HOKA Cielo X1 Review
All shoes are reviewed by the Fleet Feet tester team, which represents a wide variety of goals, foot shapes, locations and terrains. Reviewers pound the pavement, climb the hills, tackle the trails, then come together to compare notes. Debates ensue over the feel of the cushioning, the purpose of the shoe, and how it compares to last year’s model. While each reviewer has their own individual preferences, we hope that capturing our debates will help you make an informed decision.
You’ve picked out a goal race and started training. You’ve planned out your nutrition strategy, your pacing plan and, of course, your post-race victory meal. Maybe you’ve even chosen a race-day outfit that will help you look and feel your best. So, what about the shoes?
When choosing race-day shoes, both comfort and performance should be considered. While performance advantages from racing supershoes are somewhat objective (studies have confirmed that carbon-plated super-shoes lower the energetic cost of running), comfort is a purely subjective concept. Some runners prefer a firm feel underfoot to act as a lever, propelling them forward, while other runners may enjoy a softer, bouncier feel.
The release of HOKA’s newest race-day model, the HOKA Cielo X1, had reviewers at odds with one another. Is the Cielo X1 the super-shoe the masses have been yearning for? Or will it end up in the back of our closets, like the forgotten shoes of seasons past? Read on to find out.
HOKA Cielo X1
|7.4 oz (W), 9.3 oz (M)
|Stack height (heel/forefoot)
|37 mm/30 mm (W), 39 mm/32 mm (M)
|Saucony Endorphin Elite, New Balance SC Elite v3
Plated, PEBA midsole propels you forward
The HOKA Cielo X1 is designed to be as propulsive as possible, starting from the ground up. On top of a rubber outsole sits one layer of PEBA midsole foam, an ultra-light, high-performance foam that’s lighter and bouncier than traditional EVA or TPU foams. Above that is a winged carbon-fiber plate, topped off with another layer of PEBA foam. The stiff plate works in conjunction with the midsole foam to expand and contract upon landings and takeoffs, which is what creates the sensation of being propelled forward.
In simple terms? “I almost feel like my feet are springs when I run in these shoes,” says Kate, who’s currently training for a competitive half marathon at the end of the month.
“I’ve done a bunch of speed workouts in this shoe, and a mile time trial, and I really love the way it performs for fast running,” she says, as she tries to avoid answering how fast she ran the mile (5:22, for those wondering). “It has a strong rocker shape, an incredibly stiff feel and very bouncy cushioning. The combination makes it super propulsive.”
However, not all reviewers agreed with that sentiment, myself being one of them. While it’ll take more than a fast pair of shoes for me to clock a 5:22 mile, I didn’t feel like the Cielo X1 offered the energy I’ve come to expect from supershoes. Granted, everyone has different preferences when it comes to soft versus firm cushioning, and I definitely prefer shoes with a softer midsole that helps me truly feel the bounce.
“I tested these shoes during a 5K race, the race being me versus the clock before a 9AM meeting,” says Max. “While it was snowy and icy here in Chicago, every time I stepped on a dry patch of pavement I felt like I was one one of those moving walkways at the airport thanks to the extremely bouncy midsole.”
Ironically, the review team was split in the same way over the recent Mizuno Wave Rebellion Pro 2–Mandy and I both raved about it, while Max and Kate weren’t fans.
Your preference for certain super shoes might not only depend on your appetite for soft versus firm shoes. The shape and placement of the carbon plate can play a role, too. This could explain why Mandy and I have different preferences than Max and Kate.
Knit upper offers perfect fit–for some
The HOKA Cielo X1 is topped off with a knit upper complete with a stretchy, gusseted tongue and some light padding around the heel collar.
The battle between me and Mandy versus Kate and Max continued when discussing the upper.
While Kate and Max thought the upper provided a perfect fit, Mandy and I found the shoes to feel much too large. Part of this could be attributed to the unisex sizing. I typically wear between a 6 and a 6.5 in women’s sizing. A good rule of thumb when transferring from women’s to men’s sizing is to subtract 1.5. I received a men’s 5.5 in the Cielo X1, and definitely could have worn a half size smaller.
I was able to cinch down the fit with the laces, but this left the forefoot material puckered. Nevertheless, it didn’t bother me on the run, thanks to my thick Balega Blister Resist socks that took up some extra room within the shoe.
Kate and Max both found their perfect fit in the Cielo X1, even with Max being our resident narrow-footed reviewer.
However, we could all agree that the laces were unlike those in any shoe we’ve tested recently. Kate described them as “like a ribbon on a gift.”
Their rigid material helps the laces stay in place, which is a bonus because no one wants to stop and tie their shoes during a race. But some of us felt they took longer to tie and untie than traditional laces. When you’re rushing out the door, late to meet your morning run group, every second is precious!
HOKA Cielo X1 vs HOKA Rocket X2
HOKA Cielo X1
HOKA Rocket X2
7.4 oz (W), 9.3 oz (M)
6.7 oz (W), 8.3 oz (M)
37 mm/30 mm (W),
39 mm/32 mm (M)
38 mm/33 mm (W),
40 mm/35 mm(M)
The Cielo X1 is the third race-day super-shoe offering from HOKA, with the Carbon X being the first. The Rocket X was first introduced in 2020 followed by an updated version in 2023. Both the Cielo X1 and the Rocket X2 use a dual-layer PEBA midsole and a carbon-fiber plate.
Because the Rocket X2 was such a successful race-day offering from HOKA, we were wondering what the Cielo X1 would offer that the Rocket didn’t. Some speculated that the Cielo would be akin to the Nike Alphafly, with the Rocket being compared to the Vaporfly. For those unfamiliar with the Nike lineup, the Vaporfly is positioned as their classic race-day super-shoe, with the Alphafly being a more premium version with more cushion.
But is the Cielo X1 really more premium than the Rocket X2? Max seems to think so, calling it “the Rocket X2 on steroids.” And with a $25 price increase, one would hope so. But a look at the tech specs indicate that the Rocket X2 actually offers more stack height with less weight.
I was the only tester who got to wear both the Rocket X2 and the Cielo X1, and I found the Rocket to feel more energetic during faster efforts. However, the Cielo X1 offers a winged carbon fiber plate, while the plate in the Rocket X2 is spoon-shaped. The winged plate is wider, therefore adding greater stability to your stride, which will be appreciated by runners who need a little extra support.
How does the HOKA Cielo X1 compare?
We took a look at some comparable shoes to see how they stack up against the HOKA Cielo X1. Here’s what we found:
HOKA Cielo X1
Saucony Endorphin Elite
New Balance SC Elite v3
7.4 oz (W), 9.3 oz (M)
6.5 oz (W), 7.2 oz (M)
6.6 oz (W), 8 oz (M)
37 mm/30 mm (W),
39 mm/32 mm (M)
39.5 mm/31.5 mm
40 mm/36 mm
The HOKA Cielo X1 offers a strong rocker shape and stiff cushioning, offering a similar ride to the Saucony Endorphin Elite. Both shoes have similar stack heights and heel-to-toe drops, too, although the Endorphin Elite is quite a bit lighter.
The New Balance SC Elite v3 also came up when discussing the Cielo X1. Both shoes have a similar knit-style upper, although the SC Elite is completely one-piece while the Cielo X1 offers a partially gusseted tongue. While both shoes are designed for maximum performance, the Elite v3 offers a decidedly softer ride than the Cielo X1. Whichever shoe you decide to chase down your PR in, it will all depend on your preference for soft versus firm cushioning.
Who is the HOKA Cielo X1 best for?
As one of the firmer racing shoes on the market today, the Cielo X1 is best suited for those who appreciate a stiff platform to push off from when trying to pick up the pace.
Thanks to a wide platform and winged carbon plate, it offers a touch of stability for those who need it.
“Not only was the Cielo comfortable and quick on all of my runs, it felt stable to me, too,” says Kate. “ I land right on the wide forefoot and something about it feels just right for my gait.”
Max agreed, saying “I’d recommend this shoe to someone looking for a racing shoe with a great balance of bounce, propulsion and stability.”