By Brian Metzler
When it comes to the evolution of modern running shoes, the Hoka Clifton should be part of any conversation that discusses how we got to where we are today. Not only did the original Clifton provide runners with an impossibly lightweight, maximally-cushioned daily trainer when it launched in 2014, but it was also a true game-changer that put Hoka on the map among mainstream runners. Perhaps more strongly worded, its success might have also saved Hoka from becoming defunct before it ever gained traction on a wider scale. The brand had gained notoriety from its original Mafete and Bondi models after launching in 2011, but it was the Clifton that really legitimized Hoka’s max-cushion approach for the masses.
The original Clifton was a mildly energetic, softly-cushioned shoe that helped change the impression of what a daily training shoe could feel like, but it was also briefly a marathon racing shoe for some runners in the pre-carbon-fiber-plate era. Nearly a decade later, Hoka is now one of the biggest brands in the running industry and the updated Clifton 9 is still a flagship neutral-oriented everyday training shoe that’s ideal for new runners as well as veterans training for half marathons and marathons.
What’s New: With the new Clifton 9, Hoka has revitalized the midsole to make it slightly lighter and also much more responsive. There’s an additional 3mm of midsole foam in this year’s Clifton, but more importantly, the midsole is now made from a lightweight and very responsive compression-molded EVA that gives the shoe a smoother and bouncier feel than in recent years. The Clifton 9 also features a partially-gusseted tongue for the first time and a new Creel Jacquard mesh to help cinch down the fit and protect against debris. A new outsole design provides more durability and control.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Hoka Clifton 9 fits true to size and, as with previous versions, it has a medium/narrow interior volume from heel to midfoot and a very spacious toe box. (So much so that it almost feels like an Altra toe box!) This updated iteration of the shoe is nicely appointed with plush creature comforts, including the well-padded partially-gusseted tongue and heel collar, and the dual-mesh upper that both stretches to adapt and provides locked-down security. But the most exciting aspect of the new Clifton is the same as it's ever been – namely, the very soft, mildly responsive, refreshingly smooth, quick-transitioning ride highlighted by Hoka’s meta rocker geometry. While many previous versions of the Clifton were extremely soft (and thus too unstable for some runners), this edition is slightly firmer than previous Cliftons, giving it a well-balanced mix of liveliness and cushiness while also offering a hint of stability.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because the revamped midsole really enhances the ride. It’s as smooth as it’s ever been and the meta-rocker shape really helps promote forward propulsion. The ride is bouncier and more energetic than ever, and quite frankly, the Clifton needed that. It’s no longer just a race-oriented shoe. Yes, you could run a 5K, 10K or half marathon in it in a pinch – if you aren’t racing all-out for a fast time – but it’s quick and light enough to run up-tempo paces.
Hoka Clifton 9
Weights: 7.3 oz. (women’s size 8), 8.7 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm (32mm in the heel, 27mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love the Clifton 9 because it’s light, smooth and versatile – basically a go-to shoe that you can appreciate for just about any kind of running you do. It’s one of those shoes you can lace up and then forget about as you go out for a run of any length or pace. It’s not excessively energetic or light, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s ideal for long runs, tempo runs and those nondescript, slow midweek recovery runs you cram in before work, during your lunch break or before dark. When you can love a shoe during a recovery run, you know it’s a good shoe!
Pro: The much more stable and balanced ride was noticeable and appreciated during each of the runs I did in the Clifton 9. I’m a runner with a neutral gait and loved many of the initial versions of the Clifton, but as the foam midsoles of many other shoes continued to advance, I eventually found the Clifton to be too soft – especially late in long training runs. In recent years, I tended to prefer the light and speedy Hoka Mach 4 and Mach 5 for the reasons I used to like the original Clifton. Fortunately, the Clifton has evolved in recent years and especially this year. The slightly wider outsole footprint, the new outsole configuration and the new midsole compound combine to create a more inherently stable platform. I recently finished a 12-miler on the roads and remarked to myself how stable and secure the shoe felt even though my legs had fatigued and my form had broken down.
Con: OK, some truth serum: The Clifton isn’t hyper responsive as some other cushy daily trainers, like the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3 or the New Balance Supercomp Trainer. And quite frankly, it never has been. When it first came out, it seemed more responsive than other shoes on the market, and it was, but it still wasn’t snappy and lively the way we’ve come to understand those terms. It’s still a great everyday training shoe, but if you’re looking for a super bouncy ride, it might not give you the crazy responsive boost you want.