Last Updated on January 22, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
For the past year or so I’ve found myself intrigued by the seemingly over cushioned, almost ridiculous looking shoes that have grown wildly popular in the running community, the Hoka One One. At first glance, they reminded me of those silly “toning” shoes that were all the rage a few years back. I initially suspected these too were just another fad trying to break into the running industry, yet many of my most hardcore and accomplished running friends were absolutely raving about them. It wasn’t until I attended the Men’s Health Urbanathlon this past fall that I finally got to put my hands on a pair of Hokas. I saw the display at the race expo and made a beeline, hoping to see for myself what all the buzz was about. (Get it? Beeline? Buzz? Heh.) Not only that, but I was able to ask a representative the very important question of “what’s up with these things anyway?” We talked very briefly, but soon Geoff and I had to head to the starting corral. One of the reps offered to send along a pair of Hokas to review so I could find out for myself what Hoka One One is all about.
For those of you that haven’t heard of them before, here is the basic concept: Hoka One One has engineered a unique performance midsole geometry that features a higher volume, softer density, and greater rebounding foam than standard running shoes. Along with maximal cushioning, this provides runners of all types with an energizing, stable ride. Hoka incorporated minimum drop geometry along with a rolling rocker design to promote consistent rhythm in the runner’s foot strike. The catch phrase for this concept among the running community is a “maximal” shoe, as in not a minimal shoe. Yet despite looking so big and clunky, the Hoka’s are anything but. The Hoka One One Clifton model, which I will be reviewing, weighs a mere 6.6 ounces and comes in at a 5 millimeter heel to toe drop.
The first pair (yes, there is a story to this review) of Cliftons arrived on a mid-December day. I jumped around in excitement for all of 30 seconds (as I typically do any time the delivery person drops off a new pair of shoes, this gig never gets old!) before ripping them out of the box and putting them on.
I hover between a size 9.5 to 10 depending on the brand and model of running shoe, but always wear size 10 for distance running to compensate for any possible swelling of the feet. I requested a women’s size 10 in the Cliftons as well. Upon putting them on, I immediately noticed that they were too big. I tightened the laces as much as I possibly could, with the medial and lateral side of the upper nearly touching at the laces, and they were still loose. The tongue of the shoe is essentially just one thin piece of material, so it didn’t add any sort of cushion to the upper of the shoe and aid in the fit. Being the stubborn runner that I am (and one that was overly excited for these shoes) I convinced myself that maybe they just “looked big”, because after all, Hokas, well…look big. I put on a thicker pair of socks and took them to the gym to hit the treadmill (I was headed in to work anyway, don’t judge the treadmill!) Sadly, I made it only half a mile before the soles of my feet were becoming hot with the pain of chafing from sliding around in the shoe. I couldn’t even fake it, the shoe was too big.
Thankfully, my friendly local running shoe store came to the rescue. I asked Ted of Ted’s Shoe and Sport if he typically sized down on this shoe for customers, or if he found that they run true to size. He agreed that in his experience the Clifton runs big (and told me this model was one of his top sellers!). Instead of shipping the first pair of Cliftons back, Ted was kind enough to exchange them for a smaller size. I certainly was not complaining inventory of size 9.5 Hoka Cliftons came in a crazy shade of purple. I tried them on in the store and the fit was immensely more comfortable.
- CATEGORY: Road
- Offset: 5mm (Heel: 28mm, Forefoot: 23mm)
- WEIGHTS: 6.6 oz. (women’s size 7), 7.7 oz (men’s size 9)
- Fit: runs large (I went 1/2 size down)
- Ultra-Lightweight No Sew SpeedFrame Construction
- Early Stage Meta-Rocker Geometry
- Full Length HIP CMEVA Midsole
- Full Ground Contact Design
- Strategic Hi-Abrasion Rubber Zones
- MSRP $130
This is proving to be an interesting and difficult review to write because I don’t have anything to compare the Hoka Clifton to, it is unlike any other shoe I’ve run in. (Therefore this review won’t be shared in my typical review format, as I have far to much to say.) Based on aesthetics alone, I expected the shoe to feel clunky or bulky. On the contrary, it was incredibly lightweight. That said, unlike in a minimal shoe, I could still absolutely tell I was wearing them. Geoff noted immediately that I walked “funny” across the gym floor in the Cliftons. As the graphic below demonstrates and further explains, Hoka One Ones have 50 % more cushioning than traditional running shoes, as well as a rounded, “rocker” sole. The combination of the minimal drop and rocker sole promote consistent rhythm in a runner’s foot strike. But the maximum cushioning made it feel as if I was walking on a platform shoe. Thankfully, I did not have the same experience running.
Though it would be completely naïve to say that I have a perfect, midfoot strike all of the time, I’m relatively confident that on fresh, unfatigued legs my foot strike is central and neutral. Since I typically run in very low profile shoes, it’s far easier to notice your foot strike pattern, and more so, when you do or do not heel strike repeatedly (heel striking hurts in minimal shoes). With no confidence whatsoever can I say that I do or do not have a normal (for me) mid foot strike in the Hoka Clifton. There is so much cushion that I can’t feel nor begin to tell how my foot is striking. This is an interesting scenario in my opinion. One of the benefits of minimal shoes is that the ability to feel every little thing helps promote a natural foot strike pattern. The wear pattern on my pair of Hoka One One Cliftons does confirm that I am indeed still landing with a mid-foot strike, but if it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t know. I can’t even tell you how much time I spent trying to watch my own feet land while I was on the treadmill (this is even harder to do out on the road…)
On the other hand, one of the negative aspects of minimal shoes that many people experience is the fact that the lack of cushioning isn’t always very easy on the body. In my experience, any shoe that has significant cushioning is also overly supportive and incredibly stiff, limiting the foots natural movement. So you must decide what is more important to you: natural foot movement and support, or cushion? It seems you can’t have both.
This is where the Hoka One One line wins.
The shoe is incredibly cushioned, yet incredibly flexible. The forefoot was not overly wide, but was wide enough to allow for a good bit of natural toe splaying. I can absolutely understand why Hoka One Ones are so popular in the ultra running community, as the cushion allows for a smoother, softer, less abrasive ride over the miles.
The upper is incredibly lightweight and breathable. So much so that I have to be sure to wear wool socks while running in them during the cold Vermont winter, or my toes freeze. As mentioned earlier, the tongue is simply a thin piece of fabric. This may be my only complaint about the shoe. At times, especially if the shoe is tied tight, I can feel the pressure of where the laces run through the eyelets on the top of my foot due to the lack of cushioning from a typical, thick tongue.
I know that I’m pretty late to the Hoka One One party, and there are countless reviews out there already. But since people have been asking what I think, let me sum it up for you: I’m not sure yet. I keep reaching for the Cliftons daily, but not because they are my favorite shoe ever, it’s because I can’t figure out if I love them or not. Perhaps this is because they are so very different from what I am used to running in. I like the concept. I like the feel. The Clifton is undoubtedly incredibly comfortable. I can’t decide quite yet if they are right for me, but I can absolutely understand why people adore them. I admittedly have not put anything more than 6 miles at a time on the Cliftons, mainly because the holidays and weather haven’t been conducive to longer runs. But the mileage is ramping up this month, and I’m hoping that a) the cushion is conducive to building mileage and perhaps avoiding injury and discomfort, and b) I do fall in love with these shoes. I feel that these shoes are most definitely made for distance as opposed to shorter, faster runs (though that’s not to say you can’t run fast in them). And while the Clifton is not a trail shoe, I hope to take them out on some of our less technical trails to see how they fare. I am curious if the immense cushioning has any effect on ground feel and proprioception. (In other words, avoiding tripping on all of the rocks and roots).
I will post an update early February and let you know my continued thoughts.
Have you run in Hoka One Ones? If so, which model? What do you think?
*Disclaimer* : I was provided with a pair of Hoka One One Cliftons free of charge, however, all opinions stated are my own.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.