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The Hoka Carbon X 3 Is the Carbon-Plated Running Shoe I Didn't Know I Wanted

I've always been skeptical of carbon-plated running shoes. With the X 3, Hoka changed my mind.

hoka carbon x 3
Will Porter

Over the past few years, the fitness world has been inundated with new running shoe technology promising faster races, lower personal record times and propulsive power that makes speedwork a breeze. This supposed improved performance is based on a number of factors — but the talisman is the carbon footplate inserted in the midsole.

First done by Nike, legacy running brands and newcomers alike have all started to release their own version of the carbon-plated running shoe, primarily aimed at the endurance runner looking to shave time off their longer races. They gained notoriety thanks to the Nike Running project Breaking2, an attempt to help pro runner Eliud Kipchoge run a marathon in less than two hours (which he eventually did).

These shoes, with their second-shaving tech and pro-endorsement, have become known as super shoes. No, it isn’t a shoe for Captain America or Iron Man (though you may see dozens of pairs pounding the pavement in an Ironman), but it is an apt descriptor when you compare this new tech to what we were all racing in a decade ago.

Recently, one of the most popular running brands today, Hoka, just dropped the Carbon X 3 — its third iteration of the carbon-plated super shoe. Having run in the Carbon X 2 — and, admittedly, not liking one bit — I got my hands on the Carbon X 3 to see if the improvements Hoka made were enough to sway me back in its favor.

I was meant to race in them for the first time at the Brooklyn Marathon in April 2022, but was forced to withdraw with a month to go thanks to a case of runner’s knee, an ailment many of my running friends know all too well. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to put the Carbon X 3 through its paces, though. I was well into my training when I was injured, and had spent time on the track and the road with the shoes — not only to get enough content for a review, but to ensure I wasn’t lacing them up for the first time on race day. (Never use a new pair on race day. In fact, never do anything new on race day.)

will porter running in rolex and other watches
Will Porter

I tested them on fast runs, slow runs, short runs and long runs. I also ran them with their stock insoles, though I only did that once and quickly switched back to the trusty Superfeet insoles I use in all of my running shoes.

The Carbon X 3 is a neutral stability shoe, meaning they have no prescriptive tech, so they worked just fine for me as an underpronator, but if you overpronate, you may want to take that into consideration from the jump. I like the insoles to add support to my high arches, but if you generally don’t use insoles, you probably won’t need to with these, either. Other than that, I ran in them exactly how they came.

hoka carbon x 3
Will Porter

The Carbon X 3's knit upper is a welcome upgrade over the X 2.

The first shoes I ever saw with knit uppers were soccer cleats back when I was in high school. At the time, I thought, why would I want to wear a shoe that fits like a sock? Will they just stretch out and leave me feeling all loosey-goosey as I run around?

The answers, back then, were yes, they stretch, and no, they aren’t great. I just didn’t see why you wouldn’t want leather or synthetic uppers that are known to retain their shape or even mold to your foot, rather than just stretch where you put the most pressure on them.

Luckily, this technology has improved significantly over the years — so much that after a few runs in Hoka's new X 3, I was looking forward to yanking them onto my foot for my runs. They don’t have a tongue per se; it's integrated into the upper and truly does cradle your foot something like a thick, supportive sock without the sloppiness I’ve experienced with knits in the past. The difference is the strong monofilament yarn Hoka uses, which ensures the shoe holds its shape and maintains a secure, locked-down feel when laced up.

These carbon-plated running shoes are bouncy, and I love it.

Another big difference between the X 2 and the X 3 is that the new iteration uses Hoka’s Super Critical Foam in the midsole for a plush, cloud-like ride that is 10x more comfortable than I imagined. You’d think the carbon plate would be uncomfortable, but the shoe doesn’t feel much less cushy than the Clifton 8s I normally train in.

Don’t get me wrong, you can tell the plate is there; they’re not as cushy as the training shoe. But even when I slowed down my pace I felt supported and comfortable in the shoe. Furthermore, the carbon plate is exciting to run with, adding a pep to my step that I don’t get with my standard training runners. It is easy to see how these would be faster than a non-carbon-plated shoe over a long race, especially if I’m pushing for a PR.

will porter in hoka sneakers
Will Porter

These carbon- look and feel fast.

This part of the review is a little more subjective, sure, but man if I don’t feel like I’m going to break every record in these. The shoe has a low profile and looks super speedy when you look down at your own feet while wearing them, which can’t go unmentioned when it comes to racing. All it takes is something like that to pull your head out of the pain cave. The colorways are amazing, adding a pop to any running kit without looking like you’re wearing the dorky reflective running gear of decades past. I’m not sure how else to say it, but in these shoes, you just know you’re going to be able to pick up the pace.

The Hoka Carbon X 3: The Verdict

Full honesty: if you’re not someone who needs to run as fast as possible or you’re looking for a supportive shoe to go from weekday training runs through raceday, you probably don’t want to buy these. If you don’t want to spend $200 on running shoes, obviously, don’t buy these. If you want a shoe to wear every day, don’t buy these.

However, for the right runner, these shoes are the ideal racing and speed work sneakers. Aesthetically, they are a delight to look at, and they immediately make you feel faster. They blend cushioning with a carbon plate in a way that makes the plate virtually undetectable, even as it does the work of propelling you forward. The sock-like upper holds its shape and caresses the foot while also being surprisingly stable, even once you get past mile 10. I’ve worn a lot of shoes in the past couple of years, but once I’m fully healthy and get my redemption on the marathon course, I’ll be wearing these.

Hoka One One
Hoka One One Carbon X 3
hoka.com
$200.00

  • Knit upper provides a comfortable, stable fit
  • Great blend of cushioning and energy return

  • Not ideal for daily training
  • If you don’t want to go fast, don’t get these shoes

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