HOKA One One Carbon X 2

Seems like if you go back 3 or 4 years, I was disliking at least 1 out of every 3 new HOKAs I reviewed. Sometimes 2 out of 3. But HOKA One One is on a streak, at least with me. The streak continues with the Carbon X 2.

The Carbon X had been my go-to race shoe and it still is, by virtue of I have 2 or 3 pairs with miles left in them on the shelf; and they’re white and I like to race in white shoes. But this new Carbon X 2 fixes a small issue with the Carbon X and is altogether a superior shoe.

So, displayed here is my already-run-in Carbon X 2, and I’ll compare these with recent HOKA models to show you what it seems to me this brand is up to.

First, the shoe itself is darned near perfect. It’s weight – about 8.4oz for size-9 mens – is right for me, because any lighter and there’s just not enough shoe there. It’s substantial enough to support an orthotic (it supports mine), and it’s plenty cushioned in both the fore- and rearfoot. It’s architecturally sound. The rocker, the width of the outsole in the heel and the midfoot is fine. There are no levers to impede a natural running gait. It’s a supportive shoe that acts like a neutral shoe. Or the other way around. It does everything I need it to do.

The upper material HOKA chose for the Carbon X series is a challenge for this brand because it’s a performance upper definitely, but it’s almost like crepe paper. Crinkly. You can see in the original (white) Carbon X that it’s not an elastic material, it’s hard to get the pattern exactly perfect. The upper in the new Carbon X 2 is similar, but HOKA seems – maybe – to have dialed in the pattern just a little better. I had no real complaints about the upper of the original Carbon X, but I think you can see how the pattern is just a little more dialed, can you not?

Those who complain about HOKAs being too narrow aren’t going to have that complaint about this shoe. I just wrote about the Mach 4, and this shoe fits like that shoe fits: I have to wrangle down the laces a bit to get it tight enough for me.

The outsole of the Carbon X 2 is pretty similar to that of the Carbon X. the dimensions are pretty much the same. The dimensions and the rocker architecture. But you can see a big difference in the heel, and that’s the dovetail heel in the Carbon X 2.

If you look at this shoe against the Mach 4, you’ll see that the dovetail heel is an obvious direction HOKA is going. The Carbon X 2 feels much like the Mach 4 when you run in both these shoe models. It’s not just the dovetail heel, it’s the architecture of the heel. If you look at the amount of the heel that protrudes out the back of these new shoes – it’s not as much as in the Clifton Edge, but it’s substantial – you can see the difference in how these new HOKAs are made. (Below is the Carbon X on the left, Carbon X 2 on the right, and the Mach 4 in the middle. It's not hard to see how the heel in the two on the right are more like each other than either is to the heel on the Carbon X on the left.)

There’s also a difference in the back of the heel in the upper. Again, like the Mach 4, the heel loop is gone, and the Mach 4 and the Carbon X 2 are very similar in construction.

HOKA had for its entire existence, up to about a year ago, an ambivalence toward normal lacing patterns. Either the shoelace type, the tongue, the eyestay, was often something non-standard, and the legacy of that is seen in the Elevon 2. I like that shoe, but it has 2 problems: it’s not got enough forefoot cushion, and it’s got an eyestay that you need a math degree to understand. I have to loosen the laces considerably, put on that shoe, and relace it and, yes, when I’ve done all that the lacing is nice. But it’s kind of like putting on a spacesuit and all I want to do is go for a run.

If you look at both the Mach 4 and the Carbon X 2, these shoes are just very normal, in the eyestay, the lacing pattern, and the lace. Remember when Giro came out with cycling shoes that had the revolutionary new closure method, the – wait, wait for it – shoe lace? The Empire series is a prominent component of Giro’s line, and it’s just a shoe with a standard shoelace. Because standard shoelaces work really well! And they work very well in these HOKAs.

I guess you might call that a part of HOKA’s maturation as a brand, that its shoes are just (for me) so much better for running – as an entire lineup – than the shoes of any other company that HOKA can have the confidence to put a regular lace in a shoe, regular tongue, without any gimmicks, and know that its shoe is going to kick the living daylights out of whatever is in its competitive set.

The Carbon X 2 costs $180, same as the Carbon X when it came out. Available in mens size 7 thru 14, half sizes thru 13. Womens sizes 5 thru 11, all in half-size increments. What I see are 3 colorways for both genders. I see Carbon X, as of this writing, for as low as $129 and even cheaper, because this new version is out. In some cases, such as the Mach 4, that shoe is so much better than its predecessors that you could give me prior generations and I would still pay full price for the Mach 4. In this case, it’s a good time to stock up on Carbon Xs if you can get them for cheap, because that was a breakthrough shoe and remains a terrific shoe unreservedly.

However, HOKA has actually improved on the Carbon X, and I can find no fault in the Carbon X 2.