Hoka Cielo X1: For Slower Marathon Running

Cielo X1 toebox

The Hoka Cielo X1 presents as a weighty racing shoe that leans more towards being a long-distance trainer. It boasts significant, plush cushioning and a pronounced toe-spring, but the flexible carbon plate creates a rather laid-back feel lacking the needed aggression.

While it comfortably cruises through long runs efficiently, it falls short of being a premium racing shoe. Additionally, at a price tag of $310, it's definitely priced far above what it should be.

Do do Deserve Hoka Cielo X1?

Should your goal be to find a gentler racing shoe and you plan on running a marathon in 3:30 or even slower, the Cielo X1 makes a solid choice. If you're a fan of the Rocket X2 but crave a little more cushioning, the Cielo X1 can also serve as a suitable alternative.

In case you're in the market for an extremely light, firm racing shoe, the Cielo X1 may not meet your expectations. Similarly, if you prefer shoes that offer a substantial sense of contact with the ground, the Cielo X1 might not be the ideal pair for you.

Hoka Cielo X1 Brief Introduction

Hoka is a brand synonymous with exceptional cushioning, embodied in their most renowned models, the Clifton and Bondi. Their popularity stems from the thick, rockered midsoles that assure deep comfort and cushioning for both walking and running. During my recent visit to the United States, I was taken aback by the extensive number of individuals choosing Hokas for everyday wear.

The Cielo X1 stays true to Hoka's signature style of running shoes featuring an exaggeratedly thick sole accompanied by a rocker. However, it stands out as one of the few Hoka models that employs PEBA foam, while the majority typically incorporate EVA.

The Cielo X1 is not intended to supplant the Rocket X series. Rather, it's an additional long-distance racing alternative within Hoka's lineup. The Rocket X 2 was among my most admired premium racing shoes in the last couple of years, thus my expectations for the Cielo X1 are quite high.

The Cielo X1 appears as though it's the type of running shoe that I would have crafted if given free rein. It's equipped with a maximal stack height midsole, an assertive forefoot rocker, and sufficient outsole coverage that endows it with the durability required for rigorous training.

The Cielo X1 leans towards the heavier side for a racing shoe, weighing in at 9.3 oz (264 g) for a men's US9, a noticeable difference from the lighter Rocket X2 that stands at 8.3 oz (236 g). It also features a drop of 7 mm, which exceeds the typical 5 mm standard set by most Hoka models. As for the cost, it soars at a hefty price tag of $310, identical to that of the Endorphin Elite.

Related: Saucony Endorphin Speed 4: Versatile Trainer for Uptempo runs

Hoka Cielo X1 Running Experience

I kicked things off with a 23-kilometre run at a consistent speed. It was the concluding part of a hefty 141-kilometre week, leaving my legs utterly exhausted. Despite the fatigue, the run was still quite a pleasurable experience.

I appreciated the ample padding provided by the shoe and its plush feel. I also took pleasure in the impressive energy rebound it offered and the smooth roll-through during each stride.

The aspects that didn't quite sit right with me were the bulky, overheated top part and the transitions that lacked intensity. The overall experience felt more laid-back, echoing the vibes of a leisurely cruise rather than a high-speed race.

It brought to mind the Wave Rebellion Pro 2, known for its assertively angled heel.

Also, it evoked feelings about the Prime X, chiefly because of its notably thick midsole. However, the rocker of the Prime X seemed to have a lot more intensity.

Related: Adidas Adizero Prime X 2 Strung Review

Hoka Cielo X1 Upper/Vamp

Cielo X1 upper

The Cielo X1's upper features a laid-back design, leaning more towards a training shoe aesthetic rather than a racing one. The fabric used for the upper appears to be a substantial knit. As I embarked on my lengthy jog, my feet began to heat up and sweat excessively, indicating that the shoe doesn't offer ideal breathability.

To facilitate the use of a runner's knot, the shoe provides dual first-row eyelets, along with an additional row of eyelets to adjust the fit. It was seemingly necessary for me to employ a runner's knot and firmly fasten the laces to attain secure fastening. Utilizing the second row of eyelets (the ones on the outer side) helped me refine the fit, particularly due to my narrow foot structure.

The shoe laces bear a resemblance to robust ribbons typically used for gift wrapping. I encountered no problems with them, and they remained secure throughout my runs. While slightly unconventional, the benefit is that they do not unravel after a few runs, unlike some racing laces.

The shoe features substantial, reflective panels on the heels for enhanced safety purposes. Additionally, it includes a pull tab on the tongue that simplifies the process of slipping on the shoe.

This shoe offers a notably comfortable fit complete with abundant space in the forefoot. Those who prefer a tighter, race-style fit could choose to go half a size smaller. However, I opted for my true size and found that it fits nicely with both medium and thick socks. It's also an apt choice for those with broader feet.

Hoka Cielo X1 Sole Units

sole units

The Cielo X1 represents the pinnacle of cushioning in Hoka’s line of running shoes. With a dual-layer, dual-density PEBA midsole, it offers an unmatched level of cushioning in a running shoe that I've encountered. Plus, it effectively absorbs all sensations from the ground.

The shoe's heel appears to have a stack height greater than 40 mm. The recorded stack height on Running Warehouse is 46 mm. Remarkably, despite these measurements, Hoka succeeded in securing World Athletics approval for competition use.

'Bouncy' aptly characterizes the comforting aspect encapsulated by the Cielo X1. The variety of PEBA that Hoka employs is noticeably softer compared to that of other brands, including Nike's ZoomX.

The PEBA used by Hoka offers a more measured rebound compared to either ZoomX or Lightstrike Pro, giving it more of a bouncy feel than an explosive one. It combines a spongier, more compression-geared top layer of foam with a stiffer, stability-oriented lower layer. This configuration is contrary to the Alphafly, delivering a more luxurious and comfortable underfoot experience.

The Cielo X1 doesn't quite match the speed of the top-tier racing shoes. This slower feel can be attributed primarily to two elements: its carbon fiber plate and its significantly heavy weight.

The feather-edged plate in the Cielo X1 exhibits greater flexibility compared to the ones in alternative racing shoes. Take, for instance, the Saucony Endorphin Elite—it too has a substantial toe-spring design, yet its forefoot rocker exudes much more force due to its sturdier plate. These differences yield more powerful toe-offs and an overall speedier experience.

In my opinion, the Cielo X1 leans more towards a long-distance glider than an actual racing shoe. I took the X1 on a 32-kilometre training run — 20 kilometres at a steady speed, and a 12-kilometre tempo run. The first part was comfortable, but the tempo section was strenuous and required considerable effort to accelerate.

The X1 seems to truly shine during easy runs, steady-paced runs, and especially during long, leisurely runs over 25 kilometres.

When it comes to tempo or threshold runs, the Cielo X1 comes across as too cumbersome and akin to a boat. However, it shines for runners aiming for a full marathon time of 3 hours 30 minutes or perhaps slower. For more ambitious speeds, a more rigid, lightweight racing shoe would be necessary.

As someone who tends to strike with my heel, the structural design of the Cielo X1 syncs perfectly well with my running style. The comprehensive rocker from heel to toe contributes to mesmerizingly seamless transitions and facilitates finding a steady rhythm. This characteristic is precisely what makes it an excellent fit for long-distance running.

Despite its lofty midsole and the multiple cutouts within it, the Cielo X1 offers a reasonably good level of stability. Its lateral midsole cutout has proven to be more effective for me than the medial one found in the Prime X Strung version 1. Given my tendency to roll inwards while running, I appreciate the extra support on the medial side. It provides a sense of stability superior to that of the Prime X Version 1 and the Wave Rebellion Pro 2.

Related: Adidas Adizero Prime X 2 Strung Review

In terms of durability, the Cielo X1 could be considered standard among racing shoes. The thick, soft rubber of the outsole covers all the areas susceptible to high wear, but its rate of wear is quite swift. After a distance of 80 kilometres, a considerable amount of smooth rubber can be noticed on the lateral heel of my pair.

Nevertheless, the shoe upholds a stalwart enough quality for both training and racing. While I didn't test the shoe in damp conditions, I don't foresee any traction concerns, thanks to the rubber outsole's ribbed pattern.

Summary and Conclusion

Cielo X1 heel

During the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials, six athletes from the Hoka NAZ Elite team took part. Out of these, five opted for the Rocket X2, whereas just one selected the Cielo X1. In a similar situation, I would also favor the Rocket X2 for a marathon race over the Cielo X1.

I must admit, the Cielo X1 somewhat let me down. Its specifications suggest it could be an exceptional racing shoe, but it ends up being excessively heavy and soft for competitive use. Removing some of the padding could lighten the shoe and enhance its suitability for racing - the level of cushioning it currently offers seems excessive for marathon-distance running.

It's evident that the design of the Cielo X1 was influenced by the Adidas Prime X. However, the Adidas model offers a quicker sensation due to its more rigid structure, extremely stiff forefoot, and assertive rocker. Despite being over an ounce lighter than the Prime X 2, the Cielo X1 doesn't possess the same distinctive appeal.

The Cielo X1 will remain part of my running shoe selection for extended training sessions. Its design contributes to leg freshness during long runs and facilitates notably faster recovery times post-run. However, it isn't my choice for racing, as I tend to favor shoes that possess a firmer, lighter, and more rigid structure for competitive purposes.

The cost factor is also a consideration. At $310, the price point seems high for a shoe that is better suited for extensive training runs rather than races. Therefore, I wouldn't suggest it unless your goal is to achieve a marathon time of 3:30 or slower and you have a preference for extremely soft cushioning.

  • Product: Hoka Cielo X1
  • Price: $310
  • Styles & Colors:
    • Cerise / Solar Flare
    • Evening Sky / Lettuce
  • Usage:
    • Racing
    • Easy running
    • Leisurely running
    • Marathon running
    • Steady-paced running
  • Details:
    • Knit upper and collar
    • Asymmetrical gusseted knit tongue
    • Resilient two-layer PEBA midsole
    • Winged carbon fiber plate
    • Dynamic cutouts
    • Responsive 4mm sockliner
    • Minimal rubber outsole coverage
    • Aggressive rocker shape
    • Weight: 9.30 oz
    • Heel-drop: 7 mm
Cielo X1 midsole