Long-term shoe test

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, La Sportiva Jackal, Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 Max, Nike Zoom Terra Kiger

Hoka Speedgoat

by Trail Running |

Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

Used by Liam Dee Used since November 2019

hoka.com £125

I’ll start by being completely honest: my first impressions of this shoe were less than ideal. The Speedgoats were my first pair of Hokas, a brand which I had heard so many good things about, so I was excited to try them for myself. Possibly partly due to my expectation, I felt initially disappointed by them, having to stop on runs to re-lace them for comfort and generally having some pretty iffy runs; eventually I consigned them to muddy dog-walks for a month or so. But something kept nagging me to persist, deep down I think I wanted to share the love of Hokas. And I’m glad I did.

A couple of short, easy test outings around the woodlands turned into longer efforts, evolving into a shoe I used year-round almost every day, including my Sunday long run. The moderate tread pattern of Vibram outsole tackled everything well – from dusty summer gravel to winter slop – and, unlike other trail shoes, I was never bothered when using them for long stretches on the roads, the rubber being impressively durable. One of my concerns (pre-testing) was that Hoka’s ubiquitous plushness would usurp any surefootedness needed for technical trails, but this fear has proved completely unfounded. Per the ‘Goat’ name, the ride was locked in and agile thanks to the midsole of moderate drop (4mm) and a tough upper, yet they still provided a lovely smooth and cushioned platform. In the back of my mind, there is almost a tinge of guilt that I ever disliked this shoe and it’s now funny that the Speedgoat 4 has become (by my estimates) my most-used shoe of all time, both in terms of miles and time spent running in them. The data would suggest these are my favourite shoes I’ve owned and I would struggle to name many others that would challenge them.

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that I’m referring to these shoes in the past tense for this write-up because, alas, all good things must come to an end. After what I’d think is close to 1000 miles and 20+ months of regular use I was forced to retire my Speedgoat 4s as one of the eyelets ripped, which to me is no slight on their construction but testament that the important bits (sole and ride) can stand up for so long. However, they’ve made such a lasting impression that I’ll be grabbing another pair, for sure.

Verdict: If I had to buy just one pair of trail shoes for everything, this would be it. I honestly can’t think of a better shoe I’ve tested. 10/10

La Sportiva Jackal

Used by Paul Larkins Used since January 2021

lasportiva.com £130

La Sportiva

Like any good trail running footwear, this shoe is all about getting off-road. Initially, the first road-heavy outings were a little uninspiring. A bit too hard, a bit too inflexible, but oddly comfortable. Then a bit off-road adventure beckoned and, a bit like Clark Kent, the disguise came off and they demonstrated some rather encouraging superpowers. Seriously, almost instantly these shoes felt soft, supple, and ready to tackle some pretty muddy surfaces on a three-hour outing. They are a must-wear regular now on the boggy hour around my local rolling woodland. And, I can report, there’s been barely a hint of wear. Yes, they’re used in rotation with two or three other pairs and yes, they are reserved for off-road only, but even so that doesn’t mean concrete paths and wet surfaces can’t get to work on the outsoles and uppers. But so far, 11 months into this test, nothing. Just dirt.

Let me also add that for a pretty plain looking shoe – good in the conservative world of middle-aged running I inhabit – they are packed, no make that jam-packed, with technology.

Every detail, from the uppers to the sole, is designed to enhance the comfort of the foot over long distances: wide, comfortable fit designed for use in ultra-marathons, enveloping and soft elastic tongue for maximum freedom of movement, with internal bellows to protect against stones and mud. The lacing sees the loops incorporated directly into the side panels of the uppers: a solution that facilitates the adaptation to volume during long-distance runs, in which the foot tends to swell. The lateral Net-Mesh promotes ventilation and climate comfort. The heart of Jackal, however, lies in the innovative EVA sole/midsole package with internal cushioning pads in high Energy return polyurethane Infinitoo Technology. The front element increases the cushioning, the rear insert contributes to stabilisation. The midsole also incorporates a high-density EVA rock shield for a safer, more stable run. The Frixion Red tread with differentiated Impact Brake System lugs and longitudinal FLEX grooves enhances the flex of the sole along the fold lines. A lightweight, shock-resistant toecap contributes to the overall lightness and protection of the shoe while the dual compound FriXion Red sole guarantees maximum grip and durability.

Verdict: A long-term resident in the editor’s stable of shoes. And, as you might imagine, that stable is full to bursting... 8/10

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 Max

Used by Paul Halford Used since April 2021

inov-8.com £170

Inov-8

I initially put these on thinking they were Inov-8’s answer to carbon-plated running shoes, going by the subtle hints in the manufacturer’s launch material. Whether or not my expectations were justified, Inov-8 did claim these give 25% more energy return.

So I was initially a little disappointed not to feel like I was bouncing along on the trails at a superfast (relatively) speed. However, these shoes are not designed for PBs and I’ve grown to appreciate them for their other qualities.

I have now worn these for more than seven months and I am supposedly alternating them with other shoes as we know this is healthy for their long-term upkeep. However, I find they have become my go-to shoe, such that I’m wearing them on consecutive runs. Some of the others in my shoe cupboard which still have life in them have fallen out of favour – for example, my Scarpa Ribelle Runs and NVii Terra TTs are causing rubbing issues, and my Saucony Peregrine STs are feeling too bulky for everyday usage with their big stack height. On the other hand, the Trailfly Ultras are the always-comfortable option that I have been using for everything from regular mixed-surface runs from my door to a run-hike up Snowdon. I can report not the slightest complaint after several hours in them on the latter outing.

My initial thought was that these would be a little too heavy for me as someone who likes not to carry too much around. However, their all-road dependability and comfort means I tend to opt for them over the much lighter NVii Terra TTs.

Despite taking the lion’s share of my shoe rota, the outsole rubber is looking good after all this time and I’m hoping to get several more months out of them yet.

My biggest moan would be that they are a bit slippy on hard-packed wet surfaces – not so much that you lack confidence in your ability to stay on your feet, but it can be a little annoying at the time. I find if they’re struggling I try to head off to the side of the path on to some grass if there is some.

That said, the cushioning and comfort of these shoes makes them a winner in my book.

Verdict: Good all-rounder for everything from short evening runs from home to day-long adventures on more challenging terrain. 9/10

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger

Used by Marc Abbott Used since November 2014

nike.com (for most recent version) £125 (For current Zoom Terra Kiger 7)

Nike

These shoes were one of the first pairs to introduce me to the world of dedicated trail running footwear, and were certainly the first to convince me that my old pair of Nike Pegasus was NOT going to cut it on the farm trails and singletrack near my house. As time – and trail shoe development – has marched on, so shoes have changed, most noticeably with the use of sturdier heel counters, rock plates, and generally rugged construction. But what I initially loved about the first generation of the Terra Kiger (Nike is now on version 7) is what keeps me coming back to it even now, seven years later: its low-drop, minimal, lightweight construction. Now, that might seem at odds with the current agreed wisdom, in that it’s exposing my feet to potential damage from the terrain. However, for me at least, if I’m comfortable, and don’t feel like I’m wearing a half-brick on each foot, then I’m happy. And my running these days is far less about competition and more about wellbeing.

The comparative lack of protection is mitigated by the fit and the cushioning. The wraparound tongue and minimally padded, low heel entry offer a firm yet forgiving fit. The lacing system has never put pressure on the tops of my feet. And the uppers are extremely breathable, making for cool, if not fleet, feet on summer runs on hardpacked trails. Even the weight of my size 8 Nikes is favourable all these years later, at 238g per shoe. And the way in which the outsole has proved so durable has been a welcome surprise – the lugs, although not the most aggressive in the first place, still have definition after seven years of regular use, although they do struggle to cope with anything approaching deep mud.

I live half a mile from the closest off-road running, so when you take into account the fact that this makes a mile of each of my runs tarmac-based, it’s even more impressive that the grip hasn’t worn down to nothing. The 4mm drop Kigers still offer the same snappy toe-off they always have, the uppers have taken all I’ve thrown at them, and the outsole design (because I’m shallow like that) is still the coolest I’ve ever seen – even if it’s lost a bit of its eye-popping colour over the years of use. It is probably time to upgrade them to a later generation of Kiger, though!

Verdict: If it wasn’t for these shoes, I might have never continued to run off-road. I’d struggle to muster higher praise for them than that... 9/10

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