The Hoka Speedgoat Mids Cured My Blisters
Thanks to these boots, hiking went from painful to pure bliss
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In everyday life, ill-fitting kicks are painful at worst, but on a long backcountry excursion, they can be dangerous. I’ve limped many excruciating miles with my dogs howling, cut trips short, and was even sidelined for over a month with an infected sore on my instep. Granted, my feet are weird. They’re extra wide, extra flat, and have an extra bone in each heel, which makes them particularly prone to blisters. No amount of moleskin, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, or moisture-wicking socks have ever made up for my bizarre anatomy, so I accepted it and built up a high pain tolerance. Until the Hoka Speedgoat Mids achieved the impossible: over almost two years and 300 miles in them, I’ve had exactly zero blisters.
When I first unboxed the Speedgoats, I admit it—I laughed. The ultra-thick foam midsole seemed more at home in a ‘90s high school sitcom than in the backcountry, and the 11.3 ounces of nylon and rubber appeared flimsy when compared to my sturdy leather boots. I stashed them in the back of my closet until early spring, when my old boots tore my feet to shreds on my first 15-plus-miler of the season. Already committed to a two-night backpacking trip the following week, I dug out the Hokas, thinking what the heck, my feet can’t get any worse.
Not only did I not develop a single hotspot, but I barely felt the sores I already had. Even with a heavy pack, hiking in the Speedgoats felt like having a miniature trampoline made of memory foam under each foot.
Hoka is known for its ultra-cushy running shoes, and the Speedgoat Mid gets both its name and design from one of the company’s most popular low-cut trail models. “We found that the geometry we use for our running shoes can be applied to hiking, because it involves the same forward-to-back motion,” says Gretchen Weimer, the brand’s global vice president of product. Weimer explains that the boot’s blister-fighting power is largely a result of minimizing “foot travel,” or movement of the foot within a shoe.
All Hoka shoes are built on a wider platform than typical runners or hikers, helping the toes to spread out to create less rubbing between digits. Meanwhile, the extra-cushy foam helps your foot sit further down in the midsole—like when your feet sink into wet sand—providing extra stability. For the Speedgoat Mids, Hoka paired its signature mixed foam footbed (Weimer wouldn’t reveal the brand’s secret recipe) with a snug-but-breathable mesh upper and a three-inch collar designed to mold around and stabilize your ankle, keeping your foot firmly in place. This combination effectively eliminates the friction that brings on blisters and the rubbed-raw feeling on the bottom of feet that can be especially present after a long downhill.
Weimer notes that the Speedgoat Mids weren’t technically designed for what I use them for. (For a true backpacking shoe, she recommends the new TenNine Hikes, which have even more exaggerated heel geometry.) A midpoint between a trail runner and a hiking boot, the Speedgoats are meant for fast-and-light trips over rugged trails, not to bear the weight of a large pack. True long-distance hiking boots usually feature stiff polyurethane or EVA foam midsoles to protect against foot fatigue when traveling over rough terrain, and a high cut that sits fully over the ankle for added stability. I’d heard plenty of thru-hikers use Hokas, but never really believed it until now. I find the extra cushion underfoot in the Speedgoat actually absorbs the shock of repeated heavy footfalls better than any of the more rigid boots I’ve tried, and hundreds of miles later, my Speedgoats are still just as bouncy as the first day I laced them up. The softer midsole is also more responsive, allowing me to better adapt to changes in terrain without slipping, without being so squishy that I feel every pebble. Paired with a durable, rubber Vibram outsole that sticks easily to slick rock and ice, the resulting shoe makes even clumsy me feel as nimble and quick as the boots’ surefooted bovid namesake.
The 50 millimeters of foam underfoot also virtually eliminated the chronic knee and hip pain I typically experience after long downhill slogs. When descending, your knees bear the brunt of your body and pack weight—research has shown that the stress can be seven to eight times worse than when going uphill. But the extended heel and extra cushion more evenly distributes your and your pack’s weight throughout your forefoot, midfoot, heel, calves, and thighs, rather than in the front part of your leg, foot, and knee. This, again, evolved from Hoka’s focus on runners: “Everything we design is intended to solve the problem of knee, hip, and joint pain when running downhill,” Weimer says.
The design is topped off with a waterproof-yet-breathable upper. My older model sports Hoka’s proprietary Skyshell membrane, which hasn’t let a drop of water in through heavy downpours and deep winter snow; the current version now features a guaranteed-dry GoreTex bootie, with a higher waterproof rating that can handle being soaked for hours at a time. The breathable mesh outer also keeps my normally sweaty feet dry in the summer—another key blister-fighting power.
The downside of shedding weight and adding breathability comes at the expense of the kind of durability you’d find in a leather boot. I have poked a few holes in the mesh from dragging my Speedgoats over sharp rocks and through deadfall, though the punctures didn’t affect the performance of the waterproof membrane, as they did not penetrate the liner beneath the mesh. As Hoka invests more in its hiking line, Weimer told me, it has plans to solve this problem by adding leather accents to newer hiking-specific boots in high wear areas like the toe box, heel, and forefoot—incidentally, exactly where mine got holes.
Still, the bottom line is this: after a long day on the trail, I used to crave changing into a nice pair of slip-on camp shoes. Now, I wish I could wear my boots to bed.