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Innovative Carbon-Fiber Trail Shoe: HOKA Tecton X ($200)

Review by Brian Metzler

Since its inception a little more than a decade ago, HOKA has made its mark by pushing the envelope of running shoe design. Initially it was known for maximally cushioned shoes for road and trail running, but then it created lightweight road racing models and eventually became the second brand to jump on the carbon-plated marathon racing shoe trend.

Now it’s making a splash with some innovation meant to boost efficiency and energy return out on the trails. The HOKA Tecton X is the best of a small but growing new breed of trail running shoes enhanced by carbon-fiber plates embedded in their midsoles. But the plates aren’t entirely about energy propulsion and high-cadence running like its road running cousins. In addition to helping create a lively vibe, the plates also provide stability and help smooth out the ride on bumpy surfaces.

What’s New: Everything about this shoe is new, but what’s especially unique is the set of parallel carbon fiber plates that run the length of each shoe. Sandwiched between a high-rebound super-critical foam on the bottom and a softer, more absorbent foam on top, they provide a noticeable jolt of propulsion at the front end of every stride, but, perhaps more importantly, they also contribute to the shoe’s stability on uneven terrain and defend against poke-through stingers from sharp rocks and jagged roots.

Why It’s Great: The Tecton X is extremely light, smooth and well-padded shoe, even though it’s not as maximally cushioned shoe as others in HOKA’s line. Not only does it have dual independent carbon-fiber plates embedded in the midsole, but it also has the most responsive midsole materials HOKA has ever incorporated into any shoe and very reliable traction from the Vibram Litebase outsole. Those three elements combine to create a very energetic trail shoe that’s cushy and sturdy enough for high-mileage training and light and fast enough for up-tempo running and short- to ultra-distance racing.

Fit-Feel-Ride: The Tecton X has a medium-volume interior from heel to toe, with just a touch of extra room for toes to wiggle and splay. A supportive, foot-wrapping jacquard engineered mesh upper, gusseted tongue and moderate heel counter create an accommodating, locked-down fit for most foot shapes, a factor that contributes to the shoe’s agility and quickness. There’s a soft but not mushy feeling underfoot at touchdown, but it feels slightly more firm and energetic as you roll through to the toe-off phase.

This shoe isn’t exceptionally stiff like most road shoes with carbon-fiber plates, but instead its chassis has a moderate flex pattern that bends as you roll through the midfoot and recoils with an energetic pop as your foot lifts off the ground to start a new stride. Like all HOKA shoes, there’s a bit of a rocker or concave shape that promotes forward propulsion, but the buttery smooth ride of the Tecton X is more attributable to the soft and springy midsole working in concert with the flexing plates.

Why You’ll Love It: The Tecton X has a good mix of everything you’d want in an everyday trail shoe for mild to moderate terrain. It’s light, fast, nimble, grippy, comfortable and versatile. It’s very cushy, but it’s not a high-off-the-ground maximal shoe. It’s very light, but it’s not a minimalist shoe with a “barely there” feel. If you’re familiar with HOKA trail shoes, the Tecton X is lighter and lower to the ground than the Speedgoat 5 and lighter and more energetic than the Challenger ATR 6.

Weights: 7.5 oz. women’s 8; 8.9 oz. men’s 9

Heel-Toe Offset: 4mm (31mm heel, 27mm forefoot for women; 33mm heel, 29mm forefoot for men)

Pro: The array of low-profile Vibram Litebase outsole lugs under the heel and forefoot offer great traction on mild to moderate (wet or dry) terrain while also making the shoe conducive for short bouts of running on roads.

Con: Running on extremely rugged terrain really exposes the one glaring limitation of the Tecton X. Although it has good traction, it doesn’t offer a lot of protection or durability for running on gnarly mountain trails. It will get you over short sections of craggy rocks, but you won’t be happy running on that kind of terrain for long periods of time.

To learn more about the shoe or to check on pricing, click here.


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