Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hoka Speed Instinct 2 Review: Race Ready Crowd Pleaser

Article by Dominick Layfield

Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2
Hoka's stated weight: 9.5 oz/269 g M9,  8.1 oz./230 g M8
Measured weight of US M10: 10.3 oz/293 g per shoe
Stack Height: 25mm heel/ 22 mm forefoot, 3mm drop
$130. Available now.
Historically, I've not felt much love for Hoka One One shoes.

They arrived at a time when the running community was enjoying a dalliance with minimal shoes, and when I first saw them, Hokas looked like clown shoes.  I dismissed them as a fad that would quickly be forgotten.

I was forced to take them seriously when they were publicly espoused by ultra-running royalty like Karl Meltzer and Dave Mackey.  However, when I tried them on, the foot shape just felt wrong.

The first Hokas that I actually liked were the (long-discontinued) Huaka.  I was given a old demo pair by the local Hoka rep, and while I still felt that the foot shape was not quite right for my feet, I really enjoyed the shoe and wore them until they had no tread left at all.

Fast forward a few years, and despite the fact that Hokas were becoming more and more dominant in the trail and ultra-running world, I continued to resist: every pair I tried on (e.g. Challenger ATR) felt shaped for someone else's foot.

However, when researching shoes to wear for Western States, I couldn't help but notice the really impressive cushion-to-weight ratio of the Clayton 2.  Although a road shoe, the outsole looked like it might have enough tread for trail use.  When I saw a Facebook photo of the great David Roche wearing Claytons at the finish line of a trail race, that clinched it.  I ordered a pair, and was pleasantly surprised.  They felt very much like the Huakas, and nothing else that I'd found came anywhere close to the weight. (~470 g/pair  8.3 oz/shoe for US M10)

Although I had a disappointing day at Western States [Editor's Note: coming back from an injury Dom finished 14th], the Clayton 2's performed well.  And the only minor issues I encountered were the lack of any toe protection (which I discovered when I kicked a root in the dark), and a few times getting jabbed by a sharp rock through the outsole cutout.  If I had to run the race again tomorrow, I'd pick the same shoe.

However, for a longer, more rugged race, like the upcoming UTMB, I want a little more protection.  So when I was offered the chance to review a pair of the Speed Instinct 2, I jumped at the chance.



TEST RESULTS

Executive summary: this is a really, really good shoe.

Now that I've got the spoiler out of the way, let me elaborate.

My initial impression was underwhelming.  I put the shoe on, and although the shape felt a little better than most Hokas, the forefoot still felt narrow, with a pointy-looking toe.
However, when I laced them up and went for a run, I was much more impressed.
Due to some give in the upper, and the fact that the laces are stretchy, the toebox expands decently and manages to feel accommodating, if not spacious.  That's good thing, BTW, as this is the shoe that most Hoka trail athletes are going to use for races, and although a roomy toebox feels nice, you don't want to be sliding around inside the shoe on steep descents and sharp turns.

For the most part I found the shoe just disappeared.  It felt natural and comfortable and unobtrusive.  However it wasn't until I started to run downhill that shoe really shone.
On technical descents, the grip was excellent and confidence-inspiring.   To my surprise, traction was good on steep, sandy, rocky terrain.  My foot felt secure within shoe without feeling constricted.  And -- Hallelujah! -- the heel is soft and rounded and doesn't have stabilizing wings or any other such nonsense.  I can put my foot down at an angle without the shoe trying to straighten it out.  And that means I can fly down technical descents.

Comparison of heel width and shape: Hoka Clayton 2 on left; Speed Instinct 2 on right.  Hard to see in photo, but Clayton is wider and flatter.
The balance between rock protection and ground feel is excellent.  I felt that I had good sensation of what was going on under my feet, but also was able to stomp down on sharp rocks and prominent pebbles without feeling any pain.

I liked also the fact that the sides of the outsole are rounded and not sharp-edged.  The edge of my shoe often grazes my calf, particularly when I'm tired, and it's nice when the shoe doesn't feel like a lethal weapon!

The shoe has a low drop (3 mm) and runs well with either a toe or heel strike,  allowing rapid switching between the two -- which may be a big factor in why the shoe feels so nimble.

The heel counter is stiff but low, extending only about halfway up the heel collar.  It works well, stopping sideways slipping of heel while still allowing good ankle angulation.

On the short sections of pavement that I've run, the Speed Instinct 2's felt fine.  My only quibble is that the shoe has a 'flat spot', making the transition from heel to toe just a little more effort than a softer, more rockered road shoe.  But this is clearly not what the SI2 is designed for, and I'd happily trade this for the upside in stability on uneven surfaces.
Minor issue with tongue sliding off to the lateral side of the foot.  The green stripe should go straight up the middle.

Another minor issue I encountered is that the tongue has a tendency to wander off slightly to the (lateral) side.  It's not a big problem because the tongue stops before it has slid far enough to stop providing protection from the laces, but it does seem like a curious oversight.  Other manufacturers have taken different strategies to keep tongue centered: the Nike Terra Kiger has a burrito-style construction; Salomon shoes typically have a fully gusseted tongue; Montrail use two lace loops.

Pros:
  • Overall feel is great: feels light, agile, confidence-inspiring.
  • Grip is excellent on dry and loose surfaces.
  • Toe box is medium width and stretchy.
  • Plenty of heel cushion for heel-strikers, but still works well for toe runners.
  • Enough rock protection to run happily over all but the gnarliest rubble.
Cons:
  • Stretchy laces mean that foot can slide forward on long steep descents.
  • Performance only so-so on road: feels slightly flat-footed.
  • Tongue likes to migrate off to the side.
  • Mid-foot retention is only so-so (at least for my foot shape)

Unknowns:
  • I've yet to experience the grip in mud and wet.  My guess is that mud grip would be mediocre: the outsole lugs are not very large.
  • Durability TBD.  Hokas have a checkered record here.  There were many reports of the overlay cracking with previous version of Speed Instinct.  (Upper durability is one of the issues Hoka say they've tried to improve in Speed Instinct 2)

CONCLUSION

This is an outstanding trail shoe that will please nearly everyone.   The slightly wider, stretchy toe box will accommodate all but the widest feet or those who insist on extra room to waggle their toes.

Similarly the amount of rock protection will make nearly everyone happy.  I found that there was enough to charge with confidence over all but the most insanely unpleasant rubble.  

But beyond such mundane aspects, the shoe just feels fast and fun.  On dry, loose, steep terrain, they feel nimble and grippy and (like the Hoka slogan) ready to fly.

I would wear this shoe over almost any surface and distance.  After a week of running in them, I'm pretty sure this is the shoe I'll wear at UTMB.

Although this feels like a race shoe, it is equally competent as a daily running shoe.

COMPARISONS

Hoka Speedgoat 2.  Although two trail shoes from the same brand, these are very different beasts.  The Speed Instinct 2 is more to my taste than the SG2.  The SG2 has poorer ground feel, and feels cumbersome in comparison.  But the Speedgoat provides more grip and more protection and would probably be a better choice for a 100-miler or for rough terrain.  The Speedgoat upper has noticeably less stretch. Weights of two shoes are remarkably similar: for US M10, Speedgoat 2 is only 8 g  (0.3 oz) per pair heavier (594 g vs 586 g), about 1.5% more.

Nike Terra Kiger 3.  I haven't tried version 4 yet, but Sam reports only minor changes from TK3.  The Terra Kiger in its various incarnations has long been one of my favorite shoes.  In terms of shape, the TK3 is a better match for my foot and may have the edge in stability.  The TK3 also has better midfoot hold.  However, the Speed Instinct has more cushioning and rock protection.  I've found that my feet start to ache in the TK3 after about 50 miles of trail: so I don't chose them for runs longer than 100 km.  I'm hoping that the Speed Instinct will still feel good for 100 miles, although the longest distance I've worn them so far is a trail marathon.  Mud/snow grip is likely better with Kiger due to larger, more numerous lugs.  Again both shoes are pretty much the same weight: I have two pairs of TK3's; one is the exact same weight (586 g) as Speed Instinct test pair, the other is about 20 g lighter.

Altra Lone Peak 3.5.  [RTR review] A little heavier than the two shoes above, around an ounce per shoe, the Lone Peak is a seasoned veteran of trail running.  I've worn the 3.0 version for several hundred-mile races, and I know that if I wear this shoe in a ultra, I'm not going to have any foot problems.  However, zero-drop shoes are not to everyone's liking, and nor is the wider Altra toe-box.  (Though the LP3's fit noticeably snugger than most Altra shoes.)   

See Dominick's run bio here

The Speed Instinct was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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8 comments:

Piotr Ciski said...

Dominick good review. I don't quite get the difference between this shoe and SG2. My favourite shoes used to be Huaka. Today I am looking for a new replacement. I was about to buy SG2 before I read your review. Now I am bit confused. What's the difference between the two except from outsole ? Is Vibram any advantage in your opinion ? Which one is more suited for long runs 100km + ? Thank you

Dom Layfield said...

Regrettably, I'm away from home right now, and am unable to run with SI2 on one foot and SG2 on the other. Which is what I like to do. If you wait a few days, I'll get a chance to do this and can update review.

However, my recollection of the runs I did in the Speedgoat 2 is that the shoe felt rather stiff and slow and dead feeling. The rock protection was so great that I felt very little connection with the ground. I can imagine being very busy grateful for the extra protection in the last 20 miles of a 100-miler. But for me, personally, it felt like too much for a daily running shoe.

Another big difference is in the heel. The Speedgoat 2 heel feels like it's been sunk into a bathtub of foam. It doesn't like being set down at an angle.

Speedgoat may be a better choice for slower runners. To me, it just doesn't feel as fast and lively and agile as the Speed Instinct 2.

Hopefully that help clarify a little. I'll update in a few days after I've done a side-by-side test.

Romulus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Romulus said...

Regarding the Kiger - although a very fine shoe overall they are slippery on (wet) stone, at the very least compared to my previous trail shoes, the mighty Mafate Speed

Σπύρος said...

The usual Hoka issues (same as in Speedgoat 2): Tongue sliding outwards and narrow toebox. I hope they fix them in future versions.

Piotr Ciski said...

Thank you for the quick reply. No rush. althought I am very curious about side by side test.

Dom Layfield said...

Update Aug 29th After running with one shoe on each foot and then reversing the next day, I'm surprised to say that the SpeedGoat 2 and Speed Instinct 2 didn't feel as different as my recollection suggested. The SpeedGoat has a clearly stiffer sole, and consequently has less sensitivity/ground feel, but commensurately more rock protection. Grip (at least on rock and sand) is better on the SG2 -- not that the Speed Instinct 2's are bad in this respect. The upper on the SG2 has much less elastic stretch to it than the SI2, and again, whether this is a good thing is largely a matter of taste. On steep descents, the SG2 upper does a better job of stopping your foot sliding forward. But it also limits natural foot splay. Finally, while I'm not a huge fan of the bulkier heel on the SG2, but side-by-side, I didn't notice it as much as I expected.

I'm currently out in France for UTMB, and after much vacillation, I think I'm opting to use the SpeedGoat2 for the big race. Given that the weight difference is tiny, and the weather forecast looks ominous, I figure I'll take a little more protection and better grip.

sam winebaum said...

Thanks for the update Dom! Kind of figured given the weather and distance you might go with more shoe for this one. Best of Luck! Sam