Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Hoka ONE ONE Carbon X 2 Multi Tester Review

 Hoka One One Carbon X 2 ($180)

Article by Adrienne Perron, Jamie Hershfang, Derek Li, Ryan Eiler and Jana Herzogova


Editor's Note: We welcome Adrienne Perron to the RTR team for this her first review.

Adrienne is a trail and road runner from New Hampshire (and Maine) with a special fondness for long trail runs in the rugged White Mountains. She works in running speciality retail and is a recent journalism graduate. Her current road PR’s are just over 4 hours in the marathon and 1:45 for the half.


Introduction

Adrienne - This seems like a perfect shoe for a half or full marathon time trial; it gives you all elements of a speed shoe without sacrificing that ooey-gooey Hoka impact absorption technology. The Meta-Rocker keeps you on your midfoot and the shoe, despite being light, is inherently very stable and generally comfortable. Love the reflective material on the lacing system of the shoe and the bright pink “Hot Coral” color. It’s almost winter and daylight is dwindling for us early morning runners.


Derek: I was fortunate enough to test the original Hoka Carbon X and it was, and still is, one of the best fitting shoes for me at true-to-size for a performance shoe. It had a very aggressive, if a bit overly stiff, carbon rocker that did pretty well at uptempo paces. Fast forward a year, and Hoka has changed the silhouette a little, especially at the heel, and also made some modifications to the upper but the platform remains largely unchanged… or has it? Read on to find out!


Jamie: I was lucky enough to be a part of the launch event for the original HOKA Carbon X (Jamie’s Race Report)  in Sacramento. I found that it served well as a daily performance trainer, with a quite stiff carbon plate. While many ultra runners gravitated towards the original version as their racing shoe, it left more to be desired for comfort over longer distances. With this new update, it looks like HOKA made quite a few changes, maybe lighter? Not quite as aggressive? Let’s see! 


Ryan: ‘Hoka’ and ‘carbon’ in the same sentence… who would have even imagined such a thing just five years ago? Yet here we are, on version two of their carbon plated distance shoe. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hoka over the past years, it’s to always approach whatever they’ve cooked up with an open mind!


Jana: As one who prefers trails over roads I was impressed and happy to lace up the Carbon X 1 for my road workouts workouts from the start. Lightweight with a cushioned landing, propulsive toe-off, and sleek looks Hoka Carbon X quickly became one of my favorite road shoes and I was excited to see the second version coming out and to test it. 


Pros:

Derek/Adrienne/Ryan- Minimal, breathable upper

Derek/Jamie: Slightly softer and bouncier than Carbon X v1, especially at the heel

Adrienne- Reflective fabric added near laces (visible in the dark)

Adrienne- Achilles anatomical fit at the heel counter is comfortable and makes the fit feel more secure

Jamie/Ryan: Smoother transition from heel to toe 

Ryan: Nicely structured upper, with ample support considering its weight

Jana: minimal, breathable upper, that I feel it is more sturdy than the previous version with the heel more secure/comfortable than in the previous version 



Cons:

Jamie/Jana: A narrower fit, which didn’t seem to cause many issues, but would be interested to see this offered in a wider version 

Ryan/Sally: Relatively harsh foam for a modern day distance racer, too much room in toe box for a speed-oriented shoe.

Adrienne- (Might be a personal thing… but) could have done without the dramatic extended heel, felt a little unnecessary and didn’t notice much performance difference between the heel extension in version 2 as compared to version 1.

Derek: Shoe volume at the midfoot (but not width) seems marginally lower than Carbon X v1

Jana: a bit high price tag


Stats

Official Weight:: W 7.0 oz. 198g M 8.4 oz. 239g

  Samples:

US W8: 7.8 oz / 221g

US M9: 8.5 oz / 241

Both men’s samples: US9.5: 8.71oz / 247g (Carbon X v1 in US9.5 was 250g on same scale)

Stack Height:  women's 30mm heel 25mm forefoot :: men's 32mm heel 27mm forefoot

Available January 2021. $180 


Tester Profiles

Jamie is 28 years old and has a 1:19 half marathon PR. She has run 5 marathons, current PR is 2:49 and typically runs 90-100 miles per week. She recently completed a 100k in 7:36:40 and is training to qualify for the world 100k team. She is the store manager at Fleet Feet Lakeview in Chicago. She trains in a variety of shoes, and races in the Nike Next%.

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.

A hopeless soccer career led Ryan to take up running, and after taking a decade-long break from competing, he is back racking up mileage whenever he can.  He calls the 2018 Boston Marathon the hardest race of his life, where he finished in 2:40, barely remembering his name at the finish line.  More recently he has solo time trialed the 2020 super shoes, often sub 15 minutes for 5K.

Jana Herzogova took up running in 2016, after a back injury. Prior to that she was a speed skater, but due to back pain and doctor's recommendation, she transitioned into running. Since then, starting with shorter ultra distance races she quickly evolved into an avid long distance and unsupported mountain runner. She also loves to take on challenges/races in arctic and subarctic climates, mainly in unsupported and semi-self supported style. She runs about 100 miles per week: 40 miles on road and 60 miles trail mostly at high elevations. She currently lives in Utah/Wyoming.


First Impressions and Fit

Adrienne- I usually run in women’s size 7 for all Hoka models, but I initially found the Carbon X 2 almost too roomy in the toe box. The shoe felt more curve-lasted than I expected it to, which felt a little awkward at first on my straight-lasted foot, but I found that I had no issues with fit or sizing once I found a sweet spot in lacing them up. For a racer, the shoe also seemed visually larger to me than I expected it to be (probably due to the extended heel). 

The first version of the Carbon X is visually a little more traditional and maybe “smaller”, but when I first ran in the Carbon X 2, it did not feel too large, bulky, or heavy. I definitely feel like I could do some major “zoomies” in these shoes. 


Derek: The bright color scheme is eye catching for sure. I prefer cooler tones myself but the coral red is growing on me. My first step in feel was fairly comfortable. Overall the fit is true to size, with the length being identical to version 1. The material seems a little bit stiffer than v1 out of the box but lacing up is otherwise pretty fuss free. Walking around, I could have sworn v1 felt flatter and firmer underfoot, and had a bit more ground feel. I’ll know more after I put in the miles. 


Jamie: The brighter color scheme definitely makes it pop out of the box. The fit is true to a HOKA size, which is basically a half size smaller than most other brands. I typically run in a size 7.5 and went with a 7 in the Carbon X and found it fit perfectly. It feels much softer than v1 especially around the heel. Very narrow when I initially tried it on, and was worried it would cause some issues once I put some miles in them. While it did feel snug, I appreciated the sleeker profile which would make this a shoe I put on to run fast in.


Ryan: For a sleek racer focused on shaving time, it looks stout and feels solidly built all around. The color scheme is fitting of a speedy shoe, but Hoka kept things clean and classy -- swallowtail heel aside. In hand, it feels stiff and light enough to be like a shoe you’d use to PR. From the flared and moderately padded heel, to the nicely sculpted upper and gusseted tongue, the upper felt like an immediate winner, aside from being a little loose around the toes. My M9.5 ran a half size too long, perhaps magnifying the feeling that the toe box was too wide.


Jana: My first impression was positive over all. The previous version had me worried a little about how long the upper would last, the Carbon X2 upper seems to be more sturdy, yet breathable. I love the  Coral color, it makes it pop out of the box, and I received compliments on the color on my runs,


As a midfoot striker, I have yet to find the benefits of the extended heel, but I find the look rather sleek, and it has definitely not impacted  performance or overall feel in any negative way. 


Upper

Adrienne - I like that the upper is very minimal. This feels like a shoe that would drain easily in harsh weather conditions and help keep body temperature regulated. I like the reflective highlights which blend in to the main coral pink color during daytime 

Derek: The upper is a thin and fairly breathable mesh, very similar in construct to that found in Carbon X v1 and indeed the Mach 2 as well. As mentioned above it is a little bit stiff out of the box compared to the very soft pliable feel of v1, but it has softened up noticeably after a couple of runs. I found that the volume of the upper at mid-foot was slightly lower than in v1, and just comparing the spacing of the eyelets between the 2 shoes at the same lace tension, the spacing of the eyelets in v2 just seems marginally wider. Since the width of the shoes is the same, I put it down to having a little bit less fabric in v2 across the mid-foot.

Another thing to note is the way the tongue is gusseted in v2. The tongue is now gusseted by a single elastic strip of fabric about 3cm wide on either side of mid-foot. This is considerably less than what was done with v1, though it does not seem to have made any difference to the stabilization of tongue placement once laced up. The big upper change is at the heel. 

They have done away with the conventional heel and pull loop, and brought in the flared heel as seen in the Clifton Edge etc. To me it’s really a non-issue. I didn’t have any problems with the original heel, and though the flared heel is actually a little less secure for me, it doesn’t result in any significant heel slippage. I know some people struggled with the toebox of v1. Sorry folks, it is maybe marginally taller than v1 but not by any significant degree. Bottom line: overall fit and performance of the upper is fairly similar to v1, which was very, very good to begin with.   


Jamie: I definitely agree with Derek that the design of the upper has many similarities to v1. In comparison, it looks much narrower than v1, but the upper tends to loosen up a bit over time. I appreciate the more secure feeling, compared to something like a flyknit upper which never felt like I got enough lockdown on the shoe. The eyelets feel a bit more spaced out, compared to v1 where I felt like I really had to tie the laces very tight to prevent any slippage. I love the lightweight gusseted tongue, which feels like a glove around the foot. 


The major changes around the heel is probably one of my favorite updates. Compared to v1 where I felt like my heel was moving around, the cushion and height of the heel added to the overall comfort of the shoe and didn’t feel the need to tie the shoes super tight to balance out any heel slippage. For people that enjoyed running in v1, they will definitely enjoy the similarities of the new upper, with the addition of a softer heel.


Ryan: Like my fellow mileage-hungry colleagues, the upper started out feeling stiff but was easy to break in fairly quickly. It looks and feels like they used some high-quality engineered mesh here. Nicely ventilated and styled, the material feels thin but is plenty strong and highly resistant to stretching. Because of both the spacing of the eyelets and the width of the laces, lockdown pressure is well distributed across the bridge of the foot and feels exceptionally friendly for such an aggressive shoe. Thumbs up on the heel design as well, which is strong, comfortable, and resists pull out fairly well. The flared tab looks after the achilles, and the solid heel counter isn’t going to let your foot dance even a little bit.


Jana: I like that the upper still remains minimal, yet I feel it is sturdier than the previous version. I was worried to take them on a few cold/freezing morning runs yet I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. My toes felt comfortable and warm. The seemingly narrow fit is roomy enough, feels a little stiff at first, but it loosens up a little after a few runs. The Carbon X (previous version) upper became a bit too stretched out after a few runs and felt a little floppy at times. 


After 50+ miles on Carbon X2 I have not noticed any difference in the fit of the upper yet (besides less stiff). I love how Hoka updated the heel design, it feels more secure and comfortable than the previous version. My heel does not feel loose or slide at all. It did take me a couple of tries to lace them up the right way.  I forgot to pack socks for a few of my runs, and decided to go for it regardless. I  never had any issues (blisters, hot spots) with either he first version or the Carbon X 2. Smooth sailing over all. 


Midsole


Derek: The Carbon X 2 uses the same new CMEVA compound as the Rocket X in a ProFly layup (which is Hoka’s term for a dual density midsole construct, the other density being the firmer rubberized EVA that doubles as the outsole). The overall structure of the midsole is pretty similar to v1. You have the curved carbon plate sitting below a softer new CMEVA foam. The foam is definitely softer and bouncier than the previous foam used in Carbon X v1, and this is most noticeable in the heel where there’s more stack (compared to the forefoot) to enhance that feel. 


The amount of ground feel is noticeably less in this version, which is probably a good thing for most people. The plate also appears to be slightly more flexible and so you have less of that very aggressive rocker in that the shoe does flatten a little as you roll into the forefoot, before snapping back into shape and giving you a bit of propulsive assistance. 


I’m trying to think of a good comparison in terms of plate stiffness, and the closest is probably that found in the Nike Zoom Fly 3. It feels stiffer than e.g. NB FuelCell TC / Saucony Endorphin Speed / Hoka Rocket X, but not quite as rigid as Endorphin Pro / Carbon X v1. It’s not easy to get the stiffness right, and often it comes down to “target effort”. A really rigid plate works well for an all-out racer that shines at the shorter distances. Something like the ASICS Metaracer or Endorphin Pro, have very stiff plates that really work well in the 5-10km range. The downside to this is the shoe tends to feel uncomfortable or unnatural at slower paces. If the plate is too soft, it loses its propulsive benefit. You will note in my review of the NB Fuelcell TC (RTR Review) that I complained about the lack of stiffness of the plate there; a little more snap and it would work better at faster paces. The TC is one of my favourite medium pace long run shoes, but would not be my first choice for speed work. 

One cannot talk about the Carbon X v2 without mentioning the new sculpted heel. Hoka calls it a Swallow Tail design, and it essentially de-couples the heel landing zone to allow for a softer and more natural heel strike. 

As you can see above, I don’t really land there. What I will say is that the softer foam makes the rear of the shoe rebound forward really well, in a quite directed manner, which pushes your foot to roll through the shoe. It’s really quite nice and would be useful for when your form starts to go at the end of longer races. It’s actually not easy to achieve this in a 5mm drop shoe, so kudos to Hoka for doing it so well here.


Jamie: Lots of similarities here to v1. The foam feels a bit softer in this update, but there is still quite a stiff carbon plate. Not as aggressive as something like the endorphin pro, a little more similar to the Endorphin Speed or Zoom Fly, something that can handle a variety of speeds and distances. Feels like a very smooth transition from heel to toe, with very little wear on the heel thanks to the new swallow tail design. Soft enough to use for daily training, firm enough to go faster, but not quite the response that would compare to the Next%. It does move forward easier in comparison to other carbon plated shoes, which would definitely put this shoe as a choice for distances at the marathon or above. 


Ryan: Derek and Jamie astutely covered most of what needed to be said, and my experience with this midsole is consistent with theirs. The plate is noticeable, but is without question more flexible in the forefoot than most of the other plates available. Turning to the ole’ rough-but-true hand-flex test, this is noticeably more flexible up front than the Endorphin Pro, Adios Pro, and RC Elite.


My hot take on the swallowtail design goes like this: it definitely doesn’t hurt, and while it might add some stability and damping during heel strike, there’s more foam there than is necessary. The projection on the lateral side probably assists in transitioning energy up from the heel and forward, but I doubt the projection on the medial side does anything more than maintain visual symmetry. It does make for a nice lever to help pop them off after a tough workout though!


The foam is terrific at providing ample protection for longer runs, but if you’re expecting that magical bounciness and fatigue-reducing ability of the more expensive marathon shoes, you might be disappointed. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t any bounciness here -- its behavior is just more politely mannered than many other high stack, high price tag competitors. On a minor note, the midsole foam near the heel reaches up a tad further than usual, further preventing any undue heel movement.


Jana: I don't have much more to add to what Derek, Jamie, and Ryan already said. 

The foam feels a little more bouncy, especially at the more extended  heel than in the previous version. Coupled with a stiffer carbon fiber plate, the midsole delivers a smooth transition through the gait cycle. I I had not run a road shoe before with a propulsive toe-off (my first was Carbon X), and given the stiffer carbon fiber plate, I was a little worried at first that might make my feet sore. None of that happened, instead I have enjoyed it very much and they definitely feel more forgiving and gentle on the body when racking up high miles. 


Outsole


Derek: The “outsole” uses rubberized EVA and seems to be the same compound used in the Carbon X v1, even though in v2 there is a bit of a reflective sheen to the material out of the box. This rubberized EVA grips the road really well even on wet days, and durability from my experience with v1 has been surprisingly good, except, and I learnt this the hard way, when you are going off road. I would not recommend this outsole for trails that have a lot of small stones or rocky surfaces. Those things will chew through this outsole in 1 run. For regular road use, it works great.

Jamie: I’d definitely agree with Derek here, seems very similar to v1 and durability has been great. For city running on pavement, the rubberized EVA grips really well, much better than comparable carbon plated shoes. Not great off road, on trail or softer surfaces, just doesn’t have that response or traction needed to go faster. Plus the light cushion on uneven surfaces just doesn’t feel great. However, road runners will love the durability of this shoe.


Ryan: This ‘rubberized’ foam still feels more like foam than rubber. While it grips well and provides a more pleasant feel underfoot than traditional rubber, it doesn’t grip as fiercely as full rubber does. For your own sake, keep these on asphalt where they belong! You can catch a teeny, tiny glimpse of the shiny carbon plate in the “X” shaped cutout underfoot, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve seen a bit of graining after about 30 miles in the places that are the usual culprits for me, so I’d rate the durability as about average so far.


Jana: While I agree with Ryan, Jamie, and Derek's description, I can only add my negative experience with the outsole of Carbon X, and hope the Carbon X 2 will last much longer.


I did not take a picture of it, and I wish I did, but around mile 160-ish (on previous version), the front foot foam started to heavily wear off and I could see the carbon plate starting to poke through it. I am not sure how many lifetime miles are recommended for this shoe, however 160 seems to be a bit low for $180 price tag. Note that I am a more midfoot oriented striker.


Not much more to add to this at this time, as I have done around 60 miles so far on the Carbon X2 and so far don't see any wear on it yet. I hope to get a lot more miles from Carbon X 2 


Ride

Adrienne- Smooth, the highest cushioned ride in a minimal racer I’ve run to date. Meta-Rocker seems less pronounced in version 2 than version 1 to me (I don’t believe I have a preference one way or the other).

Derek: I agree with Adrienne that the rocker is less pronounced here than in version 1, and I put it down to the more flexible plate and maybe the slightly softer foam as well. I really want to emphasize this: it does not ride like a 5mm drop shoe at all. The Skechers Maxroad 4+ is a 5mm drop you, and you know it from the first couple of steps. The Carbon X 2 rides like a 6-8mm drop shoe and I believe a lot of this comes down to the heel giving you a quick oomph forward once your heel touches the ground. 


The ride is not pillowy soft, but there is some light bounce especially in the heel, and there is very good vibration dampening happening here, on par with, if not better than e.g. Saucony Endorphin Speed for me in terms of overall cushioning. 


Stability-wise, the shoe is plenty stable because of its relatively wide footprint. I don’t think anyone is going to complain of poor stability in this shoe, despite the 32/27 stack numbers. 


I like the improved versatility of the shoe; it is much more tolerable for use at slow-medium paces than v1, but still has enough snap for those days you want to do faster stuff. I would not use this for really short races or hard efforts, but I think it is finally going to live up to its role as Hoka’s ultra-distance racer, and will be great for those 42-100km efforts. 


Of all the carbon plated shoes that do not use the downward sloping curved plate (e.g. as seen in Nike VF/Saucony Endorphin/NB TC/Brooks Hyperion Elite), this one seems to be the most “assistive” in terms of running economy to me, so it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the Carbon X heritage. 


Jamie: A very smooth ride, making me feel very efficient at all different speeds. Not quite as much response as I would like for a shorter race, but definitely a great option for racing marathons or road ultras. The carbon plate offers a nice amount of response without too much cushion to get in the way. Durability is much better than some others foams and similar to v1 where you can get hundreds of miles of wear. The versatility of this shoe is something a lot of people will enjoy, soft enough to handle daily training yet responsive enough for workouts, and a nice option for longer distance racing. 


Ryan: Where I agree with Derek is in regard to its perceived offset. Because of its midsole firmness and its geometry, I would have put my chips on a 7mm guess if I were a betting man. Stability and responsiveness are exemplary, as the wide stance of the vibration-damping midsole creates a reliable platform that feels at ease while rounding corners. 


For such a light, race-focused shoe, it feels like it’s on rails despite providing an impressive amount of protection underfoot. In my experience wearing a variety of shoes which use foam for both the midsole and outsole, I typically get the impression that their ride and transition is smoother than their rubberized counterparts. Maybe it’s the monolithic construction of dual-density foams, or maybe it’s because the midsole/outsole hardnesses are comparable, but it seems to be a formula for a more buttery ride (say what you will about durability or grip).


My opinion differs though, when it comes to how I’d put these to use. As compared to many of the lower-density foams out there, these feel relatively harsh, and for longer (half marathon or greater) efforts, I’d prefer the fatigue-reducing abilities of a friendlier foam. And this is not a shoe you want to use for easier efforts, given its stiffness. I’ve used these for shorter, fartlek-type workouts where I frequent 5-10k pace, and I’m likely to continue doing so.


Jana: I will admit that when stationary, the shoes with their propulsive carbon plate feel a little weird and stiff. But once in motion, I find the combination of stiffer plate and rubberized foam outsole a great match. I like it a lot. I feel like I am flying at faster paces with the shoe performing efficiently. Carbon X 2 is definitely an uptempo trainer choice for me. Designed for longer/ultra distances, I have yet to test them on anything longer than 20 miles in one run. The combo of softer midsole/outsole and stiffer carbon fiber plate did not feel too soft (energy sapping), nor too stiff for covering near ultra distance distances. I am definitely looking forward to covering 26+ miles distances in them. 



Conclusions and Recommendations

Adrienne: Knowing what version one of the Carbon X was like, I was uncertain about version 2 at first glance because visually it seems so different. However, the ride was incredibly pleasant and comfortable, and felt like it could go the distance (unlike some other models of light/minimal racing shoes).


Derek: Note that I gave the Carbon X v1 an overall score of 9.2 last year with v2 scoring 9.1. The ride scores higher in v2, but the fit is a little less perfect, and the aesthetics of Coral red, while striking, is not quite as nice as a white base to me (purely subjective of course!). Also, you have to take into account that at the time of the Carbon X 1’s launch, there were very few other carbon plated options out there. Now you have the Tempo Next%, Endorphin Pro, Fuelcell TC and Adios Pro, all at $200, and the Endorphin Speed at $160. It’s a completely different landscape to contend in. Vs Carbon X v1, I think it is absolutely worth the extra $20, if you really loved v1, and I know there are lots of you out there who did, and do who use the Carbon X as daily trainers. 

Derek’s Score 9.1 / 10

Ride 9.1 40% Fit 9.3 40% Value 8.4 10% Style 9 10%


Jana: The original Carbon X version was my go to shoe for shorter/speedy runs, as well as  longer weekend runs. And so is the Carbon X2, however I am still lacking enough longer runs experience as of right now. 


I am a big fan of this shoe. Over a few runs Carbon X 2 has broken in nicely, with the upper still remaining very comfortable even without socks. I am thrilled with the durability, breathability, and grip of the outsole. I can see putting a lot of miles on this shoe. 


However, I can not give it a 10/10, as the price tag seems to be a bit too stiff. If I compare it to trail shoes (some may say it is a different category) like Salomon’s S-Lab line that is in the same, price category, Carbon X2 just doesn't cut it for me in terms of expected longevity. Yes, I like the shoe a lot but would I drop $180 on it? Probably not, and only if I had a spare amount to play around with. 

Jana's score: 9/10


Jamie: As someone who used v1 as a daily trainer and enjoyed it, I really love v2 for its versatility. Having tried nearly all of the carbon plated shoes, it wouldn’t be my first choice for shorter, faster races, but definitely a contender for the ultra distances. It has a very smooth transition from heel to toe, which feels more efficient as you start to fatigue. Similar durability to v1, which leads to me being able to log hundreds of miles in this shoe. Fits a little more snug than v1 which had me initially worried, but after lots of miles in them, it didn’t seem to create any issues. 


It doesn’t feel like it compares to any shoe directly, major kudos to HOKA for making a shoe I think everyone will enjoy. 

Jamie’s score: 9/10 


Ryan: While this is a fine shoe that many Hoka devotees will understandably rally around, it doesn’t quite have the special sauce I’m looking for if I’m working with a budget close to $200. The materials and construction are first-rate, and I can tell that they didn’t cut corners in manufacturing this one. However, if you’re showing me an Adios Pro for only $20 more, which weighs less, reduces fatigue, and feels faster, I’d take the Adidas every time. In trying to frame where this shoe fits in, I keep landing on: ‘a shoe that will make me feel fast, but isn’t quite clever enough for race day’.

Ryan’s Score 8.6 / 10; Detractions for relatively harsh feel compared to its competitors; too loose of a fit in the toe box; lack of value as compared to similarly priced competitors.


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Hoka One One Carbon X v1 ($180)  (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The v2 is softer and bouncier and very marginally lighter. V2 all the way.

Jamie: Same sizing, v2 fits a little more snug, and cushion is just a bit softer. Heel is much better in v2 and comfort is top notch. 


Hoka One One Rocket X (RTR Review)


Derek: I wear US9.5 in the Carbon X 2. I was seeded a US10 for testing for the Rocket X and would probably fit best in US9.5 for race purposes. The Rocket X has a softer but lower stack underfoot feel and a slightly more flexible forefoot. To that end the rocker effect is more pronounced in the Carbon X 2, though this is less than in Carbon X 1. In essence, the Rocket X feels like a more traditional racing shoe with the plate providing subtle snappiness through the forefoot, while the Carbon X 2 uses the plate to generate a rocker effect instead. It therefore comes down to what kind of ride you prefer. I personally prefer the rocker effect. 


Hoka One One Mach 4 (RTR Review)

Ryan M9.5:  I was thoroughly impressed by the Mach 4, with its endless hospitality and stability mile after mile. The upper fit like a glove, and was one of many bright spots of the shoe. It has quickly become one of my favorite daily trainers, and it is an absolute delight to spend time in.  


While these shoes look somewhat similar in photos, with their similar geometry and swallowtail design, they behave like entirely different creatures. 


The Mach excels at being a luxurious, high mileage workhorse with a mellow ride from its thick rubberized foam outsole/midsole, whereas the carbon plate of the X2 begs to be unleashed. If you managed to get both the Mach and the Carbon X in your arsenal, you’d have enough versatility to handle nearly any road-based type of running.


Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. Both models fit me fine although the Mach 4 fits more comfortably. As much as the Mach 4 is the more dynamic and forgiving ride, I actually feel more efficient in the Carbon X 2, even during the relatively pedestrian 8-9:00/mile recovery runs and the heart rate and pace data reflect this. If I could only have one shoe between the 2, it would be close but I think I would lean towards the Carbon X 2 simply because it handles speed better and thus is an overall more complete shoe. 


Saucony Endorphin Pro ($200) (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The Endorphin Pro is a more aggressively rockered shoe but is also harsher underfoot than the Carbon X 2. On wet surfaces, the Carbon X 2 also has superior outsole grip. I think for shorter races the Endorphin Pro would be the clear favourite. For the longer stuff, half marathon and up, it would likely come down to the ability of the runner and individual preference. 


Ryan US9.5: The Endo Pro fit me true to size (the Hoka ran long), and as Derek said, is a bit more aggressive on several fronts. The Saucony’s PEBA foam is more lively than the Hoka’s midsole, and the plate in the Saucony is certainly stiffer. Saucony’s ‘speedroll’ rocker at the front of the shoe is also much more distinct than the meta-rocker of the X2. The narrower footprint and less robust build of the Endorphin sacrifices stability, however, so the Hoka wins on this front. 


All of these considered, the Saucony feels more like a pure racer, whereas the Hoka is a more versatile shoe that can be considered for a variety of speed-oriented efforts.


Jamie: I wear a size 7.5 in the EndorphinPro and a size 7 in the Carbon X 2. The Pro has a very aggressive plate while HOKA has a smoother ride. The Pro has the snap you’re looking for to run fast while HOKA has the softer landing to run long. Both great for that forward motion and long, steady efforts.


Saucony Endorphin Speed ($160)  (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The Endorphin Speed and Carbon X have very similar underfoot feels. The Speed is a little softer feeling and has a more noticeable rocker, but also has more ground feel compared to the Carbon X 2. I think it may come down to individual preference on feel. I find the Speed easier to pick up the pace in, but the Carbon X seems to be more forgiving for the longer runs as I start to feel a little sore in the Speed as we get to 18+milers. Again, the Carbon X has superior grip to the Speed, especially if the roads are wet or damp. 


Jamie: I wear a 7.5 in the Endorphin Speed and a 7 in the Carbon X 2. Similar design yet very different underfoot feel. The Speed definitely has that spring at toe off and a little firmer ride, while the Carbon X 2 has less ground feel and a little more cushion for longer distances. I had some issues with the Endorphin Speed going downhill because of the rigid upper, while the Carbon X was much more forgiving. I would choose the Speed for speedwork and the Carbon X for uptempo or steady long run efforts. 


New Balance FuelCell TC ($200)  (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. This shoe is Sam’s shoe of the year for the first half of 2020. That alone is a glowing testimonial to how fun it is. That said, I do find it a little difficult to go fast in the shoe. It could be the slightly bottom-heavy feel or the plate being a little too flexible for fast paces for me. I find the Carbon X easier to change gears in, even though the ride is nowhere near as trampouline-like as the TC. On the plus side, the Carbon x is a lot more stable. 


Overall, for racing the Carbon X is a better option, but for training I would lean towards the TC. 


New Balance FuelCell RC Elite ($225) (RTR Review)

Ryan M9.5: The RC Elite is a better shoe, in my opinion -- but is it $45 better? I’d argue yes, given how forgiving the NB feels without losing its energetic edge. Several of us at RTR have mentioned how the NB’s plate plays a beautifully subtle role within the overall package, as it’s integrated into the midsole so well. 


These shoes are constructed in very different ways, so it’s no surprise that they ride differently. NB used a softer, springier foam and paired it with a stiffer plate, as compared to the Carbon X2, which relies on a slightly firmer midsole/outsole and a more flexible plate. 


In comparing the uppers, they’re both nicely sculpted and highly ventilated, so there’s not a huge distinction to make there. However, the outsoles’ designs stand in stark contrast to one another -- the NB uses a series of triangular rubber lugs which they call Dynaride, whereas the Hoka’s stratified foam continues all the way down to the road. I definitely prefer the Dynaride outsole for its ferocious grip and rigidity.  By visual inspection alone it seems as if the NB’s exposed foam midsole toward the rear of the shoe won’t be as durable at the Hoka’s. 


The bottom line is that these are two worthy competitors, but the Hoka’s ride and performance feels just a touch bland by comparison.


Nike Tempo Next% Flyknit ($200) (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The Tempo Next% remains my overall shoe of the year, and I don’t really see it changing. It is incredibly well cushioned, with an excellent lockdown in the midfoot and a very “assistive” forefoot rocker.  Despite its weight, it can easily handle long tempos, especially if they come as part of a long run. It has been an incredibly forgiving long run shoe for me over the past 2 months. The Carbon X is good, but really only beats the Tempo Next% in terms of outsole grip. On wet roads, I do note some slippage from the Tempo (and indeed the Alphafly), but none of that with the Carbon X’s rubberized EVA outsole. Overall, it is an easy decision to pick the Tempo. 


Nike Vaporfly Next% ($250) (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. Unfortunately, The VF (and the Alphafly for that matter) are still on a different level to most of the shoes out there. For an A race, there is no question I would choose the Vaporfly, all the way up to 24hr races (if I had to do one). 


Jamie: I wear a women’s 7.5 in the Next% and a 7 in the Carbon X 2. The width of the Next% is a bit better for me considering the unisex sizing. The Next% has been my top choice from 5k to 100k racing without creating any issues and feeling amazing. The Carbon X 2 has a much softer landing making it a preference for daily training. 


Adidas Adios Pro ($200)  (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear US9.5 in both shoes. The Adios Pro is the better riding shoe. That’s the bottom line. Better cushioning, lower weight, better looks, better lockdown. The outsole is the key weakness of the Adios Pro. It has good grip, but not as good as the tacky rubberized EVA outsole of the Carbon X 2, that really bites into the road. The Adios outsole is also unlikely to be as durable as the Carbon X 2, going purely by the thickness of the outsole layer. 


As a racer, I think the decision is easy to go with the Adios Pro. As a trainer, the lines become a bit blurred and I think people may want to go with the Carbon X 2 just based on better durability. 


Ryan: I agree entirely with Derek here, and I think he’s put it very well. When we’re maneuvering strictly within race shoe territory, I tend to throw durability concerns out the window unless there’s a glaring flaw to address. But here, for the price, the adios Pro is the better shoe. Its upper is superior, there’s a distinct trampolining effect to drive you forward which the Hoka lacks, and energy at toe-off goes to the Adios by a landslide. 


The Adidas is a more extreme shoe in almost every way, which does give the Hoka the advantage of versatility. But if you’re looking to hit your full stride, the Adios Pro is the way to go.


Photo Credits: Sally Reiley, Ryan Eiler, and Derek Li


Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'.

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