Thursday, April 18, 2024

HOKA Skyward X Multi Tester Review: Practical and Effective Mega Max Cushion Cruiser! 4 Comparisons

Article by Sam Winebaum and Sally Reiley

Hoka Skyward X ($225)


Let’s get it out of the way right away. The Skyward X may be the most significant and innovative road shoe from Hoka since the Clifton 1. Hoka has been hugely successful in recent years with.. basically the same stuff year after year:  compression molded EVA midsoles, big cushion, friendly fits and especially market momentum as runners and walkers have gravitated to the OG max cushion brand. 

In performance running, they have lagged the competition being late to supercritical foams and then a firm flavor as found in the Carbon X and first Rocket.  In trail, it has been a different story as the Speedgoat and Tecton X have led their respective categories.

With Skyward X Hoka goes “big”. Here they have cracked the code of how to stack well beyond World Athletics’ 40mm  height limits for racing with a giant  48 mm heel / 43mm forefoot stack of two types supercritical foams (PEBA top layer, EVA bottom layer) and what I see as a far more sophisticated multi dimensional carbon plating than others which provides both propulsion and stability. 

All of this on a wide platform of  95 mm heel / 80 mm midfoot / 120 mm forefoot and at a “reasonable” weight for such a massive shoe of 10.7 oz / 303 g US9.

The upper is an engineered mesh with especially noted a stout heel counter construction. 

While this upper may contribute to the weight of the shoe it clearly keeps the foot locked down to the giant platform. 

It clearly competes with others in this emerging category of stratospheric stack heights with shoes such as the yet higher stacked Prime X from adidas, the SC Trainer from New Balance and the unplated considerably lighter ASICS Superblast 

At these stack heights, and to a certain extent weight, we are not looking at a “racing” shoe for the fast and light runner or an uptempo daily trainer. Are we looking at the most deeply cushioned and especially practical super max cushioned road trainer yet? How does this behemoth ride and feel? How does it compare to others to its competitors?  Let’s get into it in my initial review after two solid runs. 


  • Very, very deeply and energetically cushioned: dual supercritical foams: Sam/Sally
  • Notably stable given giant stack height: carbon plating, broad platform, & upper support: Sam/Sally 
  • Superb supportive upper support with plenty of toe box height and room : Sam/Sally
  • Easy to turn over and roll especially at moderate daily training paces : Sam/Sally
  • Incredibly comfortable for anything from walking to easy running, easily a favorite go-to shoe for daily training : Sally


  • How much is too much?  A bit lumbering and “big” Could the wide platform, especially upfront, be toned down and stack height reduced a bit to reduce weight and improve agility? : Sam/Sally 
  • Midfoot could be toned down, a bit rigid in transition. Too much carbon there? : Sam
  • Visually a very BIG shoe: Sally
  • A bit heavy at 9.6 oz for my W8 : Sally 
  • Pricy for a non-race day shoe at $225: Sally

Most comparable shoes 

Hoka Carbon X

New Balance FuefCell SC Trainer

Adidas Adizero Prime X Strung

ASICS Superblast


Approx. Weight 10.7 oz / 303 g men's US9

Official Weight men's 11.3 oz (M10))  /  women’s 9.2oz / g (US8)

  Samples: men’s  10.44 oz / 296g US8.5

Stack Height:    

men’s       48 mm heel / 43 mm forefoot ( 5mm drop spec) 

women’s   46 mm heel / 41 mm forefoot

Platform Width: 95 mm heel / 80 mm midfoot / 120 mm forefoot

$225 Available now

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

The upper is a fairly conventional engineered mesh. It is pliable and soft with no overlays beyond the substantial toe bumper which raises the front height.

The width and height, helped by the soft pliable mesh, makes the room generous with the toe bumper for sure making the hold secure. The Skyward X is true to size for my narrower to medium feet and should be fine for wider feet as well. 

Beyond the Hoka overlay there are no other overlays here. 

That said we do have a narrower very substantial midfoot strap on both sides and it is effective in keeping the midfoot well locked to the platform.

The tongue is padded but not overdone or too thin. It adds to the midfoot hold

The heel counter is substantial. We have a rigid higher heel main counter with a solid thick TPU red overlay. 

All of this substance makes the 48mm high heel area very stable and locked down although I wonder if it could be trimmed back a bit to save weight with compromising stability.

Sally: My first impression of this shoe was WOW, this is a BIG shoe. HOKA was the OG of the max cushion shoe, but now all the other shoe companies have max cushion models. But the Skyward X is a totally new HOKA that doesn’t follow the old rulebook. The 48mm stack is substantial - I feel as if I have gained several inches in height when I wear these shoes, which is a plus for someone only 5’2” (you might find me wearing them at the next cocktail party). 

And they are comfortable enough to wear anywhere. 

They fit comfortably true to size (W8 for me), with a spacious toe box and high toe bumper for extra room. I have a slightly narrow woman’s foot, and I found them much roomier in the toe box than other HOKAs, so they might accommodate higher volume feet nicely. 

There is a salmon colored (in my woman’s colorway) strap inside the midfoot that holds the midfoot secure. 

The flat knit upper is soft and adequately breathable. There is ample plush cushioning around the ankle collar and a well padded tongue. The stretchy flat  laces and lacing system work well and make it easy to dial in the snugness. The substantial heel counter is high but did not aggravate my achilles at all.  

All in all, I really enjoy this very comfortable true-to-size plush upper that holds the foot securely.

Midsole & Platform

The midsole is made up of two different supercritical foams: a top layer of PEBA with below  that a supercritical EVA foam. My sense is the lower layer is ever so slightly softer than the upper layer.

Sandwiched between the 2 layers is one of the most elaborate carbon plates I have seen to date. 

The plate design and its intricate design serves multiple purposes. At the heel, the wide medial side provides some early landing support while on the lateral side the narrower rail allows for some crash pad on landing with the rising lip of carbon keeps the heel from sinking too far down and outwards. 

There is no sensation the shoe is overly back weighted, or that the 5mm drop gets too low even with the soft foam and even at slow paces. I give credit to the plate and to the “relatively” narrow 90mm rear platform. For example, the ASICS Nimbus 25/26 is a massive 14mm wider out back and that is felt as a blocky heel at slower paces while the SC Trainer from New Balance with its deep Energy Arc cavity can feel too soft.

We have a lot of soft foam at the back of the shoe at 48mm with the foot sitting deep down in a cradle of foam. In another contrast, the other way, the yet higher 50mm adidas Prime X Strung widened its platform from the super narrow, highly unstable rear platform of v1 to 80mm in the Strung version which still, in combination with its shakier rear upper hold, doesn’t approach the rear or overall stability here.  

At midfoot, we have a carbon  “ladder” across the foot which clearly delivers some pronation support for all the soft foam. I think this element is a bit overdone in combination with the relatively flat angling further forward of the forward part of the plate and the internal stout strap as the midfoot feels a rigid and could transition a bit better. Minor issue but I think could use some tuning,

Upfront the plate forks in somewhat similar fashion to the plate in the trail Tecton X. In combination with the very broad 120mm front platform the front of the shoe is very stable and energetic on toe off in a deliberate, smooth and pleasing way.  

The rocker and front geometry including plate  is particularly effective here. Hoka pretty much invented the rocker as their stack heights were bigger than the competition but lagged in rocker effectiveness over time.  Not so here with their most stacked shoe to date.

Not as wildly energetic as the Prime X or as shallow and speedy forward dropping and rolling feeling as the New Balance SC Trainer 1, the design is for sure “safer” and more appropriate for the average runner than those 2 shoes. 

I do think the 120mm front platform is too broad and could be narrowed to improve the shoe’s agility (and reduce weight). That said, the front of the shoe with its massive 43mm stack and effective carbon plate and rocker had me rolling along very steady with no shock transmitted whatsoever and zero plate harshness yet with a lively enough toe off for such a giant,  and especially so for such a big stack shoe with 5 mm drop. 

Bottom line:  The platform, plate and foam combination is very well integrated and smooth on the run at all paces (no overly soft heel at slow paces here), is incredibly deeply cushioned, totally vibration free, stable and energetic yet everything in a well controlled way.

Sally: Sam breaks down the construction of this revolutionary midsole well. One really feels the softness of the PEBA foam underfoot, as well as the stability offered by the supercritical Rocker EVA foam beneath that. The H shaped carbon fiber plate sandwiched between the two layers provides the incredible bounce and responsiveness and contributes to the energetic push off at the toe. 

This is a shoe with A LOT of cushioning and softness in feel that is somehow not marshmallowy mushy. 

The ride is bouncy and trampoline-like and fun, yet smooth in transitions. For me, there was zero ground feel on the run, so if that is what you like, this is your shoe. I am a lightweight; I feel It would be a great shoe for the heavier runner who could really capitalize on the responsiveness of the plate/max cushion combo and stable base.


The outsole is fairly standard fare for such a shoe with coverage in the appropriate places. It has a not overdone at the heel decoupling groove which gets far deeper at midfoot to reduce weight with the carbon plate doing the stabilizing there.

Rubber depth appears more than adequate for many miles of use with longer term testing to determine durability. 

Sally: I think of this shoe as a great marathon training shoe designed for those long easy runs, and HOKA seems to have had that in mind when creating an outsole with plenty of well-placed rubber. This should be an outsole with great durability. It is pleasantly quiet on the run, and has good traction on dry and wet roads.
I have over 60 miles on my pair of easy running and walking ( I am rehabbing a hamstring injury) and notice a bit of wear on the foam.

I have over 60 miles on my pair of easy running and walking ( I am rehabbing a hamstring injury) and notice a bit of wear on the foam.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

Hoka, the max cushion original brand which emerged when minimal running shoes were all the rage, goes back to its roots and into the future in a big way with the Skyward X.

My back to back two runs to date were at moderate daily training paces and progressed from mid 10 minute miles down to sub 8 minute miles at the end of both runs miles, so a fairly wide range of paces.  I had zero muscle soreness and especially no knee soreness on my November surgically repaired knee- 2x titanium screws after a trail running crash.  This indicates to me the Skyward is highly protective and stable and would make a great long run and high mileage trainer.

The slower paces were easily and smoothly handled , while at faster paces with more drive off the front the shoe had me rebounding away in a very smooth deliberate way surprising me given the 5 mm drop with such a big stack and relatively substantial weight of the Skyward X. Credit must be given to the massive amount of energy returning super foams and the effective plate and rocker design. I think the design will suit heavier strong front striking runners yet better

I do wish for a slightly narrower front platform to make the shoe more nimble. I don’t think such a change would affect the front stability and could reduce weight. 

The upper is focused on support and comfort, not the lightest possible weight, and is a good call by Hoka to make such a giant shoe. It fits true to size with decent width and especially lots of toe box height that remains well held. The midfoot is very securly held by the thick but narrow strap and the stiff heel counter keeps the heel locked down and stable. The additional big TPU overlay may be overdone. A bit less might accomplish the same and reduce weight.

Hoka makes a big and effective statement here, returning to their DNA of max cushion and here to big time super max cushion heights. If you are looking for a trainer that is maximal height,  forgiving and energetic ride with very well integrated carbon propulsion that also stabilizes with lively foam for your middle miles of training and long runs the Skyward X is a great new option.

Score 9.4/ 10

Less platform width up front could reduce weight and increase agility. The upper is fantastic in support but could be slimmed down, especially at the heel. The midfoot underfoot could use more flex and ease of transition. 


Sally: My early experimentation with the OG max cushion HOKA’s left me cold: they seemed like too much shoe for my petite frame, and I likened them to attempting to run in ski boots. Haha, shoe technology has evolved and my experience broadened! Here we have an all new HOKA that is a max cushion supertrainer with a BIG 48mm stack, but designed with a revolutionary combination of PEBA foam and super critical EVA foam and a uniquely H shaped carbon plate sandwiched in between. The result is a soft yet smooth, stable and responsive bouncy shoe that is FUN to run in, ideally suited for those long easy runs. 

It is heavier than I would normally like at 9.6 oz for my W8, but it does not feel that heavy or bottom heavy on the run. 

This is a shoe for those who like zero ground feel and want to keep their legs fresh after marathon training runs and the like. It picks up the pace nicely enough with a spunky toe-off, but is not the shoe for tempo workouts and faster efforts. I have logged many miles in the Skyward X on easy runs and fast-paced walks and have enjoyed every minute in them. HOKA provides a great new option for runners with the Skyward X.

Sally’s score: 9.6 / 10.0 

(points off for weight and price) 


4 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Sam: As discussed in the review,  the closest shoe to the heights of the Skyward X is the adidas Prime X Strung 2  (RTR Review) which even exceeds the Hoka in that department and in pricing at $300, so $75 more and weighs 0.25 oz more as well. The adidas has a more lively forefoot with a unique sensation of flight. The Strung version widened the heel and especially midfoot platform making the shoe more practical although its platform and upper still lags the Hoka in support. For sheer “fun” the Prime X still rules with the Hoka far more practical and useful day in day out as a trainer. 

Sally: The original Prime Strung 1 was my favorite shoe of all time for JOY: here was the first shoe to give me the sensation of flight while running. So cool! “Illegally fast” is a great marketing phrase as well, even with a $300 price tag for the 50mm stack height rocket ship. But then… can I say what a disappointment the Prime X Strung 2 was for me? They stripped the wildness and excitement out of the shoe with the second version, possibly making it more suitable for a wider range of runners. Both are $$$ and heavy, with the Prime X feeling more bottom heavy. I would still choose the disappointing Prime X Strung 2 for faster runs, but the HOKA Skyward X is much more universally sensible and practical. Prime X Strung in its unisex sizing was a challenge, US 6.5 was too large all around.

FuelCell SC Trainer v1 (RTR Review) also is a comparable max cushion shoe by stats. It weighed 0.25 oz less, had a slightly lower heel height and a higher drop of 8mm vs. 5mm for the Hoka. The Trainer was a big favorite of RTR contributors for its long run speed with great cushion. It has a more pronounced rolling forward action than the Skyward, a thinner firmer feeling forefoot and a more minimal yet still secure upper. Its deep Energy Arc cavity at the rear made it bouncier but less stable than the Hoka.  

Sally: I loved the FC SC Trainer V1, really enjoying the soft bounce and easy roll underfoot. It feels much lighter than the Skyward X and is easier for me to pick up the paces in. I did have challenges with the upper with blisters on the medial ankle collar.The Skyward X is bigger and more stable and might make more sense for some runners on long easy training runs who want to be kind to their legs.

New Balance SC Trainer v2 (RTR Review) is a lower stack shoe at a race legal 40mm heel with a 6.5mm drop and weight an ounce less than the Skyward.  It really is now in a different category of max not super max trainers. I found it overly soft at slower paces with the plate more “present” and less well integrated than in the Hoka. Its upper while true to size is lower volume and width up front and less secure at the heel.

Sally: (True to size W8 in both): Again, I have loved the NB FC SC Trainers. The lower volume upper of the FC SC Trainer actually fits my narrow foot better than the HOKA with its spacious toe box, but the ride is definitely softer than the HOKA with less benefit from its carbon plate. The Skyward X is a much bigger and cushier shoe more appropriate for me at slower paces. 

ASICS Superblast (RTR Review) is strong competition for the Skyward X. It has a slightly lower stack height of 45.5 mm heel / 37.5 mm forefoot, 8mm drop at a weight more than 2 oz / 60g less than the Hoka yet on a similar platform width although  10 mm narrower at the forefoot and 5mm narrower at the heel. Memo to Hoka narrow the next Skyward’s platform. It has no plate but is a mostly rigid rocker shoe. Its foam is not quite as plush and more responsive. Stability is decent but not at the level of the Hoka especially at the heel. Its upper is more minimal comfortable enough and more breathable but not nearly as substantial in support as the Hoka. The faster runner with good aligned form seeking a shoe for faster long runs should go Superblast, everyone else the Skyward X. 

Sally: I really wanted to love the Superblast because everyone else was raving about it, but my pair was too large and I could not get it to work for me. It felt still and blocky. I do look forward to trying the next version in the correct size so as to experience the reported magic of it! That said, I really like the HOKA Skyward X for a max height max cushion supertrainer, despite its massive size and overly wide platform.

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Alex said...

I got an early model from a French distributor, put them on, but could not get over the weight and clunkiness of it. Compared to the Topo Atmos (which I love and would have liked a comparison to as it is the benchmark of well-made max cushion shoes for me) it felt like a complete brick on foot, and the overlay in the toe box made for the feeling of very little vertical room above the toes. Sold the shoe without even feeling like I would like to put a single run into them.

Theodore said...

I'm wondering how it compares to Bondi X, it seems like a direct evolution of that one due to the large cushion.

As a heavier than average marathon runner, the Bondi X was an amazing shoe that helped me (and other runners in my community) tackle hilly marathons and halves, and even a 70.3 tri, with the only issue being the slim tongue that kept sliding down after the 30km mark. My PR is 3:58, so a slower runner than what the rest of the carbon plated supershoes are targeted towards.

Krischen said...

I'm glad to read that Sam is back to running. It's nice that there's shoes that enable people to run post surgery.

The Skyward seems like a great shoe. Only concern is the EVA under the plate. The foam setup is similar to the Mach X; softer EVA below the plate and more active PEBA foam above it. I did not like the ride of the Mach X. The problem was that the ProFly+ foam gets soft like a mushroom during a run and the shoe loses responsiveness and rebound. That will probably be the case with the Skyward. That puts the Skyward closer to the SC Trainer V1 which also suffers from intra-run midsole softening and the issues that come with it. That means that the Prime X is still the better shoe in this new super max category. But I do hope that the Skyward is successful in the marketplace. The price is high but more reasonable than what Adidas. If the Skyward gains traction it could encourage Adidas to reduce their price on the Prime X or give New Balance a reason to reconsider the stack height for the SC Trainer and raise it back up to or beyond the stack of the V1.

Terrence said...

@Krischen I haven't tried Skyward X myself (although I am going to a Hoka event where I can try either that or the Cielo X in 3 hrs, and not such which I'll take...) But I will say I did not like the Mach X for the reasons you stated.

The difference though is Skyward X has supercritical EVA as a layer vs Mach X's standard compression molded EVA. If you've tried Hyperburst in Skechers or the nitrogen supercritical DNA Flash (Brooks) or NITRO (Puma) - all supercritical EVA - they're firmer and bouncier than normal EVA because of the gases injected into it.

Terrence said...

Oh - follow-up. They gave me the Cielo X for the shakeout, since there were like 300 people who got there first. Not a bad consolation prize lol