Shoe Review: HOKA Carbon X 3
The HOKA Carbon X 3 is a maximally cushioned, hyper-responsive shoe designed for long-distance racing and up-tempo training. It features a full-length carbon-fiber propulsion plate embedded into a two-layer midsole providing an energetic — but not explosive or poppy — ride. The Carbon X 3 has been updated considerably from the previous edition with the aim of giving the 2022 model a more connective fit, a slightly softer feel and a more lively ride.
Like the first two editions of this shoe, the Carbon X3 has a significantly rockered profile, copious amounts of resilient cushioning and an energetic vibe that promotes fast-cadence running for half-marathons and marathons, as well as tempo workouts and long training runs. It’s a neutral-oriented shoe without any prescriptive gait-controlling technologies, but it’s one of the most stable models among the super shoes with carbon-fiber plates embedded in the midsole. Our Fleet Feet review crew wear-tested the Carbon X 3 on a variety on paved roads, concrete bike paths, gravel roads and hard-packed dirt trails. Based on the miles we logged, we determined its best features and potentially its biggest drawbacks, too. As always, a big part of that comes down to how it fits the individual runner who’s lacing it up.
HOKA Carbon X 3
6.6 oz (W) / 7.8 oz (M)
Daily training, racing
Carbon X 3 Has a One-Piece Upper and More Energetic Midsole
The Carbon X 3 is a unique shoe that feels soft at step-in, but it tends to feel a bit firmer the faster you run in it. That combination allows it to be comfortable, responsive, propulsive and fast with sufficient long-haul comfort for those who appreciate the way it fits their feet. The most unique feature about this shoe is the smooth, rolling sensation of the ride. Unlike some other super shoes with carbon-fiber plates that are extremely bouncy, the Carbon X 3 serves up a rhythmic ride and quicker leg turnover from the distinct rocker geometry and catapulting sensation of the carbon-fiber plate embedded between the two layers of foam midsole.
This year’s edition of the Carbon X has been updated to make it lighter and cushier, more consistent and efficient and, potentially, even faster than the original. However, unlike some super shoes, it also provides an energetic feeling at moderate training paces, too. That’s one of its big differentiating factors that have been enhanced by the updates. The three significant changes to this year’s edition are a new seamless knit mesh upper, a new super-critical foam midsole and a notable drop in weight, although a more dramatic aesthetic motif has improved the visual appeal as well.
The Carbon X 3 has a true-to-size fit with a medium width from heel to toe with high-volume interior. Compared to most other carbon-fiber racing shoes, it’s more roomy at the midfoot and in the toe box, although this year’s version has been updated by a tongue integrated into the new upper meant to pare down the volume and create a semi-custom fit.
The new upper was intended to create a comfortable, sock-like fit without the sloppiness common with many knit uppers that lack structure. HOKA added stronger monofilament yarns in the knit to provide more support at the midfoot and a reliable locked-down feeling of security. The new upper also includes more streamlined and staggered eyelets to accommodate a wider variety of foot shapes while keeping a solid hold at fast speeds.
However, our wear-testers had decidedly mixed reviews on the new upper based on how it fit their feet. Some liked it, but others hated it. Runners with wider feet seemed to appreciate the extra room, but runners with narrower feet were disappointed how they had to torque down the laces and even then some didn’t feel like it was appropriately cinched up.
“The shoe does feel a bit less stiff and more responsive than the previous versions of the Carbon X, but honestly I was too distracted by my feet almost popping out of the shoes to notice,” wear-tester Caroline says. “Usually when I feel a bit of heel slippage while walking it isn’t noticeable on the run … sadly this was not the case with this shoe. I thought I was going to have to turn around and head home to switch shoes but I decided to suck it up and get my workout over with.”
Wear-tester Nate had a different experience. “I LOVE sliding into this shoe,” he says. “It’s roomy and accommodating for my wider feet, but I had no problem feeling laced and locked down in my runs.”
The other significant change to the Carbon X 3 is the addition of the new top layer of Profly X supercritical midsole material, which is both the lightest and most energetic foam HOKA has ever used. It’s a huge upgrade from the fully EVA-based midsole foam used in the first two editions of the Carbon X, and it helps create a smoother, softer and more resilient ride. It doesn’t provide an excessive bouncy sensation like some super shoes, but it does allow for quicker heel-toe transitions and provides a bit more energy as a runner’s foot rolls through the toe-off phase of a stride.
“The shoes give a fairly firm and responsive ride, but still protected my legs and feet from impact and did not cause any of the foot numbness I sometimes get with new stiffer shoes,” says wear-tester Alex. “While I didn’t set any PRs in them yet, my times were definitely on the faster end of what I normally train at — so it seems that the carbon plate is doing its job,” he says.
HOKA Carbon X 3 vs Carbon X 2
If you ran in the Carbon X 2, you’ll find the ride of the Carbon X 3 to be subtly similar but noticeably different in key areas.
The first thing runners might discern when lacing up a pair of Carbon X 3 is the more connective fit created by the new knit upper and integrated tongue. Also, this version is more accommodating to a wider range of foot shapes than the previous edition. The new upper provides more stretch, breathability and structure than the upper of the Carbon X 2, and, for some of our wear-testers, the improved locked-down feel contributed to the smoother ride.
Like the Carbon X 2, the Carbon X 3 features the same carbon-fiber plate design and positioning, so there’s a similar soft sensation in every foot strike that gives way to an energetic rolling sensation. It has an identical rubberized foam outsole as the X 2 and we found the traction and durability to be virtually the same.
The new midsole foam and lighter overall weight of the Carbon X 3 — about a half-ounce lighter — play a big role in the improved feel and resiliency over its predecessor. But the deciding factor of this shoe’s success will be tied to the new upper and whether it feels good on your feet.
“I ran a 12-mile workout in these,” wear-tester Kate says. “They do feel really quick and responsive, and I had a great workout. That said, I’m afraid to wear these for a longer run or a race because I just can’t snug them down in the way that I would like to. I’m not confident enough to take them on a 20 mile run or wear them for a marathon,” she says.
Also of note, there’s a $20 price bump on the Carbon X 3. The $200 price tag puts it into the same range as many other super shoes, but our wear-testers weren’t sure if the improvements were worthy of a modern, high-tech shoe given the variability of the fit.
HOKA Carbon X3
HOKA Carbon X2
6.6 oz (W) / 7.8 oz (M)
7.0 (W), 8.4 oz (M)
Racing, daily training
Racing, daily training
The updated Carbon X 3 remains a unique shoe among the super shoe racing category. It’s softly cushioned with a firm demeanor like many of its contemporaries, but it has a decidedly different ride than most other super shoes that serve up a bouncy feel with explosive propulsion.
Because of the stiff demeanor and significant curvature of the outsole, there’s a distinct rolling sensation and, quite frankly, that takes some getting used to. If you prefer or typically run in shoes with soft, compressible midsoles, the ride of the Carbon X might seem too rigid and rolling for you. It’s softer and more accessible than the second version, but it still lacks the huge pop of energy of shoes like the Nike Next% 2 or the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3, for example. Our wear-testers debated whether or not this shoe could compete in the top-end speeds common for sub-elite age-group runners, but we generally agreed that it’s a good model for mid-range racing, up-tempo workouts and long training runs.
The vast changes to the Carbon X 3 —the upper, the midsole foam and the lighter overall weight — could go a long way for returning customers or first-time Carbon X wearers who can dial in the fit with the new upper.
“If you have the right foot shape for this shoe, I think you’ll love it. It seems to work best for wider feet. But if your foot is on the more narrow end, you may need to find another option,” Kate says. “I’m grabbing these the next time I gear up for a full marathon, or a half marathon, or really any road race,” says Nate. “So fast, so fun and so comfortable.”