Hoka has made quite the name for itself across a number of running shoe categories. The high stack heights and plush cushioning (as well as a few key innovations along the way) have allowed the brand to supplant itself as one of the top names in running footwear regardless of your discipline or age.
Still, however, fans of the "Take Flight" company have been left with little options when it comes to competitive racing and marathon-ready "super shoes." Sure, there are profiles that can get you from starting line to finish line — but in terms of competing at the highest level, there's yet to be a silhouette that rivals those of Nike, Saucony, Adidas and others.
That is, until now.
Designed for elite and long-distance runners, the all-new Rocket X 2 places Hoka in the marathon shoe category, full-stop — thanks to a slew of innovations over its previous Rocket X iteration. Dual-density PEBA foam in the midsole pairs to a spoon-shaped carbon fiber plate for lightning-quick responsiveness and plus cushioning ideal for high-mileage use. A technical synthetic mesh upper cloaks the foot in lightweight breathability while an internal midfoot cage ensures optimal lockdown. And in true Hoka fashion, the Rocket X 2 showcases a sky-high stack height of 40mm while still gaining approval for competition by World Athletics.
On paper, all these stats and features indicate a silhouette that's ready to float amongst the stars, but does the promise of race day success translate once the mileage begins to stack up? As a faithful Hoka enthusiast myself, I was anxious to hit the streets and track with this latest profile aiming for a spot in my normal running shoe rotation.
I paced at my normal competition speed for multiple days, highlighting how each stride, transition and toe-off felt across this sleek, lightweight kick. I also took a few laps immediately before and after running in my go-to marathon racer, the Saucony Endorphin Elite, to see how well this new Hoka compared to one of the category's best options as of late. Here's how the Rocket X 2 performed and what Hoka fans can expect from this all-new addition to the brand's already-impressive stable of running footwear.
Hoka Rocket X 2: What We Think
I’m ecstatic about the performance of this shoe, and would definitely list the Rocket X 2 as my favorite marathon sneaker...if you ask me on the right day. The stability underfoot is unparalleled in the racing category thanks to its wider base, and the snap exhibited from the midsole tech and spoon-shaped carbon plate are sure to bring the fun and responsiveness you’d expect in a competition-ready profile.
I wouldn’t classify this as the fastest marathon shoe I’ve run in — the energy return does feel a little choked compared to other profiles — but for Hoka enthusiasts, this easily checks all the boxes and serves as a worthwhile addition to any shoe rotation. It seems every footwear brand is jumping into the race day category in 2023, and in true Hoka fashion, it’s delivered one damn fine contender for the top spot with this impressive silhouette.
The Rocket X 2 is one of the more stable silhouettes in the racing shoe category.
Because of the more intense rocker geometry and spring-loaded nature of most marathon shoes, finding balance in every step can be a tough task to tackle at slower paces. Thankfully, though, the Rocket X 2s were fantastically stable across a number of speeds, even when running form was lacking at higher mileage.
The wider base and footprint did wonders for keeping my steps in-line, which made getting up to racing pace an enjoyable feat. Admittedly, there is a bit of a learning curve to be had in working with the more rigid foam and carbon plate — but when compared to other racers on the market, this is a far more beginner-friendly profile.
Additionally, I enjoyed how well the wider base performed when tackling turns across my normal routes. There was no delay or hesitancy in taking corners at racing pace, and the foam cushioning underfoot was plenty adaptable to the changing approach angles. I also attribute this to the attached forefoot and heel, which gives each landing some form of contact between the road and sneaker.
There's no lack of lockdown, thanks to the internal midfoot cage.
The technical synthetic mesh upper of this all-new Hoka profile is what you’d expect — breathable, lightweight and near-invisible across your foot. As much as this is a positive characteristic to have in a running shoe, admittedly, I had reserves when thinking about how well this shoe secured my feet in place mid-run. Thankfully, though, the Rocket X 2s also feature an internal cage that wraps the midfoot in a skeletal fashion upon entry. This feature provided the foundation and scaffolding necessary to create a premium lockdown fit that didn’t constrict the foot yet kept everything as needed from starting line to finish line.
I admire this Rocket X 2 feature, as it also granted a heightened sense of comfort through paces — unlike other racers I’ve had the pleasure of wearing over the years. To achieve a similar lockdown, most marathon shoes suffocate your digits into a tight upper that gives little room for maneuvering or comfort. These Hokas, however, provide the best of both worlds, creating a sensation that doesn’t skimp on lockdown yet still provides enough breathability and next-to-skin feel for an overall cozy experience.
Don't expect PR-besting sprints with this Hoka.
While I did experience a heightened responsiveness with the Rocket X 2, I wouldn’t say it was a world-changing experience. The spoon-shaped carbon plate was easy to engage, sure, but the forward propulsion was a little lacking in comparison to other marathon shoes. The discipline where this felt the most present was during sprints, or where you’d initially take off from the starting line at a faster pace. I felt this Hoka offering wasn’t quite as capable of getting me up to proper racing velocities, which could be a detriment to some athletes.
I will say, however, that once I reached my normal marathon speed, the carbon plate, Profly X midsole geometry and PEBA foam underfoot worked seamlessly to give me the push needed to reach any finish line. The pop was present, but not as exaggerated as other profiles.
The heel counter and collar could benefit from a beefier build.
As stated above, the Rocket X 2’s upper is plenty lightweight and nimble to facilitate race course-worthy wear. With that said, all that weight cutting can lead to potential pitfalls across certain racing shoe silhouettes — and that’s definitely the case across this Hoka’s heel counter and collar. There’s not a lot of material in these key areas to provide structure and support, which can lead to some bending and jostling as you pace toward your end goal. I also noticed some slight heel slip when running in the Rocket X 2s initially, which could be more present for those with less voluminous feet.
I don’t chastise Hoka for cutting materials from these build areas across the Rocket X 2s, as other racing silhouettes have done the same over previous years and delivered quality profiles. Still, though, when stepping into a shoe that’s designed to keep you at peak performance throughout your racing endeavors, it’s always nice to have a little added security at the ankle and heel to ensure your feet stay well protected and locked in for performance.
Hoka Rocket X 2: Alternatives
Not quite sold on the Rocket X 2? Below are a few silhouettes worth considering that I've found to be worthy adversaries to Hoka's latest offering:
Saucony Endorphin Elite
The Endorphin Elites from Saucony are, in my opinion, one of the top marathon shoes on the market at this very moment. Similar to the Rocket X 2s, there’s a lot to love about this all-new silhouette, from comfort and breathability to responsiveness and energy return. The only area that may be lacking when compared to the Hokas is the outsole durability. The thin rubber overlay doesn’t provide the same level of confidence you find in the Rocket X 2s, so it may be best to save these Saucony silhouettes solely for the starting line.
Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2
Of course, it’s hard to omit one of the most iconic marathon shoe silhouettes of recent memory. The Air Zoom Alphafly Next% 2s are great for competition, and I’ve found the carbon plate technology to be easily activated, which can be ideal for sprint-based circuits along the race course. In terms of stability, though, you’re better off with the Hoka Rocket X 2s, as the decoupled forefoot and heel makeup of this Nike silhouette can be a little difficult to navigate, particularly for midfoot strikers.
Under Armour UA Flow Velociti Elite
Another worthwhile consideration, particularly for beginner racing shoe enthusiasts, is the Flow Velociti Elite from Under Armour. This silhouette is also plenty stable during transitions, making maneuvering through turns a breezy afterthought. Plus, the lightweight upper is also plenty capable of providing that lockdown you desire when toeing the starting line. Unfortunately, though, UA seems to be a little late to the super shoe game with this profile. The carbon plate and foam technology doesn’t provide the same snap you’d want in a marathon-ready sneaker. For shorter distances, however, this is an ideal pick that’s definitely capable of propelling you toward the top of the leaderboard.