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2012 Saucony Hattori.

By Tom Demerly for

Saucony's Hattori combines zero drop with a quick don upper for a unique combination of features.

Saucony’s Hattori merges barefoot running design with quick donning features for a unique interpretation of a classic from the 1980’s, the old Nike Sock Racer. The verdict: It works surprisingly well.

The Saucony Hattori uses a laceless,  all-stretch mesh upper with a clear polymer exoskeleton reinforcement across the top. The shoe is closed with two Velcro straps, one at the heel and one across the top of the shoe where you’d normally tie the laces. The rear quarter is synthetic flat-finished Lorica style fabric, an ultra-light artificial leather with good durability and water resistance. There is a medial bumper on the inside of the heel, likely more to resist wear than for stability. Donning tabs are sewn onto the front and back of the shoe so you can pull it on easier. A big benefit of this construction for triathletes is drainage. When you dump an aid station cup over your head your shoes don’t get waterlogged. It’s also a nice blister-resistant construction.

Only one-thrid the weight of a conventional training shoe, the Hattori feels so light you can;t help but imagine you may be faster.

Like the older Nike Sock Racer the Hattori uses a white EVA outsole that is also the midsole. The tread pattern in the outsole facilitates flexibility of the shoe, especially in the forefoot. Three areas on the outsole are reinforced with Saucony’s “XT-900” carbon rubber, the light green pads. This material “offers exceptional traction without sacrificing durability” according to Saucony. The material also seems to add a level of shock absorption to the areas where its located, especially the heel.

While the outsole is basically an exposed midsole the light green crash pads extend the life of the shoe and add to shock absorption.

The geometry of the shoe is no drop from toe to heel. Your foot relates to the ground the way it would if you weren’t wearing a shoe. The sole is effectively 11mm thick over its length. It tapers to thinner in front of the ball of your foot. If you are an old Nike Sock Racer user, this is where the two shoes part company. The old Sock Racer had a more built up heel and less sophisticated upper. Unlike Sock Racer the Hattori’s ride is board flat and the upper is very sophisticated.

The Hattori bares a resemblance to the Nike Sock Racer from the 1980's, worn by the author at the 1986 Bud Light USTS Triathlon Championships in Hilton Head, S.C.

We weighed a Hattori in size 9.5 US and got 4.3 ounces or 121 grams. To put that in perspective it’s about one third the weight of a conventional stability training shoe. The shoe is extremely light weight. Less weight is more speed and more than one tester felt they were faster in Hattoris. It stands to reason; if the geometry of this shoe works for you a 50% weight reduction compared to a lightweight training shoe is going to make running easier, that will make it faster.

At only 4.2 ounces measured weight in a size 9.5 US the Hattori is only one third the weight of a heavy trainer.

I’m not a devotee of the barefoot genre’, at least not exclusively. Barefoot shoe is an oxymoron. I’ll admit to donning the Hattori with a bit of attitude; “Another low drop shoe?”

I was wrong about these.

The Hattori's outsole, including the extra material in the medial arch, provide a ride better than you would expect in a no-drop, minimal running mocassin.

Hattori has a deceptive amount of shock absorption. The cushy built-in insole and cushioned outsole provide a very soft ride, much softer than its 11 millimeter sole thickness suggests. It’s as soft as some 13 mm shoes. I also suspect the XT-900 crash pads, the light green wear sections on the outsole, do more than their fair share of soaking up road shock. However it does it, it works- very, very well. If you’ve turned your nose up at zero drop shoes it’s worth taking a test run in this one. I wager you’ll like the way it feels.

The Hattori uses two Velcro closures to secure the fit of the shoe. It works, but it can slow donning for triathlon users. They are still faster to pull on than conventional shoes.

Because I raced in the old Nike Sock Racer in the 1980’s I carried that paradigm into my review of the Hattori. When I saw Hattori I thought, “Great! A quick donning, stretch upper shoe!” Maybe. Hattori’s front and rear strap prevent pulling the shoe on as quickly as some earlier stretch upper designs. The upside is much better fit and overall stability. The upper stays coupled to the midsole/outsole. Your foot doesn’t have a tendency to slide off this shoe when cornering, an annoying tendency of some early Zoot stretch upper models. The Hattoris fits and feels solid but isn’t made expressly for fast donning, although with practice I was pulling them on in only a couple of seconds, faster than conventional lace shoes equipped with speed laces.

There is no conventional, removable insole in the Hattori. It uses a plush, stitched down footbed.

How do They Feel Running?

You have to try these. I’ll be disappointed if you aren’t pleasantly surprised. The relative amount of cushion for a barefoot shoe felt fantastic.  When I think “minimal” I think painful. These shoes have a soft ride considering how little sole there is. Be sure to trim your toenails with these if running sockless. As with the older Sock Racers, long toenails can tear the stretch mesh upper on these. I ran both sockless and with socks in these. Both great.

The fit is even better. I read one review where a tester said they ran large. Disagree entirely. I say they are very precise. I take the same 9.5 as other sauconys. The Velcro closures on the forefoot and heel cinch things down securely. Another good ride feature is how the shoe transitions from footstrike to push off. It’s very flexible. The tooling on the back of the heel, the rounded back edge of the heel, make them feel very natural.

There is a hint of mo-co on the medial heel with this demi-heel counter. The radiused outsole at the heel made for excellent transitions on footstrike.

This is an ambitious design and Saucony did a lot right with the Hattori. I can’t find drawbacks with this little shoe. Even the $79.95 price is reasonable. It won’t be a long life span shoe due to the exposed outsole, but the XT-900 pads held up well in testing. The cushioning may wane before the outsole wears. Only time will tell. On the way to that time you’ll get a nice geometry, great riding shoe with unique design and features like quick donning and ultra-light weight.

With quick don features, a nice fit and better than expected ride the Hattori is worth a close look.