Ok so the the Speed instinct is not a climbing specific approach shoe. However I like wearing trail or fell shoes to walk into crags if I have to carry the shoes on route. In fact the use of fell shoes or trainers far pre dates the invention of ‘approach shoes’ to walk into crags so I feel justified in reviewing the Hoka One One Speed Instinct (now the Speed Instinct 2). Many climbers will also run as part of their training regime especially if they tend toward the more alpine or winter objectives.
Hoka may be a new name to many outside the running world but a few years back when every man and his dog was jumping on the ‘minimalist’ barefoot wagon Hoka did the opposite. They brought out a range of massively cushioned shoes – I remember early adopters being mocked with references to Elton John and people whistling “Pinball Wizard” – in fact a Physio friend got a pair and we joked that she had better not fall in the canal as she’d float upside down and drown. All jokes aside did Hoka have something or was it just another fad? Well the shoes are still here, the range has grown and their athletes continue to succeed so they certainly work for some people. Watching runners on the UTMB this year in Chamonix Hoka were one of the more prominent brands on people’s feet.
The Speed Instinct is actually the most minimal of the Hoka trail range so a good starting point for someone like me who grew up in Walshes (I ran my first half marathon in the mid 80s in a pair of Walsh Raids!). So why should a climber consider a trail shoe like the Speed Instinct?
- Weight – they tip the scale at. That’s approaching half the weight of many approach shoes.
- Grip – they have a tread designed for grip in soft conditions, greasy grass and mud that’s not compromised by having to also provide proper ‘climbing’ performance on rock.
- Versatile – you can actually go running in them!
The Speed Instincts themselves weigh in at a feathery 250g and sport a fairly shallow but sharply lugged sole. The toe box is refreshingly wide if somewhat low profile and combined with the lightweight upper they proved reasonably comfortable on my wide feet although a bit snug around the midfoot.
The initial sensation running in them is quite strange – they feel incredibly cushioned making you feel somewhat detached or isolated from the trail surface but not in the unstable way I had half expected given the depth of cushioning. I used them training out on the local trails and for walking into crags in Yorkshire and the Lakes. The sole provided good traction on grass and moderately soft/muddy surfaces but unsurprisingly the shallow lugs were out of their depth in muddier conditions. The rubber is also quite hard and proved a little skittish on damp rock especially limestone but conversely are wearing very well. They obviously don’t provide the climbing performance of a specialist ‘approach’ shoe but that’s not the point. By far the vast majority of my climbing involves walking to the crag and then changing into rockboots, if it’s a multipitch route I’ll often be carrying my approach shoes up the route either clipped to the harness (the Speed Instinct has a convenient clip loop) or stashed in a small sac.
Either way the Speed instincts win in terms of great grip on approach and weight; you could take an additional large cam with the weight saved over a standard pair of approach shoes. Durability wise the lightweight uppers are not going to fare as well in rough scree etc. compared to a leather approach shoe but so far mine have survived without any damage (2 months in) but perhaps I’m just lucky or light on my feet! I did find the Speed Instincts a bit warmer than my usual trail shoes – this may be a result of quite a ‘dense’ upper material being a little less breathable. Overall they make a for a good alternative if you don’t want to fork out for an approach shoe and a trail runner or if you’re flying to a destination and have limited space (and perhaps want to run on your non climbing days).
- Good grip in wet grass light mud
- You can run in them
- Less durable than a traditional approach shoe
- Possible issue with the heel cup
Stockists: Hoka One One
PS Hoka have a new version of the Speed Instinct coming out and it looks like the upper has been updated and is more breathable (it still has the heel clip loop too!).
Richie is the enthusiastic amateur of the team. Enjoying all aspects of climbing but especially alpine, winter and his local grit . Having managed to survive the vagaries of both fluorescent Koflachs and rainbow tights in the 80s he looks forward to an even more stylish future. A shady past in mountain marathons and adventure races, including the Marathon des Sables, means he’s an advocate of fast and light. Though the former is debatable if you’ve seen him on a tricky lead!