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Review: Hoka Cielo X1

The colors are funky, the weight is questionable, and the entire release feels like Hoka’s boldest move since entering the chunky shoe game back in 2009

Review: Hoka Cielo X1 1
Review: Hoka Cielo X1 2

On February 1, Hoka went completely off the map and released their most eccentric, expensive, and supposedly fastest shoe to date: the Cielo X1.

While many of us expected HOKA’s newest super-shoe to be a successor of the Rocket X2, their already-established racer, the France-born shoe company instead graced us with something a whole lot different from, well, most sneakers I’ve ever tried. 

The Cielo X1, which retails for $275 USD, is a winged, aggressively curved running shoe with a corduroy upper that HOKA calls its most cushioned shoe to date (for Hoka, that’s saying something.) It’s also meant to be the most forward-rocking and energy-returning sneaker they’ve ever created.

The colors are funky, the weight is questionable, and the entire release feels like Hoka’s boldest move since entering the chunky shoe game back in 2009 when all of us were running in Vibram Five Fingers (don’t pretend like you weren’t at least curious about the toe shoes.)

I tried the Cielo X1s for a few easy runs and workouts, and I share my takes below about how they compare to other racers, what are their best strengths and most glaring weaknesses, and whether or not they’re worth the buy.

The TL;DR – What You Need To Know:

6.8

MH RATING

A purported “AlphaFly Killer” that’ll work for some, not for others.

  • The Hoka Cielo X1 is the brand’s new wacky super shoe, which has caught eyes not only for its bright design but also for landing on some pretty notable podiums lately.
  • Let’s be honest; you’re likely better off taking that $275 USD and investing in a pair of Nikes or other top-notch racer.
  • A bit too much chuck for a super shoe.
  • They are built for uptempo runs: a stylish trampoline for use strictly for workouts and races.
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  • All of our shoe testers are died-in-the-wool, experienced runners with a broad experience of the sport. They’re typically running 30+ miles per week.
  • We put each pair of shoes through a battery of tests: a typical review will involve several test runs on a variety of distances and terrains, designed to identify any snags or issues.
  • We talk to experts in the shoe industry and gather advice and insights from other runners, to best understand the shoe and how it suits the end user: you, the runner.

The Deets: Tech Specs For The Hoka Cielo X1

  • MSRP: $275 USD
  • Release date: Feb 1
  • Stack height: 39mm 
  • Weight: 9.2 oz (men’s size 9) or 7.4 oz (women’s size 7)
  • Heel-to-toe drop: 7mm 

The Pros:

Huge rock-forward feel: The Cielo X1’s curved lower makes it impossible to not spring onto your toes and off the ground – even in the late, grueling stages of a run.

Preserves the joints: The extensive cushioning takes a lot of the beating, leaving your knees, hips, and ankles happy. 

Bouncy and fun: Not to be taken lightly – once you find your rhythm on top of its stack of foam, running in the Cielo X1 is incredibly fun. They’re basically moon shoes.

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The Cons:

Heavy for a super shoe: The Cielo X1’s weight (9.2 oz) is much greater than those of other super shoes, and even of HOKA’s flagship trainer, the Clifton 9 (8.7oz)

Laces are a nightmare: They are small, difficult to manipulate, and too rigid to have much command on last tightness. It’s the shoe’s biggest weakness, and the first thing I would change.

Expensive: At $275 USD, the Cielo X1 is pricier than most shoes in the game and is wading into Nike AlphaFly 3 territory despite being significantly heavier. 

Little connection with the ground: If you aren’t a fan of the high-up feeling, these kicks are not for you.


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HOKA Cielo X1 : First Impressions

The Cielo X1, especially to a pragmatist or traditionalist, makes an off-putting first impression. It comes in two weird and wacky colorways (evening sky/lettuce and cerise/solar flare), is covered in shiny details, and will not double as your casual shoes (unless, of course, you’re off to Coachella.)

They are also frustratingly difficult to put on. With no back pull tab, it’s a struggle to wedge the feet inside of their small aperture, and the laces make it difficult to tie them firmly. 

Just by looking at them, you can tell they are not the kind of shoe that will double as your casuals or even as your easy run shoes. They are built for uptempo runs: a stylish trampoline for use strictly for workouts and races.



Here Are The Hoka Cielo X1’s Key Specs:

Two-layered carbon and foam: The Cielo X1 has an upgraded carbon fiber plate nestled between two layers of responsive PEBA foam. The upper layer of foam provides comfort, while the lower one is former and is built for power. In total, the entire foam complex amounts to 40mm of stack height.

Corduroy upper: The shoe comes anchored by a SpeedVault Race+ Carbon Propulsion Plate: a black web of carbon fibers that splays out from front to back. The concept, developed by technology firm Arris, is similar to Adidas’ metatarsal phalanges, and uses sustainable materials. 

MetaRocker™Rocking profile: The aggressive curve in the midsole is part of the shoe’s RapidRoll Rocker technology, which is meant to propel runners forward and prevent flat landings. 

Cut-out in lower shoe: The Cielo’s most visible deviation from other HOKA shoes is the cutout in the shoe’s lower edge; meant to drop a bit of weight. It’s similar to the Alphafly 2 and Adidas Adios Pro 3; but both brands appear to be moving away from it now. 

Fit: Length-wise, they are true to size; but they trend a bit wide.

Difference from HOKA Rocket X2: The Cielo is a full ounce heavier and has a slightly larger heel-to-toe drop (7mm) than the Rocket X2.


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Road Testing The HOKA Cielo X1

My first run in these shoes was a tempo workout, preceded by a three-kilometre warmup. Running slowly in them predictably felt unnatural: I felt on the verge of falling over, and was thrusted onto my toes despite my body’s inclination to midfoot and heel strike while running easy. Granted: most super shoes feel awkward at slow paces.

Things improved once I broke into a workout: that rocker profile thrusted me onto my toes more than any shoe I’ve ever worn. It’s like running on a half wheel. After a few kilometres, I fell into a pleasant rhythm, and felt like they were doing some of the heavy lifting.

They reminded me of the New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Trainer V2: a plush supertrainer that rocks you forward, delivers some pop, and saves the joints. The Cielo X1 certainly doesn’t explode off the ground like an AlphaFly or a ASICS Metaspeed Sky.

But running in it is really fun. I’ve absolutely loved cruising in them on progressive runs and tempos.



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HOKA Cielo X1 Review Takeaways

Before trying on this shoe, I wondered about its purpose: why would HOKA create a whole new type of Supershoe if they already have the Rocket X line?

My guess is that, while HOKA’s training shoes like the Clifton and Mach have become some of the most popular shoes in the world, the Rocket X was falling behind its counterparts from Nike, Adidas, New Balance and company.

So, they went back to the drawing board to create a new beast: a purported “AlphaFly Killer.”

I hesitate to give it that title until people have rocked it while winning major titles; from my standpoint, they are a bit too clunky and plush to contend with the fastest racing shoes in the world.

So, if you are looking for world-beating kicks, take that $275 USD and spend it on some Nike or ASICS racers. But if you are seeking an adventure, have a bit of money to spend, and are curious about how much bounce a pair of shoes can generate, test these out.

You will be the most stylish runner on the start line, and you might just have the most fun.


Photo of author
Alex is a Toronto-based journalist who writes mostly about health, sports, culture and people.

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