Reviewed: HOKA Cielo X1

Let's get it out of the way first: so far, most people hate the laces on HOKA's latest race offering, the Cielo X1. Triathletes are going to really hate them. They are stiff and not easy to tighten quickly. Once in place, they do provide serious, lock in place support if you can find your perfect fit. But for triathlon, just pull the laces out and replace with your favorite elastic lace.

OK, now for the rest of the shoe. First spotted on sponsored athletes in summer/fall 2023 (though with a Rocket X2 upper and often wrongly reported to be a Rocket X3), the Cielo X1 is the newest and highest energy return shoe HOKA have made. The 2-layer PEBA midsole with carbon fiber plate sandwiched in the middle features dynamic cutouts through the midsole to reduce weight, though the Cielo X1 is not the lightest racer on the market coming in at a listed weight of 9.3 oz.

Different from most Hoka over the years the Cielo X1 is a 7mm drop shoe, higher than what the brand has previously offered. Part of this is Hoka has changed how they measure drop, now including the Strobel and insole and part is yeah, it’s a slightly higher drop. If you’re the type that can notice 2mm it may feel higher, most won’t notice a thing. (Editor’s Note: to borrow the old phrase from Mizuno – focus on miles, not millimeters.)

When I first put these on, I wasn’t sure what to think. I have a fairly high arch and yet I could feel the midfoot filling up under my foot, almost like a bump. Then I walked around, still not really sure it is even going to be “like” let along “love” as they felt pretty unstable walking around. Next up was to run and there it is, a really nice pop of rebound with every foot strike. I land pretty midfoot and that is the sweet spot for the Cielo X1. The shoe has a very pronounced rocker shape and I don’t think landing rearfoot will work very well but that midfoot “fullness” I felt when I first put these on acted like a bounce house under full run force as it compressed and rebounded and I liked it.

I did have to stay focused on form as when I got a little lazy, I could feel the shoe being a little unstable as my foot landed a little further back and with more lateral sway. It seemed to be at least less stable compared to the New Balance SuperComp Elite v4 that I tested just before these. While running hard I really liked the feel, responsiveness, and the shoes’ ability to absorb a ton of impact.

The upper is very supportive with a unique ribbed knit upper that reminds me of Nike Aeroswift half tights. There is also a knit gusseted tongue that wraps the foot nicely and is forgiving enough for the high instep crowd. HOKA says the upper is very breathable but being in Western NY, aka, almost Canada, in February, I can’t easily test that out as my feet are not going to get warm here (though they also didn’t get cold, which honestly, they never do, years of running sockless all year round will do that) The material is a little on the thick/stiff/supportive side so those with wide feet may not fit too well here as I don’t think there will be much give.

A large pull tab is on the tongue to grab so the guested tongue doesn’t push down. A fairly firm yet low heel counter helps to really lock the rearfoot in place and should keep any slippage issues to a minimum as I’ve seen none so far. Between the upper material, the laces and the heel counter my foot was locked in over the midsole.

At the recent Orlando Marathon Trials, Hoka athletes were all in Cielo X1 from what I saw. Non-sponsored athletes wearing Hoka were in Rocket X2, most likely due to Cielo X1 releasing 2 days before the race. I expect to see people moving to Cielo X1 from Rocket X2 for its higher energy return and I won’t be surprised if a v2 somewhere in the future ends up being lighter weight as they find places to trim some grams.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed the ride and fit of the shoe. Weight weenies will find it heavy but it sure does soak up the miles and provides a lot of bounce. And remember, for triathlon, swap out the laces ASAP.

HOKA Cielo X1 Stats
Price: $275.00
Released February 1, 2024
Unisex: 9.3 oz (264g)
Stack: 40mm/33mm
Drop: 7mm
*My 10.5 US weighed 9.5oz (270g)