If you’ve read any of my other trail shoe reviews, it probably won’t have escaped your notice that I tend to favor the ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to cushioning, stack heights and drop. However in the last 12 months or so I’ve had some good experiences with a few shoes which offer more substantial levels of cushioning when used within the context of longer runs, such as the Altra Lone Peak and in particular, the Scott Kinabalu Supertrac. In spite of this, I’ve always been a bit skeptical as to whether a fully maximalist shoe like a Hoka would really float my boat given that they are such a departure from my usual comfort zone. However when I was asked to take a look at the recently released Speedgoat, I decided that given their popularity and the fact that a lot of runners seem to successfully switch between shoes of this type and more minimalist offerings it would be cool to give them a try.
My perception of Hoka shoes has always been that their main selling point is their generous cushioning which may or may not help you keep your legs a little fresher when tacking high mileage events that aren’t super-technical. The Speedgoat (which spellcheck amusingly wants to change to ‘SpeedBOAT’) was developed in collaboration with ultra running legend Karl Meltzer and is described as being ‘designed to take on technical trails’ and ‘a tough shoe to get you through tough trail conditions’. This is a little different from my stereotypical impression of HOKA shoes and could open them up to a new audience.
I think it’s always really important to remember however that one persons idea of technical terrain can vary massively to another depending on their experience and the area in which they live. I can’t imagine that Mr Meltzer spends too much time dodging gorse bushes and peat bogs in horizontal rain whilst up to his knees in mud and cow shit for example.
The appearance of the Speedgoat is certainly not what you would call subtle in all three of the available colourways and I guess it is kind of pointless to attempt to try and create an understated look in a shoe with proportions like a HOKA. I quite like the them, my wife hates them… as always, it’s a subjective thing. They feel surprisingly light considering the sheer size of the midsole and I was immediately impressed with the build quality which is solid and well finished.
The fit of the Speedgoat is for me, spot-on around the heel, OK around the mid foot and quite narrow and pointy around the toe box. The sturdy mesh material and extensive overlays combine to make the upper quite stiff and unpliable. I’m pretty sure this reflects and attempt to make the shoe secure over steep and technical ground and it reminded me quite a lot of the most recent version of the Inov-8 Mudlcaw 265 that I tasted earlier this year. The potential problem with this approach is that if you make an upper too stiff, it never quite moulds to the shape of your foot and this can make it a bit tricky to get the lacing locked down with the nett result being that they can actually almost be less secure than a shoe with a softer upper (like the Terraclaw 220). The pointy shape means that I didn’t find them as comfortable as I would like over long distances which is kind of contradictory to their intended purpose. Overall on my feet they worked OK but I feel like there is scope for refinement, i.e. a more flexible upper, a more secure mid foot and a less tapered toe box.
Sizing wise, I had to go up half a size from what I would usually take in an Inov-8 but the same as Salomon, La Sportiva, New Balance etc.
As soon as I took my first steps in the Speedgoat, I was struck by how firm the ride is relative to my expectations. It’s by no means harsh but it’s not as cushy as I thought it might be considering the amount of midsole material. This is not a criticism and I actually think that it made the process of getting used to them quite a bit faster than it might have done if they were softer. The extra cushioning is there but I think it takes until a bit longer into a run before it becomes noticeable and it does seem to change the way in which you feel fatigue. I couldn’t honestly say whether or not it has an overall effect of reducing it but it does feel different.
Whilst I tried really, really hard to keep an open mind whilst testing the Speedgoats, I have to say that I was a little apprehensive to see how a shoe with a stack height like this would cope on technical ground. The reality is that the outsole creates an incredibly wide platform, especially around the heel, which means that stability on moderately sized lumps and bumps is very good. The potential problem comes if you hit a bigger obstruction, be that a rock or a root, which sends your ankle off-balance to the extent that you reach the ‘point of no return’ where the width and height works against you, the midsole compresses laterally and it’s gets very tricky to avoid a major spill. It will also probably come as no surprise that the Speedgoat isn’t very flexible at all and this means that your foot is unable to naturally adapt to the contours of the ground which I find to be a really important component in technical running. That being said, I never actually rolled an ankle whilst wearing the Speedgoats but the aforementioned characteristics resulted in occasional wobbles which left me a bit wary over rough, steep ground.
As you might expect, thanks to the cushioning there is basically zero chance of your foot getting spiked by a sharp object through the midsole, despite the fact that the shoes do not have a rock plate. The rocker design of the outsole / midsole is noticeable but not obtrusive which is great as it will probably benefit those who like this type of feature but I don’t think it will bug people who don’t.
I’ve always found Vibram outsoles to be reliable and this case is no exception. The lugs aren’t aggressive enough to cope with a full on winter onslaught but the design is versatile enough to handle most of what UK conditions can handle the rest of the year. Grip on wet rock isn’t spectacular and they struggle in deep mud but the durability seems excellent and overall I think it’s a good design.
A low, secure, agile and grippy shoe like an Inov-8 works fantastically over the rough stuff but will leave a lot of people’s feet feeling tenderized over longer distances. Maximalist shoes endeavor to keep your feet fresh for the long haul but can feel cumbersome over challenging terrain. With the Speedgoat, I think HOKA have tried to take elements of both approaches and combine them into a shoe which is almost a hybrid. I’m a latecomer to the HOKA party and for me, this approach didn’t really work out as the fit isn’t accommodating enough for me to feel terribly enthusiastic about using them on a long run but they also aren’t nimble enough for me to want to take them out on shorter outings.
However, there are certainly positive elements to the design and they are by no means a ‘bad shoe’. I could imagine that if you are already a fan of the brand and you are looking for something a bit more rugged and grippy than the rest of the Hoka range, the Speedgoat might be just the ticket.
This product was provided as a test sample by the manufacturer, please refer to my gear review and advertising policy for more information.
The Speedgoats are available from Amazon
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Got any thoughts to share about the Hoka Speedgoat? Have a question? I’m especially interested to hear your experiences on the durability? Please leave your thoughts below!