By Noel Paine
Welcome to my HOKA Carbon X3 review!
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” — Walter Bagehot
It began with Nike and Eluid Kipchoge’s quest to do what had never been done. The super shoes and the idea of doing the impossible (a sub-2-hour marathon) is what opened people’s eyes.
Shoe manufacturers I think had gotten comfortable with making small advances, better gels, gimmicks, and new foams to compete for lighter or more cushioned shoes.
They were fighting like shampoo and toothpaste companies. They would bring forth new models, but nothing really new that made people believe.
The addition of a carbon fibre plate to a running shoe and the science and major changes that went into running shoes over a short period of years was amazing. Nike led but other companies scrambled to catch up. And catch up they did.
In a 2023 article in the Guardian (UK), Geoff Burns, a biomechanics expert and sports physiologist working for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee, is quoted as saying: “Nike is no longer the definitive outright leader.
I’ve tested a lot of shoe brands and foams and the running economy benefits are now pretty similar.” After seeing the super shoes emerge and evolve, I agree.
Let Me Introduce the HOKA Carbon X3
I ran in the original HOKA Carbon X shoe and loved it. I then bought the second version which had very few changes and had the feel I liked. The shoe still felt like a light but thick cushioned HOKA but had a stiff rocker. I really did notice a difference. It felt fast and responsive, but I was also able to use it as an everyday training shoe.
“…we pushed our pursuits forward — certain there was a way to design running shoes that could be remarkably kind to the human body and still be world-class fast.”
This is on the HOKA page about the company, and I think sums up what I feel HOKA shoes do. A lot of cushion for the foot and body with each model aimed at a different type of runner.
Who is the HOKA Carbon X3 for?
Normally most of the carbon fibre shoes (especially at the start) seemed really most appropriate for racing and for slight fast runners. The early shoes I tried felt geared for racing and felt odd to run in at a slower speed. The HOKA Carbon X was the exception.
It felt fast, super light, different and I could line up at the start line or just put in a normal training run. The Carbon X2 felt the same. The Carbon X3 feels slightly different but who I think will like the shoe had not changed.
Despite being a lightweight “super shoe” the Carbon X shoes from HOKA have lasted a long time and have even outlasted some cheaper cushioned training shoes from other brands.
What Does the HOKA Carbon X3 Feel Like?
The Carbon X3 with the new upper and slight changes to the midsole (newer foam) and the shape of the shoe changed the feel a little bit. It still has the basic feel of its predecessors, but I like it a little bit less.
The knitted upper may be softer but gives the shoe a different feel on the foot. The shoe also feels a bit more like a light-responsive training shoe than a pure race shoe.
I like this shoe. It feels like it's protecting my foot from the pounding while feeling light, fast and fun.
*If you like a nice insole (plump and cushy) you will not get this in this shoe. The shoe has a thin, minimally cushioned insole that I have no issues with – but it compresses quickly.
What Was My Experience?
Ok – time for my opinion. I have been a runner for 35 years. I now racewalk more than run but have had a lot of experience with a lot of shoes over the years, on my feet and fitting up others. I liked the HOKA Carbon X and X2, the X3 is less of a love story.
The shoe to me feels a bit more chunky and just does not give me the fun its forefathers gave me on a run. The thing to remember is that every person has a different foot, a different experience and needs to know themselves and do their research.
If you want a pure race shoe, then I would look to the HOKA Rocket X 2 which is lighter (8.3 ounces) than the Carbon X and looks a bit more like other current carbon fibre super shoes.
The description of the Rocket also states it is geared for elite runners and its price tag ($280) means it’s not for all. I think the Carbon X is a better option for many from the masses who want to feel the benefits of a HOKA carbon fibre trainer/racer without having the shoe be for races/max speed.
What is Coming – X4!
The HOKA Carbon X4 is set to launch this month with a new upper and a new outsole. I am expecting a few minor changes but nothing major as there was a more moderate shift with the shoe from X2 to X3.
I see the role (in my opinion) has shifted a bit as well with other carbon fibre shoes now existing in the HOKA line-up.
Make sure the shoe fits well, snug, not tight and not sloppy. Check the size of your foot with a Brannock (foot measuring device at most shoe shops). You should have room at the toe and enough width for your foot to get hot and sweaty and not feel tightly confined mid-run.
Make sure nothing rubs and you have room around your ankle bone as well.
Tips for First-Time HOKA Wearers
HOKA shoes have a thick EVA very light midsole which really defines their shoes. When they came out it was the first brand and shoes that really surprised me. They felt DIFFERENT.
They can feel higher off the ground than some other shoe brands (though many are now making shoes with thicker midsoles).
I find you do not feel the impact of running but can take away the feel of being in touch with the ground a bit (compared say to some more minimal running shoes).