Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 Fully Reviewed for Quality

Those looking for a trail shoe that doesn’t feel like they’re lugging around a few stones on their feet will find the updated Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 of great benefit. This responsive, lightweight trail runner has an updated cushioned heel, responsive forefoot, and continues to provide a generous cushioning in the midsole. Its full rubber outsole features multi-directional lugs that improves traction and allows the runner to negotiate tough terrain in all directions. Meanwhile, it's refined upper offers an adaptive fit and is constructed out of breathable mesh that provides support in the midfoot. Put, this is a comfortable, high-performance trail running shoe that will keep you moving forward up mountains, over loose rock, and back down again.

Agile and able to traverse rocky, difficult technical trails and smoother trails alike, the Instinct 2 is a refined update to the popular Hoka One One Speed Instinct. This lightweight neutral trail shoe is made for distance, difficult terrains, and speed while it’s versatile enough to run well on asphalt, sidewalks, and treadmills as it is adapted to keep its grip and perform on loose gravel and inclined planes. Molding to the shape of the runner’s foot to provide a snug but never tight fit, the Instinct 2 is tough and durable, with an extra layer of outsole protection to keep the runner’s foot protected throughout a ride on rough terrain.

The updated upper in the Instinct 2 is made of a web of overlays that cover the shoe with an intricate pattern that keeps the foot secure and fixed a common complaint of the original by making a more breathable mesh that also improves the overall fit. While it may be a little more pricey than other trail runners, the Instinct 2 is worth the price for its durability, light upper, improved breathability, and high-performance outsole that keeps the trail running enthusiast safe, secure, and moving forward over a variety of surfaces.  

Keep reading our in-depth Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 review to find out if it is worth the investment.

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Where to Buy
Backcountry Link
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Moosejaw Link
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rei.com Link
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Pros & Cons
  • Overall great fit

  • Improved cushioning on the heel

  • Durable outsole protects against rocks

  • A low drop without going completely zero drop

  • Versatile, able to run on tough technical trails

    • Tongue tends to slide to the side during a run
    • Stretchy laces may slide forward during a descent
    • Key Features
      For a trail running shoe to be able to traverse steep inclines and negotiate tricky terrain, much of its performative abilities depend on the construction of its outsole. Here the Instinct 2 excels: fully covered in rubber with high-abrasion areas strategically covered with even more rubber, it’s a durable, protective outsole that will keep its integrity for a long time after first step-in.

      Even more important are its multi-directional lugs, which are both sturdy and numerous and offers great grip on a variety of surfaces, from smooth asphalt and well-trod trails to technical trails and rocky, uneven terrain. Its rocker-like construction guides the runner’s foot through the gait cycle, offering smooth movement throughout a ride. With a surprisingly short stack height and low drop (3mm), the outsole of the Instinct 2 will protect the runner’s foot while also aiding them in running, hiking, and trodding even the toughest trails out there.
      Keeping one important aspect of the original Instinct largely intact is the Instinct 2’s midsole construction. Hoka One One is known for its incredibly comfortable midsoles, and the Instinct 2 carries on with this tradition. Although not as plush as many of the company’s midsoles, this is a choice to maximize performance.

      After all, an ultra-soft midsole would not be optimal for a hard-charging trail shoe. However, this is not to say the midsole of the Instinct 2 isn’t comfortable: soft but stable with a firm forefoot, the midsole is both comfortable and responsive, with extra cushioning in the heel for comfort and to provide heel strikers with some extra protection upon impact.
      Much like the original, the Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 is made of seamless mesh. However, it has been improved upon by making the mesh more breathable than in the original, which was one major complaint that edition had garnered. As a result, runners will appreciate how their foot will remain feeling cool and dry even on difficult technical trails.

      Holding the runner’s foot firmly in place after lace-up, the synthetic mesh material of the upper doesn’t irritate, such as blistering, even when running without socks. Although there is a trade-off, in that this open mesh upper will not protect the foot from water, so be careful of sinking your foot into a puddle. Although there have been some complaints that the tongue tends to slide to the side during a run and its stretch laces may fall forward when descending from a steep incline, these have been sporadic and certainly doesn’t reflect a universal experience.
      There are two camps of thought when it comes to the weight of a trail racer: either the runner wants it to be hefty and offer a significant amount of protection, which will increase its overall weight, or a lightweight but fierce trail shoe is sought. Coming in at just 9.60 ounces (272 grams), the Instinct 2 is firmly in the latter category, featuring a lightweight construction that runners who don’t want to feel the equipment they’re wearing while they take on the trail.
      While a major--if not the main--complaint of the original Instinct was its lack of breathability, the updated upper in the Instinct 2 firmly address this problem. Whereas before runners complained that the upper was hampered by the many overlays that blocked free-flowing air from entering the foot chamber, leading to a hot foot--which leads to blisters--the Instinct 2’s upper features an open mesh design that allows for a great amount of breathability to keep one’s foot cool and dry throughout a run.
      Known for making comfortable shoes, Hoka One One retains this reputation with the Instinct 2. Its excellent midsole cushioning, which features extra padding in the heel, features a firm forefoot that has a little extra room in the toe box to allow for the toes to spread. It may seem minor, but having crushed toes during a difficult trail race can be more than uncomfortable, as any trail runner could attest.

      Its lightweight construction also makes it a versatile trainer that can hold up on a technical trail while providing a comfortable ride on more standard surfaces (although some may find its 3mm drop a little uncomfortable on the even pavement and asphalt of one’s neighborhood). However, overall this is a surprisingly comfortable serious trail runner.
      One adjective to describe the Instinct 2’s aesthetic is striking. It is a striking-looking shoe, and for a good reason: its form fits its function. Although there are more subdued colors runners can purchase a pair in, perhaps the most exciting options are the most colorful.

      Bright yellow outsoles with blue uppers dotted by light red overlays lashed about the top like the shoe itself is a frenzy of activity and outlined by orange. Considering the shoe was built for some rather intense activity, where the runner is racing over rocks and up steep inclines, this sleek, eye-catching shoe shines best when the runner decides to pick out a pair with the most vivacious color schemes.

      Barring that, there are more muted color palettes for those who would rather not have their shoes overshadow their activity.
      With a synthetic upper mesh that’s highly resistant to wear and tear and scrapes, a well-crafted outsole made of carbon rubber with an extra layer of rubber in high-wear areas to keep the integrity and ferocity of its grip intact after numerous heavy-duty technical trail sessions, and a midsole construction that keeps its cushioning and responsiveness long after first step-in, runners will be pleased to find a lightweight trail racer that will stand up to the treacherous courses that they take on.
      While the Instinct 2’s outsole is undoubtedly made to protect the runner from rough, rocky, and uneven terrain--and it performs its duty admirably. Considering this shoe does not have a rock plate--runners should be aware that what this edition gained in breathability it also had to sacrifice a certain amount of protection in its upper, which is now even more vulnerable to water. While the overlays may offer nominal protection, it may not protect your feet very much in inclement weather.
      Built to navigate tricky terrain, the Instinct 2 is crafted for responsiveness. Although its midsole provides a great amount of cushioning, the forefoot is firm so the runner will feel firmly in control of the surface area they tread. Its multi-directional lugs also aid in responsiveness, allowing for runners to climb and adjust their path in an instant when out on a difficult trail.
      A neutral running shoe, the Instinct 2 offers nominal arch support. However, it may not offer the sort of support those who suffer from over- or Underpronation require, or those with fallen arches, so runners with these issues should be aware this is not specifically a support shoe.
      Ready to take on the tricky technical trails and rough topography in the great outdoors? Because the Instinct 2 was built for this very purpose. However, it is also a sneaker that works excellent on standard running surfaces, as well so those who like the most out of their trainers will be pleased with the Instinct 2’s versatility in this regard.
      Although not exactly a discount shoe, the Instinct 2 is also not the most expensive trail runner on the market, and for its performance, versatility, and durability, its slightly elevated price should be seen more as an investment--and one that will pay off in the long run.
      The multi-directional lugs on the Instinct 2’s tenacious outsole are more than able to handle the difficult trails and terrain a runner seeking to tackle technical trails and rough terrain. Over rocks, rugged topography, loose dirt, and other hazards runners will feel secure in this shoe.
      The upper of this shoe is relatively flexible and wraps around the foot snugly after lace-up, but with a firm forefoot in the midsole and overlays that limit the flexibility of the upper, this trail racer is not mainly the most flexible shoe on the market.
      With a 3mm drop, some trail runners may be surprised at how stable the Instinct 2 is, and neutral runners, in particular, will enjoy its well-balanced construction. However, this is not specifically a stability shoe.
      Featuring a 3mm drop, the Instinct 2 seems to get just to the edge of being a zero drops shoe without actually being considered as such. It may necessitate a period of adjustment by some runners who are used to running in a trainer with a higher drop.
      Key Features
      - Fantastic aesthetic
      - Superior grip over rough running surfaces
      - Incredibly durable construction
      - A great investment trail racer
      - Increased breathability from its former edition
      Bottom Line
      Trail racing--especially on technical trails--is a high-endurance, difficult activity for even the most seasoned runners. It’s also an activity that demands a trainer to be able to navigate the most tenacious trails and terrains. For this, the Instinct 2 is a solid entry into the category of trail racer. With an improved upper for breathability, an outstanding outsole outfitted with multi-directional lugs, and a surprisingly comfortable midsole that’s still responsive, the Hoka One One Speed Instinct 2 is for serious trail racers.

      However, it’s also adaptable to more standard surfaces, so even after wearing a pair to get up, over, and through rigorous pathways in nature, runners may be surprised to find themselves reaching to put on a pair for their daily run through their neighborhood, as well.
      Where to Buy
      Backcountry Link
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      Moosejaw Link
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      rei.com Link
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      Road Runner Sports Link
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      By Mike Gray
      Last updated:
      Where to buy
      Best offer on: Aug. 04. 2021

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