HOKA Cielo X1 | Review - Outdoors Magic

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HOKA Cielo X1 | Review

Built for race day speed, the carbon-plated HOKA Cielo X1 is a super-fast road running shoe for PB chasing – as our writer James Forrest found out

Fast, light and ridiculously responsive – that’s what you want from a trainer when you’re chasing new PBs, and that’s exactly what the new HOKA Cielo X1 promises. The brand’s debut carbon-plated super-shoe is built for speed, whether you’re running the iconic London Marathon or simply hoping to crush your local ParkRun.

In 2016 Nike revolutionised the world of road running with the release of the Vaporfly. That shoe, and its successors, set the tone for the next decade. Every serious runner across the planet suddenly realised that super-shoes – which feature a carbon fibre plate embedded in the midsole –improve energy return, deliver more dynamic and efficient forward momentum, and ultimately make you faster. The future was here, and it was carbon-plated.

The Vaporfly used to be the unrivalled pinnacle, but over recent years the super-shoe genre has been democratised. Several other brands – from Adidas and Puma to Saucony and New Balance – have released popular super-shoes with (arguably) comparable performance to Nike’s offerings, thus adding more choice and competition to the market for runners. HOKA has joined the party too with the release of the much-hyped HOKA Cielo X1.

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Here at Outdoors Magic, regular contributor James Forrest has been testing a pair of the new HOKA racers for the past few months. He has worn them at four fast-paced races, including a 10-miler and three half-marathons including the Great North West Half Marathon in Blackpool, Carlisle Half Marathon and the Run Through UK Running GP at Croft Motor Circuit. The shoes also saw some action on a couple of ParkRun 5kms and a few tempo training runs. This is how James got on, including his full review of the HOKA Cielo X1.

HOKA Cielo X1 Review

HOKA Cielo X1: Review

Better known for its super-cushioned, maximalist-midsole shoes, HOKA has muscled in on the booming the marathon super-shoe market with the release of the carbon-plated Cielo X1. The brand describes it as a “propulsive ride for pure speed” and an “ultra-fast road racer”.

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The key features are a winged carbon fibre plate sandwiched between two layers of PEBA foam, as well as a speed-centric rocker shape and a minimalist design with “dynamic cutouts” – including a prominent Nike Alphafly 2-like notch in the middle of the shoe – for weight savings. The end result is that every runner will be “locked and loaded for racing”, as HOKA confidently puts it.

The Carbon Plate & Midsole

The HOKA Cielo X1 has a winged carbon fibre plate sandwiched between two layers of resilient PEBA (polyether block amide) foam, as well as a speed-centric, aggressive rocker shape. The aim with all of this is dynamic forward propulsion, high energy return and a soft’n’bouncy cushioned underfoot feel – or, in other words, to help you go faster than ever before.

Does it work? During our test races, the HOKA Cielo X1 felt super-soft and supremely-cushioned underfoot, with high bounciness and a good forward momentum. The roll and ride of each stride felt natural yet efficient, and – in general – we felt fleet-footed and rapid in these shoes. No complaints there. Whether they perform better or worse than other super-shoes is rather tricky to determine objectively, and it probably comes mostly down to personal preference, but our first impressions of the Cielo X1 were certainly positive.

In terms of stability HOKA classes the Cielo X1 as “neutral”. This means it has a symmetrical bed of cushion and provides “the support you want and nothing you don’t”. In terms of cushioning, meanwhile, HOKA grades the Cielo X1 as “responsive” with a “low-profile cushion bed that keeps your foot closer to the ground, and utilises a firmer material designed to provide an efficient push-off.”

Another key feature of the Cielo X1 are the so-called “dynamic cutouts” – wedges and notches of foam chopped out of the shoe’s structure, in the base, to save weight. Each shoe has three main cutouts: a small one towards the toe, a deeper lined cut at the heel, and a more prominent curved cutout in the centre. These seem to work as described by HOKA. The only drawback is that we found – when running on rural roads on races in Cumbria, including the Netherhall 10-miler – the channels got clogged up a bit with stones and mud.


The upper of the HOKA Cielo X1 is lightweight and comfortable, with a snug, foot-hugging fit. It is made from a breathable knit upper, a gusseted and asymmetrical knit tongue, and a sock-like 4mm liner. The upper is nicely breathable, allowing your feet to cool down when required, and the all-round feel of the shoe is impressive. Comfort levels are high and the fit can be fine-tuned using the flat-style laces.

We’d suggest the upper is a little more robust and thick than other super-shoes, such as the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3. This is a double-edged sword. For some the upper may feel slightly too substantial and clunky for a truly fast racer; others may prefer the slightly sturdier build and the more locked-in feel.

One thing we noticed with the HOKA Cielo X1 was the entry point. HOKA says the design “provides easy entry”, but we’d disagree. We found it a little tricky to get the shoe on during our first few test races, despite wearing our usual size, and we had to strain a tad to wiggle our foot inside. Once inside the fit was fine, however, and over time the entry issue lessened.

The upper and all-round design means the Cielo X1 isn’t the lightest super-shoe on the market. Each shoe in a men’s UK 8 weighs 250g, according to our scales. That is ultralight, but other pairs are lighter – the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3 in the same size is 212g, for example. This means the HOKA Cielo X1 feels a tiny bit heavy for a super-shoe, and this might hinder leg turnover and add to foot fatigue. But, in truth, the extra weight is not that noticeable in-use.


As with almost all super-shoes, the HOKA Cielo X1 has a very minimalist outsole optimised for speed and lightness, rather than sticky traction and grip. There are no lugs and the tread pattern is very basic. Indeed, the rubber outsole doesn’t even cover the whole of the base of the shoe, with a few patches and cutouts not covered by the rubber. This is what HOKA calls “minimal rubber outsole coverage” – an approach designed to minimise weight while simultaneously providing enough grip for road racing.

Consequently the HOKA Cielo X1 is best-suited to flat, hard, consistent road surfaces, and is certainly not designed for super-slippy surfaces or anything uneven and unstable. Having said that, during our test races we found that the Cielo X1’s traction was adequate enough for country roads and mixed urban environments, and we didn’t encounter any problems. Although we’d be a tad more anxious if the conditions underfoot were particularly wet, greasy or grimy.

Who Is It For?

For anyone chasing a new PB – whether that’s a sub 3-hour marathon, sub 40-minute 10km or a Speedy Gonzalez sub 17-minute 5km ParkRun – the HOKA Cielo X1 is built for rapid race day speed. As with all carbon-plated running shoes, the benefits are better suited to faster runners, but ultimately this super-shoe is suitable for all runners who are aiming high and hoping to push their performance to the next level.

HOKA Cielo Series

There are several other shoes in HOKA’s Cielo range. The all-gender HOKA Cielo Road (£150) is a road racing flat designed for “high tempo pickups” with “quintessential HOKA performance that virtually disappears underfoot”, while the HOKA Cielo FLYX (£160) is an athletic racing shoe billed as “the most energetic spike on the track”. The HOKA Cielo X MD, Cielo X LD, Cielo X 2 MD and Cielo X 2 LD are all athletic spikes too.

Price: £250
Weight: 250g per shoe (UK 8)
Unisex sizes: 4.5-13.5
Drop: 7mm
Stack height: 39mm heel / 32mm forefoot

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