Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE is the latest carbon plate race-day running shoe from Hoka. The Carbon X-SPE is an improvement from Hoka’s first take at a lightning-fast carbon plate shoe, the Hoka Hoka One One Carbon X, from 2019. For the past couple of weeks, I have tested the Carbon X-SPE, and in this review, you will get my honest opinion on the shoe. My experience with the shoe will be compared with my colleagues’ (Jacob Halle and Jesper Petersen) experience with the Hoka Carbon X, which they tested earlier this year.
In the last couple of years, we have been spoiled with one amazing carbon shoe after the other. Nice, soft materials and a firm and stiff carbon plate have turned me into a great fan of the carbon plate running shoes. It is hard to ignore the unique running experience you get from this type of shoe. They are fast and comfortable to run in.
To the left: Nike Vaporfly. In the middle: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE. To the right: New Balance FuelCell TC.
Generally, Hoka’s running shoes are renowned for their superior comfort and incredibly soft running experience. For this reason, I was excited to try out the Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE, and see if it could be a strong candidate to the other carbon shoes. Maybe even a new favourite shoe for the half-marathons and the marathons?
Before I even go into detail with the Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE, I can already reveal that it is the most stable carbon running shoe on the market today. The Carbon X-SPE is, in my opinion, the obvious pick for the casual jogger who wants to experience the unique feeling you get from a running shoe with a built-in carbon plate.
Generally, HOKA running shoes have a distinctive design and are renowned for their big and wide soles. It is not necessarily a look I love, but the comfort has always been the top priority for HOKA.
Regarding the Carbon X-SPE, the design is still quite unique. However, on this model, the sole seems a bit smaller, as the two foam soles that are placed above and under the carbon plate have different colours.
In relation to the design of the upper, it is rather normal. It has a neutral colour with the white/light blue/light purple upper while the yellow sole makes it look fast when you are on-the-run.
The fit of the Hoka Carbon X-SPE is a tad narrower than Hoka’s other running shoes. However, this is to be expected from a race shoe, as they have a tighter fit to be more “race-fit”, i.e. fit closely to the foot.
On the first couple of test runs, I was nervous about whether the Carbon X-SPE was too tight around the foot, as I started to get a bit sore on the outside of the forefoot. However, that only lasted until I broke in the shoe after which the fit was brilliant.
Hoka Carbon X-SPE upper
To the left: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE. To the right: Hoka One One Carbon X.
The big improvement of the Carbon X-SPE, compared to the predecessor, the Carbon X, is to be found on the upper. Everything that takes place under the foot is the same in both the Carbon X and the Carbon X-SPE.
The Carbon X-SPE now has a sock-looking upper without any separate shoe tongue. The shoe tongue is now a part of the entire upper material. I really like this, as it ensures the shoe hugs around the mid-foot. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the “sock” around the ankle will stretch when you are running.
To the left: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE. To the right: Hoka One One Carbon X.
A useful tip that works for me, tighten the laces a bit tighter before you run. It may feel a bit tight the first couple of kilometres, but after a while, you will feel the brilliant fit of the shoes (just as soon as the upper starts to stretch).
The stiffer heel cap on the Carbon X-SPE has also gone through some changes, compared to the Carbon X. The stiffer heel cap makes it feel nicer and provides a bit more support and stability for the back of the foot.
The heel cap on the Carbon X (on the picture to the left) is soft and very, very flexible. To the right: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE.
The new mesh upper provides better ventilation for the toes, compared to the predecessor, the Carbon X. The fabric is lightweight, flexible, and, not least, breathable. It is indeed one of the great strengths of this shoe – it is highly breathable.
The improvements of a stiffer heel cap and the inclusion of TPU material at the laces to make it more durable have resulted in an increase of weight of about 25 grams in a US size 9 Carbon X-SPE, compared to the Carbon X.
The Carbon X-SPE weighs 250 grams in a size US 9, which makes it one of the heavier carbon plate running shoes. Once you start wearing the shoe, however, you will not notice this. It still feels super, super fast.
Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE midsole
In this section, my own opinion on the midsole (Camilla) and those of my colleagues (Jesper and Jacob) will be included.
If you have tried running in the Carbon X and were looking forward to the improvements of the Carbon X-SPE, then you should not have any expectations to the sole. The sole of the Carbon X-SPE is, as mentioned, identical to the one in the Carbon X. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
To the left: Hoka One One Carbon X. To the right: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE
In both models, the carbon plate is placed between two layers of foam. The upper foam layer is for comfort while the lower layer is for momentum. The carbon plate itself is in a Y-shape inside the midsole where it “folds” itself under the tip of your toes to provide the fast rolling-action of the foot, which Hoka is known for.
This technology allows Hoka to develop a versatile running shoe that is lightweight, incredibly elastic when it comes to momentum, and has maximum comfort.
How does it feel to run in the Hoka Carbon X and the Carbon X-SPE?
I was almost shocked when I had my first run in the Carbon X. The shoe is so unlike the very, very soft models, the Bondi and the Clifton. Compared with these two models, the Carbon X feels really hard and firm under the foot. If I did not know any better, I would not have guessed that the Carbon X is a Hoka running shoe.
To the left: Hoka One One Bondi. To the right: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE.
If you are looking for a soft Hoka midsole, then you will not find it here. The Carbon X will give you a firm feeling under the foot and a harder landing than other Hoka running shoes. This makes the shoe extremely responsive, and I can still feel the asphalted road despite the big sole.
The sole of the Carbon X does not provide the soft bounce I expected. But there is no doubt that it feels fast!
I concur with Jesper and Jacob. I was very surprised about how hard the Carbon X-SPE feels to run in, considering my expectations to the shoe. It is not super soft to run in, but it delivers in momentum and the toe-off. It was indeed a different kind of experience, which I needed to get accustomed to. That is not a bad thing, but it merely came as a surprise.
Carbon X-SPE outsole
When it comes to the outsole and the running experience it provides, it has a brilliant grip in the twists and turns and on gravel. It feels very stable, and you feel secure enough to keep up the tempo no matter the course of the road.
I have been running approx. 150 km in my Carbon X and there are visible wear-and-tear on the outside of the sole at the back of the shoe (this is where I have the first ground contact). It is probably not a shoe you can do 1000km in. However, compared to a shoe like the Nike Vaporfly, I would think the Carbon X has significantly more kilometres.
There is actually no outsole on the Carbon X. On the other hand, however, the entire lower part of the midsole is a mix between EVA foam and rubber, which has high durability.
Outsole on Hoka One One Carbon X.
I have been running approx. 60 kilometres in my Carbon X-SPE and I have to concur with Jacob. As surprised, I was about the firmness of the shoe, I was equally surprised by the performance of the shoe no matter the running route. I only had to use very little energy when making twists and turns, and it performs equally great on loose grounds like gravel paths.
As a cool little feature, you can actually see the carbon plate through the outsole.
The Carbon X-SPE compared to other carbon shoes
Compared to other carbon plate running shoes, like the Nike Vaporfly and the New Balance FuelCell TC that are very soft and feel almost ‘spongy’, the Hoka Carbon X (and the Carbon X-SPE) are SIGNIFICANTLY faster.
I can best describe the Carbon X (and the Carbon X-SPE) like having a big bouncy ball under the foot. The Nike Vaporfly and the New Balance FuelCell TC, on the other hand, feel like a springy marshmallow. They cannot be more different.
To the left: New Balance FuelCell TC. In the middle: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE. To the right: Nike Vaporfly.
While the New Balance FuelCell TC and the Nike Vaporfly deliver a wild, springy experience, the Hoka Carbon X and the Carbon X-SPE provide for a wild, rolling experience. The carbon plate in the shoe is very stiff and the sole is curved (a so-called Early Meta-Rocker design). This helps to a fast rolling-action of the foot in both the Hoka Carbon X models, so you are quickly “rolling” onto the front of your foot – ready for the toe-off. It is a cool experience!
To the left and right: Hoka One One Carbon X. In the middle: Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE.
I have not tried running in the Nike or New Balance carbon plate running shoes, but I have tried the Brooks Hyperion Elite 1 and 2. Compared to Brooks, the Hoka Carbon X-SPE is also much harder. There is no doubt that you will get an incredible roll from heel to toe in the Carbon X-SPE, but it is a rough running shoe.
Even though the Carbon X-SPE is very different from other carbon running shoe, I am not disappointed. It simply surprised me because I thought the Carbon X-SPE would be my next marathon race shoe, but to this end, I have to admit, I prefer more comfort and a bit more softness in the midsole. On the other hand, it fulfils the requirements I have for a tempo/interval running shoe; a fast rolling-action of the foot and a shoe that wants to move forward. And the Carbon X-SPE will guarantee this!
The perfect carbon running shoe for the jogger
Even though it is not my favourite long-distance running shoe, it is important to highlight the subjectiveness of the right amount of hardness/softness of a running shoe.
I can strongly recommend the Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE to other runners that want a bit of extra speed on their next run. Especially for you that wants a faster running shoe where you can actually feel the rolling momentum. This is irrespective of the distance, so no matter if it is a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, or a marathon – or even longer.
Bonus info: The world record on 50 miles was actually set in a pair of Hoka One One Carbon X. So, it is capable of something – even on the long distances.
If you are a jogger and want to try the carbon plate running shoe, then the Hoka Carbon X-SPE is also a brilliant choice. The wider platform of the sole will provide you with a stable and “forgiving” landing zone. It makes it more suitable for casual joggers that do not necessarily have the world’s best running technique.
Generally, I would not recommend carbon plate running shoes for inexperienced runners and beginners. But if you, as a new runner, insist on joining the carbon plate bandwagon, the Hoka Carbon X-SPE is your best pick, in my opinion. This is due to the faster midsole and because it is not as unstable as the New Balance FuelCell TC and the Nike Vaporfly. If you are attempting a sharp corner with the FuelCell TC, you really need to make sure you do not twist your ankle. You do not have the same worry with the Hoka Carbon X-SPE – it is much more stable and forgiving.
If you do not have 100% control of your body and your running technique, you will, roughly speaking, be ”all over the place” with the unstable and very soft carbon running shoes like the Nike Vaporfly and the FuelCell TC.
There is no doubt that Hoka has made its mark in the carbon running shoe world with the Hoka One One Carbon X-SPE. It is a brilliant running shoe, which I will be using henceforth on my fast training sessions.
In my opinion, the Carbon X-SPE is the obvious pick for the casual jogger that wish to try a fast carbon running shoe, as it delivers superior stability and does not require a lot of running technique.
Or for the more experienced runner that wants a faster running shoe where you can actually feel the rolling momentum.
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