You’ve probably heard of carbon fiber, the ultra-lightweight yet ultra-firm material used to make high-performance bike frames and Formula One cars.
For the past handful of years, this revolutionary material has quietly been changing the game in a similar fashion for running shoes.
HOKA has been part of the carbon fiber revolution since the beginning, developing the Carbon Rocket – one of the earliest carbon fiber plated running shoes ever used in races. (The original Carbon Rocket never went on sale to consumers, but a later version of it – the Evo Carbon Rocket – was widely available.)
Many associate carbon-plated running shoes with professional marathoners and ultra distance runners, but the technology benefits runners of all levels of experience. Whether you’re a seasoned competitor looking to shave milliseconds off a personal best or a newer runner looking to start off on the right foot, carbon-plated running shoes have plenty to offer.
Joining the carbon revolution
A carbon-plated running shoe is basically a sandwich, with carbon fiber plates and placed between the midsole and the outsole. Of course, perfecting the design isn’t as simple as just wedging carbon fiber into an existing shoe.
Released in 2019, the Carbon Rocket was HOKA’s first carbon-plated running shoe, and its primary structure consisted of a soft foam midsole and a grippy, rubberized foam outsole.
The addition of a carbon fiber plate to this winning formula for maximum cushion performance was designed to stiffen the shoe, giving runners a more stable, propulsive, efficient ride, and helped the foam layers compress and expand more quickly to return more energy with each stride.
The Carbon Rocket was a strong first step into carbon plated shoe design, contributing stability and minimal energy loss in a package that delivered speed and distance performance while maintaining a low total weight.
Runners noticed the difference immediately, both mile-by-mile and over the course of full marathons.
From design breakthrough to breaking records
Because running shoes with carbon plating are designed to combine a stable base, increased energy return and a springier feel, runners noticed a more marked difference in performance over the course of longer runs.
As the initial Carbon Rocket design provided real-world road testing for the newest evolution in distance running shoes, HOKA’s approach to integrating carbon fiber quickly took a new leap forward. Our next carbon-plated shoe, the Carbon X, featured more foam cushion than the initial Rocket, with a redesigned carbon plate and a new, lightweight upper, designed to get the absolute most energy return out of every footstrike.
We built it specifically for the purpose of breaking a world record: the fastest 50-mile run. Mission accomplished, with plenty of help from Jim Walmsley’s incredible endurance. But it was also a shoe designed to help propel every athlete forward – whatever their speed, whatever their goals. All of HOKA’s carbon fiber-plated shoes are designed to produce top performances by elite athletes while allowing the rest of us to experience their unique ride.
Carbon-plated performance goes near-weightless
The next evolutionary stage in carbon-plated running shoe design was to squeeze every performance advantage possible out of a shoe designed for a broader range of running events than just the ultra marathon.
Enter the HOKA Rocket X.
With a midsole made of new EVA foam – the lightest we’ve ever made – the Rocket X combined a breathable mesh upper and grippy rubber outsole with a super thin, redesigned 1mm carbon plate.
Weighing in at just over 7oz, the Rocket X is the lightest running shoe in the HOKA lineup, while also delivering the propulsive launch of a carbon-plated shoe. The result is designed to be as beneficial on the track as it is on the road, and a perfect starting point for runners of all experience levels looking for a taste of what carbon fiber can do.
The future of carbon-plated running shoes
While the Rocket X contributes lightweight responsiveness as an everyday running shoe or middle distance performer, it’s not meant to replace the Carbon X for endurance runs.
The next step in bridging that gap is the Carbon X 2.
Built from the ground up for long-distance runs, the X 2 shaves weight from the Carbon X model with a lightweight mesh upper, featuring a streamlined tongue and redesigned collar for a snug fit. The midsole is also made of softer, lighter foam designed for more energy return, paired with the original Carbon X’s rubberized outsole. The carbon fiber plate itself is also placed lower to the ground to give the Carbon X 2 an even softer feel.
Preorder a pair in advance of their January 1st release.
Are carbon plated running shoes right for me?
As with any design innovation that results in rewritten record books, carbon fiber-plated running shoes have drawn their share of debate and controversy among the upper echelons of the running world.
Do they offer an unfair advantage? Is it okay for a new generation of athletes equipped with carbon fiber-plated running shoes to threaten long-standing records that were broken without that technology?
We’ll let the relevant governing bodies decide.
In the meantime, rest assured that heated debate among elite athletes obscures the bigger picture for a majority of runners: since feeling good while running is a good thing, carbon fiber-plated running shoes should be available for anybody.
Give them a try, see how they feel, and find out what a more propulsive ride does for your speed, endurance and, most importantly, confidence.
Take the leap. It’s Time to Fly™.
Over the past few months we've followed Sophie's journey from the final month of her pregnancy through the birth of her daughter, and documented her steps to recovery from the huge physical changes of pregnancy and labour. We take an honest look into the pre and post natal challenges facing women who want to start and grow their families without compromising their goals. While positive images of female runners are commonplace, we're taking the important step of addressing the often unspoken barriers that women face - both physical and mental.