Hoka Rocket X 2 Review: This Shoe Rules
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8.3 oz. (236 g) for a US M10 / 6.7 oz. (190 g) for a US W8
36 mm in the heel, 31 mm in the forefoot (5 mm drop)
Full Peba midsole, carbon fiber plate, rocker geometry, grippy zonal rubber outsole
🟢 Bouncy and propulsive
🟢 Rocker rolls through the stride
🟢 Excellent outsole grip
THOMAS: I’m gonna shoot you straight: Hoka has had me scratching my head for years. Despite the innovation and vision that set off the maximalism period of running, despite absolutely cleaning up in the running (and non-running) shoe world with quarter after quarter of record profits, there’s still been one thing lacking: They simply still didn’t have a racing shoe that contends with the likes of Nike, Asics, Saucony, and Adidas. Not even close, if we’re being brutally honest.
In my review of the original Rocket X, I was kind. I lumped the Rocket X in with some of the “second tier” race day offerings. Hoka had the high-stack lightweight, rockered shoe way before Nike put out the OG Vaporfly. However, they couldn’t figure out the foams. Hoka had some hits with the Rincon 3 and the last two iterations of the Mach, and stayed experimental while hitting the mark with the Tecton X and Bondi X.
But when it came to race day on the roads, only sponsored athletes had Hoka on their feet in the marathon’s front corral. Shortly after ending his partnership with Hoka, Scott Fauble beelined straight for the Alphafly when it came to choosing a shoe for the 2022 Boston Marathon. He’s since signed with Nike, because that seemed to work out pretty well for him.
The Rocket X 2 is here, it’s great, and it just slingshotted itself to the top of the list for race day shoes.
MEAGHAN: I’m pretty sure I opted out of reviewing the original Rocket X because I didn’t want to put 20 miles on it. The shoe was not for me. And it was never going to be my pick for race day. But, here we are– two years later, and Hoka has given us the Rocket X 2, a completely new shoe from top to bottom.
The upper has been redesigned with a technical synthetic mesh, gusseted tongue and an internal midfoot cage. Beneath the foot is a redesigned carbon fiber plate sandwiched between two layers of Peba foam, a softer foam above the plate with a firmer variation below. It’s the first time we’ve seen Peba material in a Hoka, which is exciting in itself. But is it enough to earn a spot on our top race day picks? Let’s get into it.
ROBBE: I’m jumping in on the back end here because I need my voice to be heard. That’s all. Oh, also, because I loved this shoe (full disclosure: I didn’t get a full 20 miles in it, so these are my thoughts after a 9-mile speed workout and another run with some average paced miles).
As both Thomas and Meg said, the original Rocket X was more X, less rocket. I actually didn’t hate that shoe and thought it was decent at the time, especially at a $200 price point (that sounds insane, but it was the least expensive carbon-plated racing shoe at the time). It was better than some shoes, and on par with the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2. But as Thomas said, I’ve been losing faith in Hoka for some time. I get it, they’re printing money with their core stable of shoes, so things like a carbon-plated racing shoe can get buried in a rapid growth strategy. But there was a lot to be desired, especially in the performance line. The arrival of the Rocket X 2 (and some prototypes we’ve had the pleasure of trying) has reignited that passion, and I can safely assure you that Hoka is here to play, and play hard.
THOMAS: The Rocket X 2 feels lighter than its actual weight. The soft-yet-responsive feel is dialed in, giving the Rocket X 2 that springboard under the ball of your foot you crave on race day and speed workouts. Don’t worry. Even though the Rocket X 2 feels forgiving on touchdown, the shoe is still relatively stable for a higher stack race day shoe.
The upper fits well and holds the foot securely over the midsole. The best part about the upper is that you don’t think about it once you’ve laced it up. I was worried about the heel when I checked the shoe out at The Running Event. It is one of those heel counters that relies on the pillows on either side of the Achilles, but other than that is just rigid material. In other shoes, this setup has led to rubbing, blisters, and heel lift issues. I didn’t experience this in the Rocket X 2, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some runners have a problem with it.
The grip on the outsole is right up there with favorites like Adidas’s Continental Rubber and Puma’s PumaGrip. In addition, the tackiness lets you feel the toe off as you kick through your faster paces.
During a session of 800 repeats in the Rocket X 2, each repetition made me feel more confident that I could hit my pace with a controlled effort. Additionally, the Rocket X 2 felt good during warm-up and cool-down miles.
MEAGHAN: My first run in this shoe was along Avila beach in San Luis Obispo. Maybe it was the scenery, maybe it was the shoe, maybe it was Maybelline, but I fell in love almost immediately. The colorway is not my favorite, but I received a prototype, and apparently the coloring is the only thing that differentiates them from a production model.
The synthetic mesh upper is minimal, but the internal cage provides a nice glove-like fit. There is some internal padding around the collar and heel for added comfort, but mostly it’s a thin, minimal upper. For the most part, I love it.
Beneath the foot is what we’re all here for: the Peba midsole paired with a newly designed carbon fiber plate. It’s bouncy, it’s light, and it’s fun. You may have noticed this shoe tops the Best Race Day charts on the homepage of our website, and I can tell you it’s there for a good reason.
The softer foam above the foot provides a really nice step-in feel and the firmer foam beneath the plate adds to the rigidity and propulsive properties. I found myself running faster than intended on multiple occasions. I checked my watch after a recent marathon paced workout and found I was running 10-15 seconds faster than I thought. That’s always a nice surprise.
Not only do we get Peba foam in this update, but Hoka finally took the stack up a significant bit over the first version of the shoe, maxing it out at 40 mm in the heel (though the Hoka spec sheet has it listed as 36 mm. Either way, it’s pretty high). The platform has been widened slightly to help with stability, but I never had any issues.
ROBBE: I love a good rocker, which you’d know if you ever saw me hanging outside a Cracker Barrel sipping on a to-go cup of sweet tea. Large checkerboards and butterscotch candies are pretty rad too. And let me tell you– the Hoka Rocket X 2 is the country-fried goodness I’ve been hungry for in a race day shoe. The Peba is the biscuits, the carbon-fiber plate is the gravy, the rocker is the post-meal nap, and all of it makes for a good time on a Sunday afternoon.
I had zero hopes for this shoe after a string of disappointing Hoka road releases in 2022 (Mach Supersonic, Carbon X 3, Kawana– whatever that shoe was supposed to be). But I’m always willing to belly up to the table and try a new menu offering. Boy, I’m glad I did. I loved this shoe in the way that I love few other shoes. During the 800m repeats with Thomas, the shoe just rolled.
The Peba foam was the exact bounciness and responsiveness that I love, and paired with the rocker, the propulsion of the plate, and the tacky outsole, the Rocket X 2 just picks up the more you pick up. I’ve loved the Asics Metaspeed Edge+ and wore it for both a half marathon PR and racing the marathon distance over the last year, and the Rocket X 2 takes what I love about that shoe and turns it up just a notch.
The rocker is aggressive (Hoka calls it Profly-X construction), and makes up for the lower 5 mm drop. It strikes a perfect balance with the 36 mm stack height of Peba midsole. With a wider base, it’s not unstable at all (for a race day shoe, anyway) and may be the most stable race day option out there. The slightly-less than max stack height probably helps in that department as well. And the outsole grip is reminiscent of the Continental rubber on the Adidas Adios Pro 3 (that’s a very good thing).
I had no issues with the upper; in fact, I loved the fit of that as well, largely in part to the internal cage that holds the foot nicely. I thought it provided the exact lock down I need on race day and didn’t experience any movement or heel slippage.
THOMAS: I mentioned the heel counter in the good section describing the upper. While it isn’t bad for me, I will wait to see if it is an issue for others.
MEAGHAN: Similar to the Endorphin Elite, I was craving a little more structure and support around the collar and heel. I get that these race day shoes are meant to have very minimal uppers, but I really think a tiny bit more structure around the ankle could go a long way.
ROBBE: I guess you could always use some more heel structure, so maybe I’ll throw that in here, since it could be an issue for some people. However, I had no issues with it.
THOMAS: Hoka has a real contender here. The team sat in our Monday morning meeting, surprised that we agreed that the Rocket X 2 is our current top pick for race day. The original Alphafly is still our favorite, but since it’s hard to come by these days, we gotta move on and rank shoes readily on the market for runners.
The underfoot feel and energy return put the Rocket X 2 at the top of my list. The way the Rocket X 2 made faster paces feel easier to hit sealed the deal for me. I would compare the cushioning to the softness of the Saucony Pro 3 and the forefoot pop only out-punched by the Alphafly.
MEAGHAN: The Hoka Rocket X 2 has been a welcomed surprise. My sentiments are very similar to Thomas’s. I can’t say it replaces the OG Alphafly, but it’s definitely on the top of my list for current race day options. I found this shoe felt similar to the Endorphin Elite, but a touch softer, exactly what I was looking for. It’s really exciting to see that nearly every brand on the market now has a viable race day option. I’ll definitely keep the Rocket X 2 in my rotation for fast days.
ROBBE: I’ve always loved a firmer and snappier ride in my race day shoes (the Saucony Endorphin Elite Pro was a big favorite for me), but always wanted just a touch more cushion and bounce to keep me comfortable over longer distances. That’s exactly what the Hoka Rocket X 2 provides. It’s a gem of a shoe and quite honestly– surprising in the best way.
There’s plenty more days in the year of our lord 2023, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this tops the list as the best race day shoe this year. Someone’s going to need to cook up something special, because right now the Rocket X 2 is a peach cobbler, hot and fresh out the kitchen, served a la mode. Now go tell grandma to buy me some peanut brittle when she goes and pays the bill.
You can pick up the Hoka Rocket X 2 for $250 now at the shop links 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
Meaghan signed up for her first marathon three weeks before the race, because it was $10 more than the half she planned to run. She learned everything in running the hard way. Now a USATF & UESCA certified run coach, she loves encouraging friends to go for big goals as she continues to chase faster times. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee, a cold martini, and making bagels for friends and family.
All-time favorite shoes: Nike Alphafly Next%, New Balance SC Trainer, Asics Superblast.More from Meaghan
Robbe is the lead copywriter and editor for all things Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. Appreciates mezcal and New York Times crosswords. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.
All-time favorite shoes: Nike Epic React, Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 Runshield, Asics Metaspeed Edge+More from Robbe