We independently review everything we recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.
9.3 oz. (264 g) for a US M10,
7.4 oz. (210 g) for a US W8
Men: 39 mm in heel, 32 mm in forefoot (7 mm drop)
Women: 37 mm in heel, 30 mm in forefoot (7 mm drop)
Super-fun long runs and workouts
Two layers of Peba foam, smooth midsole rocker, winged carbon fiber plate
$275, available now
ROBBE: A little bit of madness goes a long way. Hoka was founded on the presumption that more is better, and bigger is best, and that nobody cares what a shoe looks like, especially if it feels great. It was an absurd proposition at the time, though never as absurd as grown men wearing Vibram Fivefingers in public. Fifteen years later, Hoka is the shining star of footwear success in the 21st century, and every competitor wishes their bottles held the same lightning.
Sure, Hoka had a great runway, but can they keep flying? For a scant second, it seemed their engine had stalled. Two years ago, it was clear they had slipped into the slipstream of everyone else, carried along but never leading the charge. They had money, they had shoes, and their pets’ heads weren’t falling off. But they were starting to become stale, at least in the running world (the nursing world was/is a different story).
However, things changed in 2023 as Hoka dropped some heavy hitters that easily stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest. The Rocket X 2 was (and still is) a truly great race day option, especially if you wanted a stable and rockered ride. The Mach X was a sneaky good super trainer and will level up with the next version later this year. The Tecton X 2 was improved and is one of the best trail shoes out there. And so on and so forth.
This next year will see even bigger swings and, hopefully, no misses on any of them (you can see what we’re excited about here). That said, Hoka has been hush-hush on a certain model, a shoe that we’ve had for a month or so but have yet to disclose any information about. Leaks have been out and about on Reddit and Instagram for some time, but we can now fully dive into what it’s about. That shoe, of course, is the Cielo X1.
Hoka claims this shoe is “a propulsive ride for pure speed.” It sounds like a top-tier race day shoe, maybe even a step above the Hoka Rocket X 2. Especially when you consider it has a couple of slabs of Peba foam (softer on the top, firmer on the bottom) sandwiched around an aggressive winged carbon fiber plate. Oh, also, it costs $275, which means we’re basically talking Nike Alphafly 3 money and almost Adidas Prime X 2 Strung money. But this shoe also weighs 9.3 ounces (264 g) for a US M9. That’s Prime X weight, but is it Alphafly performance? Let’s find out.
MEAGHAN: The Hoka Cielo X1 feels like it came out of left field. I had no idea that the brand was working on another race day option, especially since the Hoka Rocket X 2 seemed like such a win. But here we are with a race-day alternative. Is it better than what they already have? We did some testing.
THOMAS: Hoka had the lightweight max cushioned shoe on lock from 2009 to 2017 when the Nike Vaporfly 4% arrived and shook the industry apart. Even after the Vaporfly arrived, Hoka owned the cushioned daily trainer space. With a target on their back, other companies not only matched the max cushioned trainers — they surpassed them by 2020.
As a top-selling brand, Hoka slept soundly, and innovation lagged. In 2022, our team lamented Hoka’s unwavering commitment to EVA midsoles in most of their shoes. The once-plush feel had become dull in comparison to other foam formulas. Starting last year, Hoka pivoted quickly and decisively, showing it was willing to innovate with bangers like the Mach X, Tecton X 2, and the Rocket X 2.
The Cielo X1 exemplifies Hoka’s effort to push the envelope on performance. The excitement is there, but I found the use case for the Cielo X1 different from how Hoka positions the shoe.
ROBBE: Aesthetically, I’m not sure where I stand on this shoe. I’m kind of unimpressed with the corduroy look of the upper, and the colorway we received looks like a unicorn puked its guts out after drinking one of those college punch bowls with way too much Blue Curacao. I guess that should be in the bad, but it’s so bad that maybe it’s good, so I’m keeping it here.
Running shoe nerds will see some obvious design comps between this shoe and the Adidas Adios Pro 3 (though the cutout is on the lateral side here). I still think it has its own identity, but at this point, high-stack shoes are just going to look like other high-stack shoes in some shape or form.
Let’s get into how it feels on the run. The fit of the upper is pretty great. It’s a pain in the ass to put on, but once it’s on, it’s on. Like, it’s very snug. With such a severe rocker and carbon fiber plate, you’d usually get a fair amount of heel lift. Not here, which is no easy feat to pull off. The gusseted knit tongue wraps the top of the foot and stays in place, and the overall fit is that of a race day shoe.
I’m not sure how to transition into this next part, which is essentially the heart of the sole of the shoe. I’ll just say it straight up — I love the ride of this shoe so much. It was not only surprising, it was shocking. If you follow us at all, you know how much I was let down by the Adidas Prime X Strung 2. A perfect shoe for heavier runners, but it just didn’t do much for me. This shoe feels like everything I wanted that shoe to be, maybe more.
I’m trying not to be hyperbolic because I think this shoe will be largely dependent on an individual experience and will not apply to everyone across the board. I love a good rocker, and for whatever reason, the rocker geometry in Hoka shoes just suits my stride perfectly (midfoot, but maybe a touch toward the rear). The plate on this puts the rocker back even further, and when it hits, it hits.
The combination of the aggressive scoop of the winged carbon fiber plate, the rocker geometry, and the dual-density layers of Peba foam means this shoe bounds along without much effort. It’s almost contradictory in that it weighs so much but needs so little to get it going. And once it’s going, each step rolls into the next, so that it’s hard to believe you’re wearing a shoe that weighs two ounces more than the Nike Alphafly.
Granted, it’s not a lightweight shoe (more on that later), so it does have a certain range in which it excels, and beyond that, it gets a little cumbersome. For me, that was at a medium pace (shoutout to Adam Sandler). Not easy, where it feels a little clunky and doesn’t activate the rocker. Not fast, where it’s pretty heavy in comparison to its counterparts. But that in-between range is where this shoe shines. Don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty fine to handle both of those things, and your legs will feel great after a long run. But landing somewhere in the middle is where everything in the shoe gets going.
That comes as no surprise, as Hoka designers have actually said they approached this shoe from both angles– something that can embody all the elements of an easy day shoe while harnessing the strengths of a race day shoe.
I will say it’s hard to remember a shoe that’s this much fun to run in. It’s fine at slower paces, but when you give it a little bit extra, it responds with all its heart and soul. What makes this shoe especially great is that the fit of the upper and the winged plate (both in the midfoot and forefoot) work in unison to keep you totally locked in, which is no small feat in a nearly 40 mm stack of Pebax foam. It almost has the nimble feel of a lower-stack shoe in a high-stack racer and feels like you’re actually able to harness all the energy return from the Pebax and the plate. The control in the forefoot is surprising when digging into hills or cornering. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of cushion for downhill running.
There’s plenty of rubber coverage on the outsole as well. Most race day shoes skimp on the rubber, this one has a generous layer of durabrasion rubber that covers about 90% of the outsole surface.
MEAGHAN: I normally start with aesthetics, but I’m going straight for the step-in here. This shoe is fun. It kind of feels like lacing up some little trampolines, and it’s apparent upon step-in. It’s basically what I wanted the Prime X 2 to feel like — a high platform, crazy bounce, and a secure-fitting upper.
Out on the roads, the shoes are even more fun. I found it almost difficult to run ‘slow.’ The rocker geometry and very bouncy Peba midsole/carbon plate combo really propel you forward. And while the stack is street-legal, it feels like there’s more than 40 mm underfoot (which I’m all for). I used this shoe for shorter runs (4 miles), longer runs (14 miles), and some post-run strides. It felt great for all of them.
THOMAS: The ride is what shines in the Cielo X1. Hoka brought the rocker-shaped midsole to running, and it sings through your stride in the Cielo X1. The Pebax midsole does what Pebax does best: it cushions and springs you forward. Getting into a rhythm in the Cielo x1 is as easy as leaning forward.
Unlike Robbe, I found the shoe fun at easy paces and faster uptempo speeds (a minute faster than easy mile paces or 40 seconds off marathon pace). However, the shoe’s weight became a factor when attempting marathon paces. My longest run in the Cielo X1 was an uptempo 14 miles. I enjoyed the smooth transition and leg pampering cushion. My body and legs especially felt fresh the next day. While the outsole is fairly smooth, a generous amount of coverage provides a tacky grip.
The upper fits well and causes no issues. My size US M10.5 fits true to size.Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Men Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Women
ROBBE: As I already pointed out, the colorway for this one is a bit… too much. I don’t hate the experimentation, but as anyone who’s owned the checkerboard ska styling of the Saucony Endorphin line, a gimmick is a gimmick no matter what. A white colorway looks more promising, as does a black and purple one coming in the fall.
For your sake, I hope they replace the laces on this shoe. Everyone knows the race day teeth laces popularized by the Vaporfly and Alphafly are the best; to use anything else is foolish. The laces in the model we received are — I’m not going to sugarcoat this — absolute trash. It’s like they’re made out of strips of a crossing guard vest or heavy-duty Christmas ribbons. They’re impossible to adjust, and the slip factor is off the charts. You have to tie these using a balanced running knot (as you can see in this YouTube short). If you tie these laces in any traditional manner, they will become undone in a span of a single city block. It’s for sure the worst shoe laces I’ve ever experienced.
Speaking of laces, you really have to work them and adjust them to get the right fit. This is both a good and bad thing, but I did have to readjust a couple of times mid-run to relieve the lace pressure on top of the foot. As I mentioned above, it’s incredibly difficult to get this shoe on the foot; not having a heel pull tab on the back of this shoe is a big oversight on the designers’ part.
Again, I absolutely love the ride of this shoe. It’s so much fun. But at this weight, it’s going to take some hard selling to convince people this is a race-day shoe. It definitely cruises once it gets rolling, but it’s still an extra ounce over its heaviest competitors on the race day side of things. I think the idea is that the Peba, plate, and rocker geometry will offset any weight (and it does, to a certain degree), but are you willing to take that chance with a $275 price tag?
This makes me think that this shoe is really meant for the same use range as the Adidas Prime X Strung. Which is — fun on the run. And I’m totally okay with that. I just don’t know that anyone is wearing this on race day, especially when Hoka already has an excellent race-day shoe in the Rocket X 2. It seems like more of a shoe designer’s dream shoe than a legitimate race-day option.
MEAGHAN: I agree with Robbe on the colorway, though I have to admit it’s grown on me a little. Do I kind of love it now? Maybe. It’s ridiculous.
My real gripe is putting this shoe on; it’s a comedic struggle. The mouth of the shoe is pretty narrow, and the lack of a pull tab in the heel makes getting your foot into this racer feel like a workout in itself. Once you’re in, it’s great, but man, you’ve got to give yourself an extra 3 minutes to shove your feet in there.
Robbe covered the laces. And yes, they’re bad.
And, of course, we have to talk about the weight. My US W7.5 came in at 7.6 oz, which would be great for a daily trainer, but for a true racer? That’s pretty hefty.
THOMAS: I’ll say the shoe looks better from a distance. I never thought I would ever see corduroy used in running shoe design. If the Mach X looked like a Disney princess designed it, the Cielo X1 is the sequel. I’m just not into iridescent sparkly hits with Caribbean color motifs.
The laces are bad. Maybe the worst.
For a race day shoe, the weight is plump. It comes in at 9.8 oz. (279 g) for a US M10.5.Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Men Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Women
ROBBE: Again, I love this shoe. It’s weird, it’s wild, it’s a ton of fun. I’m just not totally sure when I’m supposed to wear it. Maybe for a marathon-paced run, maybe for a daily training run with intervals, maybe for a race if I’m feeling experimental. Honestly, I just think it’s meant for having fun because it almost feels like not running when you’re running in it.
It’s effortless, and it rolls along and gives everything back that you put into it. That’s a hard sensation to find in a shoe, but somehow, Hoka has nailed it with the Cielo X1. I think it’s in a category of its own because I’m not sure I can compare it to anything that’s out right now. And if you’re a fan of rockered shoes, this may be your crown jewel.
I have a feeling this is going to be a super divisive shoe, and it may be reserved for those with extra money to throw around on things that are simply just fun. I think those things are called luxury goods. However you get your hands and feet on it, just know that you’ll be in for a hell of a ride.
MEAGHAN: The Cielo X1 was a fun surprise from Hoka. Emphasis on the fun. This is one of those shoes that will get you out the door when you’re lacking a little motivation. Where I struggle is thinking of this as a true race day option, and that’s primarily due to the weight. Will I continue to lace this shoe up even after the review? Absolutely. Will I toe the line in them? Probably not.
THOMAS: I enjoyed every run I did in Cielo X1. While Hoka touts the Cielo X1 as a high-performance race shoe, I found it to be a fun daily trainer that can speed up and cruise. The longer I went, the more the shoe rewarded me. Jim Walmsley attempted a 100-mile WR in the Carbon X 2. I’d gamble the Cielo X1 would be his choice today. However, the Rocket X 2 is the best choice from Hoka for pure marathon racing if you’re going for a PR. To make it the top Hoka marathon racer, they need to find a way to drop at least a couple of ounces in weight.
The Cielo X1 is comparable to the smooth cushioned ride of the Asics Superblast, the cushioning and propulsive plate of the New Balance SC Trainer v2, and the fun ride of the Adidas Prime X 2 Strung. That is some good company to be in.
You can pick up the Hoka Cielo X1 for $275 using the buttons below.Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Men Shop Hoka Cielo X1 - Women
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.More from Robbe
As the founder of Believe in the Run, Thomas’s goal is to help runners pick the shoes and gear that will make their running experience the best that it can be.More from Thomas
Meaghan signed up for her first marathon three weeks before the race, because it was $10 more than the half she planned to run. She learned everything in running the hard way. Now a USATF & UESCA certified run coach, she loves encouraging friends to go for big goals as she continues to chase faster times. She enjoys a hot cup of coffee, a cold martini, and making bagels for friends and family.More from Meaghan