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HOKA Cielo Road Review: 5k Time
By David Salas, Matthew Klein, and Andrea Myers

Drawing inspiration from the HOKA Cielo track spike and other lower profile super shoes the Cielo RD enters the scene. The HOKA Cielo Road is a moderate stack height racing shoe using a PEBA-based midsole without a plate. The combination of ingredients in this model make it a short distance racer that will be on the radar for a lot of people. 

HOKA Cielo Road
Price: $159.95 at Running Warehouse
Weight: 7.1 oz, 201 g (Unisex Sizing: Men's Size 9/Women's Size 10.5)
Stack Height: 33m heel/ 30mm forefoot
Drop: 3mm
Classification: 5k/10 Road Racing Shoe


Matt: The HOKA Cielo Road is a short-to-moderate distance, super foam road racing shoe for those who want a snugger fit and a more moderate stack height. The midsole is bouncy with solid ground feel that also maintains a stiff/snappy forefoot without a plate. The upper is a lightweight breathable mesh that excels for those that want a slightly snug fit with plenty of ventilation and no heel counter. Best for 5k to 10k and maybe half marathon for those that want less, the Hoka Cielo Road is a fast and fun breath of fresh air from the current day super stack plated racers.

David: The Cielo Road is a road racing shoe for shorter distances that uses a moderate stack height and PEBA midsole. There is no plate, though the shoe still maintains good stiffness. The shoe uses a slight rocker, though more of a traditional flat geometry for speed shoes before the super shoe era. The traction and overall profile make this a fun option for the sub half marathon distance.

The HOKA Cielo Road is a low drop, mid-stack, narrow toe box shoe that is best for shorter workouts and races. The super foam midsole strikes the right balance between cushioning and responsiveness, and the near full coverage rubber outsole provides excellent traction and will likely be more durable than other shoes in HOKA's lineup. Without question, this shoe is fun to run fast in and will be a great speed day shoe and 5-10k racer for some. 

: Nike Streakfly, Topo Cyclone 2


Matt: The Hoka Cielo Road fits me slightly long in my normal men's US size 10. A thick pair of socks fixed this and it did not impede my running in them. The air mesh upper is light and breathable with light external reinforcements. The fit is only slightly snug although is a little wider for a traditional racing flat although this may be due to the slightly longer fit. The forefoot is a little more square and I felt like I had just enough room for my toes. There is a late taper that put a little pressure on the front of my third toe but it was fine once the upper broke in. The volume is lower and the mesh sits close across the top of the toes/front of the foot. The midfoot fits fairly normal, enough that I had to really tighten down the laces for security. The tongue is extremely thin and non-gusseted but did not slide on me thanks to the lace lockdown. The heel is normal in width with a  fairly flexible with no major counter (there may be a small, extremely flexible one). Those with heel sensitivities will do extremely well in this shoe as it did not bother my heel at all. There is a mild amount of heel collar padding on the medial and lateral sides of the heel. I would not run sockless in this shoe as the mesh is scratchy on bare skin. With socks it is fine, especially with slightly thicker ones to offset the sizing. 

David: The HOKA Cielo Road came to me a half size up. With that noted I would still say it fits true to size. The length for me (a normal 9.5) was a little long with the heel being a little wide. The mesh material is very lightweight and breathable. There are some very light reinforcements for the material throughout the upper that seem to hold the structure surprisingly well. The heel collar does have some suede reinforcement that prevents slipping. The tongue is thin, but padded enough to take a good lockdown from the laces. The overall volume is a little low and does run snug. The shoe is very dialed in with lockdown and keeps your foot secure on the platform. The width in the heel is slightly wide, with the midfoot and forefoot being normal width. The midfoot is a tad sloppy medially and overhangs, but the material still holds. The upper is consistent with most short distance racing shoes and performs well. The one thing I'd note is that I would get a hot spot in the heel. This could be because I am a half size up and having a small amount of translation in the heel, but I would get some rubbing on the suede. I didn't get it to the point of blistering but I definitely noticed it on some of my longer workouts.

The HOKA Cielo Road fit true to length in my usual women's 9.5. I had high hopes that the fact that this is a unisex sized shoe would result in a wider toe box as compared to HOKA's other offerings. I have experienced blisters at my 1st MTP joint in other HOKAs (worst in the Rincon and Evo Rehi) due to the sidewalls in those shoes. I did not experience any blisters at my first MTP joints in the Cielo Road, but did have some pressure on my first IP joint (joint closest to the big toenail), which did not cause a blister, but felt like it limited my 1st MTP mobility when running, which I discuss further in the performance section.

With the exception of the narrow toe box, I was happy with the fit of this shoe. The mesh upper is lightweight and breathable, and there are strips of material on the inside of the shoe that give the upper more structure and help lift it away from the dorsum of the foot. The width of the midfoot and rearfoot were normal and I didn't have any issues achieving proper lockdown with the laces. The heel collar padding is present on the medial and lateral sides of the heel, but not on the center. I experienced some rubbing on the posteriomedial aspect of my heels, at exactly the spot where the padding ended. 


Matt: The Hoka Cielo Road is a moderate stack height, super foam, short-to-moderate distance racing shoe. The midsole features full-length, bouncy PEBA. The more moderate stack height and no internal stiffening agent allows for more midsole compression. The material underfoot is highly resilient with a large amount of bounce back. The foam responds the faster you push it but is still pleasant and bouncy at moderate and slower speeds. The decent outsole coverage adds a little bit of firmness to balance out the softer ride in the heel and forefoot. The weight is listed at 7.5 oz for a men's size 10 (exactly what my pair weighs) although it feels lighter than this.

The transitions throughout the length of the shoe are fairly smooth. Once the heel breaks in, the separate posterior lateral outsole pad acts like a mild crash pad. This transitions into fairly normal midfoot. The forefoot is where things get interesting. Despite not having a plate, the forefoot is still stiff and snappy. It is obviously more flexible than plated shoes but the front still snaps you forward at faster paces. This is not a shoe for those with mobility problems of the lower leg/foot but it will help feel faster. The lower heel drop (3mm) is definitely noticeable although with the softer foam varies depending on where you land.

The lighter weight, moderate stack height and responsive underfoot feel make this shoe best for 5k-10k races or even a road mile. The foam responds best at those faster paces. I have used this shoe for 400m repetitions, fartleks, hill repeats and a shorter tempo. This is where this shoe shines. As someone with minimal shoe experience, it feels fine warming up and cooling down in. If I was in better shape and had less super shoe experience, this might be something to consider for a half marathon at max. I personally would still opt for a super shoe over 10k given the lower drop and moderate stack height.

Durability-wise this shoe has been surprisingly good. I have 25 miles on my pair with no wear on the outsole. The heel and forefoot outsole rubber add both a little firmness in the area as well as plenty of abrasion resistance. Surface wise this is really meant for road and track surfaces. The outsole grips the track well but does best on a variety of road surfaces. On a firmer more road based XC course this might be fine but the exposed midsole in the midfoot would give me durability concerns. On tame Southern California XC courses this will be fine but on muddy/grass courses elsewhere this shoe will struggle. So I would personally keep this for road events although there is a little versatility as long as the other surfaces are tame.

The HOKA Cielo Road is a very fun shoe to run in. The shoe reminds me a lot of the traditional road racing flats with a more modern platform. The geometry is on the flatter end, though does still maintain a slight rocker profile consistent with HOKA as a brand. The outsole traction underfoot is solid and I felt like I could dig into pretty much anything that I needed to, outside of maybe mud or trail running. The transitions felt relatively natural throughout with a bouncy semi-rigid forefoot. The construction does ask a little more of your calves, but this expected when wanting to run faster. The shoe is meant to perform at the 5k and 10k distances, with the option of longer for those that want that. I feel HOKA did a great job with hitting the feel for these distances. The shoe feels great turning over at 5k and 10k paces. There is enough cushioning for half marathon and full marathon, though this shoe likes to respond to you pushing into it. As of right now this is close to the top for me for short distance racers. 

Andrea: The HOKA Cielo Road performs best at faster paces for me, specifically 5k pace and below. HOKA did an excellent job tuning the PEBA to provide just the right amount of cushioning at initial contact, but with the later forefoot rocker and moderate forefoot longitudinal bending stiffness contribute to a snappy pushoff. I tested this shoe during 5k pace repeats as well as hard 1 minute hill reps. The shoe feels light on foot and the breathable mesh was a great help on hot and humid summer days. The shoe feels like its stated 3mm drop and the 33mm/30mm stack height provides ample protection from the ground, without feeling at all unstable. Midfoot landings feel very natural in the shoe and transitions are smooth, thanks to the later forefoot rocker. My one complaint is that the narrow toe box made my foot feel like it was in a vice. The pressure on the inside of my big toes made it feel like I couldn't use my 1st MTP joint for pushoff. I didn't have any pain while I was running, but my medial plantar fascia was sore and tight for 3 days after my longest workout in the shoe, which was 12 miles total with warmup and cooldown. It is possible that I would not have been as sore if I used a different shoe for the easy miles, but I did not have time that morning to go back home and switch shoes. If the toe box was wider, this would likely be a go-to speed day shoe for me.

One of my workouts was on wet roads, and the near full coverage rubber outsole provided excellent traction. I have 20 miles on my pair and there is almost no visible wear on any part of the outsole, including the small part of exposed midsole. I would expect higher than average durability for these shoes, particularly compared to HOKA's other shoes which have a greater percentage of exposed midsole as outsole.


Matt: The Hoka Cielo Road is a neutral road racing shoe with some mild guidance elements. The most noticeable are the sidewalls on the medial and lateral sides of the heel. While they are soft PEBA, they still provide a little guidance. These do extend slightly into the midfoot but their softness is less effective there. The last of the shoe is also straighter, with a midfoot that does not narrow as much. The forefoot is a little stiffer with mild sole flare medially and laterally. This provides a little guidance up front, although not significant. Despite being a neutral road racer, the Cielo road has mild guidance elements in the rearfoot and forefoot. This will not be enough for those with major stability needs for longer distances but those with mild stability needs over short distances will do fine. 

David: Being a neutral road racing shoe this shoe isn't meant to carry too much stability. With that said, it actually does a pretty good job. The sole flaring in the forefoot and heel give good cross sectional area for the foot to land on and feel secure. The upper lockdown is quite good throughout and feels like it can take turns and race demands at the shorter distances. Traction is good underfoot and also gives you some confidence with varied terrain or turns. The foam is decently soft and is perceived so without having a plate. Though the foam is compliant it still seems to hold its structure pretty well. Outside of some translation and a hot spot in the heel I found the stability for the HOKA Cielo Rd to be surprisingly good.

The HOKA Cielo Road is a neutral shoe designed for running fast. Despite it being a moderate stack road flat, it feels quite stable on foot. The sidewalls in the medial and lateral rearfoot and midfoot help center the foot in the shoe and provide some resistance to motion in either direction. The wider base and sole flaring in the midfoot and forefoot provide mild stability for those who land further forward. The stiffness in the forefoot in combination with the later forefoot rocker provide some guidance into push off, without being aggressive. This is not a stable neutral shoe, but the shoe has sufficient guidance features to center the foot and provide mild guidance from initial contact to push off. 

Thoughts as a DPT: Toe Woes
By Andrea Myers

We have written extensively about the importance of shoe comfort on running performance here at Doctors of Running. Benno Nigg and colleagues have described the concept of the comfort filter, which holds that "when selecting a running shoe, an athlete selects a comfortable product using his/her own comfort filter. This automatically reduces the injury risk and may be a possible explanation for the fact that there does not seem to have been a trend in running injury frequencies over time." The authors further state that by selecting a comfortable shoe, we may avoid potentially harmful footwear and influence our risk of injury. (Nigg et al 2015). Nigg et al. also describe the concept of the preferred movement pathway, which states that an individual's skeleton will attempt to stay in the same movement path (preferred movement path) when running in different types of shoes (Nigg et al 2017). 

While I love the geometry and midsole properties of the Cielo Road, the tapered toe box pushed my big toe towards my second toe, essentially causing a hallux adduction moment and reducing my ability to move into 1st MTP extension, which is crucial for push off. Passive hallux adduction (moving the big toe towards the second toe) has been found to reduce blood flow in the lateral plantar artery, which supplies the plantar fascia (Jacobs et al 2019). It is not a big surprise that I had plantar fascia pain for a few days after running in the shoe. The narrow toe box conflicted with both my comfort filter (my forefoot felt like it was in a vice) and my preferred movement pathway (use of 1st MTP extension at push off). This shoe could be a great option for those with a narrower forefoot, as it may better align with those runners' preferences.


Nigg, B. M., Baltich, J., Hoerzer, S., & Enders, H. (2015). Running shoes and running injuries: mythbusting and a proposal for two new paradigms: 'preferred movement path' and 'comfort filter'. British journal of sports medicine, 49(20), 1290–1294.

Nigg, B. M., Vienneau, J., Smith, A. C., Trudeau, M. B., Mohr, M., & Nigg, S. R. (2017). The Preferred Movement Path Paradigm: Influence of Running Shoes on Joint Movement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 49(8), 1641–1648. 

Jacobs, J.L., Ridge, S.T., Bruening, D.A. et al (2019). Passive hallux adduction decreases lateral plantar artery blood flow: a preliminary study of the potential influence of narrow toe box shoes. J Foot Ankle Res 12, 50.


Matt: I have really enjoyed running in the Hoka Cielo Road. While I have not had the opportunity to race in them yet, it has been a fantastic shoe for 400s, shorter intervals, fartleks and shorter tempo runs. My only two suggestions are to slightly adjust the fit and drop the weight. The slightly longer fit is offset by the lower volume, but I would love to see that reversed so there is a bit more volume above the toes for those who get blisters and a slightly more true-to-size fit for fast racing (I'm still going to use my pair for a 5k as soon as my newborn daughter is old enough to let me sleep more during the night). The other thing about this shoe I suggestion with some caution is the weight. 7.5 oz (7.1 oz men's size 9 supposedly) is lighter than the 8.1 oz (men's size 10) of the Hoka Rocket X 2. However, it is not lighter by much despite the lower stack height and lack of a plate. It is also heavier than its competitors including the Streakfly, Saucony Sinister and Topo Cyclone 2.

Without sacrificing the wonderful ride and durability I would like to see this drop into a similar weight category. The underfoot feel is great and the PEBA foam does make up for the weight. However, the other shoes also have next-generation foams underfoot (PEBA/PEBAX). So my challenge to Hoka is to figure out how to truly make this a 5k/10k niche shoe. Right now, I would still race down to 10k in the Rocket X 2 and have raced 5ks in it. If there was a larger drop in weight for the Cielo Road, that would sway me a bit more to use choose it over the Rocket X 2 for that distance (again, I still plan to use it in a 5k). 

David: I really like my experience in the HOKA Cielo Rd. The one thing I certainly noticed however was the hotspot in the heel. I was a half size up, but the lockdown shouldn't have created that much friction. Whether it is playing with a different material from suede or changing the heel construction a tad, I think the shoe could benefit from better heel security without friction. The other thing would be cleaning up the midfoot wrap a little medially as it flops off the side a little. 

Andrea: I am pleased to find a HOKA that did not give me blisters on my 1st MTP joint. I love the ride of the Cielo Road, but the pressure on my 1st IP joints from the tapered toe box was a dealbreaker for me. It altered the mechanics of my 1st MTP joints and resulted in concerning plantar fascia pain. I would love for HOKA to widen the distal toe box to make this shoe work for my feet, which are not particularly wide, just wider at the MTPs with shorter than average toes. I also think that the heel collar padding could be improved to reduce irritation where the padding ends. This could be achieved by changing the material, the amount of padding, or the location of the padding.


Matt: The Hoka Cielo Road is a fast road racing shoe for those who want to focus on fast 5k to 10k races and maybe the half marathon for those who want less shoe. The moderate stack height, solid traction and surprising durability make it a great choice for hammering faster miles during both workouts and races. The lack of a plate should not deter anyone as there is still a stiff and snappy ride that feels better the faster you go. That said, those sensitive to stiffening agents, be it plates or heel counters, will do extremely well in the Cielo Road. Hoka is doing great with their new PEBA racing shoes and although they may need to drop a little weight, they are now certainly competitive in today's market. 

David: The HOKA Cielo Road is a road racing shoe for someone that wants to attack shorter distance road races from 5k to half marathon. The moderate stack height and good traction give a nice grounded sensation that is both nimble and aggressive. There is also no plate and this will bring some appeal to those who are sensitive to stiffening agents. 

Andrea: The HOKA Cielo Road is another exciting entry to the emerging category of plateless, superfoam, 5k/10k racing shoes. This shoe will work best for runners with a narrow forefoot due to the tapered and low volume toe box. The shoe's 3mm drop will require runners to have sufficient foot and ankle strength and flexibility, and should be approached with caution by those not accustomed to running in low drop shoes. At $160, I think this shoe is a great value, particularly because the outsole will likely be more durable than many other HOKA shoes.


Fit: B+ (Secure fit that is slightly long but offset with thicker socks. Breathable upper)
A (Fast snappy natural feeling 5k-10k shoe that has surprising bounce)
Stability: B+ [Neutral] (Heel sidewalls and slightly straighter last give mild guidance to this neutral road racer)
DPT/Footwear Science: B+  (Comfortable faster shoe. Nothing crazy here as shoe is heavier than I would expect despite feeling far lighter)
Personal: A- (A comfortable and fun shoe for running fast. My top choice among the 5k/10k racers right now)
Overall: B+/A- 

Fit: B (Good lockdown throughout, though some translation and rubbing in the heel, slightly sloppy midfoot)
Performance: A 
(Natural transitions yet responsive, good turning, very balanced cushioning)
Stability: B+/A- (Outside of some heel security issues this shoe did very well with keeping you feel stable for a road racing shoe)
DPT/Footwear Science: B+ (Nothing revolutionary though good usage of materials and traditional designs we already have)
Personal: A (Very fun for turning over and running fast. One of the top options for the shorter racing distances right now.)
Overall: B+/A- (Very good road racing shoe for the shorter distances. Some versatility to off road if needed as well.)

Fit: (fits true to size in length, able to achieve secure lockdown, but tapered toe box too narrow for my feet, resulting in plantar fascia pain)
Performance: B+/A- 
(Performs exceptionally well at 5k pace and faster, feels light on foot, later forefoot rocker provides the right amount of guidance. Fit issues in the toe box reduce the performance of the shoe by reducing mobility of my 1st MTP joints.)
Stability: B+ (neutral) (sole flare, sidewalls, and forefoot rocker provide guidance and centering without overt stability features)
DPT/Footwear Science: B+ (A nice addition to the plateless PEBA performance trainer/racer, with nice use of geometry and design to provide a fast and responsive ride.)
Personal: B- (Narrow toe box a dealbreaker for me. Otherwise I would love this shoe.)
Overall: B+ 


Hoka Cielo Road
Price: $159.95 at Running Warehouse

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Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the people at HOKA for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run as well as a warm-up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

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