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Road Running Shoes • August 25, 2023

Hoka Cielo Road Review: I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel

hoka cielo road - feature (2)

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What You Need To Know


7.1 oz. (201 g) for a US M9 (unisex)

Stack Height / Drop

33 mm in heel, 30 mm in forefoot (3 mm drop)

Best For

5K/10K racing, lightweight daily trainer

Key Features

Full Peba midsole, breathable recycled mesh upper, early stage Metarocker

On The Run
Light and responsive Incredibly breathable Minimal structure in heel collar


Introduction to the Hoka Cielo Road

ROBBE: What a difference a year makes. With back-to-back misses to lead of 2022 in the Mach Supersonic, Carbon X 3, and Kawana (whatever that shoe was), Hoka seemed destined for mediocrity. Not just in the near term, but possibly for years to come. If not mediocrity, then at least a bunkmates assignment with brace-face Brooks for the next couple semesters.

Aside from those belly flop trainers, there was another glaring pimple on the foamed-up face of Hoka: their race day lineup. Hoka was one of the first to the market with a carbon plated racer with the original Carbon Rocket. That shoe was actual trash and was a racing shoe in the same way that Guy Fieri is a Michelin-starred chef.

So, no marathon super shoe. Strike one.

While there was a track spike called the Cielo, there was nothing to fill that in-between gap for those 5K/10K shoe, unless you count the Mach 5, which nobody counted as such. Strike two.

Luckily, Hoka shot their shoes up with some HGH before stepping up to the plate in their next at-bat, because 2023 has largely been a home run.

The Rocket X 2 was (and is) a fantastic race day option, my personal favorite of 2023, and likely in the top three for all of us here at Believe in the Run. So what if we took that formula, stripped it down, and made a nice short-distance option?

Thankfully, someone at Hoka has some sense to keep things simple, because that’s exactly what they did with the Cielo Road and the result is pretty great. No, it doesn’t have a plate, but it does have a nice, lower stack of Peba foam for the midsole, an incredibly light and breathable recycled mesh upper, and a good lockdown for a great ride. Maybe that’s saying too much too early, but those are the basics and that’s mostly what matters. Let’s see what else we can get out of it before you decide to buy.

hoka cielo road - on wall

Breathable recycled mesh upper

hoka cielo road - heel

Full Peba midsole

CARYN: I’m fortunate to be able to try a number of different shoes, thanks largely in part to this gig, but from time to time, I’m intrigued enough to purchase something that doesn’t show up on my doorstep for review. In a very bizarre twist of events, the Hoka Rocket X 2 was that shoe for me this year. While I’m not anti-Hoka, per se, their shoes have often been polarizing figures in my closet.

I’m pretty sure the original Rincon contributed to one of my most significant running injuries, yet the Clifton has been a mainstay in my running (and life) rotation for years. Go figure. I’m not sure if it was the litany of positive reviews, the fantastic color combo, or the advertised Metarocker that sealed the deal on the Rocket X 2 for me, but it’s become one of my favorite shoes for long runs and workouts. When I heard about the Cielo Road, I was intrigued by the concept simply because of its family ties to my beloved Rocket X 2: Peba midsole, lightweight upper, simple but rad design? Sign me up. Let’s see what the fuss is all about.

RYAN: When Meg heaped praise on the Hoka Rocket X 2 early in the year, all I could do was watch with envy. The stack, the foam, the colorway, it all spoke to me. However, I was out injured at the time, so there was absolutely no reason for me to buy another race day shoe for a race that was over half a year away. So I just sat, and I watched as the accolades rolled in for Hoka’s much-improved Rocket.

Then, several months later, I got a notification that a package was on its way to me from Hoka. Now, it could have been anything. I’ve run in the Clifton 9, Challenger 7, Speedgoat 5, and Mafate Speed 4 in the last calendar year, so I had no indication if I was getting a road or a trail shoe. Finally, a feather-light box arrived on my doorstep. Sure enough, it was the Hoka Cielo Road.

I should admit that I’m a sucker for a bouncy, low(ish)-stack shoe. Adidas’ Takumi Sen 9 is one of my all-time favorites, whether I’m tackling the track or just adding up miles around the harbor, so when a Hoka-tuned version showed up out of nowhere, You could say I was excited.

How would I handle a Hoka that didn’t have a basic EVA slab underfoot? Would it replace my go-to Takumi? Let’s find out.

What we like about the Hoka Cielo Road

ROBBE: As I said above, I really, really loved the Hoka Rocket X 2. In some ways I wish we didn’t have to review so many shoes cause I would love to take that out for a couple hundred miles just to see what I can get out of it. Alas, time moves on and so does the carousel of shoes. Luckily, that mare came right back around as a smaller filly in the form of the Cielo Road.

I feel like I’ve been on a simple shoes kick lately. Maybe it’s the torrent of max stack heights or the tectonic shifting of many plates beneath the foot, but I find myself yearning more and more for just a shoe that feels like a shoe. I still like the modern magic of running shoes, don’t get me wrong. The featherlight weight of a breathable upper paired with a bouncy midsole is still a wonderful sensation on the run. Which is why the Cielo Road is such a great shoe.

The upper, which can be hard to sometimes totally nail down in a race shoe, is pretty superb. It’s incredibly breathable. We use “screen door” a lot when referring to a breathable upper, but this really is like a screen door. You want to make sure you’re wearing matching socks. And yet, it isn’t flimsy or cheap. Structurally, it feels fine, and the lockdown is as good as you can want, especially through the midfoot and forefoot. The tongue isn’t gusseted, but no worries, it stays in place.

hoka cielo road - white shoe

Can double as a lightweight daily trainer

Underfoot, the midsole uses the same Peba foam found in the Rocket X 2, and it’s light and boundy without feeling too soft or too harsh. The 33 mm stack height (which would’ve been a max stack shoe five years ago) is just the right balance to make the shoe feel like a super shoe, without the instability or “only great at fast paces” feel of high-stack shoes.

While this is marketed as a race day shoe, I think it works equally as well as a lightweight daily trainer (whereas shoes like the Adidas Takumi Sen 9 don’t shine at slower paces). 

Truthfully, the shoe reminds me of a better New Balance Rebel v2, which is one of those iconic shoes that shoe nerds love to death for all the reasons that make the Cielo Road a great shoe. It was lightweight, it had a very breathable upper, and the FuelCell formulation was nice and bouncy but you could feel the road in it (in a good way). The Cielo does all those things, but just better. 

Sure, the New Balance Rebel v2 was only $130 (the Cielo Road is $160), but the premium components in the Cielo Road make it worth the extra bump in price. 

It certainly works well at faster paces (the lower drop is offset by Hoka’s early stage Metarocker), and disappears on the foot. It also has enough rubber on the outsole that you should be able to put plenty of miles in it, whether racing or not.

CARYN: I’ll go ahead and state the obvious here — I’m not one for short-distance races. 5Ks are downright terrifying, am I right? I’ve never actually run a 5K or 10K outside of my marathon training workouts (not sure if this is embarrassing or not), so I may not be considered the ideal candidate to weigh in on a racer like this bad boy. Even so, I’ve done my fair share of training and racing in lightweight, low-stack shoes, especially in the dark, pre-carbon-plate (PCP) era.

My favorite thing about the Cielo Road was the Peba foam. I don’t know what it is, but Hoka truly nails the balance of light, responsive, soft cushion. The simplicity of the shoe allows the midsole to shine on a variety of terrains and, actually, at a variety of paces. The shoe itself is so light it disappears on your foot. I really loved the lightweight mesh upper and didn’t have any issues with lockdown — just some heel chafing (more on that later).

I didn’t notice the 3 mm drop much during speedier portions, which was a relief because I definitely feel it positively contributes to the efficiency and ground feel of the shoe. Finally (but definitely NOT least important), Hoka has been doing a banger job with their designs and colorways this year. I love their somewhat retro vibes and incorporation of mirrored logos – they simply make me happy.

RYAN: I can’t just say that I like everything about the Cielo Road, but it’s pretty damn close. I’ll start at the bottom with Hoka’s new Peba midsole — it’s just right. There’s just enough foam, and it doesn’t add a plate just for the sake of having one. The Cielo Road doesn’t need a plate, either. It feels a lot like New Balance’s Rebel v2 underfoot, which was another one of my favorite shoes outside of the tendency to blow out the upper. The Cielo Road has just enough bounce and response to make me smile at just about any pace, including race-pace efforts.

While Hoka calls the Cielo Road a 5K and 10K specialist, I wouldn’t have any qualms about pushing it for a half marathon. I don’t know if it would be my A-race, but you could absolutely crush a training run at a similar distance. I’ve taken the Cielo Road as long as 10 miles for a Saturday Classic with the Faster Bastards, and I never felt like it was missing anything underfoot.

Moving up, the Cielo Road’s upper is absolutely stunning. It kind of reminds me of a tropical bird, pairing bright greens and oranges with a nice base of white. Hoka chose a super airy mesh, one that’s wide enough you can see your socks through, and it kept my feet cool as cucumbers. The air breezes right on through — a welcome feature in the summer, but maybe not when November or December rolls around.

As long as you’re careful about putting the shoe on (sharp toenails would probably slice through the thin upper), the Cielo Road pretty much disappears on foot. It’s just ridiculously light, with my pair coming in at just under 7 oz.

hoka cielo road - middle of outsole

Exposed Peba area of outsole

hoka cielo road - large letters

What we don’t like about the Hoka Cielo Road

ROBBE: Because of the simplicity of this shoe and the way that each component is done right, it’s hard to find anything bad about it. If anything, I would say the heel collar area could use a tiny bit more structure. It has some interior pillows to help with that, but it could definitely use a bit more structure.

The shoe does seem to run a little bit long in my men’s 7.5/women’s 9, but it’s not terrible. 

This isn’t supposed to be a daily trainer, but if you use it that way, just know that there’s not much going on structurally in the upper. And for a lower stack, it’s still fairly unstable at slower paces since it is a pure Pebax midsole sans plate. But this is a fast shoe, it’s not meant for slower paces. So stop doing that stuff and complaining about it, Robbe.

hoka cielo road - top down view

Top view of upper and wavy heel collar

CARYN: For the intent and design of this shoe, I don’t have much to criticize. If there was one part of the shoe I didn’t jive with, it was the upper. I really appreciated the minimal mesh look, but for me, it was so unstructured it may as well not be there. The heel collar, in particular, didn’t form to my foot well at all, and I had some chafing that I had to address pretty immediately with a taller sock. Despite Hoka’s claims, I really couldn’t detect any early-stage metarocker — call me crazy, but there really didn’t seem to be much rocker anywhere at all. I also certainly noticed the lower drop of this shoe, but I would expect nothing less from my princess feet.

One other thing of note — I tested the Cielo Road over several different paces, primarily out of curiosity. While I didn’t hate this shoe at slower paces, there is very little inherent stability given that the shoe is simply a nice slabbity slab of Peba foam. But since this shoe wasn’t designed for daily training, I probably should shut my pie hole and move on.

RYAN: I only have one major complaint with the Hoka Cielo Road — this beauty gave me a beast of a blister. As Robbe mentioned, there’s not a whole lot to the upper, and there’s nothing to keep the edge of the collar from rubbing against your Achilles. I thought I’d worn thick enough socks with a heel tab, but sure enough, I was rubbin’ away.

While the blister only hurt for a day or two, and I was able to wrap it with a Band-Aid, there was a bigger problem: I got blood on the beautiful green of the upper. If you’ve ever mixed red and green, you know you get brown. It just doesn’t look right on the back of such an otherwise pristine shoe.

Also, Robbe is right again — the Cielo Road runs a bit too long.

hoka cielo road - outsole

Outsole is grippy and durable

Hoka Cielo Road Conclusion

ROBBE: Hoka is right where it belongs as a brand that wants to be taken seriously by runners. The Cielo Road is a great 5K/10K shoe that can be optioned as a lightweight daily trainer for fans of more simple (yet fun) running shoes. Now that it has some elite race options that go toe-to-toe with the big boys, maybe its athletes (e.g. Scott Fauble) won’t skip to the swoosh when it comes to race day. 

CARYN: I give Hoka a lot of credit for coming on strong this year and bringing out the big (finger) guns with some of its newest releases. Shoes like the Cielo Road fill a nice gap in the current race day market, offering a more traditional racing-flat style option with a bit of a Pebax twist.

I’ve spoken with lots of runners who enjoy a more traditional, lower-stack shoe but don’t want to miss out on the energy return provided by the parade of beefy carbon-plated racing shoe options. So, if you’re anything like me and long for the days of trying to run a half marathon in the New Balance Zante, the Cielo Road could be the answer to your low-stack race-day prayers.

RYAN: This is it, my favorite Hoka. It’s a genuinely great all-around shoe and one that I’ve used for several different road runs. I’ve taken it long and short, fast and (kinda) slow, and I’ve enjoyed it the whole way. While you might reach for something plated if you’re toeing up for a long race, the Cielo Road manages to shine as both a shorter racer and a training shoe. If you’ve been waiting for a sign that Hoka’s race day future is extra bright, this is it.

You can pick up the Hoka Cielo Road for $160 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.

Shop The Shoe


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Shop Hoka Cielo Road Men
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Robbe Reddinger
Senior Editor
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Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.

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Caryn Just
Road Reviewer
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Caryn is a recovering ball sports athlete and native Baltimorean who used to cry before the timed mile in gym class. Discovered running somewhat reluctantly when her pants stopped fitting in college, now a big fan of the marathon– go figure! Pediatric ICU nurse and avid UVA sports fan. Can usually be found with her chocolate lab, Gus, looking for a good cup of coffee.

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Ryan Haines
Assistant Editor
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Ryan is kind of like Robbe’s Igor behind the scenes. He helps to compile and clean up everyone’s reviews, and finds time to get in a few miles of his own. When he’s not running or editing, Ryan writes and reviews for Android Authority, spending time with the latest tech and complaining when things don’t work quite right. If he’s not doing any of that, maybe you’ll find him nose-deep in a crossword puzzle or trying to catch up on an endless backlog of shows to stream.

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