ROBBE: Where do we go from here? We’re nearing the end of 2020 and the carbon plated babies have all grown their wings, left the nest, and are flying through the wild. Some came with great fanfare (Nike Alphafly NEXT%), while others came and went and came back again (the hurried Brooks Hyperion Elite 1 and the much-improved Brooks Hyperion Elite 2). In the cacophony of the shoe wars, HOKA ONE ONE discreetly dropped its own super shoe onto the feet of NAZ Elite Aliphine Tuliamuk as she cruised to a first-place Olympic Trials finish on a cold and blustery morning back in February.
That same morning, back when Corona was something we feared only in hangover terms, HOKA also released the shoe that Tuiliamuk wore across the finish line– the HOKA ONE ONE Rocket X. Available in a very limited supply, they went quick.
The year before, its bulkier sibling, the Carbon X, was the first carbon-plated non-Nike shoe with a focus on speed, as Jim Walmsley broke the 50-mile world record on its release day. Since then, every company from Saucony (Endorphin Pro) to 361 Degrees (PACER ST) has a carbon-plated dish on the table. So while things have certainly changed, in terms of HOKA and the Rocket X, they’re ultimately not too different.
Because it turns out, the Rocket X is pretty much just a speedier (and better) version of the Carbon X. Unlike other shoes with PEBA or nitrogen-infused foams, the Rocket X still leans on EVA as the Rocket X. It also adheres to the early stage Meta-Rocker geometry in the midsole and retains an ultralight and breathable upper. But it’s certainly different. For starters, it’s a lower stack height. The rocker seems less-aggressive. It weighs less. And wonder of wonders– it’s the lowest price-point of any carbon-plated racer on the market at $180 ($20 less than the Carbon X-SPE and Carbon X 2!).
Enough details, let’s get into the review.
ROBBE: Truth be told, I was never much of a Carbon X fanboy. The rocker and plate seemed too aggressive for my running form, which definitely leans towards heel strike. The Carbon X always seemed to crush my calves and I also found the upper to be a bit roomy (that actually hasn’t changed). But the Rocket X is what I always wanted the Carbon X to be. In short, it seems that they ironed out the Carbon X, cut down the stack, and made it lighter, for better ground feel and overall quickness.
Obviously it’s lighter (it’s the lightest shoe in the HOKA universe and the exact same weight as the Endorphin Pro). Taking it out through faster paces, it flies. The combination of rocker and plate gives it a great pop off the toe. It reminded me a lot of the Saucony Endorphin Pro in that regard. Actually, in a lot of regards, it reminds me of the Endorphin Pro, except this is a more stable shoe. The turnover was quick and it really rolls once it gets going.
Despite a lower stack height than the Carbon X (30 mm in the heel, 25 mm in the toe), it still feels like it can handle big miles (although HOKA says the shoe is for shorter distances). To be honest, I only topped out at six in the shoe (Thomas went up to 10 as you’ll see below), but I felt fresh. Now, I should say, this isn’t the same level as cushioning as one may expect from HOKA. It’s definitely more reminiscent of a traditional racing shoe. If you want more cushion, you may have to step up to the Carbon X or another shoe altogether.
The upper is an airy mesh that is as breathable as you could want, so no issues there. It has substantially more structure in the heel than a lot of racers, which is nice for those looking for more support.
Rubber sections on the heel and toe with exposed EVA in the middle provide more-than-enough traction for cornering. Aesthetically the shoe looks great, and it will also be releasing and a really nice red/white/blue colorway in the coming months. And the price point– I’m not sure you’re going to find a better deal on a racing shoe than $180 for the Rocket X. I mean, as mentioned in the intro, it’s cheaper than the Carbon X-SPE and upcoming Carbon X 2, which is kind of wild.
THOMAS: Maybe no surprise, but if you like HOKA, you’re gonna like the fit of the Rocket X. The breathable mesh upper does its job like a good union employee. If you like tongues and gussets then you’re in luck– this one has both and it stays where it should throughout the run.
The padding in the heel and collar give it more structure than a lot of racers, which is certainly a good thing, even if it adds a little weight. Overall, the combination of these things gives it a good lockdown for the foot to stay in place at any pace.
It’s not revolutionary, but the EVA midsole and carbon-plate combo provides just the right amount of bounce and responsiveness. Combine that with the Meta-Rocker geometry and you’re getting all the energy return you need, so feel free to slap an energy saving appliance sticker on this thing.
Like most racers, the outsole rubber is minimal, but I didn’t have any problems with the traction. Lastly, while this is a HOKA, you won’t find the same ultra-wide base as say, the Rincon or the Clifton, adding to the speed factor of the shoe.
JEREMY: My first impression out of the box is that this is a sharp-looking shoe (blue, white, and yellow colorway). This isn’t something I usually think when unboxing the thicker, well-cushioned HOKA shoes.
Starting at the top, the upper is an open mesh design that is extremely breathable, light, and comfortable which provided a solid level of rigidity/structure to keep my foot locked down. I had zero issues with the upper and it was a perfect fit from the heel cup to the toe bump in the front.
The Rocket X is a relatively light shoe (7.4 ounces in a Men’s’ 9), much lighter than the Carbon X and comparable in weight to the Saucony Endorphin Pro. While it is a bit heavier than the Nike Vaporfly NEXT %, the difference is minimal. The new lightweight EVA foam in combination with the carbon fiber plate and meta-rocker design makes it easy to get into a rhythm at fast paces. I tested these out for a road tempo, a track interval workout, and a fast long run and the shoe was up to snuff on each occasion. During the track workout, I was surprised to see how fast I was going with a relatively low perceived effort, so that’s a big thumbs up for the shoe’s performance, as it definitely felt like a bouncing/rolling feel in my stride at faster paces.
The outsole is mostly exposed foam, with additional outsole rubber towards the front and back of the shoe for traction. I had no issues running on rainy days or through little mud patches, so there seems to be sufficient traction for the vast majority of road running conditions.Shop Rocket X – Men Shop Rocket X – Women
ROBBE: Take this with a grain of salt because I never get my half size on the first run of HOKA shoes. I’m perpetually stuck in a just too big size. But I felt the upper to be too roomy. I think even with my correct size I wouldn’t be able to get the lockdown I want. I always felt the same way about the Carbon X as well. For a racer, I prefer that strapped-in feel of a shoe like the Endorphin Pro. Of course, the Rocket X comes on a wider last so for my narrow foot, it may be a lost cause. Nevertheless, it didn’t feel sloppy. Just wasn’t my preferred lockdown.
THOMAS: Gotta put something here, but I only have one nit to pick. The tongue is too short for my taste, especially when ensuring a good lockdown with the laces. I’d like to see a little bit more to make sure the ankle area is protected.
JEREMY: I will say that while this shoe has a nice cushioned foam, my legs were feeling sorta beat up towards the end of the tempo and long runs. For that reason, I don’t think this provides quite as much cushioning for the marathon when comparing to a couple of the Rocket X’s super shoe competitors.Shop Rocket X – Men Shop Rocket X – Women
ROBBE: I’m really digging the Rocket X. Out of the racers I’ve tried, it may be a top choice right next to the Endorphin Pro (if I were able to land a half-size smaller). I know a ton of people who fell in love with the Carbon X, and I always felt I was standing just outside the fire on that one (shout-out to my man Garth). With the Rocket X, I feel like I finally landed right on the launching pad.
THOMAS: Overall, it looks like the Rocket X behaved well during COVID and went on a diet, morphing into a lighter and faster Carbon X. The lower stack height leaves it feeling faster. In all, it most reminded me of the New Balance RC Elite, but could be thrown into the same basket as the Endorphin Pro, ASICS METARACER, and Skechers Razor Elite. All that to say, the Rocket X makes running faster fun.
JEREMY: The HOKA ONE ONE Rocket X is a top-of-the-line racing shoe that reminds me a lot of the Saucony Endorphin Pro, in that they both have a nice rolling feel to each stride combined with a bounciness to the foam as well. This will be an excellent shoe choice for race day, or for some key workouts and long runs. Rocking these shoes for some hard intervals really shows off their top-end speed capability, and for $180 retail they are cheaper than nearly all racing shoe competitors.
You can pick up the HOKA ONE ONE Rocket X on November 1 for $180 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Rocket X – Men Shop Rocket X – Women