HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X 2 Performance Review
THOMAS: I love it when a shoe is just OK, maybe even pretty good, and then the design team goes full remix to create something special. Like the Justice remix of MGMT’s Electric Feel or the covers of Tears For Fears by Brothertiger, the HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X 2 has a familiar set up with a totally new experience, and this time it’s a big improvement. By looking at the shoe I couldn’t tell why I liked it so much more than the original. Perplexed, I ended up on the phone with one of the HOKA insiders to get some answers. More on that in a second.
ADRIENNE: The HOKA Carbon X was the brand’s rather quick answer to Nike when the carbon fiber world first blew up in 2019. They wasted no time with Jim Walmsley breaking the 50-Mile World Record; I soon started to see these missile-like kicks popping up on the feet of mileage-craving runners everywhere. Coming January 2021, we finally have the second iteration (not counting the Carbon X-SPE) – the HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X 2.
If you’re deep in the running shoe game, you know that the OG Carbon X had a reputation as an “acquired taste” shoe. Like a gose beer – you either love it, hate it, or it grows on you. To be honest, I never even wore the Carbon X, so I was pretty excited to get this version to see what the fuss was all about.
THOMAS: So why is the Carbon X 2 a vast improvement over the original? A lot of it has to do with three key changes. First, the carbon plate was moved closer to the bottom of the shoe and closer to the ground. If you look at where the top layer of foam and the more durable rubberized foam meet, you can see a visual cue of where the carbon is sandwiched in between them (the lowest line on the side of the midsole). In the original Carbon X, the foams are closer to 65% soft foam/35% firmer foam vs 80/20 now. This change in percentages of foam softens the feel.
The top layer of the foam is a new softer foam with more energy return. What this new foam does is give the foot a nice bed to land on and a good feeling of bounce on take off. The new foam working with a farther-from-the-foot carbon plate allows a softer landing, while the carbon plate still serves up the rocker feel and a rigid enough response to propel you through your stride. It is a very pleasurable feeling.
Lastly, the upper is light, breathable, and fits much better than the original. The very thin gusseted tongue, lightly padded collar, and heel counter designed to avoid Achilles rub holds the foot nicely over the midsole. I also like the way you can use the elf ear extension as a pull tab. The toe-down design looks more like a race day shoe than its predecessor. The sculpting of the midsole under the arch also helps to give it a faster feel and look. Standing applause for the Hoka development team, they really knocked this update out of the park.
By the way, if you’re wondering about the dovetail heel design, it’s fine. The Deckers (HOKA’s parent company) innovation lab spit out the design through way of AI prototyping, and hey – it works. Or at least, it doesn’t affect a midsole strike. My guess is that for heel strikers, it absorbs less energy in the split heel segment, allowing for a better transition.
My size 10.5 ran true to size and weighs 9 oz./257 grams. A 32/27 mm stack for the men’s results in a 5 mm drop.
ADRIENNE: Visually, the Carbon X 2 is poppin’. I loved the Hot Coral/Black Iris colorway but wasn’t sure what to make of the rear spoiler heel that extends out… a lot. They looked fast, but I was worried about backloading on this shoe because I consider myself a mid-to-forefoot kind of gal.
There’s still just as much going on with the design of the second iteration of the Carbon X, and it appears HOKA dialed in some things and updated the heel tab section. Gone is the pull tab and in is the ever-trendy elf-ear design, anatomically flush with your Achilles. This does make the Carbon X 2 easier to put on, as once you get your foot in you have a strapped-in, performance-oriented feeling from the breathable, engineered mesh interwoven with TPU yarn. Yup, HOKA ain’t messing around, folks!
Slip-in feel is outstanding and the upper is form-fitting. There is just enough room for comfort, but the X 2 has a nice, breathable, performance feel. The engineered mesh doesn’t stretch, but it doesn’t need to, and I had a sensation of consistent lockdown throughout the miles. Lockdown is important here because this shoe at times seems to want to run for you. It rolls and will go as hard as you push it – in most cases.
HOKA takes both the early and late-stage rocker technologies seriously here and it’s apparent at first step. With a stack height of 30/25 mm, there’s a lot of firm compression-molded EVA underneath you. Want protection from the road for your longest runs and races? It’s here in spades via HOKA’s PROfly midsole tech. My women’s 8.5 came in at around 7.0 oz., which is pretty crazy given how much shoe is present here.
Is it fast off the line? Not necessarily, but I didn’t experience much lag doing strides or faster paces. The Carbon X 2 strikes a good balance between being aggressive and forgiving. Stability is first-rate due to the broad base or the shoe. Unlike the Nike carbon fiber models, you can go over uneven terrain like a boss. I didn’t hesitate to take these on gravel, bricks, uneven asphalt, and a little over grass. It just rolls over stuff. Durability appears solid. And they still look brand new after 30 miles of use.
The PROFly midsole and carbon plate work well for cushioned landings and a nice sensation of propulsion at toe-off. There isn’t a lot of wasted energy here, as in some other models by HOKA (minus the Rocket X). It’s also worth mentioning that this is a stiff shoe – perhaps the stiffest I’ve run in all year. Not a bad thing, but worth mentioning. Too much play in the midsole and you’d likely get a sloppy disaster. And HOKA doesn’t need their own version of the Nike Joyride.
This shoe does well for me at moderate to tempo paces for me; due to lighter options being out there, I would choose another option for intervals or race day. That being said, I can see myself grabbing these for a road fartlek on some days. The pop of the plate does make a daily run a little more exciting, which is cool. I kept hearing about how the Carbon X shoe is a calf-killer, and that isn’t quite the case with the X 2, that or I just got lucky…who knows? All miles were pain free during and after.
MATT: Wow. Straight out of the box these just look so damn good. The Fiesta/White colorway that I tested just screamed “X GON GIVE IT TO YA” (in my best DMX voice). The design is simple, to an extent, with the solid color upper and white midsole, but the shape and color combo just gives it such a clean and fast look.
The X 2 has the carbon plate of its predecessor, but the Meta-Rocker through the heel is way more aggressive and will definitely earn this shoe THICC BOI status. Despite the oversized heel, I did not feel a noticeable difference running when compared to the X 1, and I say this in a good way, as it just felt natural.
HOKA also deployed its high-set tab to the heel cup as found across their recent models. I think it helps with not just feeling locked in more but it’s also nice when slipping them off and on.
The Carbon X 2 shines when you hit the flats and descents, as the rocking motion and the carbon spring load action just make you feel like you’re falling forward. This is a shoe that wills you to go fast.Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Men Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Women
THOMAS: The weight of the Carbon X 2 is closer to AlphaFly than the Vaporfly at 9 oz. for my 10.5. I would love to see how HOKA can keep the feel of this shoe and shave some weight. It is a tough challenge but would be interested to see what Hoka can do. Exposed rubberized foam has a tendency to wear faster than high abrasion rubber, so this shoe won’t have the lifespan that some of its competitors. To be fair, I just asked for the shoe to be lighter and rubber ain’t light.
ADRIENNE: If you like or want any semblance of ground feel, look elsewhere (like the Rocket X). This is by far my biggest complaint with the X 2. Perhaps I’ve run a bit too much in low-profile Atreyu and Skechers lately, I dunno. Maybe it’s the sport psychologist in me, but I like a little proprioception and the ability to feel connected; future iterations can improve the awesomeness of this shoe with some shaved down stack. Also, those with wider feet may be better suited elsewhere.
MATT: Where the flats and descents make you feel like your flying, I feel that the boost from that rocking motion can be negated on the climbs. This isn’t a big knock, but the tech of this shoe certainly plays best on flatter courses.
I have only got about 30 miles on this pair, so I can’t speak on longevity, but I wore out my Carbon X-SPEs after about 200-225 miles, so if these surpass that mileage I will be even more impressed with this shoe.
Maybe nit-picky, but while the updated notched tongue looks cool, if you don’t align the notch in the proper place when lacing up, it will be noticeable and you will want to pull over and adjust.Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Men Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Women
THOMAS: HOKA has a supreme lineup in the ProFly series between the Mach 4, the Carbon X 2, and the Rocket X. Intuitively, I leaned towards the Rocket X wanting that light fast feeling. In reality, I like the Carbon X 2 the best. That leaves the Mach 4, which is basically a non-plated Carbon X 2 (it basically has a firmer foam to make up for the absence of a plate).
We will have a full review of the Mach 4 soon, but know this – the Mach 4 and Carbon X 2 might be one of the best one-two punches since Batman and Robin. Easy days in the Mach 4, workouts and races in the Carbon X 2. If you had to, you could get away with just the Carbon X 2 for everything. It’s a perfect blend of cushion and responsiveness that had me gliding up to faster paces rather than racing up to them. Like a great song, the ride of the Carbon X 2 starts out in a neutral place, but as you get more reps in, you start humming along. By the end of the run, you’re screaming out the lyrics and freaking out everyone around you.
Lastly, this shoe performs well at any pace. On a double-digit tempo run, I exceeded my pace goals going on nothing but feel. The following Saturday, I had a 12-mile run where I was supposed to pick up the pace on the last 6-miles; for whatever reason, I wasn’t mentally into it and just cruised instead. The shoe felt terrific on both runs.
ADRIENNE: HOKA continues to be itself here with a unique riding and looking shoe. At first glance, the Carbon X 2 gives off an ‘ass-kicking’ vibe and it lives up to it. The shoe is built to go long and fast. It’s got speed, cushion, carbon (how can we forget the carbon!), and a lightweight upper, so there’s a lot to like here. I can see using these for many a long run, and they can even work for longer races. If you liked the first Carbon X, you will probably love this version. If you’ve never tried ‘em, buckle up – this shoe has some fire. As mentioned earlier, the X 2 is available January 1, 2021.
MATT: Buy this shoe. Seriously, just like the original version, the Carbon X 2 is an amazing shoe for fast training runs, and at $180 in the current carbon plate shoe landscape, this is a budget racer.
I don’t think it’s the pure race day weapon that the Nike Vaporfly Next % or Alphafly are, but at $70-$100 less, you will not be disappointed.
You can pick up the HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X 2 for $180 soon (releases 1/1/2021) at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Men Shop HOKA ONE ONE – Women
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Your review had many of the same thoughts I have about the shoe. For me, I returned the Carbon X2 after putting 15 miles on them due to the wear on the exposed rubberized foam (heal edge, outside). The cost is too high for me to justify a shoe that would only last 200+ miles.