Experienced runners James Ridger and Darren Hendley test the Hoka Cielo X1 over short and long courses and are impressed by its speed over any distance.

Hoka’s minimalist Cielo X1 carbon race shoe is one of our best running shoes and is paired back for a lightweight, responsive ride. With an aggressive rocker shape, breathable knit upper and gusseted knit tongue, its design locks your feet to improve racing speed and control. Our testers ran in the Cielo X1 over 1-mile, 5km and marathon courses – but can a carbon super shoe excel over any distance?

Men’s Fitness verdict

The Cielo X1 has a winning combination of light weight, responsiveness and a smooth rolling turnover, with enough cushioning to make anything from fast 5km to marathon distances possible.
  • Lightweight and fast
  • Comfortable and well-cushioned
  • Smooth rolling at high speed
  • Bulky compared to other carbon racers
  • Laces not the most secure

How we test the best running shoes

Our testers put each shoe through their paces over a mixture of distances and paces to see where they excel, and clocked up significant distances in each one to examine how they wear over time. Each reviewer focused on speed, stability and comfort during test runs, while also assessing the effectiveness of any high-tech features on offer. Their detailed reviews are sure to help you choose the right running shoe for you. Found out more about us and see why you can trust Men’s Fitness.

Runners competing in a Parkrun
James tests the Hoka Cielo X1 at his local Parkrun

James’ verdict on the Hoka Cielo X1

The Hoka Cielo X1 is designed to be a road racer and features a winged carbon fibre plate sandwiched between two layers of resilient PEBA foam. It also has cutouts for weight saving and a stack height of 39-32mm, with a 7mm heal-toe drop. I first used the Cielo X1 in a 200m and 400m track session in the pouring rain. When I put the shoe on it instantly felt comfortable. I also felt I had grown in height, because of that stack height.

The training session went well, with the shoe feeling very responsive. I haven’t used a carbon plate running shoes before – I’m very old school. I was surprised with how good they felt; they’re a really good fit and come up true to size. When running, you feel you are being propelled forward, thanks to that PEBA foam and the aggressive rocker, so they encourage you to pick your speed up. My laces did come undone twice in the session, which was frustrating. I assumed that was just me, but feedback on forums suggests it has happened to other runners.

I also used the shoes at another training session, where we were running a one-mile time trial. The responsiveness of the Cielo X1s helped me finish in first place in 5:07.

Hoka Cielo X1 performance

I decided I my first proper test for the Hoka Cielo X1 would be a 5km Parkrun, where I was looking to break the club V40 record. With the shoelaces triple tied, I was ready for my run. It was a cold, dry morning with no wind – ideal conditions for a fast Bromley Parkrun. I did a 2-mile warm-up and while the legs felt good, I found the shoe felt a little strange when just ‘jogging’ along. However, they really come to life when you start running at speed.

I was worried my pick-up in speed might cause me some calf or Achilles niggles but I had no discomfort at all. Throughout the run the shoe felt very responsive and propelled me to a time of 17.06 – a new v40 club record. That was just what I wanted as I was just about the turn 45 and move into a new age group. I’m convinced the shoe helped with this, even if some of the gains might be the placebo effect. Still, I’ll be using them for all my upcoming races.

Hika Cielo X1 5km / 10km potential

Unlike Darren, I’m not a marathon runner so I will be mainly looking to targeting 5km and 10km races. Having done so well at my first 5km race I was itching to get out again and see what I could do when I turned 45. I didn’t have long to wait, so I thought I’d have another go at the Bromley Parkrun, and try to set a sub-17-minute time. We had a good team from the club all running. The course is a half lap followed by two full laps, and I got off to a fast start. There were other runners pacing below 17 minutes, so that helped, and I was delighted to finish in an official time of 16:57. I’d now broken the club V45 age group record, and also run my best time for 5km Parkrun since 2012.

Close-up of runners' feet before a race
The key to the Hoka Cielo X1’s speed and responsiveness is its aggressive rocker shape

Darren’s verdict on the Hoka Cielo X1

I am a big Hoka fan. I run the majority of my 1,500 miles each year in two shoes, the Hoka Clifton range on the roads, and the Hoka Challenger for light trails. For heavier trail running I also wear the Hoka Speedgoat although I find this shoe a little less comfortable. For me, Hoka shoes are super durable. Even after 500-600 miles they remain comfortable feel and show very little wear on the soles. However, one thing I find with Hoka trainers is that they always seem to come up on the small side. For most trainers I would order a UK size 10, but my Hokas are half a size bigger.

I was excited to hear about the launch of the Hoka Cielo X1 carbon race shoe. Opening the box, I was immediately struck by the bright and bold colour scheme – it’s a shoe to stand out from the crowd. I was holding a carbon race shoe, but one with the superior cushioning I have come to enjoy from the Hoka range. Oddly I actually found the usual UK size 10.5 slightly too large, so opted for the size 10. So the Cielo is more of a true fit than some other Hoka shoes.

The mesh tongue is fixed in place on both sides, which prevents too much movement and adds to overall comfort. The first negative I found was the laces; I found them to be too rigid when tying and was concerned they would come undone unless double or triple knotted. As a result, they can be quite tricky to undo again, particularly with cold hands.

Runner holding a shoe and a medal outside Rome Colosseum
Darren with his Cielo X1 and Rome Marathon finishers’ medal

Targeting PBs with the Hoka Cielo X1

I had two targets in mind when trying the Hoka Cielo X1. At the start of the year, I decided to target a sub 20-minute Parkrun and I also wanted to try them at marathon distance. I decided to target the Bromley Parkrun as it’s a flat lapped course run on tarmac. During an easy warm-up I could feel the superior cushioning I am accustomed to with Hoka shoes. The big difference, though, was the curved rocker meant more of a rolling feel. The shoe responded well as I increased the pace and as I pushed myself throughout the 5km I managed to hold an even pace.

I was surprised but delighted to finish in 19:10. I have raced in other carbon shoes, namely the Nike Zoom X Vaporfly and the New Balance FuelCell Elite. Whereas those two both feel like a pure carbon racing shoe with little cushioning, the Hoka Cielo X1 still provides the cushioning I look for. Overall, they do feel a little bulkier than the others.

Hoka Cielo X1 marathon potential

For my marathon test I took the shoes on pacing duties at the Rome Marathon. I have paced 18 marathons (mostly wearing Hoka Cliftons) and I usually pace between 4hrs 15min and 4hrs 30min. For Rome I was asked to pace one of the sub-4hr groups. As I would be running a little quicker, I was keen to test out the Hoka Cielo X1. While I had run less than 20 miles in the shoes before the marathon I was confident that the shoes worked well for me. To be on my feet for 4 hours I wanted a comfortable fit and cushioned feel. I could feel the carbon plate propelling me forward even at 9-minutes-per-mile pace. It was a warm day, I felt strong and the shoes remained comfortable throughout. I was delighted to bring home the group in 3.59:33.

Often, immediately after a marathon and particularly the day after, I will feel very heavy legged. I didn’t experience this in Rome (apart from some slightly sore quads climbing the steps in the Colosseum). My legs felt strong and I feel I recovered quickly over the next couple of days. I’m sure this was down to wearing the Cielo X1.  Overall, it’s a great racing shoe for any distance, with just the right amount of cushioning.

Should you buy the Hoka Cielo X1

If you’re looking for a racing shoe then there are cheaper alternatives. But these shoes are more comfortable than most carbon plate options on the market, making them a perfect marathon shoe. With their PEBA foam and that aggressive rocker shape, they give you all the propulsion you need for shorter races.

James Ridger is the race director for the Paddock Wood Half Marathon. He is a founder member of Paddock Wood Athletics Club and has been completing in track, cross-country and road racing since 1986. As a junior he competed on the track for Kent and the Southeast of England. James holds a number of track and road racing PWAC club records. PBs include a 4:34 mile, 27:01 for 5 miles, 33:21 for 10km and 1.15:19 for the half marathon.

Darren Hendley has competed in track and field, cross country and road running events since 1986. He has logged 37 marathons and a further 10 ultra marathons. Since 2017, his main running passion has been as an official race pacer, helping other runners hit their targets. Darren has paced officially at 56 races including the London, Berlin, Chicago, Brighton, Manchester, Rome, Venice and Pisa marathons.

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