Hoka Finally Makes a Competitive Supershoe
The Rocket X2 marathon racer delivers soft landings and propulsive blast-offs that rival the best in the business
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When I’m not actively testing shoes, Hoka is the brand I reach for most often. My regular Hoka rotation includes the Clifton 9 for leisurely days, the Mach 5 or Rincon 3 for moderate days, and the Tecton X for trail running.
When it comes to tempo runs, speed workouts, or races, however, Hoka hasn’t been on my radar. Since they jumped into the supershoe competition three years ago, Hoka’s premier go-fast carbon fiber racing shoe has been the Rocket X, which, for my stride, didn’t compare favorably to competitors’ racers like the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% 2, Alphafly NEXT% 2, or Asics Metaspeed Sky+. The foam was too stiff, the rocker too far forward, and the ride felt dated.
One 2021 study tested seven supershoes on 12 male runners at a 6:02 per mile pace over two visits and found the Rocket X to be the least efficient of the seven. It’s not that the Rocket X was a bad shoe—I would have been all over it pre-super shoe era—it’s just that the competition’s shoes were better.
Now, Hoka has given the Rocket X a top-to-bottom redesign. I tested the all-new Hoka Rocket X2 for six weeks to see if it was ready for take-off or headed for a crash and burn. Here’s what I found.
Hoka Rocket X2 Review
Weight: 6.7 ounces (women’s), 8.3 ounces (men’s)
Stack Height: 40-millimeter heel / 35-millimeter forefoot (Drop: 5 millimeters)
Before I even put on the Rocket X2, one thing was crystal clear—this is an entirely different shoe from the original Rocket X. So much so that I wonder why Hoka even kept the Rocket X namesake. I’d describe the Rocket X2 as more like an adopted distant cousin than a direct descendant of the original.
The most noticeable update is the shoe’s underfoot feel. Whereas the first Rocket X had a firm, low-profile ride with little bounce, the Rocket X2 is tall, squishy, and energetic. To produce this ride, Hoka developed an all-new midsole using dual-density PEBA-based foam. PEBA has become the de facto foam for most of today’s super shoes, thanks to its outstanding energy-return-to-weight ratio, offering better responsiveness than EVA or TPU midsoles.
Hoka tuned the top layer of the midsole to be slightly softer than the bottom layer. The two layers are divided by an aggressively curved, spoon-shaped carbon fiber plate that’s closer to the foot in the heel and dips down lower in the foam in the forefoot before curving upward under the toes. At the toe, the plate has a slight groove in the toe that Bekah Broe, Hoka’s director of performance product, explains is designed “to provide more dexterity and flexibility in the toe-off.”
The resulting ride is bouncy, explosive, and forward-propelling. The foam is one of the highest energy-returning midsoles I’ve tested, right up there with Nike ZoomX and Saucony’s PWRRUN PB. Running in the Rocket X felt like I was bouncing from foot to foot.
The Rocket X midsole also felt not only like Hoka’s softest foam ever but like one of the softest foams on the market. My handheld durometer (a tool that measures the firmness of foams) confirmed the feeling: It registered the Rocket X2’s midsole as much softer than the Nike Vapofly NEXT% 2’s ZoomX midsole and the Asics Metaspeed Sky+’s FF Turbo midsole, while similar in softness to the Saucony Endorphin Pro’s PWRRUN PB midsole.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Rocket X2’s ride. My preference skews toward softer shoes, but typically, a shoe this soft would feel somewhat mushy and sluggish. Not the Rocket X2. The foam provides a fun, poppy, energetic feel, accentuated by the plate that propelled me forward once I got up on my forefoot.
The steep, late rocker under the forefoot made the Rocket X2 feel like it had two distinct gears. The first gear engaged at slower paces when I was primarily landing on my midfoot, and the energy felt like it came more from the midsole than the rocker. Once I got into a faster pace that required a more powerful forward-pressing toe-off, however, the forefoot rocker slung me aggressively forward, like a sudden downshift in a Porsche 911 Turbo.
The wonders of the Rocket X2 aren’t only in the midsole. The upper, made of a stretchy technical synthetic mesh with an internal midfoot cage attached to the tongue, is one of the best I’ve tested. Every part, including the heel counter, is soft and breathable but held form enough to secure my foot comfortably on top of the midsole without undue pressure or dead air spots.
Most supershoes are inherently unstable due to the thick stack heights of soft foam. While I found the Rocket X2 much more stable than most, it is not excluded from the genre’s wobbliness in certain situations. Another tester who isn’t a fan of squishy shoes noted that at slower paces, the soft midsole and late rocker made him feel like he was “sinking in, trying to find bottom of the thick foam under the ball and struggling to control the squish and keep things rolling forward.” While he noted and appreciated the propulsion at faster paces, he still felt the foam was tuned too soft for him to relax and feel comfortable in the shoe. Those who favor a firmer shoe, like the Brooks Hyperion Elite 3 or adidas Adios Pro 3, may have a similar experience.
My two criticisms are regarding the shoe’s traction and weight. I found the rubber outsole to feel slick in wet conditions, and confirmed this with a colleague. It was nothing major, but something to consider for wet race day conditions.
As for weight, At 8.3 ounces (men) and 6.7 ounces (women), the Rocket X2 tips the scales as one of the heaviest supershoes on the market (tied with the Nike Alphafly NEXT% 2). Despite all the tech in today’s shoes, weight still matters when it comes to racing shoes. The less weight you carry, the better. If Hoka could find a way to drop an ounce, bringing the Rocket X2’s weight in line with similar supershoes from Saucony, Asics, and Nike, while keeping the same cushioning and responsiveness, the Rocket X2 could just be the best super shoe on the market.
Who Should Buy The Rocket X2
The Rocket X2 is a versatile supershoe that will work well for the majority of runners who like a thick, cushioned shoe. Its sweet spot is the front to middle of the pack runner looking for a soft, bouncy super shoe that won’t fail if your stride isn’t perfect. Fans of the Saucony Endorphin Pro should enjoy the similarly cushy ride, while those who find the Asics Metaspeed Sky+ a bit firm may appreciate the extra softness of the Rocket X2. For runners who won’t part with Nike’s supershoes come race day, the Rocket X2 makes a fantastic workout shoe that’s softer than the Vaporfly and less bulky than the Alphafly.
Hats off to Hoka for creating a legitimate contender in the carbon-fiber supershoe race. The wait has been far too long, but it was worth it. I’ve tested every supershoe to date, and the Rocket X2 has earned a spot in my go-to rotation.
The Hoka Rocket X2 launches March 15th.