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Hoka Carbon X3 Review: Powered by ProflyX
By Chief Editor Matthew Klein and Senior Contributors David Salas and Nathan Brown

The original Hoka Carbon X was released with great fanfare. A whole race, Project Carbon X, was created to demonstrate the shoe's prowess over ultramarathon road distances. This continued with the Carbon X2, which refined the ultramarathon racer into a more aggressive and cushioned shoe. While no announcement has been made for Project Carbon X3, version three returns with an overhaul of the upper and a new supercritical foam. Continuing to be a higher stack height, carbon plated ultramarathon racer/trainer, small refinements make for some interesting changes worth discussing.

Hoka Carbon X 3

Hoka Carbon X3
Price: Tentative Release for March/April, $180
Weight: 7.8 oz, 222 g (men's size 9), 6.6 oz, 188 g (women's size 8)
Measured Weight Sample Men's size 10: 8.9 oz / 252 g
Stack Height: (M) 32 mm / 27 mm (W) 30 mm / 25 mm
Drop: 5mm
Classification: Ultra Marathon Road Racer

Hoka Carbon X 3 Review


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY


Matt:  The HOKA Carbon X3 returns with a performance knit upper for a more flexible fit and a slightly softer midsole that improves on the ride of the previous version. The knit upper provides a slightly snug but adjustable fit, allowing for swelling accommodation over long miles. The sole design is similar to the previous version, with a slightly softer midsole that makes the ride a bit more forgiving. The decreased weight makes the shoe feeling lighter on the feet, but the forgiving midsole and flexible upper relaxes the aggressiveness of the prior version. Those looking for an ultramarathon racing shoe or plated long run shoe with a flexible upper for longer or uptempo miles will enjoy the Carbon X3.

David: The HOKA Carbon X3 continues upon the ultra racing lineage they have established for themselves. The update for the X3 includes ProFlyX midsole and a knew knit upper. The midsole is supposedly supercritical EVA though feels only a little softer and a tad bouncier than the X2. The upper lockdown could be better but overall the shoe provides a promising platform. The geometry and midsole composition seem to work really well for the design of ultra racing and/or long run shoe// lightweight trainer. Aesthetically the shoe is really pleasing as well so it could double as one of those lifestyle and serious running shoes which does give it some appeal. 

Nathan: The HOKA Carbon X series has been a favorite of mine for long runs and is a versatile, cushioned, and carbon plated shoe that can hit a variety of paces during those longer runs. The newest iteration, the Carbon X3, maintains the same geometry as its predecessor, but gets an upper overhaul and a new midsole compound that gives just a slightly different ride with more pop at fast paces. A shoe that is easy to find a groove in, it can be a carbon plated option for a variety of runners.

Hoka Carbon X 3 Review
Hoka Carbon X 3 Review


FIT 


Matt: The Hoka Carbon X 3 fits me slightly long in my normal US men's size 10. The performance knit is flexible with a normal fit throughout. The knit is fairly flexible throughout and while security feels questionable, my feet have stayed on the platform. The heel features a thin but flexible counter that did not bother me at all. The heel fits normal to slightly snug. The upper is one piece, so there is no tongue. The elf heel fits comfortably, but I have noticed some mild heel slippage consistently on runs. This has never caused me blisters even on 16 mile runs but is a reason to wear socks with this shoe. The midfoot fits normal to slightly wide thanks to the flexible fit from the knit. I have to really tighten the laces down and was able to lock this part of the upper in better. I was concerned as there is no last eyelet in this shoe, so lace locking is not possible. The forefoot tapers and fits more snug that the rest of the shoe. This was offset by the slightly longer fit but for anyone that decides to go a half size down, know the forefoot will fit especially snug. The upper security is odd. I have noticed mild slippage at the heel particularly with faster efforts and the upper is not secure enough for aggressive terrain. For moderate paces going in straight lines with mild turns, it is fine. The upper stretches nicely and accommodates foot swelling while providing a mildly compressive fit. For those who want a sock-like fit throughout the length of the upper and have normal width feet, the new upper of the Carbon X 3 will fit you well. 

David: The HOKA Carbon X3 fits true to size in my normal 9.5 though does fit a little on the long side. The width throughout is pretty good and I did not have much translation medially or laterally. The volume of the upper does seem to give a bit of a problem though. It feels like there is just too much height and material and the shoe requires me to lace it down very tight to ensure no translation or heel slippage. Heel slippage was my initial complaint on this model and it seems if I lace things down really tight it does improve, but still isn't great. The knit material itself isn't bad at all, I actually like it. I just think the dimensions of the shoe can be reworked because this plays into the ride of the shoe as well. There is a flexible heel counter though very minimal and the shoe relies more on the natural resiliency of the material in the upper to maintain its structure. The shoe also does not have a final eyelet which I think could help out a lot to help with some of the heel insecurity experienced. Promising materials but execution not the greatest. 

Nathan: The HOKA Carbon X3 receives a knit, bootie construction for the upper. I did not find the shoe to fit long as the others did. However, I did have some other issues with the fit. The material itself is nice and comfortable, but there was no way to get a lockdown of the heel and even the midfoot for me given that the volume of the shoe overall is just a bit too much. If I were to try and lace down tight, the knit bootie upper would fold over the top of my foot and create painful pressure. Therefore I would leave it more loosely tied, resulting in a poor heel lock. That said, the shoe is still more than runnable, it just had heel slippage for me at all paces. I have a slightly more narrow foot, and the X2 upper was much more adaptable to my foot and needs. Those with narrow feet may want to try this shoe on before purchasing. If your foot is moderate to higher volume, that may actually work in your favor here. However, the toe box is on the narrow side from medial to lateral, so someone with a wide forefoot may not have the best luck here either. The nature of bootie construction is that the upper will either be molded for your foot or it'll be off and not work for you. In the end, the upper is one of the best looking I've seen in a while with a great design and is a comfortable knit; it just needs to be refined to hold the heel better. 

Hoka Carbon X 3 Review


PERFORMANCE 

Matt: The Hoka Carbon X 3 retains the sole geometry from the previous version, featuring a full length carbon fiber plate, a flared but well-beveled heel, and an aggressive Meta-Rocker (toe-spring). There is a 5mm drop that I almost did not notice given the aggressive rocker design of the Carbon X 3. I have used this shoe for daily training and long runs without any calf soreness. The ride overall is protective but on the firmer end for a max cushion shoe. It is slightly softer than the X2, but is not a soft shoe. This feeling is consistent throughout the sole and lends to the shoe performing better at uptempo paces. It can handle normal paces, but the plate is too stiff for me to use as a recovery shoe. During long runs, the protective, firmer and stiffer ride make it easy to pick up the pace. I have used this shoe for several long runs that had workouts, uptempo paces and pick-ups in the second half. The midsole transitions well between these. The lighter weight also makes it easier to pick up the pace as it feels easy to turn the legs over wearing this shoe. This makes the Carbon X 3 versatile for tempo runs, uptempo efforts, and longer runs. However, the lack of additional security from the upper and slightly softer ride compared to the previous make version it less versatile at faster paces. The firmer sole of the X2 made it easy for me do to shorter workouts given the stiffer midsole and plate. This relaxes slightly with the X3, which makes it more comfortable to do easier runs in, but difficult to run any faster than tempo pace. The Carbon X3 is truly a long distance uptempo/racing shoe and will work best for those wanting a slightly firmer carbon fiber plated shoe for uptempo work, marathon and ultramarathon road races.

David: This is certainly a Carbon X with some new updates. The geometry remains the same as the X2 platform though the midsole is a tad bit softer with a little more bounce. With that said I think the shoe still leans on the firmer end of rides but still highly protective thanks to all of the foam underfoot. Overall the shoe does feel a tad more responsive when pushed, but still not something that screams fast by any means. The shoe feels best at highly sustainable paces and slight uptempo work which would be required for ultra marathon racing. The upper integration is not the greatest which I think negatively impacts your ability to transition and pop off of the forefoot. I also noticed if I didn't lace it tightly that I'd me much more hesitant going into sharper turns especially if going uptempo pacing. The rubberized EVA outsole remains the same and does a decent enough job of gripping on road and some light dirt conditions. The shoe overall feels like a step in the right direction, but just not quite something I'd reach for on race day. The shoe feels like a good long run shoe for me. I have used it for some faster workouts and came away a little underwhelmed but its a shoe definitely worth consideration for long efforts. Transition wise the shoe is pretty good and similar to X2. The heel is largely and centrally beveled with a quick and smooth transition through the midfoot onto a sharply rockered forefoot. You consistently feel like you are in a rolling sensation. The biggest thing again is that upper lockdown though because when the foot moves a small amount that rolling sensation is certainly altered in a negative way. I don't dislike the shoe but I really think the integration could be so much better. 

Nathan: The Carbon X2 and Carbon X3 have a number of similarities. The geometry is the same with a mildly aggressive rocker, a carbon plate positioned close to the ground, and a rubberized EVA outsole. With that in mind some of the best aspects of the Carbon X2 are carried forward to this newer version. It has one of the quietest and softest interactions with the ground given the rubberized EVA and the transitions are very smooth with the extended heel bevel up to the forefoot rocker. The rubberized EVA grips rather well on pavement as the soft EVA almost molds around the small bumps in the road for grip. However on any level of snow, there are not enough grooves in the outsole to get grip of any kind. The cushioning height hits a sweet spot of having a higher stack, but not completely maximal, so you get the protection for longer milage without being lofted way overground. Add in that the carbon plate has some mild flexibility, this shoe gives more versatilely for training miles in addition to longer/harder efforts. The new midsole and upper is where performance changes in the new version. The new midsole provides a slightly softer and slightly more responsive feel than previous, but still sits a bit on the firmer end of the spectrum for carbon plated shoes. I found that the foam responds really well at tempo and workout paces. However, the upper doesn't provide a solid lockdown, so the performance suppers because of it given that the foot is slipping with every stride. Ultimately, the Carbon X3 continues its position as a long run, ultramarathon shoe that has a rolling ride, but does take a hit on performance if the upper doesn't work for you. 



STABILITY 

Matt: Like previous versions however there are several new age methods of stability in the Carbon X 3. There are solid sidewalls in the rearfoot on the medial and lateral side, which stabilize and guide the rearfoot well. The broader platform and carbon plate add inherent stability through a wider foundation and stiffness. The plate retains the unique design that facilitates motion through the first toe and the rocker promotes forward movement. Overall there are some solid methods of new age stability that will work mostly for those who need some mild guidance in the rearfoot.

David: The X3 is not a stability shoe but does have some elements that help contribute to a stable ride underfoot. The slightly firm platform coupled with a large rocker and plate do help keep the shoe moving in a linear direction with less chance of deformation or fluky movements. However I'm a little disappointed in the upper and the integration with the platform. Because of this the foot feels a little less connected to the platform and thus a little more apprehensive when moving into turns or situations that may require a little more attention like an unkept road. The wide base especially through the heel does seem to help with keeping motion linear and prevents an excessive pronation moment through the rearfoot at initial contact and loading response. So those that may haves some heel instability it may be worth looking into. 

Nathan: The Carbon X3 continues to be a neutral racing/uptempo/long distance shoe but does have a more stable platform than other carbon plated options out there...at least underfoot. There is an overall wider ground contact, a firmer foam, some side walls, and smooth transitions to stabilize the platform. Additionally, the plate design helps guide the foot toward resupination given the cutout around the first ray (big toe and beyond). However, the poor upper security makes the X3 take a hit in regards to stability compared to the X2.

Hoka Carbon X3


THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

The Carbon X3 is a shoe that I would consider a maximal stack height, carbon plated racing shoe but not a super shoe. We know from the evidence that carbon plates seem to contribute ~1% of these economy improvements at most, a significant amount comes from the foams and the remainder from the geometry (Burns & Tam, 2020; Roy & Stefanyshyn 2008). How this works for each person may vary, but some recent early research from Joubert & Jones (2021) demonstrated that the non-PEBAX/non-super foam carbon plated shoes had little to no benefit to running economy over a traditional, non-plated racing flat. The supercritical foam used in the Carbon X 3 is still an EVA variant and does not qualify as a super foam. The use of a carbon plate does increase stability and stiffness, which may benefit people who can line up their mechanics with the plate (Oh & Park, 2017). However, additional evidence continues to point to these special foams as a major factor in economy improvement (Healey & Hoogkamer, 2021).

There will be a benefit for some people however in using the Carbon X 3 and other non-super foamed carbon plated racers. The firmer EVA is inherently often more stable than softer PEBAX/other foams. The increased firmness and increased durometer also means better proprioceptive input in joints/ligaments. So for those with sensation/body awareness issues, firmer shoes like this may be better. Additional instabilities over long mileage can cause small stabilizing muscles to fatigue, which may alter running mechanics and economy. Many of the true super shoes are not stable, which may not work for some people. They are not inherently bad, but like all footwear, they may or may not work for certain populations. Individual people will have variable responses to different types of footwear (Hebert-Losier et al., 2020). So make sure you find the shoe that works for you.

References

Burns, G. T., & Tam, N. (2020). Is it the shoes? A simple proposal for regulating footwear in road running. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(8), 439-440.

Healey, L., & Hoogkamer, W. (2021). Longitudinal bending stiffness does not affect running economy in Nike Vaporfly shoes.

H├ębert-Losier, K., Finlayson, S. J., Driller, M. W., Dubois, B., Esculier, J.-F., & Beaven, C. M. (2020). Evidence of variable performance responses to the Nike 4% shoe: Definitely not a game-changer for all recreational runners. SportRxiv Preprint.

Joubert, D. P., & Jones, G. P. (2021). A Comparison of Running Economy Across Seven Carbon-Plated Racing Shoes.

Oh, K., & Park, S. (2017). The bending stiffness of shoes is beneficial to running energetics if it does not disturb the natural MTP joint flexion. Journal of Biomechanics, 53, 127-135.

Roy JP, Stefanyshyn DJ. (2006) Shoe midsole longitudinal bending stiffness and running economy, joint energy, and EMG. Med Sci Sports Exerc: 38(3):562-9.



RECOMMENDATIONS

Matt: As much as I discussed above that certain people will do well in the Carbon X 3 due to the use of an EVA foam, if HOKA is really going after creating competitive performance racing shoes, a new, non-EVA foam is needed. Companies are using non-traditional stability methods to address some of the instabilities in these new foamed shoes, which means that some of the comparative benefits of the firmer models start to decrease. So a new foam is needed. My comment about the heel bevel still remains from version 2, although the slightly softer midsole has addressed this somewhat. As fatigue sets in, the posterior flare can be a bit jarring even with the bevel, so that can be further smoothed out. This is important as runners tend to have initial contacts that are further back the longer the distance they are running, so heel design is very important in an ultramarathon shoe. The upper I am torn on (no pun intended). The socklike upper is comfortable, but not secure. The lack of a last eyelet to further secure the fit is concerning and I have had way more movement with this upper than I would like. I have had mild blistering on my toes, but have not taken this shoe beyond 16 miles at this time. While the upper is comfortable, it is less secure that I would like for a performance shoe. Some additional reinforcements may be beneficial to better lock down the foot, particularly around the heel and midfoot.

David:
I went from really excited about X3 to being a little underwhelmed I'll be honest. The midsole seems like a step in the right direction but I would still like for it to feel a little more alive and responsive. If you're going to put a lot of work into updating a foam compound, it would be worth looking into using some other materials. It doesn't have to be a PEBAX foam but something that isn't a semi-flat EVA. I also think the upper needs a lot of refinement. The length is certainly a tad long and there is a volume problem through the dorsal aspect of the midfoot hat requires you to lock the shoe down quite a bit. I think the combination of that and a little space in the heel also makes it very susceptible to heel slippage. If the upper integration could be improved though I think I could really enjoy this shoe for really long efforts especially on the road. 

Nathan: I was really curious about what a new supercritical foam from HOKA was going to feel like (both in this model and the Mach Supersonic). Ultimately it is only a very small tick in the direction of responsiveness and may even leave you wondering what the changes were foam wise. In either this model or the Rocket X (or something new), it would be nice to see HOKA transition to a foam compound and geometry shaping that carries some of the responsive feel as many of the other racer options on the market. I think they could make a wonderfully stable option that would suit a lot of runners, while providing a more dynamic foam experience. However, the biggest recommendation for this shoe is to dial in the upper, or abandon the bootie. It's hard to nail bootie construction, but this upper erred on the side of volume versus being tighter (while still being too narrow for those with wide feet). This lead to too much slippage. I think that a more snug inlet and midfoot and an extra eyelet may assist in this. Or just go back to a gusseted tongue.

WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR 


Matt: The Hoka Carbon X 3 is primarily an upper update from the Carbon X 2 with a slightly softer midsole. The geometry remains similar, although it may be more versatile on easy runs due to the slightly decreased midsole firmness. Those looking for an inherently stable, non-super foam carbon plated long distance racing shoe will enjoy the Carbon X 3. The new upper provides a comfortable upper fit, although it is not the most secure. There is solid rearfoot guidance while still being a neutral racing shoe. The weight drop to 7.8 oz (men's size 9) is noticeable and makes turning over the legs on uptempo efforts easier. For those looking for a sock like upper on an efficient riding, ultramarathon racing/uptempo shoe, the Carbon X 3 may be worth a look. 

David: The HOKA Carbon X3 for someone looking to have an ultra running performance shoe with a semi firm but still highly protective ride and a strong rocker geometry. The upper update could be integrated with the platform a little better and requires a lot of locking down but the material itself is comfortable enough. The shoe seems to serve best as either a long run shoe/ ultra marathon racer, or even a lightweight trainer. It does seem to lack some responsiveness for faster efforts but overall a shoe that will do well for many miles on feet. 

Nathan: The HOKA Carbon X3 is for someone who wants a rockered, semi-rigid, long distance and versatile trainer that sits a bit on the firmer end of the spectrum and is mildly stable for a neutral shoe. It will suit many for long runs and even running longer races like half marathon up to road ultramarathons. This shoe will also work best for those who have a foot that match the bootie upper, which likely means a bit more volume in your foot without it being too wide.

Hoka Carbon X3

GRADING 

Matt
Fit: (Normal width except for forefoot. Sock-like fit that provides comfort but is a little lacking on security )
Performance: 
B+ (Highly protective, moderately cushioned max cushion. Slightly firmer ride, although firmer than previous with rockered ride that works well over long uptempo efforts)
Stability: A-/B+ (Solid stability for a neutral racing shoe from sidewalls and wider platform. Upper security is lacking. )
DPT/Footwear Science: B (Nothing new except for decreased security from the upper. Good for weight loss but not for security)
Personal:  B (This is a great shoe for long runs, but isn't fast enough for me for most workouts and isn't comfortable enough for easy runs. A specific purpose limits its functionality, which is further lost from the OG Carbon X)
Overall: (An ultramarathon racing/uptempo shoe that some people may be able to use for long runs/easy runs)

David
Fit: B- (Fit is a little long, volume is a little high through the midfoot really requiring tight lockdown, heel slippage problems otherwise, though material itself is nice and width throughout is pretty good)
Performance: 
B (For long efforts it does its job and the rolling transitions are still nice. The shoe does feel a little unalive though with the midsole feeling a tad firm with a small or minimal bounce, responsiveness could be better)
Stability: B (Mostly upper integration here, the geometry and the platform itself are actually done quite well but the upper jeopardizes some of the stability elements)
DPT/Footwear Science: B (Very similar to X2 in a lot of ways but good to see some rearfoot stability elements in an ultra shoe and/or high stack performance shoe)
Personal:  B (I like the X3, though I'm not overly crazy about it. For long runs it will be on the radar but I don't see myself reaching for it over some of the other options out there at the moment)
Overall: (A good ultra marathon running shoe with smooth transitions and a slightly firm ride. Upper integration could be better and responsiveness could be better. A good but not great shoe.)

Nathan

Fit: C+ (Impossible to get a heel lock without irritation on the top of the foot. Knit is comfortable and design of it is fantastic)
Performance: 
B (Love the rolling nature and buttery soft/smooth landing, but the upper takes away comfort and versatility)
Stability: B (Neutral shoe, stable underneath, poor upper lockdown)
DPT/Footwear Science: B (Solid geometry for training and plate design still solid, no major innovation here or foam improvements that were notable)
Personal:  B (Oh how I love getting miles in on this platform. Unfortunately the upper security -- or lack thereof -- takes away my ability to truly enjoy this shoe fully)
Overall: B- (A very smooth ride that will work for many miles for a variety of runners, upper needs work)
    

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FURTHER READING

Compare
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- Take a look at last year's version.
Hoka Bondi X - Visit Hoka's take a slower, long distance plated shoe for everyday runners.

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Hoka Mach Supersonic -
A limited release Mach with Profly+ midsole
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Find all Shoe Reviews at Doctors of Running here.

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TESTER PROFILES:


Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

Dr. Matthew Klein is a 150 lb male with notable PRs of 14:45 for 5k and 2:32:44 for the full marathon.  He typically runs 70-100 miles per week and trains at a variety of paces from 8min per mile recovery runs to 4:40 per mile 1k repeats.  He prefers firmer and responsive shoes with snug heels and medium to wide toe boxes.  The stability guy of the group, he also prefers a little stability in his footwear. However, as a researcher, clinician and running shoe aficionado, he will run in anything. 

David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing, 

Nathan Brown PT DPT OCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

Dr. Brown is a 155 lb male with notable PRs of 18:18 5K, 39:25 10K, 1:29:01 half marathon, and 3:29:44 marathon. He typically runs between 20-50 miles per week at a variety of paces from 8:00-9:00 min/mile for recovery runs to 6:45-7:15 min/mile for tempo runs. He typically prefers shoes that provide some cushioning underfoot but still maintain a more firm and responsive feel. 

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your
local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at Hoka for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run run as well as a warm up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

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