REVIEW: Hoka One One Clifton 3

Disclaimer: The Hoka One One Clifton 3 reviewed here was provided gratis for the purposes of a shoe review. All the opinions expressed below are my own.  


 My first experience with the Hoka Clifton started some time in 2014. I had suffered a pretty bad hamstring strain in my left leg the day before the 2014 Singapore Army Half Marathon, and in the 5-6 weeks leading up to the 2014 Berlin Marathon, I was struggling with the latter half of my long runs. I tried several different shoes to enable me to run comfortably and eventually settled on the Hoka Clifton as a last resort. I think most people would agree with me when I say that the release of the Clifton v1 was a huge turning point for Hoka as a brand. Overnight it went from this heavy, overbuilt maximalist brand that really only appealed to long distance triathletes and ultra trail runners to taking the mainstream everyday runner by storm. In the Clifton, Hoka had created a maximalist shoe that weighed as much as a Kinvara/Flyknit Lunar/Pre-boost Adios.  

To this day I maintain that nobody knows how to create a maximalist feel like Hoka. Several brands have come close in recent years though, e.g. the Altra Paradigm (too firm), Skechers GoRun Ultra series (too soft and bottoms out, creating excessive ground feel), Brooks Pureflow (bottoms out), Adidas Ultra Boost (still too firm, and heavy), Saucony Triumph 2 (this is probably the closest but firmer than ideal for me).

My first pair of Clifton v1 came in at a stunning 220g (7.5oz) for a US9.5, a remarkable weight for a shoe with this much cushioning, and the benefits became immediately evident, especially after hard long runs; post run soreness was significantly attenuated, regardless of what the science would suggest about loading forces. I think I lucked out with this pair, because the claimed weight was 7.7oz for US9, and a second pair I later bought came in at 230g, but still a very respectable weight. This shoe was a little rough round the edges and for every new convert to the Hoka brand, there was a runner for whom the shoe did not work. The main complaints centered around fit, and durability. Hoka is notoriously narrow in terms of fit, especially at the toebox and though I personally never found the shoes as narrow up front as brands like Adidas, it was enough to cause fit problems for a lot of Caucasian runners. Fortunately, this isn’t really an issue for Asian feet, and trust me, I have fairly wide feet by Asian standards. A few people complained about the flimsy tongue, which I felt was a little contradictory, for those who complained about fit. If you find a shoe to be overly snug, there is no way you would put a lot of tension in the laces, and so you would not need a substantial tongue to begin with; the tongue’s primary function should be to prevent pressure points on the top of the foot. My training partner, A, did have to really cinch down on the laces of the Clifton v1 as he has narrow feet and did find that there were pressure issues on the top of the foot from the lack of tongue padding. The last, and most common complaint about the shoe was regarding durability. At the time, the Clifton retailed for US$130 (it still does, 2 years later), and people expected a certain amount of durability for a shoe in this price range. The Clifton v1 for me lasted about 300-350km before the EVA foam was effectively compressed to the point of losing its magical soft AND bouncy feel. Even at 200km, the feel was noticeably different from the first run out of the box.

I never got round to buying v2 because to address customer feedback regarding v1, Hoka had beefed up the tongue, added more structure to the upper (which supposedly helped to raise the shoe volume) and (I suspect but this isn’t confirmed) increased the shoe’s durability by increasing the thickness of the midsole EVA by 1mm across the board. Now, all these seem like great changes, except the resultant weight of v2 was raised by about a full ounce and placed it in the daily trainer category as far as weight went. I had read that durability remained the Achilles’ heel for this shoe so I decided to pass on getting v2.

Fast forward to 2016 and nobody has yet come close to bettering the Clifton as a long run shoe, and with Singapore getting a new Hoka distributorship in World of Sports, the convenience of not having to go through online stores suddenly made it more affordable to get Hoka shoes. Just as I was about to get a pair of the new Clifton v3, I got offered the opportunity to review these shoes by the kind folks at World of Sports! How can one say no to that?

I knew from online sources that the Clifton 3 was not significantly different in weight from the Clifton 2, but that the toebox was purportedly wider to accommodate a wider range of feet. With that said, the shoes came in at 264g (9.2oz) for a US9.5. For reference, the ASICS Dynaflyte weighs 266g, The Altra Torin 2.5 weighs 260g, and the Hoka Vanquish2 weighs 288g in the same size.





FIT AND UPPER

The increased width of the shoe, especially at the toebox is immediately evident once you wear the shoes. The side edges of the shoe don’t buttress your foot as much as before and there is a little more side-to-side wiggle room. As an aside, one of the ways Hoka builds stability into its shoes to counteract the inherent instability of soft midsoles is to let the foot sit low in the shoe, with the midsole riding up higher around the foot. With the added wiggle room I felt that the fit was a little more sloppy for me. Admittedly, this could be because Hoka opted to go with an elastic flat lace in v3 as opposed to inelastic round laces in v1 and that dynamic elasticity, while good for hot spots, merely accentuated any slack in the lacing, and it took me a couple of runs to get the right tension I wanted to achieve a secure lockdown. In the end, I wound up lacing the shoes a lot tighter than I would normally, not that this caused any discomfort.


The padding in the tongue is something I quite appreciated from an aesthetic perspective, and while on the shorter side (a la NB Zante v1), it does its job well. If you have the Hoka Odyssey, the tongue is fairly similar. 
There is substantially more padding in the heel collar and does seem to ride up a little bit higher than in v1 though it wasn’t something I noticed at all while running. The upper has fair amount of plastic overlays to hold up the shoe volume, which is a significant departure from v1. The toe bumper is definitely on the higher side, though this did soften a bit after the first few runs.
 
In terms of ventilation, it was better than I expected, hold the shoe in my hands. As you can see, the mesh is denser in the Clifton 3 (gold) than the Clifton 1 (blue). Compared to the recent Vanquish2, and indeed the ASICS Dynaflyte, the upper mesh did seem to breath better, even with the thicker socks I opted to wear to counteract the increased toebox volume.  









MIDSOLE

The midsole is composed of a single density full length slab of Hoka’s HIP CMEVA. In case you are not familiar with Hoka’s other models, they actually use quite a few different densities of EVA in different shoes, though one would expect most of their shoes to feel fairly similar. If you want the absolute softest ride, CMEVA is your best bet. It is the same compound used in the Hoka Stinsons, and the Stinsons will make your average Bondi 4 feel like a NB Boracay; it’s that different.

OUTSOLE

The outsole pattern hasn’t changed much from the Clifton v1 to v3. There is still a lot of exposed EVA, and those areas are susceptible to wearing fast, especially since the EVA used in the Clifton is of a very low durometer (i.e. very compressible)

RIDE

If you took the bouncy characteristics of an Adidas Energy Boost, put a lot more stack and cushioning in the forefoot, and gave it the softness of an ASICS Hyperspeed, that would give you can idea of what a Clifton feels like.

The shoe also has decent flexibility for a maximal shoe, likely a combination of the softness of the midsole and the podded outsole pattern.

There is almost no ground feel in the Clifton 3, perhaps even a little less than I would like in a Clifton. With the v1, there was just a little bit more ground feel that allowed for a bit more responsiveness if I wanted to pick up the pace. The increased cushioning feel of the Clifton 3 is superb for daily runs and long runs, but perhaps limits its ability to change gears somewhat. I suspect this change improves the overall durability of the shoe to a point. It also acts to further differentiate the shoe from the Vanquish2 as a heavier, softer shoe with significantly more length-wise rigidity, and the firmer, more responsive Clayton as the new de facto lightweight trainer/racer in the Hoka lineup.

There is still the familiar smooth transition courtesy of the rockered outsole (that's the flared heel and toespring combination), and by and large the shoe handles a variety of paces well, with the exception of uptempo paces. I put it through everything from the slow recovery trots at 7:00/km pace up to ~4:10 pace and it performs best in the 4:30-4:40 range, which makes it perfect for the steady long runs for me. Anything under 4;15 and I really feel like I’m pushing through a pillow on toe-off.
Left: Clifton 1                  Right: Clifton 3

DURABILITY

I’ve clocked about 150km in these shoes. The first 40km or so was a little firmer than I expected; despite the muted ground feel, the shoe was compressing less than I would have liked for a Clifton. The foam has since broken in a little more and it’s feeling more like the Clifton of old, albeit still with less ground feel than the Clifton v1. As you can see, the outsole rubber continues to hold up pretty well, but there is the familiar shredding of the exposed EVA foam that I’ve come to expect from Hoka, not that this affects the shoe’s grip or stability in the least. As with previous Cliftons, I fully expect the midsole to expire before the outsole, though I have a suspicion that this shoe will get closer to the 500km mark before its expiration date.

Clifton 1 after 350km
Clifton 3 after 150km


COMPARISONS

Hoka Vanquish 2
The Clifton compresses a bit more than the Vanquish and is generally a more flexible shoe. Despite being heavier, the Vanquish2 handles faster paces a bit better than the Clifton but the Clifton has a more ventilated upper and handles hills better due to its lighter weight.

Hoka Huaka
I make this comparison because the Huaka 2 is available for sale at World of Sports in Singapore. The Huaka 1 is one of my favourite daily uptempo trainers though it has poor durability on the road (it is primarily a trail shoe) which is why you don’t see me using it very often. The Huaka has a smooth bouncy feel and a solid toespring that gives it the feel of a 5mm drop shoe even though it is officially zero drop, and while it handles slower paces ok (perhaps too firm for slow runs), it really shines for uptempo runs across all gradients and has a fantastic tacky grip on the road courtesy of its proprietary RMAT compound, which I believe is a blend of rubber and EVA foam (for reference, Nike’s Lunarlon is also a rubber/EVA hybrid foam). The Clifton 3 has the same weight as my Huaka v1 and while they have fairly different ride characteristics (Huaka is responsive and bouncy, Clifton is softer and more muted) both would work well as daily trainers or long run shoes depending on what kind of ride you like.

Altra Torin 2.5
The Altra is a zero drop maximal shoe with a near identical weight to the Clifton 3. The Altra has probably the best forefoot cushioning and bouncy of all the shoes I’ve tried this year, and though I find transitions a bit slow with the zero drop profile, the Altra forefoot feel sits somewhere between the Huaka and the Clifton and is a solid viable alternative some people who are fans of the zero drop geometry or want a really big roomy toebox without a sloppy overall fit.

Overall I give the Hoka Clifton 3 a 4.2/5
-0.4 for the weight gain versus the Clifton 1
-0.2 for fit that still takes a bit more time to dial in that other brands
-0.2 for being slightly less durable than other shoes in its weight class


The proof as they say is in the pudding. My first ever run in a Hoka Clifton was a revelation, and it different enough from other brands that you really won’t know if it’s for you until you give it a try. 

The Hoka One One Clifton 3 is available in selected World of Sports Singapore stores now at S$229.   

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