With marathon season upon us and so many carbon fiber-plated racing shoes to choose from, how do you decide? We sat down with our pro athlete and self-acclaimed “shoe geek” Sage Canaday, to break down our three carbon fiber-plated shoes: the Carbon X 2, Rocket X, and new Bondi X. What are these three shoes best for, and who? Sage uses his knowledge and experience to shed light on all three models to help you determine which shoe(s) is best for you!

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Hi there, my name is Sage Canaday and I’m a professional mountain-ultra-trail runner for HOKA. Some of my career highlights include being a 3-time Speedgoat 50km Champion and winning the Tarawera 100km ultra trail race in New Zealand twice. I started distance running over 20 years ago when, at the age of 12, my soccer coach told me I was “better off without the ball!” Since that pivotal day, I immersed myself in the sport of distance running and became somewhat of a proud “running nerd” in more ways than one. I was able to run at the NCAA DI collegiate level, I where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Design with a concentration in Human Factors and Ergonomics from Cornell University. After college I ran as a sponsored road runner for a few years, focusing on the half marathon and marathon. I had the honor of running in two US Olympic Marathon Trials and earned a personal marathon best of 2:16:52. During that time I also gained experience in the industry working at specialty running shoe stores for three years fitting hundreds of runners at all levels with many kinds of shoes. I also have worked as a running coach at Higher Running, a business I co-own and operate with my partner Sandi Nypaver.

As a sponsored HOKA athlete for the past 8 years, I’ve had the good fortune of seeing exciting and innovative designs develop and evolve for both road and trail running. In more recent years, you may have noticed that HOKA has developed several carbon fiber plated shoes. The goal of this blog is to help introduce you to some of the major design differences between the Carbon X 2, the Rocket X and the Bondi X – as well as to help you select which model(s) might be best for your running style and focus. Let’s get started!

HOKA Carbon X 2

DESIGN FEATURES AND FEEL:

The Carbon X 2 is a supportive, yet fairly lightweight, carbon fiber plated model that weighs in at 8.4 ounces in the Men’s version and 7.0 ounces in Women’s version. It has a 5mm heel-to-toe drop coming from a 39mm stack height in the heel to a 34mm stack height in the forefoot. This means plenty of midsole cushion and support underneath your foot!

As the next iteration of the original Carbon X, the Carbon X 2 features new updates like a softer foam and a simplified upper (the top part of the shoe with the laces) design. This provides a lighter, more comfortable fit for your foot. This upper design is also a very breathable material that will help keep you cool on those hot days and/or when the pace is heating up! The notched tongue of the shoe is also updated as well as a more refined collar, which helps offer a more secure fit all around. Finally, since the upper material is more flexible than before it also accommodates for a variety of foot shapes. It has a slightly wider shape when compared to the Rocket X model (which we will talk about next!), and embroidered TPU yarns add some reinforcement and support around the laces where it counts to really let you dial in that fit.

Now getting to the heart of the shoe (and that key element of the carbon fiber plate!) we find that the carbon fiber is embedded within the layers of midsole cushion and that it adds an extra firmness or “responsiveness” to the midsole. On the outsole you have the same rubberized foam that was in the original Carbon X that adds some very nice cushioning. This combination of materials offers that patented, propulsive ride along with the influence of the overall shape or geometry of the shoe. This profile or “side-view” shape includes what we call a “meta rocker” (think of this more like the curvature of a rocking chair bottom or the curve of a wheel!).

In the Carbon X 2 the meta rocker shape is considered “aggressive” which means it provides a very fast transition from impact to toe-off; a “roll-off” sensation so-to-speak! Combine those physics with the ProFly midsole which has a strategic blend in foam densities, and you have a combination of several key design elements shaping the overall ride and experience of the shoe. This blend of properties allows for a softer, more cushioned landing experience that leads into a quick transition forward for a more propulsive feeling at toe-off!

BEST USED FOR:

In HOKA’s Project Carbon X 2 event, this shoe was featured and worn by elite runners like Jim Walmsley and Audrey Tanguy as they ran for 100km (62 miles!) on the roads at an average pace of 5:57 per mile and 7:25 per mile respectively!

While most runners might not be racing a full 100km ultramarathon on the roads, this shoe is a great option for those longer distance races like 10kms, half marathons, and marathons because it offers a bit more all around support and cushioning.

It is also a great option if you are looking to experience your first HOKA carbon fiber plated shoe as it is a blend of responsive cushion that also provides some extra comfort in overall fit for a wide variety of events and types of runs. For runners looking to up their competitive edge in speedier, long distance workouts and races this would be an awesome choice as well!

IN A NUTSHELL:

The Carbon X 2 offers a bit more stability and support when compared to the Rocket X. The more aggressive metarocker shape lends itself to a very quick transition forward to toe-off that seems to manifest itself right after impact. While it is not quite as fully plush as the Bondi X (which we’ll also talk about later too!), the Carbon X 2 is an amazing combination of cushion, responsiveness and all around comfort in fit. It is a smooth ride that comes in at a fairly lightweight all round package!
HOKA Rocket X

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DESIGN FEATURES AND FEEL:

The ultimate in lightweight efficiency and speed! The Rocket X is a super light, carbon fiber plated shoe that weighs in at 7.4 ounces in the Men’s size 9 (Women’s size 10) version. It has a 5mm heel to toe drop coming from a 35mm stack height in the heel to a 30mm stack height in the forefoot. With All Gender Sizing it is a very dialed fit as many design elements have been optimized with maximal speed and efficiency in mind.

With its lighter weight, the Rocket X does have less support when compared to the more plush cushion found in the Carbon X 2 and Bondi X. The fit is also a bit more narrow in the width compared to those other two models. The 1mm carbon fiber plate embedded within the bottom of the shoe feels nice and responsive. Still, the new EVA foam midsole provides a nice softness and cushion to create a smooth ride and adds comfort to those high speed miles. It doesn’t have the full on ProFly midsole of multiple density materials like the Carbon X 2, but the early-stage meta rocker (compared to the aggressive meta rocker in the Carbon X 2) provides a unique transition from impact to toe off. I think it feels very efficient and quite propulsive!

BEST USED FOR:

If you have a need for speed and all out racing this shoe is your ticket! While many runners might use this as a shorter session all-out speed shoe, it would also be a great racing shoe for 5km and 10km race distances. With a lower stack height, the Rocket X gets you closer to the ground and in tune with dialing in an efficient stride at higher speeds.

For super speedy and efficient runners it could even be used as a half marathon and marathon racing shoe. In fact, HOKA NAZ Elite runner Aliphine Tuliamuk won the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials in this model!

IN A NUTSHELL:

If you’re looking for the ultimate in pure speed and want the lightest carbon fiber plated shoe that HOKA has to offer this is your model! It is a very dialed fit with a blend of cushion and responsiveness that is different from the Carbon X 2 and Bondi X. With the Rocket X‘s early stage metarocker it is a very efficient and propulsive ride for those looking to pick up that extra gear in competitive distance races and workouts.

HOKA Bondi X

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DESIGN FEATURES AND FEEL:

Many people have come to love the more plush, cushioned feel of HOKA’s signature Bondi design over the years. Well, now there is a Bondi with a carbon fiber plate in it: meet the Bondi X!

Out of the box, the Bondi X weighs in a bit more than the Carbon X 2 and the Rocket X at 10.6 ounces for the Men’s version and 9.1 ounces for the Women’s version. However, that extra material is an enhancement of the more cushioned ride experience that Bondi wearers have come to love!

With a 5mm offset, the Bondi X has a thicker midsole overall compared to the Rocket X, and it is closer in line to the Carbon X 2’s stack height and midsole feel. The stack height from the heel to forefoot on the Men’s and Women’s versions are 33mm to 38mm and 31mm to 26mm respectively. When looking at the full width shape (or last) of the shoe, one can also see that it has a more developed heel compared to both the Rocket X and the Carbon X 2.

With an extended, early stage metarocker, the geometry of the Bondi X is designed to provide a smoother toe-off experience. The soft foam in HOKA’s extended crash pad also delivers that extra cushioned feel and stability.

BEST USED FOR:

For a lot of runners the Bondi X could be a marathon or a half marathon race-day shoe. It can absorb the pounding of many miles and it offers a ton of support and plush cushioning when you need to get in long and steady miles on the roads.

It could also be used as an easy recovery day shoe for those more care-free days when you’re just trying to absorb your training and building aerobic base miles. With a more accommodating fit and features like an intuitive heel pull tab, the Bondi X is a shoe that everyone can level up in for any sort of run, speed workout, or race!

IN A NUTSHELL:

The Bondi X is a highly cushioned and supportive carbon fiber plate model that has all the plush support and comfort for covering big miles on the roads! It weighs a tad bit more than the Carbon X 2 and the Rocket X, but it offers extra cushion and inherent stability because of its heel width and a more built-up EVA midsole design.
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Hopefully this blog provided you with some insight into some of the major design differences between these carbon fiber plated shoe models that HOKA has to offer! Depending on your foot shape, running form mechanics, experience level, and/or race distance focus, some models might be more appropriate for you than others. However, I also tend to rotate through several different models myself depending on the type of run I’m doing and how I feel on the day!

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I truly believe that all levels of runners can become more empowered through this great sport of running – and that being able to enjoy and embrace this challenging sport can be enhanced with well fitted gear like running shoes. We still must find the motivation, inspiration, and energy to get out the door and do the actual work of putting one foot in front of the other, but it’s all worth the challenge when you can experience moments when you feel like you are flying! Thanks for reading and I wish you all the best in your running journey.

Time to Fly!
– Sage Canaday