HOKA Skyward X Review: Reaching for the Sky but Falling Short?

HOKA are the OGs of super cushioned shoes. The Skyward X pushes this cushion to the limit with every technological trick going. Does it all add up to an uplifting experience?

HOKA Skyward X: A Whole Lot of Shoe!

Andy: Sometimes manufacturers throw everything at a shoe. Every bit of technology they have is concentrated into one engineering hodge-podge. The Skyward X is one of these times. A huge slab of foam, a carbon plate and a midsole suspension unit are just some of the ingredients HOKA have mixed together. Does this make for a delicious brew or is it a case of over-egging the pudding? 

 

In this  growing area of the market, the Skyward X takes on shoes such as the Prime X, ASICS’ Superblast and the SC Trainer. Not light enough to be thoroughbred racers yet too sporty to be just easy day cruisers. All come with super foams and many with a carbon plate. Along with the technology, they also pack a hefty price. Is this latest member of the market worth its weight in gold or is it a brick?

HOKA Skyward X (21 of 23) Large
HOKA Skyward X (11 of 23) Large

Specs: 

All specs from HOKA:

Weight in HOKA’s sample size: 320g | 11.3oz

Drop: 5mm

Stack height: 48mm heel and 43mm forefoot

Price: $225 | €225 | £185

HOKA Skyward X (2 of 23) Large
HOKA Skyward X (19 of 23) Large

Skyward X Upper: Substantial and Secure

Andy: The upper of the Skyward X, like the rest of the shoe, is substantial. The tongue is not gusseted in any way. However, I have never had any problem with slippage. The fact that it is rather thick probably helps this. Around the heel collar of the shoe, we find a decent amount of padding which helps to hold the foot in place. The lockdown is further assisted by the very stout heel cup which is wrapped with a plastic surround. HOKA fits the Skyward X with its uniquely shaped heel which extends up the achilles. However, this has not caused me any irritation during the run. 

 

The flat knit upper is further embellished with the addition of a large HOKA logo on the lateral side. There is also a rubber toe bumper to add volume. The fit is good, on my initial step in, it felt a little tight around my little toe. Thankfully, this dissipated within the first run as the upper gave a little. A little change in lace tension ensured that it didn’t return. The laces themselves have a little elasticity to them and have not let me down yet. 

 

As I mentioned before, the upper is substantial. While it hasn’t caused me too many issues with overheating during the first breaths of summer, it has taken a while to dry out when drenched in the downpours we have been suffering. I would say that the Skyward X fits true to size although people with a wider foot may do well to try before they buy. HOKA went for a max stack and comfort shoe, The upper serves that statement of intent well.

Bringing Balance

Ivan: At first glance, the HOKA Skyward X colorway reminded me of Aquafresh toothpaste, and it took me a moment to shake off that association. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s even a bit “refreshing.” Setting that aside, I completely agree with Andy about the fit of the upper, and I don’t have much to add on that front. It’s a large shoe. Without a substantial upper, the fit would feel unstructured and bottom-heavy. 

 

The mesh upper is simple, with no overlays. However, it features a midfoot strap for a secure wrap and a substantial toe bumper that adds some volume to the toe box. The sturdy heel counter also contributes to the necessary structure in this maximalist shoe. Overall, it has a nice and plush upper with a good hold and a tad of extra room in the front.

HOKA Skyward X (20 of 23) Large
HOKA Skyward X (6 of 23) Large

Midsole: Bottomless, If You Strike Right…

Andy: Obviously, the main event of the Skyward X is the midsole. Firstly, there is a huge amount of it. With a heel stack height of 48mm in the heel and a 5mm drop, it is certainly not a low slung shoe. Secondly, there is not a running shoe technology that HOKA have not put into this monster midsole. A carbon fibre plate stabilises the PEBA layer encased in an supercritical EVA frame. This frame also contains HOKA’s MetaRocker which helps roll through the gait cycle. 

 

That’s what it is, now, how does it work? If you have the right footstrike, the midsole gives an almost bottomless cushion. The suspension system makes you feel like you are floating. However, it is a shoe which demands a particular foot strike to make the most of it. As a naturally very forefoot striker, my first runs in the Skyward X were not as pleasant as I had hoped. As my testing period in the shoe progressed, I allowed the midsole to guide me. When I started to land much further towards the heel than usual, I really felt the benefit of the unfathomably deep midsole. That said, changing my gait cycle did come with a downside. I developed a couple of aches in the achilles with the new mechanics required. 

 

If you are a heel striker or a midfoot person, this will work very well for you. Whilst described as a neutral shoe, the sheer width of the platform adds an inherent stability. The ride itself is cushioned but not necessarily very sprightly. This is a shoe which is best for cruising at an easy pace. It certainly does not have the versatility of the Superblast or even the SC Trainer. Firstly, the size of the shoe and weight penalise it. For recovery efforts and easy runs, the Skyward X is a smooth operator. The roll through the gait cycle is easy and the cushion is deep. I have taken it faster during my weeks in the shoe. But the plate design and lack of svelteness mean that it just doesn’t work as well at pace. 

 

Overall, the Skyward X makes for a very good leg saving shoe if you have a heel to midfoot strike. If you strike further forward on your foot or are looking for a shoe to challenge your PBs in, shop around for something else.

Max Protection For Easy Days

Ivan: I agree with Andy that the HOKA Skyward X is best suited for easy runs. On several occasions, I tried picking up the pace in these shoes. While they offer some energy return for me at faster paces, the heft and volume eventually made the ride feel cumbersome. The wide platform also slows the transition, resulting in a less snappy ride. 

 

As a light runner with a high cadence and a “pure” midfoot strike, I often struggle with the big and wide “super trainers” that have become so popular recently. The inherent stability from the width and endless cushioning works against my needs and preferences. Instead of smoothly rolling me through my fairly snappy gait cycle, these shoes tend to sap more energy and power from me. 

 

I won’t blame HOKA for this approach, as they essentially invented this type of running shoe over a decade ago. Furthermore, their popularity and impact on current trends are undeniable. However, I believe these shoes are better suited for heavier runners than myself who benefit from the extra protection, cushioning, and stability.

 

At times, I did enjoy the dampening effect provided by the complex midsole setup. However, it seems I don’t generate enough force to fully benefit from the energy return provided by the plate and PEBA foam layer. The rocker also felt quite muted with my running style. Fortunately, another Hoka model, the Cielo X1, offers many of the qualities I find lacking in the Skyward X. Although the Cielo X1 is intended solely for uptempo runs and races, it suits my running style and preferences much better at almost all paces and distances. However, for the majority of runners, I definitely think the Skyward X is the obvious choice for logging those easy miles with maximum protection.

HOKA Skyward X (12 of 23) Large

HOKA Skyward X Outsole: Continuing the Maximalism

Andy: HOKA has given the Skyward X a pretty decent coverage of rubber. They have covered the majority of the sole with the exception of a couple of cutouts. Also, the midsection where there is a scoop removed to the carbon plate has no coverage. With nearly 100km in the Skyward X so far, there is very little wear visible. This makes a pleasant change to the previous HOKA shoes I have tried which battle scarred very quickly. 

 

I have run the shoe in a variety of conditions and found the grip to be passable in all of them. I think Alex may have slightly misquoted me in the video review. The issue I had in the rain was the odd feeling of the midsole scoop expanding and contracting which caused a rather suction cup-esque effect on the floor. While this didn’t really impact the traction, it was a sensation I have never felt in a shoe before.

 

Ivan: Since the weather here in Scandinavia has been exceptionally dry this past month, I haven’t had a chance to test the outsole grip in slippery conditions. However, in dry conditions, it has performed well so far. Durability should be excellent given the extensive coverage and thickness of the outsole. This is as it should be considering the price and weight class of a shoe like the HOKA Skyward X.

HOKA Skyward X (10 of 23) Large
HOKA Skyward X (7 of 23) Large

HOKA Skyward X Conclusion: Expensive Easy Day Option

Andy: The HOKA Skyward X is a fine piece of engineering. The cushion is, if you have the right foot strike for the shoe, bottomless. However, it is not a very versatile shoe. Most comfortable at an easy pace, £185 seems a little excessive. Whilst you do get a lot of shoe for the money, the shoe doesn’t offer as much as its similarly priced competitors. I am sure that I will get a lot of use from the Skyward X over the coming months, it is the best shoe which I have tried from the brand. That said, I am not sure I would spend this much for such a one trick pony.

 

Ivan: The current trend of trainers becoming more maximalist in size and cushioning can be largely attributed to HOKA. While this trend doesn’t align with my personal running style and preferences, I acknowledge the increasing demand for such shoes. If any brand excels in this category, it is likely HOKA. The upper is comfortable and well-constructed for a secure fit. Runners seeking deep cushioning and a wide, stable platform with ample protection will appreciate what the Skyward X has to offer. The price, as Andy mentioned, is a bit steep, but considering the shoe’s complexity and the benefits it provides to the right type of runner, it seems more reasonable. Durability also appears promising, further justifying the investment.

Andy

Andy

45 years old

173cm (5’8″) – 66kg (145lbs)

Forefoot striker – (Very) high cadence runner

@discobob

Ivan

Ivan

48 years old

180cm (5’9″) – 63kg (138lbs)

Midfoot striker – Cadence runner

Mild pronator

@runnersgrit

Get in touch

Want to find out more about how Meta Endurance can help you?  Get in touch with our team today, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.