Article by Joost De Raeymaeker, Derek Li, Michael Ellenberger, Sally Reiley and Sam Winebaum
Hoka One One Rocket X ($180)
Joost: I hate to admit it, but this is my first actual pair of HOKA running shoes. Well, actually Rocket X and a pair of Mach 4 I also got in for testing. Apparently, they are also very unlike other maximum cushioned HOKA shoes out there, so the fact that I haven’t run in something like the Clifton can actually be seen as an advantage, since I will only be judging the shoe for what it is, and not for something that a HOKA shoe is perceived to somehow have to be to qualify as a HOKA.
A couple of years ago, before all the supershoes, and in the aftermath of the barefoot and minimalist waves, I was doing one of those hard marathon sessions of over 35km (Daniels Elite 12 week program can be really tough) in my trusty pair of Nike Streak Flyknit when at the end of the session, I ran into a tall friend who seemed a lot taller still. On his feet was a pair of what I thought were humongous shoes: the original Clifton. He seemed to be really enjoying them. Since I was still over on the other side of the fence about cushioning, I didn’t give them much thought.
Fast forward to 2020 and World Athletics actually had to put a legal limit on stack height. This pair of Rocket X, with its 30mm height at the heel is actually a full centimeter lower than the Alphafly and the Adios Pro. Things have really changed!
In the Hoka catalog featuring US female Olympic Marathon trials winner Aliphine Tuliamuk I got a look at how Hoka divides its offerings into 3 distinct categories: Fly, Glide and Sky. They are pretty self-explanatory, with Fly being the collection of up-tempo shoes, Glide being the shoes with the “smoothest, softest ride” and Sky the trail and mountain collection.
The Rocket X sits at the top of the Fly category, being HOKA’s fastest and lightest plated racer. The carbon plate itself is the same as in the Carbon X, the brand’s endurance racer, but the foam is the lightest HOKA has ever made, the upper a breathable mesh and it has a rubberized outsole to further save weight. I got the White/Diva Blue colorway, which looks great. How does it ride? Read on.
Michael: We may have even said this before, but I think this time around really, really completes the first wave of super shoes from the major brands. Heck, Nike and Brooks have snuck in a couple revisions in the time since the window “opened,” but now Hoka One One joins Nike, Brooks, Saucony, ASICS, New Balance, Adidas, Skechers, and On with a formal carbon-plated flagship. And yes, one may argue that Hoka actually opened the wave with their initial Carbon Rocket and Carbon X back in early 2019 after the Vaporfly, and if that’s your take, then… I suppose we’re opening the third test window now! Either way, the Rocket X is here, and ready to roll, sitting near the middle line top left quadrant and leaning marathon in my graphic below.
Derek: I believe the Rocket X actually had a very limited release around the time of the US marathon Olympic Trials back in February but nobody really sat down to do a formal review of the shoes. It’s been a good eight months since that race, and we are finally seeing the commercial release of the Rocket X. Jim Walmsley called this shoe the “Trials Dagger” and he actually finished pretty high up in that race considering his Ultra running background, so this shoe already had some street credibility going for it. I actually have a bit of bias here. I got to do a couple of strides in the Rocket X back in early September. Some of my friends here in Singapore are Hoka sponsored athletes and they have been using the Rocket X for a couple of months now. I managed to try out the Rocket X in a US10 (my usual size is US9.5) for a couple of minutes. The shoe did not wow me at the time, but it could have been because it already had some miles in it. How will a fresh pair feel? I’m excited to find out.
Sam: I was curious to test the Rocket X having quite liked the Carbon Rocket despite its relatively flat 1mm drop profile and firmer ride which never left my legs beat up even after longer runs. Carbon X basically broadened the Carbon Rocket’s underfoot platform and went to 5mm drop but was heavy for a racer.
I was surprised that while a very “respectable” 30mm / 25mm stack Hoka’s contender, after all from the original max cushion brand well and before any other went max, didn’t push the stack closer to the IAAF limits of 40mm as say Nike, adidas, Saucony, and Brooks have. It is also on a relatively narrow underfoot platform for Hoka and is at a decent but not earth shattering low weight of 7.5 oz. With compression molded light EVA it seems the foam while softer than the Carbon Rocket is fairly conventional, more like adidas Lightstrike Pro than Zoom X or PWRUN PB.
Sally: I have been enjoying testing the numerous supershoes that have been released in this race-limited year of 2020, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to test out the Rocket X, Hoka’s entry. I am still a Hoka rookie, with an embarrassing anti-Hoka bias caused by my first Hoka experience: I went for a run in the Bondi 6, and equated the experience to running in ski boots. I was NOT impressed. I have a narrow woman’s foot and “petite” legs (okay, my brother calls me “Birdlegs”) and the typical Hoka looks huge on me. But the Rocket X is not your typical Hoka: it actually looks more like a traditional shoe than the other carbon-plated race shoes. The test will be in the run!
Michael/Sally/Sam/Derek/Joost: energetic and stable ride without a bouncy trampoline feel
Michael/Sam/Joost: very stable, more traditional riding “super shoe”
Derek/Joost/Sam: comfortable easy fit, excellent upper
Sally/Joost: great looking classic aesthetic (untypically Hoka in looks!)
Sally/Sam: very subtle plated rocker sensation
Sam: Plate location, just above outsole then a thin layer of foam, masks any harshness
Sam: far less “low” at the heel feeling than 1mm drop Carbon Rocket
Joost: The reflective element at the heel is a nice touch lots of brands are no longer applying.
Derek/Sam: Weight is “OK” but for the 30/25 stack (less stack than most other super shoes) is up there
Joost/Sam: No real “meta-rocker” feel. Requires strong knee drive up and forward to activate
Joost/Sam/Sally: Laces are way too long
Sam: Fairly firm overall feel underfoot, if well cushioned. Wish for a touch more rebound and bounce from the midsole.
Sally: Tongue a bit short, especially when you need to use extra lace loop to secure heel hold (need more protection at ankle)
Michael: Fit concerns, especially at ankle and with lacing
Sally: Wish they had gender specific sizing as mens lasts tend to be wider, and I have a particularly narrow women’s foot
Michael: Heavy and not particularly bouncy give it a more performance trainer feel than true racer
Weights (unisex sizing):
Sam: 7.54 oz / 214g US9
Sally: 6.7 oz / 192g US7
Joost: US10 Left 229g (8.08 oz), Right 228g (8.04 oz)
Derek: US10 228g / 8.04oz for both shoes
Stack Height: 30/25, 5mm drop
Available Nov. Unisex sizing. $180
Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He’s on a mission to win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and has completed half of his project, with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results.
Derek is in his 30’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:41 marathon PR.
Sally is a lifelong runner and mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past seven Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29, good for 8th in her age group. Along the way she has raised over $240,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. A relative newbie to road racing, she has achieved All-American status in the 10K (44:04) and 5K. To commemorate her 60th birthday she ran the NYC Marathon in November finishing 2nd in her age group with a PR time of 3:28:39. Sally is a compact (petite) runner at 5’2’’ and 105 pounds.
Michael is a 2019 graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, with an interest in patent and intellectual property law. Prior to law school, he competed collegiately at Washington University in St. Louis (10,000m PR of 30:21). He recently finished 2nd at the Chicago Half-Marathon in a PR of 67:43, and was the top Illinois finisher in the 2017 Boston Marathon (2:33:03, 82nd overall). He recently secured a 2:31 marathon PR at the Austin Marathon.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 163 lbs.
First Impressions and Fit
Joost: My two pairs of HOKA shoes for review got sent around the world the wrong way, so they took longer than anticipated to get here. The tracker updated regularly with faraway places. The package went from Cincinnati to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Bahrain, Nairobi, Johannesburg and finally Luanda. The day it finally arrived at my doorstep, I had a 6x2k at tempo and 4x200m repetition workout planned, so I thought the best way to kickstart my testing of a fast shoe would be to just take a couple of pictures, weigh them, lace them up and head out the door for that fast session I had planned. They didn’t disappoint.
We all seem to have gotten whole sizes, meaning my size 10 is half a size up from my usual 9.5. For race day, true to size is probably your best choice. I had some space up front, but the fit was great for my wide feet. Well cushioned, but not too soft, the Rocket X can easily go the full marathon distance. It’s a great choice if you like a more traditional feeling racer, even though there is a carbon plate in there. I suspect the plate itself isn’t as aggressively shaped as in the Next% and the early stage Meta-Rocker is also far less obvious than for example the Endorphin Pro, for example.
Michael: Boy, I was excited to try out the new Rocket X when it landed at my doorstep alongside its training counterpart, the Mach 4. Indeed, Hoka has revamped their lineup this year, with a slick upgrade to the Mach 4, a modified Carbon X with that signature stiff, quick ride, and a whole set of road and trail models to fit any foot (full reviews to come, of course!).
The Rocket X was the one I was waiting for - a top-shelf, flagship racer that propelled, among many other strong performances, Aliphine Tuliamuk to her Olympic Trials marathon victory. And the Rocket X looks the part - even in my half-size-up 9 (it seems all reviewers got whole sizes this time around), the fit of the Rocket X is secure and sharp, with a supremely comfortable upper and enough stack to suggest it can readily go 26.2.
Derek: I was sent a US10 as it seems the media samples are not available in half sizes. I usually wear a US9.5 so take that into consideration. The fit is a little bit long, and I think people would be best off going true to size. As is, at half size up, I am ok with it as a speed trainer, but I would want a more snug fit at the toes for a race effort. The color scheme is really nice and reminds me a lot of the Carbon X v1 which had one of my favourite colorways of 2019. You really can’t go wrong with white and blue, but mainly white hahah.
The fit is easily the most comfortable of all the carbon racers for me (bear in mind i have not tested the NB RC Elite). No worrying about adjusting lace tensions to secure the fit. Walking around, the shoe does have some subtle bounce, and the plate is not overly stiff with a little bit of flexibility afforded at the toe joints. This bounce is noticeably more pronounced than in the “used” pair I tried from my Hoka-sponsored friend, so that’s already a good sign. With Hoka, I learnt never to make snap judgements as their shoes have a tendency to run very different from their walk-jog feel, so it’s time to put some miles in them!
Sam: I too was sent a half size up from my normal 8.5. With somewhat heavier Darn Tough running socks the fit is spot on if a bit roomy but comfortable. I would go true to size in a next pair. I was also sent a half size up in the original Carbon X and it was clearly far roomier and less well held overall than the Rocket X. The key to the fit is a combination of a super soft very pliable upper made of non stretch material with a very solid full heel counter and elastic gusset at mid foot. The rear and mid is totally locked down with the toes having room for swelling and no pressure. As far as I am concerned pretty much an ideal marathon shoe fit especially if you prefer a soft fit. I will say the laces are way long. Why oh why is this not infrequently an issue with running shoes I don’t know.
Sally: First impression? Great looking shoe! (Is this really a Hoka?!)I was impressed with the classic sleekness of the shoe, and enamored with the blue/yellow/white colorway. I love how the colored stripes don't end at the upper but extend into the midsole.
Interesting how all of us at RTR wear a half size! I typically wear a Women’s US8, but this shoe is Unisex sizing so I should wear a Men’s US6.5. My pair are size 7, so they fit quite generously. The extra length is sometimes okay with me for a long run or marathon, and I compensated with the midfoot and forefoot roominess with thick wool Balega socks. My challenge was heel lockdown - even with the use of the extra lace lock holes, my heel lifted up a bit on the uphills. I experimented with tying the laces tighter, but experienced discomfort at the front of the ankle. Perhaps this would be remedied by a thicker and longer tongue? I did find the tongue a bit short and the laces crazy long. Other than that the shoe fits comfortably!
Joost: This is a very well executed upper. Very breathable, light and secure, even though not really structured in any way. The material is just stiff enough to provide shape. Your midfoot is held down by a relatively wide booty type strip of fabric going from the side of the tongue to the midsole.
The tongue itself is rather short and not overly padded, but does its work well.
Heel wise, I had no issues with my sensitive achilles and I really appreciate the fact that HOKA put a big reflective patch on the heel for dusk or nighttime runs.
It’s a pity that less and less shoes have reflective details on them, since they can make a difference when you’re out in the dark and the street lights don’t work most of the time, like where I live.
I don’t know if HOKA have excess lace material lying around, since the laces on both pairs of review shoes I got (the Rocket X and the Mach 4) are incredibly long.
Michael: Hoka has done uppers really well lately - I’m thinking specifically of the Matrix upper on one of my favorite racing flats, the Evo Rehi, but not excluding the Clifton, Mach, or even Rincon (not to mention some strong trail offerings). I won’t even say the Rocket X is “no exception” - indeed, it’s a shining example, with some really impressive airy mesh that, while slightly voluminous in my size 9, provides more than adequate lockdown, even for faster running.
This fit is greatly benefitted by an internal bootie construction that isn’t quite as effective as that on Saucony’s Endorphin Pro - which really, really keeps you in place - but is a benefit over the bootie-less material on, say, New Balance’s RC Elite.
Derek: The upper uses a thin ventilated mesh with no overlays involved. Structure comes purely by way of making the mesh a little bit stiff to give the shoe some shape. There is no discernible internal or external toe bumper, but the general stiffness of the mesh is used to raise the toe box up a little. Don’t take what i said to suggest that the upper material is uncomfortable. It is actually very malleable and molds very well to your foot shape.
There is ample padding around the ankle opening, and the heel counter has a moderate stiffness that importantly does not run very high up the rear, meaning the terminal portion that abuts your Achilles is only soft padding. No risk of Achilles rub there. The tongue is a little bit on the short side, and doesn’t have much padding to it, but it wasn’t a problem for me. The samples I received had very long laces, with a little bit of elasticity. Even with heel lock lacing (I didn't need this and only used it to eat up more lace length) and double knotting the butterfly, the residual laces are still nearly 3 inches long. Still, better long than short right? And this may not be an issue for the retail models.
Overall, fit volume is good by racer standards. Compared to what’s available out there now, volume in the mid-foot is more than in the VFNext%, Endorphin Pro/Speed, Hyperion Elite 2 or Adios Pro. In terms of toe-box volume, it is comparable to the VFNext%, more than the Endorphin range, and less than the Hyperion Elite 2 or Adios Pro. I don’t comment on heel volume, as i have fairly narrow ankles and everything feels roomy to me except Skechers Razor Elite. Bottom line, you are good to go at true to size for most people. The last is fairly straight in that there isn’t a big pronounced flare that opens up from midfoot to toe-box. Compared to previous Hoka racers, I never tried the Carbon Rocket at TTS but I did own 2 pairs of Tracers, and the width of the shoes is similar or very marginally wider across the midfoot in the Rocket X. It is marginally narrower than the Carbon X v1 across the midfoot and toe-box for me.
Sam: I don’t have much to add to my colleagues comments on the upper but to say for me it is superb. The light pliable mesh in combination with the internal not overdone gusset at mid foot and the relatively high and stout heel counter construction provides an airy yet totally secure fit with plenty of toe box room, well hald.
Sally: Yep what they all said. Great upper, only drawback in my experience was a tongue that is too short to protect ankle from laces.
Joost: This is a relatively high shoe, with a 30/25mm stack height, but still not as towering high as the Alphafly and a lot firmer. The foam is listed as CMEVA and is very stable. There is no marshmallowy feeling at all. You can definitely feel the foam absorbing impact and vibration, while the plate helps you off your toes. I would say there’s a nice balance between cushioning, balance and responsiveness. My Stryd numbers from the 6x2k suggest a power balance of 0.21 at tempo pace/Critical Power between Form Power (basically power you use for anything but moving forward) and Total power, on par with most of my faster plated and non-plated shoes.
Michael: There’s a lot of stack here - a welcome and perhaps necessary addition for a true marathon racer - but don’t go into the Rocket X expecting Zoom X-level cushion. Indeed, more in the vein of the Endorphin Pro, the cushioning here is firm, rather than overtly bouncy. That’s not to say the composition is lacking here - what seems to be CMEVA is a pretty forgiving and pliable foam, and is softer than some of Hoka’s alternatives (namely the Carbon X). It all adds up to an interesting presentation: forgiving, but not exactly soft.
Fortunately, I do think the cushioning is more than sufficient, and will protect your legs even over hard efforts, even if it doesn’t feel as plush as the RC Elite or Adios Pro.
Derek: The Rocket X uses CMEVA in a single density instead of the dual density ProFly midsole as found in the Carbon X where the lower layer is a firmer rubberized EVA that also acts as the full outsole. Personally, I do find that the foam is a little softer than the ProFly midsole as used in Carbon X v1 and v2. Cliftons use CMEVA in a single density. Now, EVA can clearly be tuned over a huge durometer range, so that’s not really saying much, but let’s just say the underfoot feel is noticeably softer than the Carbon X (but not in a Clifton/Stinson marshmallowy sort of way). If I had to choose a shoe to compare it to in terms of degree of midsole compressibility, I would go with the Reebok Floatride Forever Energy. There is a little bit of give and good vibration dampening, but don’t expect a trampoline feel. Michael compares it to the Endorphin Pro. I actually find it a little more forgiving than the Pro, maybe closer to but a little firmer than the Brooks HE2, but you get the general idea.
Sam: The Rocket X midsole with its combination of CMEVA and a carbon plate located above a layer of the midsole can be described as having a very consistent and very stable feel front to back through the stack. The midsole foam is on the firm side and is more responsive than silky springy as Zoom X is or bouncier as the Metaracer or RC Elite’s foam is. I would agree with Derek that it is a firmer than the DNA Flash in the greater stack Brooks Hyperion Elite 2.
The carbon plate is sandwiched between cushion above and less but some below (at the seam where my thumb is above) contributing, along with the firmer foam than some other super shoes, to the consistent feel and no overt sense of a plate in the mix or for that matter decisive spring off mid foot to toe off (OG VaporFly) or long roll (Metaracer) of the bottom loaded (just above the outsole) plates in those shoes. Neither does it have the yet somewhat firmer/denser ride of the Endoprhin Pro with its snappy final toe off from the plate or for that matter the softer more energetic bounce and rebound of the Adios Pro’s softer foam and toe conforming Energy Rods instead of full plate.
The rear geometry is particularly well executed providing surprisingly good rear stability from an unbeveled heel and rising midsole sidewalls at the rear . I would say the Rocket X while somewhat lower stack than some super super shoes is the most stable overall back to front of any I have tried and even is stable at slow paces unlike most of the others.
Sally: The others have thoroughly dissected the midsole and I agree with their conclusions. Suffice it to say that the shoe feels very stable and forgiving and cushioned without being bouncy. Despite a reasonable stack height, it “feels” lower to the ground and more traditional than the other carbon plated racers.
Joost: Simple but effective is what comes to mind. There’s just enough rubber to get good traction on normal and wet roads. Avoid patches of thin wet mud on the road, though. I slipped a little on one of the tricky bits of that here in Luanda. Wear shouldn’t be a problem as far as I can tell by my runs in them so far.
Michael: Not a lot of excitement here - the Rocket X has pretty minimal outsole rubber, but in a couple runs I’ve had, both indoor and outdoor, I’ve noticed nearly no wear whatsoever. Traction is good, not great - I did notice some tricky instances when rounding corners on wet pavement, but I wasn’t about to go down - there was just a slight amount of slipping, as opposed to, say, New Balance’s 1:1 grip on the RC Elite.
Derek: There are thin patches of flexible rubber on the outsole. I’m not 100% sure of the rubber compound used here but it seems to be pretty durable, and should last longer than traditional blown rubber. Grip is OK on tarmac but not so good on sand paths or wet pavement; it is very bad on grass so don’t even try. I would have preferred a little bit more texture to the outsole to get a bit more grip.
Sam: A thin textured rubber outsole here reminding of many other recent racers with a minimal heel coverage and a broad expanse upfront. I do worry about how long it will last given how thin it is but about 20 miles in no wear whatsoever at the heel and only minimal scuffing way up front at toe off. I ran through wet leaves on the pavement and was surprised how good the grip was.
Sally: The outsole works well: grippy on wet, quiet, no stones magnetism. Durability is the only unknown.
Joost: If you’re looking for a stable, more traditional feeling racing shoe, while still getting the benefits of having a carbon plate embedded in the midsole, the Rocket X is definitely worth checking out.
There is no obvious rocker effect for me, in spite of the advertised “early stage Meta-Rocker”. The fact that there’s only a 5mm drop and a very stiff plate (as Derek also mentions in his comments) makes the ride a little awkward if you’re going slow. I could definitely feel the pull on my achilles during cooldown. This is no issue when going faster, when you’re more on your toes and leaning a little forward. The shape of the plate, which I suspect is a little flatter than some of the others probably also has some impact on this.
Michael: I’ll try to approach this first through comparisons - the Rocket X isn’t as stiff as its Carbon X brother, and I think a lot of that is due to the relative “hidden” (or at least pliable) carbon plate. When running near race pace, I don’t think I felt as if I was activating the plate, even if I was running faster - what I mean to say is, there isn’t a lot of that “falling off a cliff” (or in Hoka’s terms, “rocker”) sensation to be found here. The Rocket X is actually more like the Carbon Rocket, in that regard (though noticeably more cushioned), and while I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it does leave the Rocket X feeling slightly dissimilar from its colleagues.
Of the current-gen racers (see our Comparisons section below, for more on this), I think the Rocket X’s ride is most similar to the Hyperion Elite 2, but on a midsole more like the Endorphin Pro. Are you still with me? It’s a hard approximation to make, but I mean to suggest that you’re getting neither an overtly bouncy ride (e.g. the Vaporfly line, or Adios Pro) nor a distinct rocker sensation (e.g. the Endorphin Pro or On Cloudboom), instead landing somewhere in the middle.
Derek: The ride is fairly traditional here for a carbon plated shoe. I think with lower drop shoe options, it is best not to make the plate overly stiff as it can make the ride a little awkward for certain gait patterns, and Hoka has rightly gone with a plate that is not overly rigid here. There is rebound generated from the plate as you flex through the toe joints at the toe-box.
I think that this shoe works best for people who load the forefoot. By that I mean that you need to lean into the forefoot to load the plate, then get that rebound from the shoe to propel you forward. If you look at the way Walmsley ran in that Hoka-organised 50-mile WR, you could see in the early stages when he was really cruising 5:30 miles that he is predominantly a forefoot striker and i think the Rocket X rightly models on runners like him and the NAZ Elite folks who are clocking 5:00 miles in races.
If you are a runner who likes to take advantage of the rocker that some carbon shoes provide, by landing heel-mid foot and rolling through the forefoot to toe off, then this shoe probably would not work so well for you as you might find that the shoe feels a little flat, and that the forefoot rocker is fairly absent in the design. I don’t generally load the forefoot when I run, unless it’s at a really fast 5k or faster race pace, and so I don’t think that I get the best response out of this shoe. That said, I do note that the shoe is fairly stable as a platform because of its firmer overall feel, and so things like cornering on dry roads is pretty good in this shoe. In terms of overall cushioning, I have not had the chance to do anything really long in the shoe, but from what I could sense from 10 milers at slower paces, it should not be a problem to handle at least up to the half marathon in this shoe. I would personally prefer a softer shoe for the full marathon, but I could easily see people using this if they want something with a bit more stability and a lower drop.
Sam: Rocket X is a more traditional riding “super shoe”. By that I mean very stable, on the firmer side but well cushioned, responsive through the stack as a “flat” is but here with considerably more cushion than a flat, consistent in feel and somewhat stiff. It is neither bouncy or springy but very steady in its manners. Strangely I found it ran just fine at slow “jogging” warm up paces I think due to stability of its heel and heel counter construction and the relatively firm foam. There is no sense jogging, walking, or at fast paces of a squishy unstable heel. Something to consider as we most all get back on those heels late and tired in a long race..
As the pace picked up I found that mid range towards marathon paces (8:30 miles ) were somewhat more labored for me (more labored than in a Nike VF or Alphafly) as there is a definite “groove” to be found in this shoe which for me seems to involve a faster cadence, forward lean and more direct drive down and up with knee lift. This groove is different than the easy to find drop in drive down and forward feel of the Vaporfly or the more mellow roll forward of the RC Elite, both shoes with more drop a key factor in finding their groove which is trickier to find and maintain here..
Faster than marathon pace towards 10K they flew but given my poor form I wonder how long I can drive those knees. This is a characteristic “classic” Hoka thing for me and here with a completely stiff shoe essential. I say classic as some newer Hoka such as the Clifton Edge and Arahi 5 seem to have a new easier to find Meta Rocker design (to be confirmed with Hoka). This rocker design may be the older design? Or is it the stiffness from the plate?
Sally: The ride of the Rocket X was enjoyable for me, but I totally agree with the characterizations drawn by Joost and Michael. There is no magical bounce like the Vaporfly Next %, and there is no exaggerated rocker feel like the Endorphin Pro. This shoe is more traditional in the feel of its ride, and for me, not quite as “effortless” as these others that feature one of the mentioned “performance enhancing” characteristics.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Derek: There is nothing inherently bad about this shoe for me, but it just didn’t wow me in the way the other carbon shoes are doing. I think the shoe fits well and runs fairly comfortably, but it just lacks that “assistive touch” element for me. It is 2020, and if you want to charge a premium for a carbon-plated shoe, that shoe needs to mechanically make you faster. I find that aspect lacking for me and that could well be down to my running style as I find that the rockered shoes work a lot better for me than non-rockered shoes. I consider myself a super responder to the carbon rockers, if you will. Some people aren’t. I call them forefoot strikers (in jest), and I think this shoe works best for this group of runners. For me, it is a decent racer with good cushioning and stability, but I'm not sure I would pay $180 for it.
Derek’s Score 8.95 / 10
Ride 8.5 40% Fit 9.5 40% Looks 9.5 10% Value 8 10%
Sam: I tend to agree with Derek that the Rocket X lacks some “mechanical assist” as some other super shoes such as the Vaporfly and Alphafly from Nike and the Adios Pro provide and also could add some dynamic pleasing feel. Who would have asked for that in the days of race flats but yes that is part of the modern super shoe mix!
More traditional in cushion feel and ride (firmer and more responsive as opposed to bouncy or springy) where the Rocket X shines is in its consistent feel through the stack back to front which actually for me made it run slow very nicely (think of those late slower marathon miles..), very adequate if firmer cushion and best of the super shoes overall stability no wobbles ever here (again think those late miles).
I very much like how Hoka has masked any plate harshness by placing it above but not too far above a layer of midsole cushion.
The upper is superb in all respects blending easy on the foot comfort, impeccable hold, and a cheery fast styling. Hands down the most comfortable super shoe upper.
To wind Rocket X up and do it justice requires really getting forward and on the plate and driving off with some power to the knee lift,, and when I did so they were fantastic. I may be too old and creaky to do so for that long in this geometry and think more drop (but with the current midsole foam that would add to weight..) or potentially a different plate design with less curve up at the toes and overall stiffness, maybe even a “carbon infused” instead of full carbon would perfect the Rocket X for me in its current geometry.
It suffers a bit in value score as it is just not quite as pleasingly dynamic or so far for me fast as some of the other options at or near its pricing.
Sam’s Score: 8.84 /10
Ride: 8.5 (50%) Fit: 9.7 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style: 9.5 (5%)
Joost: I only seem to be getting shoes for review that I quite like, and the Rocket X is no exception. It’s the ones that I buy myself that I don’t like as much. (Note to self, stop buying shoes) It’s a very well built, light and fast shoe, but there also is nothing really special about it. Not that that’s a bad thing.
The Rocket X is an excellent racer for the many runners who don’t really get along with the marshmallowy soft supershoes out there, but still want to take advantage of having a plate and fresher legs towards the end of a marathon. Aliphine Tuliamuk and a bunch of other HOKA runners like the NAZ Elite team are proving that these shoes can be every bit as fast as the competition, and a fair bit more affordable at that.
Like Michael, I probably won’t be using them myself at the starting line of my next marathon, but I can definitely see a lot of training miles going into them in my next training cycle for those long tempo runs, or just to feel less beaten up after a long run.
Joost’s score: 8.8/10
(Ride 50%, Fit 30%, Value 15%, Style 5%)
Michael: Describing the ride of the Rocket X as “somewhere in the middle” actually spoils my thoughts on the shoe as a whole. There is a lot (!) to like here, with a well-done, breathable upper, a more than adequate amount of midsole, and a carbon plate that isn’t lacking in spring or power when you really get the shoe running hard.
But the Rocket X is undoubtedly, unquestionable targeting the marathon, and at the marathon level, I think we’re seeing that softer (that “trampoline” effect) is better: Nike has been doing it for years, and now Adidas is reaching that level with the Adios Pro. Of course, Brooks and Saucony have taken their own approaches, and they’ve worked well - but Hoka hasn’t improved on either of those instances here, either. Indeed, the Rocket X doesn’t feel nimble or sharp enough for 5K racing, but just can’t quite compete with the leading pair at the marathon distance, in my mind (and I know, I know - Aliphine Tuliamuk won the Trials in these, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt).
I have a place for these in my lineup, but it’s actually not on the startline at all - I think the Rocket X will make a superb long run/progressive run shoe, a role that had been filled by the Adizero Pro, but the extra cushion in the Rocket X means even more leg-saving ability. The Rocket X is fast, it’s fluid, and it’s a damn good shoe - but it’s still a step behind the top guns when it comes to the marathon, in my book.
Michael’s Score: 8.7/10
Sally: Aren’t we all getting spoiled?! The Rocket X is an amazing shoe. Yet when races return, I will be lacing up the Next % or the Endorphin Pro or even the Fuel Cell RC Elite, and reserving the Rocket X for training runs. It is indeed stable, firm yet decently cushioned, and has a very subtle rocker effect combined with a traditional feel. There is plenty of responsive oomph to this shoe, but, as Michael admits, it is still just somewhere in the middle. No superlatives. And talk about spoiled: since when do we think “only $180” is a good value for a pair of shoes? I might have been a bit more impressed in the correct size, as my narrow feet swam in the one-size-too-big pair, but the wow factor just wasn’t there. Good, but no cigar.
Sally’s score: 8.6/10
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Hoka Carbon Rocket (RTR Review)
Sam: Carbon Rocket was a 1mm drop shoe with a 26/25 stack, so a 1mm drop. It weighed the same as the Rocket X yet... Rocket X has 4mm more heel stack and the same forefoot stack, clearly the softer foam is lighter and the outsole while providing more coverage upfront in the Rocket X thinner. The difference in drop and stack is clearly felt in the Rocket X with a less flat feeling than the Carbon Rocket, a more aggressive ramp to the plate and more and softer cushion feel as to pressing the foam layer between plate and road is softer. The Carbon Rocket while somewhat firmer and lower at the heel as it has that less aggressive ramp and plate leans more training for me than the Rocket X with a better ability to handle mid range paces than the Rocket X while the Rocket X is more pleasant slow and at top speed struggling more for me at moderate tempo paces. While they have similar upper construction the Rocket X is more pliable and softer and broader and easier on the foot up front with a higher more supportive heel counter out back.
Saucony Endorphin Pro ($200) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Pro is a little firmer underfoot but that is mitigated by a much more prominent and aggressive forefoot rocker. Overall, the Pro is a faster shoe for me, though the Rocket X has better outsole grip, especially on wet surfaces. In terms of cushioning, i would be more confident of going longer in the Rocket X than the Pro. For a racing shoe, i would go with the Endorphin Pro.
Michael: The Saucony is firmer and more aggressive. I also prefer the Endorphin Pro’s upper, though Hoka has approximated it very well (and if I had a TTS pair, I may find this to be a wash). Like Derek, I think your legs will be better preserved from a long effort in the Rocket X - but I would toe the line in the Saucony.
Joost: The Pro has a much more pronounced rocker effect, but is a little firmer than the Rocket X. I agree with Michael and Derek: Race in the Pro and long efforts in the Rocket X.
Sally: US W8 in Endorphin Pro, US 7 in Rocket X (too big). Agreed, race in the Pro to take advantage of the mechanical boost of the rocker, but keep the Rocket X in rotation for longer training runs.
Saucony Endorphin Speed ($160) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Speed is a little bouncier than the Rocket X with a forefoot rocker that is not overly aggressive. This is the shoe which i feel most people would be better off in vs the Rocket X, whether it is for training or racing. Ironically, the Rocket X has a bit better vibration dampening than the Speed for me, despite a lower overall stack, perhaps because the plate is a little more flexible or does not extend as far back to the heel as in the Speed. Again, the Rocket X has better overall grip than the Speed.
Sally: US W8 in Endorphin Speed, US7 in Rocket X (too big). The Speed is one of my top three favorites of 2020 and one of the shoes I keep going back to. Ego booster. I suppose it is a bit unfair to take points off for the challenging fit of my narrow woman’s foot in the unisex Rocket but it affected my enjoyment. Speed wins for women who like the snugger fit and bouncier pep.
New Balance Fuel Cell RC Elite (RTR Review)
Sam: At a 32mm heel / 22mm stack height and a weight of 7.3 oz the RC is somewhat lighter and has a 10mm drop vs. 5mm here. The additional drop makes for easier more mellow toes offs in combination with a softer and bouncier FuelCell midsole and a unique outsole with not only superior all surfaces grip but which adds to cushion up front. The RC Elite upper is quite relaxed and not quite as polished as Rocket X in terms of combination of lock down and comfort. Overall the RC Elite is more versatile and leans more marathon and faster training on a regular basis than the more taut firmer and aggressive Rocket X does. Both are more traditional racer feeling than other “super shoes” such as the adios Pro and Nike Vapor and Alphafly
Sally: The Fuel Cell RC Elite was another top three shoe of 2020; that one has WOW power. Best upper out there for my foot, and a fun moderately springy and inherently quick ride. Both super good-looking! I might run a marathon in the RC Elite, but not in the Rocket X. Both would be valuable members of my training team!
Nike Zoom Fly 3 ($160) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9 in the Zoom Fly 3 and would fit US9.5 best in the Rocket X. The ZF 3 is a little long in the tooth now, but still an overall good trainer for people it fits well. The ZF3 has a more dynamic ride than the Rocket X and despite both Rocket X and ZF3 feeling on the flatter side,Ii find it a little easier to roll through in the ZF3 than the Rocket X. Both shoes work best when loading the forefoot to propel off. If you loved the ZF3 as a trainer, you should definitely try out the Rocket X as a racer as it would likely work quite well for you.
Nike Tempo Next% Flyknit ($200) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. Despite the huge weight difference between the 2 shoes, i find the Tempo much easier to roll through and hold an uptempo pace in. Perhaps for faster shorter intervals, the Rocket would be the faster shoe for me, but in terms of overall cushioning and smoothness of transition, the Tempo Next% wins out for me.
ASICS Metaracer ($200) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Metaracer is similar to the Rocket X in that the plate is mainly felt in the forefoot. The Metaracer is different in that the plate is primarily used as a rocker, rather than a rebound plate as used in the Rocket X. To me, the Metaracer represents the antithesis to the Rocket X in terms of how it aims to go about enhancing your run performance. The Metaracer works better for me as i prefer the rocker profile, but the Rocket X is the one i would choose for a full marathon as it has better cushioning.
Michael: I’m pleasantly surprised, as I continue to use the MetaRacer, with its range - I still think the Rocket X outperforms it for longer (we’ll say arbitrarily >15 mile) efforts, but between the two, I think the Metaracer is faster and smoother in most of the situations I run. If I was choosing between the two for training and racing, I’d break it down as follows: if you mostly race 13.1 and under, and scarcely run over 18 miles, I’d pick the ASICS. For longer-tuned runners, the Rocket X’s cushion will be more welcome.
Hoka Carbon X v1 ($180) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Carbon X v1 is actually like a more cushioned version of the Metaracer for me, and again relies heavily on a rocker shape to generate propulsion unlike the way the Rocket X goes about it. The Rocket X is noticeably softer in feel and more forgiving over longer runs for me than the Carbon X. I think the Rocket X is overall a nicer shoe to run in, though the Carbon X is faster feeling for me at hard efforts.
Michael: Agreed with Derek across the board. That distinct firmness and rocker sensation in the Carbon X does feel fast, but you legs can quickly come away a little more trashed than they’d be in the Rocket X.
Adidas Adizero Pro ($180) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Adizero Pro is for me, a very similar shoe to the Rocket X in terms of mechanism, but has a firmer underfoot feel. Both shoes rely more on loading the forefoot to generate propulsion. The Adizero Pro feels a little more cushioned than the Rocket X at the heel but the Rocket has the softer forefoot. I put this down to the lower heel-toe drop of the Rocket X. Adizero has the superior outsole in terms of grip, and like in terms of durability as well. Rocket X is a bit lighter. Overall, I think for training the Rocket X with better flexibility through the forefoot is more versatile, but for pure race efforts, the Adizero Pro would likely be the better option, especially for shorter distance races.
Michael: I drew this comparison in my Conclusion section above, but I’ve found use for the Adizero Pro, a firm, subtly-plated shoe, as a longer-faster run “trainer,” as opposed to an overt workout shoe or racer, but I think the Rocket X fills this role even better. My exception would be, in fact, for racing - where I think the Adizero Pro would perform better over 5 and 10K. At 13.1, it’s a bit of a toss-up, though I’d lean towards the more flat-feeling Adidas myself.
Adidas Adizero Adios Pro ($200) (RTR Review)
Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both shoes. The Adios Pro is one of my favourite long distance racers at the moment and the only reason i don’t use it more is to prolong its shelf-life. It has noticeably better cushioning and rockered propulsion than the Rocket X. The bounce you get from the Lightstrike Pro is also more noticeable. The downside is the shoe feels like a bit too much shoe for shorter faster efforts and that is where the Rocket X is the better shoe. Overall, i think the Adios Pro is the more refined product and is worth the extra $20.
Michael: Another comparison I heavily discussed above, but the Adios Pro is a markedly better racer, in my opinion. Soft and bouncy, you can run hard efforts with very little wear to the legs - and the carbon fiber “rods” embedded in the midsole seem as fast as any spring mechanism available now. The downsides I’ve found in the Adidas are slightly wobbliness at shorter, faster clips, and a bit of clunkiness when really running slow - but neither of those should dissuade you from what I feel is 2020’s best marathon racer.
Sam: Adios Pro more dynamic upfront, more fun to run, more cushioned and softer but less stable at the rear and due to its greater stack height at the heel heavier by 0.4 oz. Personality vs. security here with the complex upper of the Adios Pro a shade more secure but equally comfortable and the bigger stack of the adios Pro offering more and softer cushion but less stability. Upfront the Energy Rods give a special foot and toes in the mix drive while the Rocket X plate and cushion give a more monolithic, stiffer, and more stable toe off impulse. For pure racing Adios Pro, for uptempo training and racing if you want a more traditional and stable super shoe ride Rocket X.
Atreyu The Artist ($100)
Sam: More than 1.25 ounces and $80 lighter, The Artist has about the same stack height it in our prototype is softer and bouncier with a more forgiving ride and easier toe off. It is not as stable and its similarly minimal mesh upper has no bootie or heel counter as the Rocket X does (adding to weight) so not as secure in hold. Similar in being lower profile super shoes The Artist is more fun to run and a better value if having a less secure and stable ride.
Michael: I’ve primarily run in the first prototype of Atreyu’s Artist (with only one run in v2), but I can comfortably say the Atreyu model is softer and bouncier underfoot. What the prototype lacks (and I want to stress, I haven’t worn the production model) is the stability of the Hoka, and the Rocket X’s more secure lockdown through the midfoot. I expect with some tightening up of the upper will come with the production, but I imagine those wanting a more stable platform with appreciate the Hoka, whereas those looking for the bounciest shoe available will prefer the Atreyu.
REI Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
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