When I first put on a pair of Hokas, I wasn’t sure I was picking up what they were putting down. I’ve been side-eyeing these brightly colored, heavily cushioned sneakers for years now, but it took until this spring for me to finally get into a pair: the Speedgoat 2, a trail runner unlike any I’ve seen before. First it was weird, then it was a bit uncomfortable, and then it was just a little magical.
Hoka isn’t your everyday running shoe brand. They introduced their shoes, which rock so much cushion they could pass as platforms, at the height of the minimalist movement and quickly converted runners across the world to their high-volume ways. Their untraditional design relies on three key bits of technology: the lightweight oversized midsole for cushion and shock absorption, a partially rockered sole profile that perpetuates forward motion and preserves a runner’s natural gait, and a stabilizing integrated foot frame that holds the runner’s foot in the cushion instead of on top of it.
The Speedgoat 2 incorporates all three elements in a slightly lower-volume shoe than a standard Hoka road runner. A redesign of the original Speedgoat, it features a more aggressive Vibram sole, a stabilizing fit including a wider toebox and midsole, and a lightweight, forgiving upper reinforced where you need extra durability.
On my first day, I took them out on a mid-length run, eager to see what all the hype was about. The thick sole, low-profile upper, and rocker profile were a little unnerving at first; a little too far off the ground for comfort. I noticed my feet rolling inward (overpronating) with every step, the forgiving shoes perhaps letting my natural gait, which is not a graceful one, shine through too much. But other elements—springiness and cushion on the downhill, the light weight (nearly 3 oz lighter than my Salomon trail runners), and the way the rockered sole propels you forward—shone from the outset.
As I took the Speedgoat 2s out on longer runs, I toyed with different lacing techniques and tweaks to dial in my fit, and grew familiar with the sensation of being a couple inches off the ground. I found that lacing tighter at the midfoot kept me from overpronating or feeling like my feet might roll right off the platform beneath them. Lacing the toebox looser protected my wide forefoot and tailor’s bunions. I was pain-free, even though the shoe is narrower than other running and hiking shoes I wear.
By the time I grew accustomed to the unique shape and size of the Speedgoat 2, I was hooked. The grip on the improved sole is remarkable. I’m stable and secure on slick rocks, muddy trails, and wet roots. And even on uneven ground, the height of the sole doesn’t compromise my stability. In fact, it does the opposite—the excellent shock absorption and careful design diminishes and distributes any weird kick-back from short steps or pushing off at odd angles from rocks and roots. The extra cushion made the downhill more fun (and painless) than usual, and I appreciated the light weight on the uphill. After years of thinking too hard about my gait, trying to make micro-adjustments with my foot strike, my hip movements, and other nitpicky details, the Hokas were refreshingly simple. With so much shoe, there’s little you can do to change how your foot hits the ground—which is precisely the point.
The Speedgoat 2 was built for trail runners with long distances to cover and beat-up feet to protect, but it’s also a great option for an average hiker looking for something to keep up with them on technical terrain—and a great option for folks with joint or foot pain who want a little more cushion while they hike. The Hoka Mafate Speed 2, part of their trail collection, is heavier and more durable, and the Challenger ATR 3, a crossover road/trail shoe, is lighter and less technical. The Speedgoat 2 is where heavy-duty performance and lightweight, speed-oriented design meet.
Other trail runners we love
The Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4 is a do-anything trail runner for everything from light and fast race days to long runs on dirt roads.
La Sportiva’s Bushido is an low-profile trail running shoe with excellent grip, a secure, snug fit, and a loyal following.
Salomon’s XA Pro 3D series is perfectly runnable, but they really shine as a crossover trail run and hiking shoe—they’ve become my go-to for long backpacking trips and double-digit days.