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Road Running Shoes • June 12, 2020

HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE Performance Review


What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 8.8 oz. (250 g) for a US M9.0
  • Stack height: 32 mm in heel, 27 mm in toe (5 mm drop)
  • Midsole/outsole and carbon plate structure remain unchanged from the Carbon X
  • Features a new, one-piece, tongue-free upper with internal mesh bootie
  • I mean, seriously have you seen a better-looking shoe in 2020 than the featured colorway? We’ll wait.

MATT: I’d like to start off this review by saying I am a creature of habit….I find something that works and I stick with it. This can be applied to everything my morning routine to my La Croix bulk purchases (Pamplemousse, there is only one correct answer).

When I received the HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE to test, I was quite happy with my current shoe rotation and had no plans to deviate. I figured I’d log enough miles to provide an honest and thorough review and that would likely be it (note that I had not run in the original Carbon X).

Well after just a week, the Carbon X-SPE latched on like a rabid pitbull with lockjaw onto my shoe rotation, quickly becoming my go-to shoe for long runs, short runs, liquor store runs, and everything in-between (only my trail shoes and the almighty Nike Vaporfly NEXT % are safe from the reign of this newcomer).

I’ll let Dave give some more opening thoughts and history before we move on.

DAVE: I cannot run in HOKA– mostly. With my mechanics, I feel that the midsoles are far too soft and I find myself working way harder than I need to in their shoes. A 5-mile run will have my legs feeling beat and my knees usually take a beating.

However, last year’s Carbon X dripped an IV of life into my lack of belief in HOKA’S roadies. Once again– a shoe brand saved by the plate! The single-use of a carbon plate, along with a nicely rockered geometry, gave me 500 miles on three different pairs of the Carbon X into January of this year. I know it was always advertised as a speed day shoe, but I was a strong advocate for its utility as a daily trainer. A workhorse hog that gave you endless miles and was pretty damn efficient in the process! Even so, it worked equally as well at marathon pace work, a fast finish run, or even a Fartlek in the middle of a long run.

So here we are with a new version. The Carbon X-SPE.

HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE lateral

Let’s explain a few things about the 2020 vs. 2019. The midsole/outsole is the exact same makeup as last year– the ProFly midsole sits on top of the plate, with a rubberized foam underneath that plate. The plate curls under the lateral toes in more of a thinner makeup than most carbon plated shoes out there today. It feels really good.

The debut X was damn fine underfoot in 2019, however, some complained of a snug fit and lack of wiggle room in the toe box. SPE comes to us this year with a one-piece mesh bootie from the get-go. There is no tongue. It nicely lays across the top of your foot and does not disappear when lacing up like in its previous version. SPE also has a bit more volume up front, so average to wider footed runners will enjoy, which was a problem for that foot type last year. The overall volume of the shoe feels a bit deeper as well.

ERIN: Last year’s HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X was my first foray into carbon-plated shoe land, and I just recently retired my first pair after close to 500 miles. Initially, I thought it would be a race-day shoe, but I found it to be best for any kind of long run with tempo or interval efforts. While reviews are mixed – you either love ‘em or hate ‘em – I was impressed by the Carbon X.

The Good

MATT: The look is so sharp. This colorway I received is like if The Mighty Ducks “Team USA” team in the Junior Goodwill games were a shoe. Too deep a reference there? Ok, these are Wonderwoman meets Olympian colors. They are dope.

HOKA took all the great things from the original Carbon X and kept them, while replacing the things that were not great… what a novel idea! The upper is light, breathable, and provides a tight, locked-in fit. As far as “big” changes go, the molded heel cup and change to the rear pull tab is one of them. It provides a locked-down heel with no slippage.

I really like the laces as well. HOKA seems to have found a normal length and material less prone to slippage/loosening.

Although it’s unchanged, the ProFLY midsole and the “Y” shaped carbon plate provide a cushioned, yet springy ride. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Among the carbon plated shoes to come to market recently, this shoe definitely has the makings to last quite longer. I have already logged 100 miles on them and haven’t seen much wear at all.

DAVE: Like I said before, the midsole and ride are just as smooth as last year. SPE gives you effortless miles with a nice forward lean, allowing your foot strike to fall nicely underneath your center of mass. It really promotes a nice knee lift and drive, and when you get sloppy, like with any rockered shoe, it will remind you where the jackpot is.

Carbon X-SPE is still fast. And it really shines in the middle of a long run. So if you have some pace work to do, this baby is a solid option for your workout. I’d say the highest speed it handles well for me is a fartlek that has a shorter 90 second to 2-minute bout in it, but where it really feels the best is marathon pace work. Thus opening up the opportunity for many to run a marathon, though I’m keepin’ it in the mileage day category.

In terms of the colorway, let’s face it: HOKA has dropped a bunch of bland colorways over the years. But they nailed it on the SPE. I love the gold on the heel counter and the semi-patriotic color combos.

ERIN: The Carbon X-SPE is essentially the Carbon X with a (completely!) updated upper. Guys, the SPE is sweet. I don’t tend to completely geek out about how a shoe looks, but man, these jawns are hot! The new upper is a single-layer mesh bootie– very breathable and, unlike a lot of shoes with a bootie upper, they aren’t that hard to put on, which is amazing. I actually think the OG Carbon X was harder to get on and off than this one. And I mean, the off-white, gold, navy, and red colorway is legit. I love it.

There isn’t really anything to say about the rest of the shoe, as it’s the same as the original Carbon X, but since I never reviewed that one I’ll just give a little rundown: this shoe has a carbon plate sandwiched between a layer of Profly and a layer of rubberized foam. Now, I’m not a ProFly fan in general, but combined with the carbon plate and the additional foam, it works for me. However, if you’ve run in the Vaporfly or some variation, just be forewarned that the Carbon X is not that shoe in any way. It is a very firm ride. That said, it is a more natural-feeling ride than any of the % shoes, especially at slower paces where the Vaporfly is slappy and weird. And it lasts literally hundreds of miles longer.

Shop CARBON X-SPE – Men Shop CARBON X-SPE – Women

The Bad

MATT: While not an issue for me, heel strikers may not be a fan, as the midfoot carbon plate will not provide much propulsion and the stride could feel a bit unnatural. If being used as a racer, there are certainly lighter options on the market (the SPE is actually a bit heavier than the original).

Also, that price point… yikes. At $200, it’s $20 more than last year’s version. One of the only non-race-specific shoes to break the $200 ceiling.

DAVE: The faster you go, the sloppier it gets. This was very similar in 2019 as well. The shoe is just not intended to hammer a bunch of quarters on the track or lay out a vom-inducing 5K at your local Turkey Trot. It has its place in longer distance efforts and that is just fine. I would, however, make a recommendation to shave off some stack and make this thing a bit more versatile. I’d love to be able to rip a fast 10K in it.

Slippery when wet: Just as it says. The shaved down outsole (my guess to save weight) can get a bit slippery when running through a sloppy sidewalk here in CA. Remember, human urine is also a liquid. Welcome to sunny CA.

ERIN: If you’re using this shoe as a long run/tempo type trainer, which is really where it shines, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you are thinking of this shoe as a Vaporfly contemporary, you might be. These aren’t really going to save your legs from feeling beat up after a hard effort, and I most likely wouldn’t race in them (only because there are better options for race day). In other words, manage your expectations.

Shop CARBON X-SPE – Men Shop CARBON X-SPE – Women

HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X-SPE Conclusion

MATT: I’m a big fan of this shoe and I could see this being a go-to trainer for me that could perform well for many different workouts, and be perfectly suitable come race day. That is a pretty valuable shoe right there.

For me though, the pop is not the same as the Nike NEXT% and these feel to serve a different purpose (which is totally fine). Understand that the price tag on these ($200) may be too much to justify as a trainer for some. I think that the byproduct of the new generation of carbon plate race shoes may be that we all fall in love with that feeling and want it all the time, not just on race day. That may be the niche that the Carbon X-SPE can fill.

DAVE: The minor updates in fit for 2020 are solid. I personally still like the narrowness of last year’s version due to the width of my 8th-grade schoolboy foot, but I don’t have any issues with slippage at all. So if you have a narrow foot, don’t let the extra room up top scare you away.

Once again, a daily workhorse trainer perfect for effortless mileage and definitely some nice work in the middle of a long run at half to full marathon pacing standards. The shoe acts well as a recovery option too. When you want to back off of the pace and you’re feeling beat up, the rocker keeps you well in check to make sure slower-paced miles are just as smooth biomechanically.

HOKA, please keep this up. Firm up your shoes. The geometry is there. Now ditch the marshmallows at the bonfire for a plate of carbon in more of your lineup. Imagine a Rincon that was even snappier?

ERIN: I loved the Carbon X, and I love the Carbon X-SPE even more. It’s fast, feels great at any pace, and will last you forever.

You can pick up the at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) for $200 by using the shop link below. (Red/white/gold colorway releasing later).

Shop CARBON X-SPE – Men Shop CARBON X-SPE – Women

Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. B says:

    I’m confused by Dave’s review. In “The Good” he says the shoe is fast. In “The Bad” he says it gets sloppier as you go fast.

    1. Dave says:


      Fast for the intended paces listed in the article. Shines from Half Mary to Full mary paces. Far too sloppy for 10K and under for me, whether that be a race or anything on the track for a rep sesh.

      But ideally, as stated in the article, a great daily trainer for some big mileage weeks.


  2. Lightning says:

    It that sloppy due to fit and your narrow feet or something else? As someone with wide feet, this sounds potentially worth a try on.

  3. Tay-Tay says:

    Any info on when they colorway will be released?

    1. Robbe Reddinger says:

      No definitive answer since everything is shifting during COVID. Likely August/September.

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