Nike’s been putting up big claims with their new React Infinity Run, but should it even be compared to a structured shoe like the Arahi 4?

Ok, before people jump immediately into the comments section on social media and let fly, let’s get this out of the way: The Nike React Infinity Run and Hoka Arahi 4s are not even remotely similar shoes. Comparing the two may seem silly, but there’s a method behind our madness. Read on for why.

Why These Two Shoes?

First off, some background. Nike released the React Infinity Runs a little while ago with some pretty amazing statistics: Nike claimed that their new super foamy shoe could reduce running injuries by 52%. While not quite as sexy as Nike’s “make you 4% more efficient” tagline that has gotten the running world abuzz lately, reducing injury rate by half seems as notable if not more so. 

But if you read the fine print of the claim, you’ll see that the reduction in injury is from a Nike study that compares injury rates between the React Infinity and Nike’s Air Zoom Structure 22; the latter of which is a “structured” shoe that’s meant to control motion and provide stability. In other words, Nike claims that the React Infinity is comparable to the Structure. So for this Face-Off, we’ve tagged another “structure” shoe, the updated Hoka Arahi 4, to step in for a cage match against the up-and-coming contender React Infinity. Spoiler alert: The two shoes are as similar as apples and moonrocks, but it’s a worthy battle because Nike called the shot, and because some might say that the super foamy React Infinity is Nike’s attempt at copycatting Hoka’s designs. Maybe a response to Hoka’s foam-plus-carbon-plated Carbon X that looks an awful lot like Nike’s “percent” line? Shoe drama, for sure.


Related:

Reviewed: Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit Shoes

What Triathletes Need to Know About the New Rules Governing Nike’s Speedy Shoes

Unboxed: Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit Shoes

Hoka or Nike? We Compare Two Carbon-Plated Running Shoes


Nike React Infinity Run

Nike versus Hoka

If a brand was going to take a stab at copying Hoka’s heavily foamed, heavily rockered style of shoe, the React Infinity would definitely be the result. This is a fairly lightweight shoe considering everything that’s going on with it, and it has a huge 9mm offset to create a big drop from heel to toe. There’s a lot of foam in this midsole, a decent amount of tread, and a very nice flyknit one-piece upper with very few seams and a heel tab—seemingly a triathlete’s dream. Though the previously mentioned details may seem like the React would be ideal for racing sockless, the reality is that the few laces, high achilles section, and a rough—almost painted—opening make this slippery shoe to run in with socks, let alone without. In fact, the sans-tongue upper is so floaty, it was hard to cinch these down tight enough without causing pain in the forefoot.

As far as where the rubber meets the road, the React is anything but structured. The very very cushy tall foam midsole creates a platform that is almost constantly moving underfoot. In fact, this movement can feel slightly disorienting on the tiny muscles on the sides of one’s ankles and legs that help to stabilize each foot strike. While it’s possible that the React prevents injury specifically by strengthening those tiny muscles by providing almost active movement with each step, that’s certainly not the claim Nike makes by comparing it with the Structure 22.

All of this adds up to a shoe that’s great for very efficient runners who are doing maybe some tempo or faster road work for mid to short runs, but not necessarily for someone with lower-leg/foot issues or someone looking for a long-run shoe on which to plod. Think: fast, nimble, and efficient (no trails, please!).

Hoka Arahi 4

Nike versus Hoka

While the Hoka Arahi 4 isn’t necessarily a brand new shoe, it’s the update to Hoka’s most comparable model to the Structure 22. And since this seems to be a year of Hoka v. Nike drama, a worthy choice for the Face-Off. The new version of the Arahi boasts an updated, super lightweight upper with increased perforations over the Arahi 3 that’s very breathable and almost like a flyknit (hear that, Nike?). It also has a redesigned pull tab on the heel that’s much easier for on-the-go wearing (think: transitions).

Notably, this is quite a structured shoe for the Hoka line, as a result of their “J-Frame” midsole that wraps from about the mid toebox of the medial side to the middle of the forefoot laterally. This structure does a great job of controlling motion without adding much weight. As such, this is one of the lighter and more responsive “structure” shoes we’ve tried—despite the standard amount of Hoka foam.

Another big difference between this and the React Infinity is that despite the tall stack of foam, a wide platform helps further control motion and provide stability in all types of terrain. That said, the outsole is extremely minimal (likely to save weight), and outsole durability could be a question mark over time—a surprising contrast to the quite solid outsole on the React Infinity. This could easily stand in as a long-run shoe or a tempo trainer for those seeking structure. Even longer-distance tris would be a great home for the Arahi 4.

The Winner: Hoka Arahi 4

How can we determine a winner between two completely different shoes? Well, it boils down to the Arahi 4 doing what it says it will, while a few fairly big issues on the React Infinity—like the odd-fitting upper and iffy closure system—make the Nikes feel a little unfinished and its claims slightly misleading. While both of these shoes are nearly identical in weight (Nike: 11.4oz. measured in size 12; Hoka: 11.74oz. measured in size 12), the similarities end there: If you know you need structure, DO NOT get the React Infinitys; get the Arahi 4s (or maybe the Structure 22s). If you want something super smushy with basically no structure whatsoever because you’re already an incredibly efficient runner, get the React Infinitys. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into.