My first impression of the HOKA Cielo X1 went like this: Open box, wowed by the reflective, colorful upper, momentarily dumbfounded while putting the shoe on my foot, and then awestruck by the feeling of standing in the funky, heavily rockered race shoe.
You see, I’m an avid runner. But road running generally isn’t my focus. I run on roads literally every day, but my runs also take me through parks, up and down embankments, and along streams that are anything but smooth and flat. So, I tend more toward do-all trail running shoes or road running shoes with a bit more bite.
So, a true marathon race shoe like the Cielo X1 is a departure from the norm for me. This review is coming from the perspective of a serious runner, but one who hasn’t put many miles on super shoes. And this one sure is super.
From my first steps out the doors, I felt like I’d ditched my Ford Bronco daily driver for a Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe. And I picked that latter car because while the Cielo X1 is faster than a frightened tomcat, it’s not nimble like a sports car. It is no Lamborghini. It is, indeed, a grand touring shoe.
Read on to find out what I mean.
In short: The HOKA Cielo X1 is a max-cushion race shoe meant for half-marathon and marathon distances. Packing a Peba midsole, it boasts the highest energy shoe of any HOKA model to date. It has an aggressive forward rocker and propulsion that shines during high-speed running but feels awkward at slower paces. This shoe targets fast runners pushing race pace who want a very protective shoe.
Weight 9.3 oz. (men's) / 9.5 oz. (women's)
Stack height About 40mm
No ground feel
Very thin laces don't stay tied
HOKA Cielo X1 Review: Impression at 30 Miles
I called the Cielo X1 a “grand touring shoe,” and here’s what I mean. It is incredibly fast and efficient, but it isn’t nimble. It’s not a quick shoe to turn or easy to run over tricky terrain. It wants long, open roads where the engine can purr and the wind whistles by, ticking off mile after fast mile.
And when I say engine, I mean you. Like a grand touring automobile, the Cielo X1 is downright comfortable at a steady high speed.
I’ve only had the Cielo X1 for a couple of weeks, and have so far put about 30 miles on the shoe. As I’m rebuilding my mileage right now after a fall dedicated to weight training, my longer runs are only around 6 miles. So, I haven’t put this through longer distances just yet.
I’ll update this once I put them through a solid half-marathon run.
So far, I’m blown away by the energy return of the Cielo X1 road running shoe. This is among the fastest, most efficient feeling shoes I’ve run in, period.
But it’s also kind of funky. Slower paces, or (God forbid) walking, are pretty weird. That’s because the Cielo X1 has a 7mm heel-to-toe drop with such an aggressive rocker that walking feels squishy on the heel, but bouncy on the forefoot.
But no worries, these shoes are clearly not made for walking. That’s not what they do. These shoes simply want to run and run fast.
Kicking up my pace to “fast for me,” or about 6:30 a mile, and the shoe really shines. The aggressive rocker suddenly rewards a mid- to forefoot landing with remarkable energy return. Toe-off is swift and springy.
I feel my pace increase well past my normal training pace, and suddenly I’m catching my dog. She’s no longer trotting beside me as normal but is forced to move to a running stride.
It’s not scientific, but I can feel these shoes moving me forward faster, and more efficiently than my many pairs of training shoes.
But while they are for sure fast, I definitely won’t be wearing them every day.
The Downside of Fast
You might be tempted to run in this shoe every day. Shoot, it’s fast as hell and makes you feel a bit like a superhero. But there is for sure a downside, and for me, it’s a forced high pace.
While I love running fast, I simply cannot do it all the time. I need variety, with many miles of slower running mixed with speed work, intervals, and race pacing.
For most of my training days, these shoes are just too fast. And I found running slowly in them to feel quite awkward. They have a very soft, very tall midsole, and the heel is downright mushy.
And get them on a steep embankment and you may as well be wearing stilts. I know that many runners don’t face this issue. But frankly, I don’t just run on roads. Blasting around the city before sunrise every day, I encounter all sorts of obstacles, including but not limited to crusty snow, steep ditches, stairs, and ramps. And in anything other than basically flat pavement, the Cielo X1 is quite sketchy.
That’s not really a surprise to me. HOKA calls these a race-day shoe, and I completely concur. They’re also great for race pace training days when it’s a good idea to get a feel for your race gear and work on your pacing. Oh, and avoid the adventure runs. That’s not what these are made for.
No, these are a race-day shoe. They’re meant to go fast on flat surfaces. And in that case, they are a whole lot of fun.
Fit, Laces, and Details
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably considering this race-day shoe. Here are some nitty-gritty details.
First, the fit is spot on. I wear a 9.5 in most shoes, and this 9.5 fit my foot perfectly. It is a tad narrower than I like and doesn’t allow much toe splay, but hey, it’s a race shoe. I’d call the toebox average in terms of width and volume.
Next, putting the shoe on and taking it off is a little unique. The Cielo X1 has a knit upper and collar and asymmetrical gusseted knit tongue. The tongue floats inside the upper, and only attaches to the shoe at three points — two points just behind the arch of the midsole, and one point to the upper in the center of the shoe. It is very comfortable but does require some fiddling to get in the right spot when putting the shoe on.
I do worry about the durability of the tongue, especially if you’re rough putting the shoe on. But so far, so good.
Next, I’d mention the laces. They are very thin, tape-like material and complete garbage. On my first training run in these, the laces came untied repeatedly. After a couple more runs, and with very tight knotting, they’ve stayed tied about half the time. Overall, they’re bad. Use a balanced running knot, or double- or triple-knot these bad boys, and do it tight.
Moving onto the midsole, I mentioned the impressive rocker. But let’s not forget the visible, winged carbon fiber plate and midsole cutouts. Both of these add to the futuristic appearance and performance of the Cielo X1. And they also make it really fast and light.
Finally, the shoe has a minimal, but decent outsole. Rubber covers the forefoot strike zone and a small amount of the area under the arch. The heel has a reasonable amount of rubber, so I’d expect them to handle some mileage. Heavy heel strikers may wear the exposed foam, though, as the rear of the heel is exposed foam.
Who Should Buy the HOKA Cielo X1
I realize there are a lot of race shoes on the market. And the Cielo X1 fits into the super shoe category well.
Those looking to go far, fast, should consider the HOKA Cielo X1. It has an average fit and volume, and it should work well for many fast runners.
That said, this shoe wants to go fast. I didn’t enjoy running in it at slower paces, where it felt too bouncy and gave me pretty much no proprioception.
But if you’re aiming for the front half of the pack and looking for efficient, fast, light shoes that will help you break through to a new PR, the HOKA Cielo X1 should be on your list to try.
Looking for more speed-focused race shoes? Check out the Salomon S/Lab Phantasm 2 review.