You need to read this HOKA Rocket X 2 review if you’re a fan of the brand who's been waiting patiently for them to drop a carbon race shoe contender. HOKA was among the first to follow Nike and launch a carbon plate shoe with the Carbon X way back when. That shoe was well-liked. Jim Walmsley even used it to break ultra-running records. Then came the original Rocket X, and while it was an ok performer, it failed to set the world on fire.
That mixed success sent HOKA back to the drawing board for a rethink. The result is a completely overhauled Rocket X 2 that sports a reshaped carbon plate, new midsole foam, transformed uppers and altered rocker geometry. But has HOKA finally produced the best running shoe – a carbon super shoe, even – that can keep pace with the best? Read on to find out.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Price and availability
The HOKA Rocket X 2 was launched in March 2023. It’s available to buy now for a recommended retail price of $250/£220. On price, it drops in towards the lower end of the carbon super shoe rack. It’s £50 cheaper than the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 in the UK ($25 cheaper in the US), and also cheaper than the new Vaporfly Next% 3. The same price as the New Balance SC Elite V3, the new Under Armour Velociti Elite and the Adidas Adios Pro 3 in the UK.
Other rivals to consider in the carbon running shoes race include the much pricier Saucony Endorphin Elite ($275/£280), the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 ($225/£210) and the ASICS Metaspeed Sky+ ($250/£225).
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: What’s new?
Built for racing and faster efforts, HOKA says its overhauled carbon racer is “geared for elite runners”, but there’s plenty here in the brand-new design that makes this a more democratic and versatile shoe – even if you’re not in the split shorts elite gang.
The two-part ProFlyX midsole unit has been transformed. There’s a new higher stack, dual-density PEBA midsole with a softer layer of foam close to the foot and a firmer, more responsive layer on the bottom. Sandwiched between those layers, there’s a spoon-shaped, offset carbon fibre plate that HOKA says works with the foam to improve rebound over its previous shoes. There’s also an early-stage rocker to improve toe spring and smooth the transitions.
With 36mm / 31mm heel-to-toe, the Rocket X 2 has the lowest stack of the leading super shoes. The 5mm drop is also shallower than the big stack Nike shoes and the likes of the Saucony Endorphin Elite. Closer to the New Balance SC Elite V3 and the ASICS Metaspeed Sky+.
Up top, you’ve got seriously snug synthetic mesh uppers – think that plastic uppers like the last-gen Vaporfly Next %2 – gusseted tongues and an internal foot cage that’s there to create a race-ready hugging locked-in fit. Flip them over, and the outsole has the familiar weight-saving zonal rubber reinforcements on high-traction areas to boost grip and durability.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Weight
This is a compact shoe, and at 7.8oz / 221g in our UK men’s size 8.5 test shoe, the HOKA Rocket X 2 is one of the lighter carbon shoes on the shelves. It’s carrying 27g less than the Nike Alphafly Next%2, but it’s a shade heavier than the likes of the Adidas Adios Pro 3 and the New Balance SC Elite V3.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Fit
When it comes to fit, I ran in my regular size, UK 8.5. But I found the fit initially a bit awkward. Some race shoes can be a struggle to get into, and the Rocket X 2 certainly took some wrestling on.
That hugging, locked-in race fit borders on being too cramped, and my first reaction was that I wouldn’t even get wide, high instep feet into them. However, once they were on, and I was running, there was just about enough room. Just.
I’d say these come up small, and the fit is a bit fussy. Going half a size up may add too much length. What I really wanted was a quarter size with more wiggle room. But if you like a tighter dialled-in race fit, you’ll definitely get it.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Running performance
In testing, I ran around 50 miles in the HOKA Rocket X 2, including a 20-mile effort that combined a 7-mile low-and-slow run to the start of the London Landmarks Half Marathon, which I then raced.
I also clocked a 10-mile effort (mixing slower and faster miles), a tempo 10km and some all-out 5kms to test the top speed.
Let’s start with comfort. The HOKA Rocket X 2 doesn't immediately disappear on your foot. It’s a bit of a battle to get them on and get the gusseted tongue and the internal foot cage in place. If you’ve got wide feet, the tongues won’t quite fully wrap your foot either. You can see your socks. All in all, it’s a bit fussy and fiddly with the potential for irritation. If you’re planning to buy these, you’ll need to pay particular attention to fit (more below).
However, despite that tight fit, once the shoes are on and you’re running, the comfort is pretty good. Though if you like any kind of wiggle room for your toes, you won’t get it here. Some other runners I spoke to said they found that hugging a touch too restrictive and troublesome even over a half marathon distance.
The ride is a little reminiscent of the old Vaporfly 4%. That’s a good thing. It’s light, lively, compact, agile and fun. It puts plenty of spring right under the ball of your foot that makes you feel race ready.
But it’s not overbaked, either. There’s also pretty good stability (for a super shoe) and that dual-density midsole makes for a nice platform to run off at a range of paces. I was surprised at how accommodating the Rocket X 2 were at my slower pace runs while also easily shifting gears up to marathon pace. Or, as I prefer to describe it, my dialled-in race form versus my slightly more loose and ragged easy run form.
The rocker also helps create a nice clip-along transition, and this shoe definitely spares your legs deep into the longer miles. After my 7-mile, hour-long warm-up run, I managed to pull off a 1:31 half marathon with little pace drop off in – or rising heart rate – in the final three miles.
The half marathon course I tested on was about as twisty and u-turny as it gets, and the Rocket X 2 was great on the corners, too. One blessing of that glove-like race fit means there’s no slipping off the midsole unit, even on tight turns at pace.
The Rocket X 2 has a heel design like the Adidas Prime X Strung and the Adios Pro 3 that puts two small cushion pads on either side of the heel, and I was concerned about rubbing and cutting. But after a good three hours on my feet, I had no issues at all.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Durability and value
At $250/£220, the HOKA Rocket X 2 is among the priciest running shoes. If you’re investing that kind of money in a shoe, it’s a bonus if it can cope with more than just race day. The Rocket X 2 isn’t as punchy at the top end as the Nike Alphafly or the Adidas Prime X Strung but it’s slightly more subtle ride and that comparative stability makes it more comfortable at a range of paces. That translates to more versatility. We said it about the Under Armour Velociti Elite and the same is true here: you can use this shoe more readily for faster training as well as racing. That versatility could add up to good value if you’re only looking to invest in one shoe.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Verdict
The HOKA Rocket X 2 is a brilliantly well-balanced carbon racer and closes the gap considerably on the best super shoes. The ride is everything you want in a snappy racer with a good dollop of versatility to boot. If you’re looking for a speedy option with enough energy, stability and versatility to eat a range of paces and distances, this might be it. It’s also well priced and looks nicely durable. A good-value running shoe that’s well worth considering.
HOKA Rocket X 2 review: Also consider
If you like your carbon race shoes lighter and more direct, then the Nike Vaporfly Next% 2 (find good bargains) or the new Vaporfly Next% 3 are always good options. With lightweight uppers, a roomier toe box and a direct-but-punchy ride, it’s still one of the most popular shoes for chasing half and marathon PBs.
Speaking of like it light and direct, the New Balance SC Elite V3 is also worth consideration, particularly if you’re looking for a shorter half marathon race shoe.
The Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 and the Under Armour Velociti Elite are two excellent race shoes that offer plenty of versatility like the Rocket X 2. Though both also offer a more comfortable, roomier and traditional fit. The Endorphin Pro is also a bit more cushioned and protective over longer miles while the Velociti Elite probably has better daily trainer potential.
If you want all-out speed, the Nike Alphafly Next% 2 is still the best marathon race shoe on the shelves. It combines lightweight, race-hugging uppers, a 40mm turbo stack of ZoomX foam with Zoom Air pods in the midfoot, for a winning top-pace mix.