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Hoka Carbon X3 Running Shoe Review

The Carbon X3 doesn’t have the speed of the best carbon shoes, but it is a versatile option for training and racing

Hoka Carbon X3 running shoes
(Image: © Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

Our Verdict

In the all-out speed stakes, the Hoka Carbon X3 is outgunned by the likes of the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% 2 and Adidas Adizero Adios 2, but the X3 is a more stable carbon shoe that works for training and ultramarathon events on the road.

For

  • A stable, versatile carbon option
  • Cheaper than many carbon shoes

Against

  • Midsole foam lacks bounce
  • Not as fast as true super-shoes
  • Upper fit can be sloppy

What’s New On The Hoka Carbon X3

There are two notable updates on the Hoka Carbon X3. The midsole is now made of a lighter, softer and springier EVA foam, and the upper is now a knit material rather than mesh. 

Overall, the changes on the Carbon X2 have improved the shoe, but the Carbon X3 still falls short of the performance of other carbon plate running shoes including Hoka’s own Rocket X, especially when running fast.

It impresses more as a versatile trainer/racer that can handle regular running better than most carbon shoes, and those who tackle ultramarathon events on the road might find it a good pick for that. Even then, I’d say there are better options than the Carbon X3 on those fronts.

Hoka Carbon X3: Release Date And Price

The Hoka Carbon X3 will go on sale on 1st March 2022 and will cost £160/$180. That price makes it cheaper than most carbon plate shoes, though Hoka’s own Rocket X is cheaper at £140. The impressive Puma Deviate Nitro Elite is just £10 more at £170, though it’s rarely in stock.

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Design And Fit

Hoka Carbon X3 running shoes

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

The Carbon X3’s new knit upper has supportive sections to achieve a locked-down fit and for the most part it works well, but when I used the shoe for faster training sessions there was some lateral movement of my foot in the shoe when rounding corners. It’s not something I’d mark down as a serious problem, though, and the knit material is both comfortable and breathable.

Along with a full-length carbon plate, the midsole of the Carbon X3 features a new EVA foam, which is an improvement on the material used in the Carbon X2. The ride of the X3 is a little softer and bouncier, though it’s still not as springy and propulsive as top-tier carbon shoes like the Vaporfly.

It has an outsole made from rubberised EVA, rather than a full rubber outsole, and this reduces the grip and durability. It’s a shoe best kept on the road as a result, but it did grip well on wet pavements.

Hoka Carbon X3 running shoes

(Image credit: Nick Harris-Fry / Future)

At 240g in my UK 9, the X3 is slightly lighter than the X2, which was 246g, but it’s still heavier than pretty much every other carbon shoe I’ve tested, which does point to the fact the X3 is built more for versatility and longer events. It has a drop of 5mm and the stack height is 32mm at the heel, which is lower than most carbon shoes and contributes to the X3’s more stable feel.

At the back of the shoe you have an extended swallowtail design to smooth the transition of your footstrike when landing on the heel. Even as a heelstriker I remain unconvinced of the benefits of this protrusion, but I can’t say it particularly annoyed me either.

Running Performance

I’ve run just shy of 80km in the Hoka Carbon X3, including a hard tempo run, a long run covering 21km, several easy runs and a couple of progression runs working from an easy to steady pace.

Out of the box I took it for the tempo run, where I warmed up with 30 minutes of easy running before running for 30 minutes at around 3min 30sec/km pace. It wasn’t a great first impression. Compared with other carbon shoes it felt clunky and laboured, and the foam gave little back in terms of bounce. 

That second 30 minutes was around my marathon pace and on the other occasions I have hit that pace or faster in the X3 I’ve had a similar experience. It just doesn’t feel built for that kind of pace and I’d sooner have pretty much any other carbon shoe on my foot, or even a nylon-plated shoe like the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2.

However, when running at easy and steady paces, I enjoyed wearing the X3 a lot more, especially on the longer run and the progression runs. When you’re not pushing so hard, the ride feels smooth and I consistently found that when just ticking along, I was running at a faster pace than I’d expect for my heart rate.

I ran a 1hr 29min half marathon in the shoe on that Sunday long run at the end of a tough week of training and the day after a long cross-country race. My main aim in the long run was to keep my heart rate down. The pace came naturally and it does show off the better aspects of the X3’s ride in helping you roll along at a decent pace, but not pushing too hard, which may well work well for road ultramarathons.

I found it also works well for easy runs, and it has a more stable ride than most carbon shoes. That makes it a more versatile option and similar to shoes like the Endorphin Speed 2, New Balance FuelCell TC or Puma Deviate Nitro, which are plated training shoes rather than thoroughbred racers.

On the other hand I’d rate all those shoes as faster options than the X3 for speedwork, tempo runs and races up to the marathon distance. 

Is The Hoka Carbon X3 Worth It?

The Hoka Carbon X3 is an improvement on the X2, but because there are better options for both race-day performance and all-round versatility it’s not a shoe I’d pick up myself. However, as a stable plated shoe that can handle ultramarathon events, it may suit some people.

If you are looking for a carbon racer I’d still pay the extra and get pretty much any other brand’s top shoe, or save money and pick up the Rocket X if sticking with Hoka’s line-up. 

On the other hand, if you want a versatile speedy shoe then the Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 remains the best out there, and it’s £5 cheaper than the Carbon X3 at £155.

Nick Harris-Fry
Nick Harris-Fry

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.