Blanc / Butterfly’ option.

HOKA KAWANA: ALSO CONSIDER

Brooks Ghost 13 running shoes for women

(Image credit: Brooks)

Brooks Ghost 13

Some may find the Brooks Ghost 13 slightly more comfortable for runs surpassing the seven-mile mark with a thinner sole and lighter feel than the Kawana offers. This comfortable neutral trainer is a safe pick for easy-paced daily runs and longer half to marathon runners. 

best running shoes for women: ON Cloudflow shoes

(Image credit: ON)

ON Cloudflow

The ON Cloudflow running trainers will appeal to those who like to mix up their road running with some trail runs. The alternative look to this shoe is what makes it deliver on optimal support and comfort when training in these shoes. And if you’re looking to race soon, the light and responsive design is perfect for fast running. 

Jessica is Staff Writer at Fit&Well. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 


When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.