HOKA One One Carbon X Review

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I’ve been looking for a new racing shoe for the half marathon distance to replace my HOKA One One Tracer 2s. The media and hype surrounding HOKA’s Project Carbon X earlier this year had me very intrigued to discover what the new Carbon X shoe had to offer. Within ~12 hours of receiving the shoes, I was lacing them up for a 5K road race. Typically, I’d be apprehensive to race in a pair of shoes I’d yet to test for a few miles, but these shoes were built for speed…so what better test for the HOKA One One Carbon X than an actual race?

Out-of-Box Reactions

  • Deceivingly light: the thicker heel stack makes it appear as though it should be heavier
  • Very stiff outsole with slight flex at the toe
  • Unstructured upper: the single layer mesh material wants to collapse into itself when not being worn
  • No heel counter: slightly more substantial heel than something like a Nike Free Flyknit
  • Aesthetically appealing colors & styling

Fit Notes

  • I find HOKAs run about 1/2 size large. If you are a return HOKA user, go with the same size as you currently have in other models. If you’re new to HOKAs, you may find that you’ll need a smaller size than with other manufacturers.
  • The HOKA One One Carbon X has a nicely sized toe box for a racing shoe. The toes are not cramped, but there also is not so much space that it feels loose or sloppy. For comparison, the HOKA Tracer 2 feels slightly narrower and is notably less comfortable for longer distances.
  • The tongue is lashed beneath the sock liner on both sides with a thin piece of elastic fabric which helps keep a snug, sock-like fit and prevents unwanted shifting during use.

  • The heel is reinforced with thicker external stitching leading up to and around the heel lock eyelets. The collar and cushioning around the heel are perfectly comfortable.

Testing the HOKA One One Carbon X

The first thing I noticed while running in the Carbon X was the “spring” sensation upon toe-off. You truly feel the carbon fiber plate propelling your foot forward in your gait helping each step of the way. HOKA advertises the Carbon X as having “minimal” cushion, but the PROFLY X foam makes it noticeably more plush than other shoes in the same category. It provides a very soft, cushioned ride on the way to that toe-off without sacrificing weight.

The upper is remarkably light & breathable. I took these shoes out on long runs during the worst of the hot/humid summer days with triple-digit temperatures in Minneapolis. My feet never overheated or felt swamped from trapped perspiration; no pains or hot-spots to speak of.

Due to the thicker stack (compared to other racing shoes) and the carbon fiber plate, I did notice that my “feel” for terrain underfoot was slightly diminished. Where you might feel some small features such as cracks in cement, pebbles, twigs, etc. with other racing shoes, these same objects can go unnoticed in the Carbon X. However, the carbon fiber plate does help shield your foot from sharper objects that could otherwise be uncomfortable in conventionally soled shoes.

A final benefit of the Carbon X for me was reduced foot fatigue post-run. Pounding the cement for miles and miles on thinner-soled shoes has previously resulted in arch and/or heel discomfort the day or two following a race or long workout. With the Carbon X, those aches & pains have diminished – a trend that I hope continues as I enter a 12-week half marathon program with these shoes.

Specs/Features

  • Weight (Men’s size 9.5): 8.8oz

  • Heel-Toe Drop: 5mm
  • Carbon fiber plate embedded in the outsole visible via cutaways on the bottom of the shoe

  • PROFLY X foam sits above the carbon fiber plate for superior cushion without extra weight

Final Thoughts on the HOKA One One Carbon X

In addition to a 5K race, I also did several longer, slower runs (4-10 miles) including paved roads and crushed gravel trails. The Carbon X is equally at home being a racer for sprints as short as 5K, an everyday road trainer for long days, or even racing longer distances like half/full marathons and beyond. Be forewarned: using these shoes for recovery or slow days may lead to you running faster than you plan to! It was hard to resist the speed these shoes can conjure up.  The $180 MSRP price tag carries high expectations for the Carbon X, and it delivers as promised: cushioned, light, and fast. If you’re still on the fence, don’t forget that HOKA offers a 30-day risk-free trial period to test all their shoes – if you don’t like them, just return them no questions asked. If you’re like me, though, once you try the Carbon X on you probably won’t need more than one day to determine they are special. These shoes make running fast fun again.

For more information on the ONE ONE Carbon X and other Hoka footwear, visit www.hoka.com.

Ryan Joy: Ryan is a lifelong runner and avid paddler currently living in Minnetonka, MN. He can be found enjoying the outdoors in northern MN, WI, and MI with his wife and young son whenever they get the opportunity.
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