Shopping for a new pair of trail running shoes can be overwhelming even for the most experienced runners.
There are dozens of brands from Asics to Veja, and hundreds of current models on the marketplace. It’s simply too much information to keep track of — let alone try out. This is the first of a series of articles comparing some of the most popular trail runner brands – starting with the French duo Salomon and Hoka One One.
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Salomon is a French sporting goods company founded in 1947 in the beautiful French Alps town of Annecy. Its founder, Francois Salomon, started the now global giant in his one-person workshop making ski edges. A snow sports specialist at first, it was not until 1992 that Salmon started making hiking shoes.
In 2001, the Raid Race trail running model was introduced to the public. Raid Racer is the first of Salomon’s XA series of trail running shoes, a series that continues to be popular. In 2014, Salmon introduced Speedcross, another popular model frequently seen on trails throughout the world. The current XA and Speedcross models are both vegan.
It is no coincidence that Hoka One One was also founded in Annecy, France. In 2009, former Salomon employees Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diards founded Hoka One One while looking for a superior pair of downhill runners. While the company is relatively young, it has a fiercely loyal following and is famed for creating a new category of running shoes, the maximalist runner.
Known for their lightweight and thick cushions, Hoka shoes are especially popular in the ultramarathon community – where races are often measured in hours and not miles. Popular vegan friendly Hoka One One models include the Challenger ATR 5 (The Challenger is one of our favorite trail running shoes) and the Speedgoat 3.
The Contenders – Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 vs Salomon XA Pro 3D V8
We’ll compare two popular vegan-friendly models to showcase the relative strengths of each brand. The Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 and the Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 are both midrange models of their respective lineups. Both have an emphasis on performance and comfort even at the toughest of trail conditions.
These are shoes that you can rely on to get you from point A to point B without worrying about what lies in between.
Hoka vs Salomon: First Impression
At first glance, both models look stylish yet comfortable.
The Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 comes in two muted and one vibrant colors. The Grape Leaf and black color schemes are perfect for both the trail and office, while the Bistre / Bluebird colors evoke a sunny autumn afternoon stroll.
The XA Pro also carries the signature Salmon single-pull lace setup. Great for runners who, like me, always find laces untied at the most inopportune times. At 1 pound 8 ounces (680 grams), the XA Pro is slightly heavier than I would prefer for an endurance racer.
The Speedgoat 3 carries the Hoka signature neon palette no matter which color scheme you get. I am especially impressed by the Fiesta / Provincial Blue version. But no matter which colors you choose, it’s hard not to stand out from the crowd wearing a pair of brand new Speedgoats 3s. At 1 pound 4.6 ounces (580 grams), the Speedgoat is also a good example of Hoka’s “maximum support at minimum weight” motto.
Personally, I prefer the Speedgoat 3’s color schemes and its lighter weight. But if you hate neon trail runners, the XA Pro is a better fit.
Hoka vs Salomon: Cushioning
Since both models are meant for rugged terrains, they come with plenty of cushioning.
The XA Pro uses Salomon’s own EnergyCell midsole. EnergyCell is a specialized type of EVA – a very popular lightweight foam material used for everything from running shoes to basketball shoes. This results in a midsole that absorbs shock and provides plenty of support both on and off trail.
While XA Pro’s midsole isn’t as thick as that of the Speedgoat, it does have a rock plate that adds additional cushioning for the most technical trails where sharp edges are a concern.
The Speedgoat 3’s midsole is also made out of EVA, and a rather thick layer at that. If you compare the two, you’ll see why Hoka One One is known for its maximalist philosophy. The Speedgoat is in parts more cushion than topper. This results in an extremely smooth ground feel and support, sometimes described as “running on clouds”.
When it comes to cushioning, both models provide you with enough to tackle technical terrains. The XA Pro will provide a “down to earth” ride while still protecting your feet from any sharp surfaces you may step on — while the Speedgoat will provide you with total comfort and support with its oversized midsole.
Hoka vs Salomon: Outsoles
For shoes designed for the toughest of trails, traction is a must-have. Sole durability is a close second factor.
The XA Pros use a Salomon developed Contragrip outsole, where the sole is composed of two different types of rubber compound with varying densities. It has an outside layer where the compound’s denser and less likely to erode but at a cost of grip. The center of the outsole is made out of a lighter rubber compound that has more grip but is less durable.
Think about the outsole density like the pink eraser on a pencil. When it is soft and pliable, you can easily grab graphene on the page and remove them. When the eraser gets older and harder, it takes a lot more force to use, sometimes ripping the paper up altogether.
Hoka does not use its own technology for the Speedgoat 3’s outsole. Instead, it uses the battle tested Vibram Megagrip sole with a 5mm lug size. Vibram Megagrip, as the name suggests, is designed by Vibram specifically for maximum grip — on both dry and wet surfaces.
They are very popular and you can find these soles on trail runners ranging from Altra King Mountains to Vasque Grand Traverses. These Vibram outsoles are what the trail running community looks for when a high performance outsole is needed.
Here too, both shoes use very high tech components. Either Salomon’s own in-house solution or the industry standard Vibram will be performant and long-lasting.
Hoka vs Salomon: Extras
A pair of trail running shoes are more than just the sum of their individual parts. When purchasing shoes, we also need to take into account their heel-to-toe drop, sizing, and other features.
The XA Pros have an 11mm heel-to-toe drop, considered a traditional design and comfortably allow a heel-striking run style. The model also comes in both regular width and wide sizes, for those of us who find regular width shoes ‘pinchy’ at the midfoot.
Lastly, while the XA Pro 3D V8 has a breathable topper, it is not waterproof. But the Xa Pro 3D line has a Gore-Tex version that is waterproof and is perfect for running through deep mud and snow.
The Speedgoat 3 boasts only a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, making it a low drop shoe intended to promote the lower impact, mid-foot striking style. However, the low drop does take some getting used to. And running too many miles, too quickly, can be an injury risk.
Speedgoat 3 too comes in both regular and wide width, and with a WP waterproof version also — though the WP version uses Skyshell instead of Gore-Tex membrane.
The biggest remaining difference between the two shoes is the heel-to-toe drop. The choice is simple, if you are more comfortable as a heel striker the XA Pros takes the lead. And if you are a mid-foot striker or thinking about transitioning to a mid-foot style, you should consider the Speedgoat.
Hoka vs Salomon: The Verdict
I hope it’s clear at this point that Salomon XA Pro 3D V8 and Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 are both great shoes. Likewise, both Salomon and Hoka put an incredible amount of thought into designing their shoes. But here’s the bottom line:
Choose Salomon if you appreciate gadgets, attention to detail, and iterative improvements. From the pull-up lace setup to their own outsole design, Salomon shows that a traditional looking 11mm drop shoe in all black can still be cutting edge. I would choose the Salomon if your runs are short to medium length, you are an experienced runner, or you prefer heel striking.
Choose Hoka One One if you prefer to be labeled as a runner, you are drawn to innovative designs, or — paradoxically — if you are older or new to running. While the 4mm drop can take some getting used to, as a new runner the outsized cushioning will reduce the impact on your knees and shins as you build up your mileage.
On the other end of the spectrum, I would definitely also recommend trying on a pair of Hokas if you are experienced and thinking about your first trail ultramarathon.
At the end of the day, whichever brand you decide to go with, both are excellent trail shoes. You really can’t go wrong with either.
See you on the trail!