With the Cielo X1, Hoka is taking another stab at the super shoe concept after one excellent and few so-so tries.
That one excellent is, of course, one of my all-time favourite running trainers, the Hoka Carbon X. Launched back in 2019 – when the company was still called Hoka One One – the Carbon X was a real alternative to the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly.
Future Carbon X iterations couldn't keep up with the juggernaut that is the Nike Vaporfly (or Alphafly) franchise. It's not like Hoka didn't try; the brand rolled out a number of high-stack, carbon plate-enhanced running shoes, such as the Hoka Rocket X2 and the Hoka Mach X, some better received than others.
Adding plates to most of its shoes that were already pretty tall didn't help people understand why they should choose one over the other. Worse, no shoes came close to being as successful as Nike's and Adidas' similar performance footwear.
Enter the Hoka Cielo X1. The latest Hoka trainer looks very similar to both the Nike Alphafly 2 and the Adidas Adizero Adios 3, which isn't a bad thing. It's smooth as butter and provides tons of energy return – exactly what runners who want to beat their PBs need.
[Please note: I used a 'blacked out' version of the Cielo X1 for this review, which is not publicly available to buy. I was told it's the same as the stock model from a ride mechanics point of view.]
Hoka Cielo X1 review
Price and availability
The Hoka Cielo X1 was announced on 1 Feb 2024 and is available to buy now at Hoka US and Hoka UK for a recommended retail price of $275/ £250 (approx. AU$ 418). This puts the shoes in the same price bracket as the Adidas Adizero Adios Pro 3 (RRP $250) and the Saucony Endorphin Elite (RRP 275).
- Best for: 10k to marathon distances, racing
- Weight: 7.4 oz/ 210g (W8), 9.3 oz, 264g (M10)
- Drop: 7 mm
- Stack height: 37mm/ 30mm (W8), 39mm/ 32mm (M10)
- Sizing: true to size
- Colours: TBC
- Carbon plate: yes, winged
- World Athletics approved?: yes, under 40mm max stack height, one plate
- Vegan: yes
- Sustainability: no information available
|Header Cell - Column 0
|Hoka Cielo X1
|Nike Alphafly 3
|Adidas Adios Pro 3
|New Balance FuelCell SC Elite v4
|9.3 oz, 264g (M10)
|7.68oz, 218g (M9)
|8.39oz/ 238g (M8.5)
|7.8 oz/ 221g (M9.5)
|39mm/ 32mm (M)
|40mm/ 32mm (M)
|39.5mm/ 33 mm (M)
|40mm/ 36mm (M)
Design and materials
Like most super shoes, the Hoka Cielo X1 has an exaggerated rocker profile, tons of foam with an embedded carbon plate underfoot and features a lightweight, supportive upper.
Of course, Hoka tweaked the concept slightly. Instead of a full-size carbon plate, the Cielo X1 has a 'dynamic' winged carbon fibre plate, possibly to reduce weight without compromising on propulsion. The foam features cutaway sections, also for the same reason.
The PEBA foam is supposed the same featured in the Rocket X2 and Mach X; however, Hoka claims the new combination plate and foam combo makes the Cielo X1 the brand's highest energy return shoe yet.
The softer layer directly underfoot provides comfort, while the firmer bottom layer provides a resilient source of power. This isn't unusual from super shoes – Adidas has a similar setup with its Lightstrike Pro and Lightstrike 2.0 foams in its Adizero Boston 12 and Adios 8 shoes.
The upper is new. It's engineered knit upper and features an asymmetrical gusseted knit tongue, the latter of which is said to enable easy entry and a race-ready lockdown. I'll talk about this tongue construction below, but the upper feels comfortable overall, especially for a racing shoe.
The Hoka Cielo X1 has a 7mm drop, not putting too much pressure on the hips or the ankles. For comparison, the Alphafly 2 has an 8 mm drop, and so does Saucony's Endorphin Elite.
At 9.75 oz (276g, tested men's size 10), the Cielo X1 isn't as light as Adidas' Adizero Adios Pro Evo 1, but then again, nothing is. It's slightly heavier than the Alphafly 2 and much heavier than the Endorphin Elite. that said, I'm always surprised how light super shoes feel on your feet. They look all chunky but weigh next to nothing.
Performance and comfort
The Hoka Cielo X1 is an absolute joy to run in. Initially, I was slightly concerned with the cutaway sections underfoot – I always am – before trying the shoes, but your gait stays completely unaffected during runs, despite the chasms in the foam.
It's possibly something to do with how I run, but I could always feel the missing foam under my pinky when running in the Adizero Pro 3. The Cielo X1 moves that section more to the centre (slightly off-centre still), making it almost impossible to detect the missing foam.
Energy return is through the roof. I was bouncing around in the Cielo X1 like I was strapped to a giant beach ball, and thanks to the early-stage Meta-Rocker and the 7 mm drop, the direction of movement and the momentum always pointed forward.
I received the shoes well over a week before the launch and have put a good 50k in them since then. The more I used them, the more I gravitated towards running in the Cielo X1, despite having quite a few running shoes to test at home right now (keep your eyes peeled for upcoming shoe reviews).
The upper is accommodating enough, even for someone like me who has wide feet. I often find stock Hokas a bit tight, especially in the toe box, but I had no issues with the Cielo X1.
(I forgot to mention until now, but the Hoka Cielo X1 doesn't come in wide, just like the Rocket X1 and the Mach X.)
The gusseted tongue, though! I'm not sure what happened there. Sure, the loosey-goosey material makes it easy to enter the shoes, but it doesn't spring back once you let go, which is a bit strange and impractical, as it leaves the tongue all folded up under the laces.
Another thing you'll notice straight away is the lack of heel tabs. The rear of the shoes has minimal padding and hugs the heels and ankles, which is excellent when you run but not so much when you're trying to get in the shoes without squeezing the life out of your fingers.
Both are small griefs (although I am not sure how the tongue placement would affect the top of the feet under the lace cage) and honestly, the shoes perform so well that you'll forget about any issues you might have quickly as soon as you start running.
It's safe to say that Hoka is back in the game (race?) with the Cielo X1.
What Hoka needs now is to win a few marathon majors or other notable long-distance events to give credibility to the shoes. Wesley Kiptoo ran the Chicago Marathon in 2:10:28 wearing the Cielo X1, and Kellyn Taylor won the Rock' n' Roll San Jose Half Marathon with a finishing time of 1:11:40. A good start!
The Cielo X1 is an excellent running shoe, which I hope will help the brand grow even more. Every major performance manufacturer needs a super shoe in its stable these days, and the Hoka now has one in the form of the Cielo X1. The foam is spot on, the propulsion is great, and the comfort is also brilliant – I look forward to seeing the Cielo X1 on more podiums soon.
I mentioned a ton of super trainers in this review, all of which are superb alternatives to the Hoka Cielo X1.
One I didn't mention but would recommend just the same is ASICS' Metaspeed Sky Plus. Launched in tandem with the ASICS Metaspeed Edge Plus, the Sky+ is regarded as a true Nike Vaporfly competitor with impressive running dynamics, comfortable upper, and more. Read my full ASICS Metaspeed Sky Plus review.