So let’s start big picture – after 50 miles on my Hattori, they are one of my favorite shoes. These super-light mittens-for-my-feet have become a staple in my rotation for speed work and shorter runs – they have improved my form and made me a stronger runner. That said, the Hattori are a niche shoe. While they are fun, fast, and a useful training tool, they are too extreme for some, and are not intended as a versatile, every day trainer. The Hattori are their own beast.
Saucony’s first foray into minimal running was wildly successful with the almost revolutionary Kinvaras – but the Hattori make the Kinvaras look like big ole army boots by comparison. The Hattori are the first “zero-drop” (zero mm decline from the cushioning at heel-to-toe) minimal shoe offered up by the company. Weighing in at a ridiculous 4.4 oz, they weigh almost half as much as the Kinvaras and are even lighter than all the different Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) models. Obviously, there is no added filler for stabilization or support in this one – not the shoe for an over-pronator.
The shoe looks… well… funky. There are all kinds of crazy colors to choose from and a rather polarizing design – some folks (like myself) think they look fast and slick, while others (like my wife) think they look like ugly clown shoes. To each his own on this one.
The shoe fit and feel is unique and distinct from any other shoe. If a water shoe and a racing flat had a love child, this is what it would look like. They are easy to slip on (far easier than my VFFs) and have two simple Velcro straps to secure the shoe across the top of the foot and behind the heel (although the heel strap seems wasted to me and does little to enhance the fit). The upper is light and flexes with the foot, while the foam insole is soft and comfy, significantly cushier than the VFFs. I wear a normal-width size 11, and an 11 in the Hattori was just barely snug around my foot, with a ton of room (almost too much) in the toe-box. For me, this fit has worked – but the shoe doesn’t hug the foot as much as some may like, and this could cause slippage within the shoe, particularly on uneven terrain. To get a more minimal experience I wear the shoes sockless, and have experienced no rubbing or blisters. However, several others I’ve talked to have developed rub sores, presumably from the loose fit, and have to wear socks with their Hattori.
The sole is relatively thin (about 13mm) and is almost completely exposed EVA, with very little rubber on the bottom. This keeps the weight down and makes it a bit springier than most shoes, but it’s also hard to imagine that this would hold up well when you start piling on the mileage. There is a more cushioned landing in the Hattori than in VFFs or Merrell barefoot gloves. There are three rubberized pods of support underneath, but their placement seems misguided. In a shoe designed for minimal runners with a mid/forefoot strike, why is the support placed on the heel and medial forefoot, instead of the lateral forefoot where most Hattori wearers land?
For me, running in the Hattori is smooth and silky. After a couple minutes you forget you’re even wearing shoes, and I’ve never found it so natural to mid/forefoot strike in a shoe before. The Hattori will improve your running form. This super-light, good-form running leads to another perk- the Hattori are fast. In my two months with them I’ve set personal records in both the 5K and the mile.
While the Hattori is certainly a minimal shoe, if you are looking for that barefoot feeling of the ground beneath your feet, there are better options available. The ground feel is just not the same as you get in a VFF or a barefoot glove – the more cushioned sole is not as grippy and reactive. The Hattori is not for trail running – it has very little traction, you can’t use your toes to grip the terrain like you can in a VFF, and I suspect that after a few miles over a rocky trail you will have torn up both your shoes and your feet.
Where the Hattori really excels is on the track and short grass, and, for the more hardened minimal runner, on the road. It is my shoe of preference for speed work and short races. It is an excellent training tool that can help you run with better form and improve your calf and foot strength. If properly integrated into a training regiment (i.e. avoid the common “too much, too soon” pitfall), the Hattori can make you a faster, stronger runner.
So let’s recap- if you are a neutral, minimal runner, looking to:
Then the Hattori may be for you. If you’re a jogger, an over-pronator, hitting the trail, or running an ultra, you probably want to look elsewhere.
The Hattori rocks – but only in what it’s meant for.
About the author: Ben Prosser, is a 28 yr. old biomedical researcher at University of Maryland School of Medicine where he studies cardiac physiology otherwise known as heart research or nerd things. Ben loves everything health and fitness related – he is a huge proponent of functional training, speed workouts, and running races that cause him physical pain and injury (he once broke his leg while running the Baltimore Marathon). Ben thrives off motivating his friends and family to exercise with him and live healthy lifestyles! He lives in Mt. Washington with his smart, hot and humble wife, Erin (who may have written this bio) and his old and smelly Boston Terrier, Bubba. Follow Ben’s training on dailymile.