I’ve been a devoted Saucony runner for a long time, but since I found out I didn’t get picked up to be on the Hurricane team this year at about the same time I won a pair of HOKA’s at the RunVermont New Year’s 5K, it was a great opportunity to branch out and try a new shoe.
HOKA has been around for about five years and is best known for the “fat shoes” that started as an ultramarathon niche and have slowly made their way into the mainstream. Most notably, they sponsor Leo Manzano and recently the entire Northern Arizona Elite team. The idea is that the shoes have more foam and better rebounding than a “skinnier” shoe and admittedly, that thickness was part of what deterred me from trying them earlier. Last Spring, however, my friend Annie started running in them (she is also a Kinvara girl) and absolutely loved them.
I chose the Clifton because at 6.6 ounces and a 5 mm drop, it was the closest to my Kinvara. The weight and drop is where the similarities end, however. Whereas Kinvara is fitted and flexible, the Clifton is spacious and somehow simultaneously firm and foamy. I highly recommend trying the shoe on in store and going a half size down from normal for you. Protip from Skirack: they do come with two inserts, so if you have a size issue, you can try putting both insoles in at the same time.
My first run in the Clifton was very, very awkward. Because of the padding, I found myself sort of bounding along and overstriding and found it very difficult to land on my midfoot. As I got used to them over the next few runs, however, the shoes worked their way into my heart. They are extremely comfortable and when you stop running like an idiot in them and just run like normal, they behave like any other shoe. I especially like them on rough terrain; because of the thickness of foam, no sharp rocks can poke through and bruise your footbed.
I’ve done long runs, workouts and races in them and it wasn’t until I wore a new pair of Kinvara 5 recently that I realized I preferred the Saucony to the HOKA for speed work. The HOKA is fine, but it’s not particularly maneuverable and I do find that I heel strike more in the Clifton than in other shoes. As I got more used to the shoe, the aesthetics of running 6 inches in the air bothered me less and I found myself reaching for them on long runs or recovery runs when I just wanted a comfortable, cushy shoe.
All in all, I’m very impressed with my first pair of Cliftons and when these are retired, I’ll probably pick another pair up. They are relatively expensive ($130) but not that out of line with the other top of the line shoes currently on the market and hold up much, much better than my Kinvaras that almost invariably have a hole in the fabric by 100 miles in.
Best For: Neutral footed runners looking for a shoe for long runs, recovery runs or runs on terrain with roots and/or rocks. Totally sufficient for mid to long races (actually bet they’d be great for the marathon, just haven’t run one) or longer tempo efforts.
Not Great For: Interval or Full Speed work.