How This Hoka Trail Runner Became My Favorite Tackle-Anything Shoe
A week of scrambling over boulders and slogging through mud in the Arctic Circle proved the Hoka Mafate Speed 4’s versatile competence
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There may be no better place in the world than Lofoten, Norway for exploring remote trails on foot. During a recent trip, my running buddy, Matt, and I found nearly every trail in the expansive spider web of routes across the bucket-list archipelago completely empty. And there’s a good reason: Most were steep, sometimes gaining almost a thousand feet per mile. Many included scrambling over boulders, balancing on ridgelines, crossing streams and bogs, and, more than once, following breadcrumbs to re-find the trail.
Over the course of a week in September, we logged almost a hundred miles, often running twice a day, including an accidental Everest (over 30,000 feet of total elevation gain). Despite the variety in terrain—scree, mud, dirt, mossy tussocks—I brought just one pair of shoes, the Hoka Mafate Speed 4. Sure, it was a gamble; I’ve had shoes that have wrecked my feet in a week. But I didn’t have much space in my bag and was willing to take an educated guess. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been happier with that decision.
The Mafate Speed 4 is a new technical trail shoe from Hoka, the Chamonix-turned-Santa-Barbara footwear maker, updated this year with a more breathable upper, lighter and more responsive foam midsole, and burly Vibram lugs for better traction. It’s not a ground-up rebuild from past iterations of the model—which I’ve tested and felt lukewarm about—but it is a solid leap forward, the small improvements adding up to a huge overall difference. Updates like a rubber toe cap for protection from rocks, stouter heel construction, and a gusseted tongue to keep out debris made me believe that this shoe could stand up to use on a wide variety of trails.
The Mafate Speed is not the lightest racer in Hoka’s lineup, nor is it the most supportive long-hauler. I certainly wouldn’t use it for my biggest days out—runs that take me past the marathon distance—nor would I lace it up to run something really fast. Oh, and I definitely don’t love it as a road crossover, with its stout five-millimeter lugs. That said, it’s exceptional at just about everything else.
Fall in Lofoten was a great place to test a trail shoe because the trails were exceedingly rocky, wet, and muddy—even with relatively good weather during our trip. On nearly every trail, we ran into numerous bogs, stream crossings, and slick rocks. The Mafate Speed provided ample grip in all of these situations. It doesn’t have an extra wide base or any of the additional stability features (such as a frame of firmer foam or embedded plates) that some other Hoka models feature, but it provided solid stability and confidence on technical ridgelines and loose climbs thanks to its snug fit, sticky rubber, toe protection, and grippy lug pattern.
The upper didn’t repel moisture from the boggy trails, but the mesh drained and dried quickly, allowing me to run in mostly dry shoes even when heading out in the morning and the evening of the same day. If I had a picked waterproof pair of trail shoes, they likely would never have dried out. The thoughtful tongue design kept most scree and small rocks out of the shoes, which meant fewer stops and more fun.
After showing off in Norway, the Mafate Speed 4 isn’t going into the back of the closet any time soon. I plan to use this versatile mid-distance trail shoe for most of my truly technical trail runs in the future, wherever they may be.
Weight: 10.4 oz (men’s); 8.5 oz (women’s)
Stack Height: 33 – 29 mm (men’s) / 31 – 27 mm (women’s)
Drop: 4 mm