By Paul Freary
The Clifton is one of, if not the best-selling shoe from HOKA. The ninth-generation model is an improvement on the previous version, with slight updates to the upper and midsole.
On the whole, the shoe remains true to the styling of the previous models of the shoe so that long-time users will find it easy to step from version 8 to the 9.
What's New with the Hoka Clifton?
The major revision for the Clifton 9 is the upper. It’s a newly engineered mesh design and feels to me to be the best ever on this model. It’s a little softer, with lightweight padding throughout and fits well in the heel and Achilles area. I like a plusher, padded feel around the ankle collar (skinny/bony ankles I guess!) and the heel tab flares backwards, away from the Achilles.
This flared heel tab is a feature seen in several models from various brands now and it’s a design I really like. As well as helping the foot slide into the shoe, it prevents any possible irritation into the Achilles and for me, as a former track athlete with a somewhat tender Achilles, that’s a real bonus.
The upper is breathable and moves well with the foot, so overall it’s a good improvement.
HOKA Clifton 9 Stats :
How Deos the HOKA Clifton 9 Fit?
The overall fit on the Hoka Clifton 9 is similar to most of the brand's shoes in terms of length and width.
The improved upper on this version hugs the foot a little closer and more securely thanks to the improved mesh design. The tongue is fitted with a single-sided gusset on the medial side of the foot.
The Clifton is available in regular and wide-fit versions. That said, I’d say the regular is a little slimmer fitting than other brands meaning many runners that would normally wear a standard width shoe from other brands chose to go for the wide option in the HOKA.
When comparing the sizes of Hoka shoes in UK sizes, it’s worth bearing in mind that the brand uses a half-size difference from a US size. So, a US size 10 equates to a UK size of 9.5. Other brands such as Brooks, Nike and Saucony use a full-size difference when converting from a US size, so for these brands, a US size 10 equals a UK size 9.5.
This can be a little confusing, so, if possible, do try the shoes before you buy.
Clifton 9 - The Ride
With regards to the technical features of the Clifton 9, it’s quite a simple shoe. The midsole is a regular compression moulded EVA foam, so in that regard, very similar to that found on the very first version of the shoe.
It’s surprising that when the Clifton was launched it was one of the first ‘maximal’ cushioned running shoes. In this, the ninth iteration of the shoe, its stack height has been increased by 3mm yet it measures just 32mm deep in the men’s model.
I say ‘just’ here, because now this 32mm stack is about the average for daily training shoes from many brands. The HOKA does have the appearance of looking like a higher stack, but the midsole merely wraps up a little around the side of the foot.
While the midsole is a new compression-moulded EVA blend, it is simply that. There’s no super-foam, TPU or PEBA here.
It does feel a little softer but many I feel will struggle to tell much difference. When upgrading from a well-used version 8 to a new pair of 9, the new shoes will of course feel much better.
The Clifton 9 features the brand's ‘early-stage Meta-Rocker’ for a smooth entry into the gait cycle. This slightly cut-away heel to the shoe essentially catches the foot strike and guides it smoothly into the midfoot.
Clifton 9 - On the Run
Stepping into the shoes for the first time is an improved sensation thanks to the new upper. The improved design and construction create a much more welcoming fit and the overall build quality of the shoe feels better.
The foot slides into place smoothly thanks to that flared heel tab and when on the go that shape ensures minimal contact with the Achilles.
Setting out at a gentle pace, the rocker design in the heel smooths out ground contact and reduces the effect of the low drop a little.
The shoe is a 5mm drop from the heel into the forefoot, yet with the rear midsole cutaway and the soft nature of the cushioning, it can feel lower, especially for heel strikers.
I do seem to recall HOKA discussing how the lower drop in their shoes would promote a more mid-to-forefoot strike when they were launched around ten years ago. Nowadays this description is missing from their marketing and the shoes have been adopted equally from heel and midfoot striking runners.
I feel the lower drop still promotes a more midfoot strike and makes the shoes more suited to that type of runner. That said, many run in them without issue, so, as they say, ‘if the shoe fits.’
Rolling through into the mid and forefoot, the cushioning soaks up the impact and feels relatively soft and smooth. On toe-off, the toe rocker helps the thick cushioning roll forward easily enough and helps the foot roll along adequately.
Although a neutral model, the Clifton 9 does feel a little more stable than previous versions. That said, it’s purely the broad footprint of the shoe that creates the stability and if you do overpronate I’d probably stay clear and opt for something like the HOKA Arahi.
Perhaps one thing missing from the HOKA Clifton 9 is a better midsole foam. Ultimately it is still CM-EVA and the same that’s been used by the brand for 10 years. Okay, now it may have a little more air compressed into it for a lighter, slightly softer feel, but this shoe needs a little more ‘bounce’.
While competitor models now use more modern, high-tech foams, the Clifton is crying out for something new. We’ve begun to see new PEBA-based foams used in other models from the brand, so fingers crossed they make it in the Clifton for version 10. A dual-layer design would be perfect in this daily training model. A PEBA-based foam to create bounce, with the CM-EVA to provide a stable framework and durability.
Comparison - HOKA Clifton 9 Vs Other Running Shoes
The Clifton 9 is the brand's neutral, daily training shoe and as such it lines up against competitors such as the Nike Pegasus, Brooks Ghost, Saucony Ride and New Balance 880. There are similar shoes from every brand and I’m not going to give side by side analysis of every one, but I thought it might be useful to give a simple comparison.
The Nike Pegasus is the most well-established model in the neutral daily trainer category. Compared to the Clifton, it’s a little cheaper and a little more responsive, but a lower stack with a higher drop.
The Brooks Ghost is probably the best-selling shoe in specialist retail in the category. It’s similarly priced, a higher drop but more inherently stable for a neutral model.
Saucony’s Ride, like the Clifton, is a shoe with an obvious ‘rocker’ shape. At 8mm drop, it's closer to the Clifton than others and its PWRRUN midsole is a little more advanced than regular CM-EVA.
The New Balance 880 features FreshFoam cushioning, a naturally more responsive midsole foam and at 12mm has a higher stack. The fit is similar and it has a similar flared heel tab.
The original Clifton was a strikingly different shoe. At its launch, its high stack was something totally unlike anything else around.
While remaining similar in terms of its dimensions other shoes have now followed suit somewhat.
In retaining its original design ethos it has retained a strong following and the promise of ‘lots of cushioning’ is too tempting for many.
It’s a shoe that doesn’t over-promise, its offering is plain to see, cushioning, and in that respect, it delivers very well.
As I mentioned previously, I feel the Clifton has to see some big changes from version 10 and those most needed are in terms of the midsole foam. A new generation material will elevate the shoe and help keep it at pace with the competition.
In the Rocket X2 PEBA foam is used, so fitting at least some of that material in the Clifton would create a shoe for the next generation.