The Hoka Speedgoat 2 is our favorite maximally cushioned shoe, and deservingly wins our Top Pick award for that purpose. "Speedgoat" is the nickname of legendary North American trail runner Karl Meltzer who runs a highly competitive mountain race of that same name in Utah's Wasatch Mountains and also at one time held the record on the Appalachian Trail. These shoes were designed with his collaboration and are more comfortable, have a more secure fit, and offer improved traction over the similar Hoka Challenger ATR 4, which have held our maximally cushioned top pick award for the past couple years. If you want the top performing shoe that also offers a heap of plush, cushioned foam underfoot, the Speedgoat 2 is our recommendation for you.
HOKA Speedgoat 2 ReviewPrice: $140 List | $104.96 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Supremely cushioned ride, great foot protection, snug and supportive fit
Cons: Not very sensitive or stable, a bit heavy, expensive
Bottom line: The best underfoot protection you can buy.
Heel-to-Toe Drop: 4.5 mm
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot): 32 mm, 28 mm
Manufacturer: HOKA ONE ONE
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Trail Running Shoes for Men of 2018
Our Analysis and Test Results
Hoka has long been the brand of maximum cushioning, and indeed pretty much created this now hugely popular niche out of nowhere roughly ten years ago. Hokas are popular because their vast amount of underfoot foam gives them a very protective, heavily cushioned ride that goes a long way toward absorbing the repetitive impacts that running places on the muscles and joints of the legs, hips, and lower back.
Over the course of a year, lifetime, or even just a single race, any percentage of impact that is lowered can have a drastic effect, not just in body longevity but also in results. This compelling argument is one that many Hoka faithful subscribe to, and is a pretty much unarguable reason for giving them a try or having at least one pair in the quiver. That said, the large stack height that gives them these advantages also has a few very obvious drawbacks — lack of stability and decreased sensitivity.
For the past few years, various iterations of the Challenger ATR line have been our Top Picks for Maximum Cushioning. That must have been because we hadn't tried the Speedgoat 2 yet. The Speedgoat has slightly more underfoot cushioning, but the difference is so small as to be unnoticeable. What is very noticeable is the far more snug and supportive fit of the upper that holds our feet firmly in place, unlike the spacious and not very snug fit of the Challenger upper. The footbed also feels flatter and not scooped out like the footbed of the Challenger, and we love how much more effective the tread pattern on the Speedgoat 2 is as well. While they are similar in so many ways, we feel that the Speedgoat 2 is a more refined version that lets us run closer to our best.
There is no arguing that this is an extremely protective shoe, at least under the foot. Its 32 mm of under the heel EVA foam cushioning is easily the most in this review, and even while landing on sharp, pointy rocks, almost no sensation manages to penetrate this layer of armor to tickle the foot. Whether you like this level of protection is up to you, but the thick foam also comes with the genuine benefit of absorbing a lot of the repetitive impact shock from running, the main reason why these shoes are so very popular among ultra runners.
The only thing keeping these shoes from a perfect score in this metric is that the toe bumper is nothing more than a light TPU overlay and does little to protect one when kicking a root or rock. The upper itself is made of thin mesh that has a fair amount of protective overlays that do a decent job of protecting the shoe material, but not much for the foot. The net effect is that these shoes, along with the Salomon S/Lab Ultra, are the most protective trail runners you can buy.
This shoe has larger lugs and far more of them than what is found on the sole of the Challenger ATR 4. The sole itself is made of Vibram Megagrip rubber compound, which we found to be pretty sticky on the rock.
However, we don't think that these lugs are truly 5mm deep like they are advertised on Hoka's website, and they didn't do a very effective job of gripping loose surfaces like steep dirt and grass. Like most Hoka outsoles, the rubber is patterned with many cut out areas and exposed foam, a design that helps with flexibility of the thick midsole, but which also leaves it exposed to delaminating a bit easier. While the traction is decent, it is nowhere near as rad as the outsole found on the Saucony Peregrine 8.
Stability has always been the Achilles heel of the Hoka design, and the Speedgoat 2 is no exception. We regularly hear proselytizers declaring that these shoes are far more stable than they once were, but the truth is that compared to every other shoe that is not maximally cushioned, these shoes are like running on stilts.
Granted, we have noticed that if you spend a lot of time running in them, you will quickly adapt to this unique limitation. What we love about this shoe is how securely it locks our foot in place, limiting any extra movement within the shoe, and diminishing the feeling of instability compared to the less snug Challenger ATR 4. They are still prone to rolling though, especially while side-hilling or on very uneven terrain, and runners with weak ankles should beware.
Nobody will argue that this is a comfortable shoe. The fit runs ever so slightly narrow in the forefoot, but not enough so that most people will struggle to fit in them. In contrast, we find the fit in the heel to be ever so slightly loose, so that depending on the type of terrain we are running in there may be a tad of slippage there.
We found that this shoe is a bit warm, and in our water bucket test to see how much water it absorbs, and then how much it manages to shed again in five minutes of running, its performance was almost exactly average. We gave it 8 out of 10 points for comfort.
Our pair of men's size 11 shoes weighed in at 23.2 ounces. Considering how much shoe you are getting, this may seem like a very low weight.
However, it is about 1.5 ounces per shoe heavier than the very similarly designed Challenger ATR 4, so in truth, it isn't that light. Compared to the other shoes tested, there are quite a few right in the same range of weight, but only one that is noticeably heavier. As such, we awarded a relatively low score for weight.
Sensitivity is another attribute that Hokas tend to perform poorly in. The Speedgoat 2 is once again no exception. We found that while the 32mm of dense foam underfoot does a great job of protecting you from rocks and absorbing impact, it allows for almost no sensation of the trail to make its way to your foot. For us, this leads to a bit of a dissociative effect, and we admit that we enjoy getting a reasonable amount of sensory feedback from the objects that we are stepping on. For comparison, this shoe was noticeably less sensitive even than the very heavily cushioned Salomon S/Lab Ultra. It received the lowest score of 3.
This shoe is best used for ultra running races or long distance days, but can just as comfortably be worn on any sort of run. Many people also enjoy hiking in them and even wearing them around town or to work if they must be on their feet all day. Hokas, in general, are quite popular in the ultra running world, and also among older runners, who seem to have a deeper appreciation for their impact dampening effect. Due to their inherent instability, we like them best on regular trails or dirt roads, and typically choose a different shoe if we are looking to tackle the steeps, off-trail, or especially uneven and rocky terrain.
These shoes retail for $140, making them the second most expensive in this review. Hokas have long been more expensive than your average trail running shoe, so perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. Since we think they are the best maximally cushioned shoe you can buy, they likely present good value. However, there have also long been complaints from Hoka users who didn't feel they got the mileage that they deserved for such an expensive product, something to consider.
The Hoka Speedgoat 2 is our Top Pick for Maximum Cushioning because they are the most comfortable, best fitting, and have the best traction of the Hokas that we have tried. Despite our best efforts to find some comparable competition, this market is still dominated by Hoka, and this is the best one of their shoes that we have ever worn.
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