Hoka Carbon X 3 Review: If The Knit Does Not Fit, We Must Acquit
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9.1 oz. (257 g) for a US M10.5
32 mm in heel, 27 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)
Profly X (EVA)
Knit upper, carbon plate, aggressive rocker geometry
🟢 Same ride as the Carbon X 2
🟢 Easily transitions through the stride
🔴 Knit upper is a disaster and cheaply done
THOMAS: The evolution of the Hoka Carbon X has been fascinating to watch, though somewhat head-scratching. On one hand, Hoka was somewhat ahead of the game in being the first brand to offer a lightweight, high-stack, carbon-plated “racing” shoe after Nike. When the first Carbon X came out, I wasn’t sure if it was a racing shoe or a long-distance trainer. Then, Hoka did a big marketing push where Jim Walmsley attempted to break the 50-mile world record. So was it a fast or long shoe?
Once I tried the shoe, I was even more confused. The Carbon X had a sack-like upper with a firm inflexible midsole and severe rocker sandwiched around a carbon plate. Though it was lightweight, it wasn’t race-light at 9.4 oz. for a size 10.5. The good news for the Carbon X is that we were all hungry for carbon plates after Nike flipped the running world on its head with the Vaporfly 4%. Unlike the lever propulsion plate in the Nike, the Carbon X plate acted more like a rocker exaggerator. I’m not sure that makes sense, but I’m trying to say that the plate helps maintain the rocker shape and feel of the midsole rather than giving you the pop off the toes feeling.
The Hoka Carbon X 2 was a nice update. My favorite tweak to the model was lowering the plate closer to the ground. Moving the plate away from the foot gave the Carbon X 2 a softer landing and seemed to keep the shoe feeling snappy underfoot. The upper on the X 2 was better but still not great. And that leads us to the Hoka Carbon X 3.
MATT: When Hoka first released the first Carbon X, it was a huge deal. We were still in the honeymoon phase of carbon-plated “super shoes,” and Hoka delivered a great option in the initial version of the Carbon X. Version 2 came with what I would call a mixed bag of changes … some improvements, and some things that felt like a step backward.
The release of the third installment of the Carbon X had my hopes up that we would continue to see the maturation of the shoe and hopefully see some corrections to the things that fell short in version 2.
Initial expectations were high, as the shoe has a totally revamped upper and Hoka’s upgraded supercritical foam (Profly X) in the midsole. Would these new features mesh well with the rest of the shoe to deliver the best Carbon X to date?
THOMAS: The long-haul miler is back. Hoka, for the most part, leaves the midsole unchanged. If you loved the second version and you’re concerned about the underfoot feel, don’t worry– it’s pretty much exactly the same. The midsole still has a thick layer of EVA-based foam with a carbon plate that splits on the lateral edge to guide your foot back into a preferred toe-off position.
Finally, the layer closest to the ground is a tougher rubberized EVA that doubles as an outsole. Hoka told us the foam’s chemical makeup was modified, but I really could not tell the difference between the last version and this one. I did several double-digit runs in the Carbon X 3 and enjoyed the way the shoe rolled through my stride. It is a shoe that doesn’t fight against your stride, and the rocker does a lovely job of giving your gait a smooth transition.
With over 50-miles in the Hoka Carbon X 3, the exposed EVA outsole is holding up exceptionally well. Visually the shoe is a stunner. The mango orange with the sherbert pink is beautiful. My size 10.5 weighs 9.07 oz. (257 g). The stack is 32 mm heel 27 mm forefoot for a 5 mm drop.
MATT: Let’s start with first impressions. I’m a fan of the unique colorways that Hoka has been rolling out of late, and the Carbon X 3 is no exception. With a split/two-tone upper that looks like a combination of Creamsicle and Princess Peach, it certainly pops. Contrast that against the thick, bright white midsole, and the shoe will never be accused of not standing out in a crowd.
While not typically an issue for me, the fit is certainly more generous than its competitors in the carbon-plated category. The larger toebox and midfoot area would seem to accommodate a broader spectrum of foot sizes.
While the midsole foam is different, the quality and character of the ride feel consistent to me compared to previous versions. The pronounced meta rocker, low drop, and firmer midsole promote easy and consistent turnover. I found that this shoe feels really good at training paces and slower efforts. That is typically a negative across most carbon-plated race shoes, in that they feel better as you pick up the pace but can feel very sloppy at slower paces.
In that regard, I think the latest Carbon X 3 could be geared as more of a tool for training than race day, but more on that below.
Temps have been downright frigid in Maryland of late, and one thing that was highlighted by Hoka’s supercritical foam was that the midsole ride did not feel compromised. It is not a plush and soft ride, but the firmness works well on the longer runs and does seem to keep the legs fresh. I have had some other foams really freeze up in these temps, so that is a big plus.Shop HOKA racing shoes – Men Shop HOKA racing shoes – Women
THOMAS: Despite the sweet-tooth colorways, I’m not gonna candy coat it– the new knit upper is trash. Knit upper when done correctly molds and stretches properly to the foot. Probably the best example of this is in the original Nike Epic React. When you first put the Epic React on, it felt tight but offered some flexibility. The more you ran in the shoe, the upper began to fit like a familiar pair of jeans, giving flexibility where needed while still keeping the foot secure over the midsole. The upper on the Carbon X 3 is none of those things.
The knit is rigid-yet-loose and only has elastic in the throat where a traditional tongue would be. The material is so baggy that the upper folds and buckles when I laced the shoe to fit my foot. Pairing that upper with an inflexible midsole is a recipe for mediocrity. Instead of the upper keeping you securely over the midsole, you experience the two factions fighting against each other, pulling and pushing with opposing forces.
MATT: There are certainly some aspects of the new Hoka Carbon X 3 to like, but overall, I feel this shoe continues to move backward with each edition. For me, I can’t get past the overhaul to the upper. The knit material feels out of sync with the midsole and seems like a Frankenstein’s monster. The upper is beautiful and is comfortable but would be better suited for a casual wear sneaker.
First off, it just feels large, which can help those with wider feet, but it’s voluminous in all the wrong spots. This leads to my second gripe, which is the lack of a tight and secure fit. I could not get a proper locked-in fit no matter what combination of lacing I tried.
Speaking of lacing, I’m not sure if this is attributed to the upper material, fit, or the actual lace material, but I have not had a shoe come untied more frequently ever than this shoe. In my last run, I had to stop twice over 10k to retie my laces.
My other major gripe comes down to deciding exactly what you want this shoe to be. If you spend $200 and expect a carbon-plated racer, I think you will be disappointed. You could spend half that, pick up a pair of the Atreyu Artist, and get a much better race day feel.
If you are already set with a race day weapon of your choice and want to retain the training benefits of a carbon-plated shoe, then you may be much more pleased.
As mentioned above, the Hoka Carbon X 3 feels better at a wider range of paces than some of the top racers I have tried, like the Nike Vaporfly, Alphafly, or ASICS Metaspeed Sky.
The flip side is that it lacks the pop and spring you get at top speeds with those same shoes. The ride feels stiffer and flat when trying to kick things up a gear. I’m hesitant to blame the shortcomings on the switch in midsole material, as I am also testing the Hoka Tecton X trail shoe right now, and its use of the same supercritical foam matched with a different carbon plate configuration feels lively and snappy.
It would seem that there is then a disconnect in the synergy of how that foam plays with the very rigid carbon plate and loose upper.Shop HOKA racing shoes – Men Shop HOKA racing shoes – Women
THOMAS: While I liked the update of the Carbon X 2, I feel like the Carbon X 3 is a step backward. With the ill-fitting upper, the shoe’s character struggles to come through. I am sure there will be people who will like the upper better than my low volume narrow foot did, and the experience may be completely different.
Also, the midsole foam could benefit from a slightly softer feel. Hoka, please keep playing with foams. I know you’ll get back to being the gold standard for light high-stack foams that feel great underfoot. So far this year, I feel nostalgic for when Hoka ruled the lightweight comfort category. Currently, New Balance’s Fresh Foam and Asics FlyteFoam Blast+ are offering better options for lightweight underfoot cushioning.
MATT: In an ever-growing sea of carbon-plated options, I struggle to find the right scenario where I would select the Carbon X 3. It lacks the pop you want on race day and may cost too much to justify as a training shoe — even if it’s carbon-plated.
It’s a shame that the changes Hoka has made over the first three versions seem to be moving steadily in the wrong direction, as I thought it was close to having a great product with the initial version.
If they can figure out the upper and possibly borrow some of the learnings from the Tecton X and apply them back to the road, then maybe we will see a much-improved product when the 4th generation hits the market.
You can pick up the Hoka Carbon X 3 for $200 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.
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As the founder of Believe in the Run, Thomas’ goal is to help runners pick the shoes and gear that will make their running experience the best that it can be.
All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Kinvara 2, Hoka Clifton 1, Nike Alphafly Next%More from Thomas
Matt is a recovering triathlete who fell in love with running and left the dark side behind. Trail and ultra running are where he is most in his element, but he can still be found routinely running the streets in and around Baltimore with the Faster Bastards. Aside from running, he is a lover of coffee, mezcal, beer, and 90s country music.
All-time favorite shoes: Nike Epic React, Atreyu The Artist, Speedland SL:PDXMore from Matt
Remember that court case that asked the US to reflect on racism, misogyny, and justice? Yeah, it involved a murder. Yeah, let’s make a joke about that for our next shoe review.
Yeah, I wonder why more there aren’t more people of color in running?
The suggestion that ‘people of color’ will be discouraged from running because of a joke making fun of OJ. Simpson is completely absurd.