Article by Dominique and Sam Winebaum
Hoka Clifton 9 ($145)
Sam: The Clifton is Hoka’s mainstay road trainer, a relatively light, max cushioned all around neutral road running shoe. In the mists of time, the legendary Clifton 1 was known for its lightweight, big cushion, fast and not particularly stable ride. I set several local Strava segment PR’s in them but had sore achilles!
Over the years the Clifton drifted up in weight, got firmer, stiffer and less fun, if more reliable. Competitors emerged over the years with similar high stacks and light weights with in many cases livelier more stable rides. With the Clifton 8 (RTR Review) Hoka improved the rocker geometry and softened the ride a bit but essentially didn’t change the formula.
With the Clifton 9 we see quite substantial changes. We get 3mm more cushion of a new more responsive and clearly softer flavor of Hoka’s compression molded EVA. The geometry is changed to “tone down’ the need to land forward to activate rocker by adding not only more flex but sidewall grooves to smooth the flow from landings to toe offs.
A return to origins? Yes! Progress over recent versions in delivering a more pleasant experience? . Yes! In some ways a new more cushioned, more mellow Clifton? Also yes!
Superb true to size upper and fit with wide available Sam/Dominque
3mm more softer, bouncier cushion
Even with more cushion, slightly lighter weight than v8 Dominique/Sam
Finally, an effective rocker with some flex Sam
Versatile any pace “friendly” ride Sam/Dominique
Lacks some pop and response due to softness of midsole and outsole at faster paces Sam/Dominique
Approx.weight: men’s 8.9 oz / 252 g (US9) / women’s oz / g (US8)
Samples: men’s 8.62 oz / 244g US8.5, women’s /251g US9
Weight Clifton 8 8.7 oz / 246g US8.5
men’s 36 mm heel (measured) / 31 mm forefoot (5mm drop spec)
women’s 36 mm heel (measured) / 31mm forefoot (5mm drop spec)
$145. Available now.
First Impressions, Fit and Upper
Dominique: I am excited to be testing the Clifton 9 after running in earlier editions when this HOKA model was my go-to road running shoe. The Clifton is HOKA’s most popular model, a cushioned shoe par excellence, yet a shoe that is remarkably light in weight. It features an Early Stage Meta-Rocker to help propel you forward, along with an attractive design in multiple colorway options. It is a favorite among my entourage, whether for running, walking, or standing all day on one’s feet. Notably, it has earned the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance, meaning it promotes foot health.
Pictures of the Mount Desert Island half-marathon show me wearing the Clifton 2, in 2015, and I kept running in this model for several years afterwards.
As I am getting reacquainted with an old favorite, I am thrilled for this ninth edition, which features many updates. Don’t call my tester a pink shoe for its colorway is Cyclamen/Sweet Lilac with the engineered mesh in Sweet Lilac and the shoelaces system in Cyclamen, along with a wave of blue rubber at the base and a white midsole. Many attractive colorways to chose from (11) including white on white – “the new color is no color” as per HOKA’s.
The fit is true to size in my regular size 9 and the feel is both cozy and secure. The engineered knit upper is designed with enhanced breathability across its structure and the padded tongue, which has also shed some weight. Padding around the collar is generous and contoured to provide a snug and comfortable fit around the ankles. The shoelace system provides a comfortable and secure hold with a streamlined single-sided (medial side only for support) tongue gusset.
Sam: Right away I was struck by the modernized overall design and bright colors of the Clifton 9.
I noticed the curving midsole side walls, the 8 cuts in the walls on the lateral side for smooth flow forward with 2 less on the medial side for a touch more stability there.
To pressing the midsole is soft, for sure softer than v8’s.
The upper is soft and pliable with zig zagging windows (with no over knitting) of what looks like a mono mesh for both breathability and also I think to help the shoe flex forward while in motion. And for sure this works well.
The sockliner is a thin EVA type with FoamWell printed on it. During initial runs. I “noticed” sockliner and platform arch support for my high arch feet which after 10 miles or so settled in and was less noticed.
The heel counter is stout, essential to hold the foot in what otherwise is an unstructured upper with no overlays “hot melt” or otherwise.
There is plenty of rear padding that is not “overdone” in softness with the swept back achilles collar effective in hold and to relieve pressure. We have a soft and quite thick tongue with an aerated gusset on the medial side only to lock the foot to the platform.
The internal toe bumper is quite stout and extends further back on the lateral than the medial side bumper. I assume the shorter medial bumper is to allow the big toe to more easily drive to toe off and this is somewhat felt on the run.
The toe box is not the widest but due to the unstructured soft with some give yet supportive nature of the mesh there is plenty of room for both narrow and medium feet in my regular D width with wides available. I am glad Hoka did not make the regular width sloppy wide.
Dominique: New responsive midsole made of CMEVA – compression molded EVA foam, higher by 3mm. The high stack height of the shoe combined with its 5 mm drop provides a super cushioned feel underfoot that is both very protective and extremely pleasant. The new foam is described as “more responsive,” which I cannot compare as I haven’t run in recent editions, however, it is notably soft. In comparison to shoes with a high stack height and a high drop, I favor a lower drop shoe like the Clifton, for its generous cushioned underfoot feel – from heel to toe.
Sam: We clearly have a new foam in the Clifton 9.
First by stats we gain 3mm more cushion to come in at, as I measure it, heel 36mm (measured), forefoot 31 mm (5mm drop spec) yet we lose about 0.1 oz over the Cllfton 8 while increasing outsole coverage. This added stack height is a first for the Clifton which over the years has always been 3mm lower front and back with the same 5mm drop.
Second, the foam is also clearly softer and bouncier than recent Clifton. I reminds of v1’s foam but with a more energetic return than that foam had as I recall,and I expect longer durability as foam tech has evolved. It is somewhat softer than Saucony’s latest PWRRUN such as in the Ride 16 with a feel recalling that of the Kinvara 14, understanding that the K shoe has essentially no outsole. It also reminds of Puma’s Nitro but without quite that foam’s supercritical processing quicker kick back. In terms of softness it is a touch firmer than New Balance’s FuelCell.
The overall feel is very pleasing with plenty of cushion, especially upfront, but on the soft side especially at the heel at slower paces. As with prior Clifton and given the 5mm drop and now softer foam, for me it still favors faster paces over slower ones with the heel feeling a bit low and soft at slower paces. This said the new geometry and increased flexibility do not nearly as much as prior “force” a forward landing and strong activation vertically on toe off (knee lift) to activate the rocker.
Dominique: We have a very stable outsole made with Dubraison rubber.
Sam: There is plenty of well segmented rubber coverage. The Durabraison rubber feels about the same firmness back to front.
Despite clearly having more heel coverage and wider front pads compared to the Clifotn 8 above, I think for a quicker response and pop given the soft midsole foam and more of it the rubber could be a touch firmer.
Dominique: The versatility of the Clifton 9 is especially true when it comes to the ride. It is a very enjoyable and pleasant ride whether I am running or walking, along the shoe being protective and stable. I usually run outdoors, however due to full-on winter weather conditions here in Park City, I have mostly run on an indoor track when testing my Clifton 9. On the upside, the cushiony feel, smooth and efficient roll of the foot helped by the early stage meta-rocker and low drop, have sustained me in my efforts to run indoors, albeit at a much lower pace. I would agree with Sam in terms of the shoe lacking a bit in responsiveness.
Sam: The ride is for sure pleasant and easy going with a new found bounce that reminds of the original Clifton but without that shoe’s rear instability, especially at slower paces. The added 3 mm of cushion, while making for a soft ride is for sure friendly on the legs increasing the Clifton’s range for me to slower easier runs, even if the heel feels a bit too low at those paces where I tend to heel strike . That said I wish for a bit more response and get and go fast feel to balance the softness and increased cushion. I suspect firmer outsole rubber would help not only faster paces upfront but slower paces by making the heel feel at slow paces a bit less low.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Dominique: This latest iteration of the Clifton is a definite pleaser whether you are running, walking, or standing on your feet. It is a solid and stable daily trainer with a maximalist approach to cushioning minus the chunkiness. Notably, I find that the toebox in my regular size 9, medium width, is quite roomy – no issues whatsoever. It’s a reliable shoe in terms of fit, stability, cushioning, and style, however, it is lacking a bit in responsiveness.
Dominique’s Score: 9.42/10
Ride: 9, Fit: 9:8, Value: 9.4, Style: 9.5.
Sam: Hoka was missing a more middle of the road daily trainer in their line up with the recent Mach 4 and 5 a bit too minimal for many and the Bondi clearly on the heavy and clunky side. The Clifton 9 fills that gap very well and I think would make a great all you need Hoka rotation with the equally “friendly” and very fast plated Rocket X 2 coming soon (RTR Review).
Clifton loyalists should enjoy this update which follows recent trends of more stack of cushion at lighter or equal weights. The foam here, while not to our knowledge “supercritical” is lively, bouncy, and leg friendly if a bit too soft for my daily training tastes.
The new geometry combining Hoka’s rocker with some flexibility is a clear improvement especially for heel strikers at slower paces such as me while if you have a more front landing, and for me at faster paces, will have you bouncing up and away.
The upper is pretty much flawless as far as I am concerned, a recent trend at Hoka in both road and trail. It has a very secure yet soft and comfortable hold. Eliminating all overlays and hot melted elements leads to a seamless feel. Hoka did not make the mistake of over voluming the upper or leaving out essential rear hold and support fit and that is great, with wide available.
Did they go too far in the softness department here? I suppose it depends on your preferences. Hold, stability, and rebound are not compromised, and the Clifton 9 is most pleasant riding indeed, I do wish for a bit more snappy response and speedier feel. Maybe firmer outsole rubber? Not quite as soft foam? Or both?
Minor quibbles in the end for what is a successful update to a classic that makes it a more mainstream daily trainer. It does this, and actually brings back much of the original’s Clifton’s fun factor without the OG’s loose ends of poor stability, sloppy upper, and likely also (long term testing to determine) with improved durability. It also, more significantly, banishes the kind of pedestrian rigid rides and relatively crude uppers of more recent Clifton.
Sam’s Score: 9.33 /10
Ride: 9.1 Fit: 9.7 Value: 9.3 Style: 9.5
Hoka Clifton 8 (RTR Review)
Sam: Softer, higher stack. more flexible and smooth flowing and with a far more refined upper the Clifton 9 is more mellow riding, more flexible and more comfortable but maybe not quite as snappy quick as v8.
Hoka Mach 4 and 5 (RTR Review)
Sam: Now sitting 3mm below the Clifton in stack height, so where the Clifton 8 was, the Mach is a more uptempo flavor of the Clifton 9 with somewhat firmer foam, less cushioning and a quicker snappier ride.
Saucony Ride 16 (RTR Review)
Sam: At the same weights with essentially the same heel stack height but with the Saucony having a lower forefoot as an 8mm drop shoe these two are direct competitors in the daily training category from the respective brands. The Saucony’s PWRRUN foam is somewhat firmer and less rebounding and soft but more responsive its ride is more stable and its upper more performance oriented. As far as the uppers the Clifton’s while fitting similarly is clearly more comfortable and refined with almost but not quite equal hold. I find the rear of the Ride 16’s upper overdone in hold and a bit rigid. The Saucony’s ride is more “serious”, trading softness for response and stability while the Cliifton is more playfrul and fun but lacking the solid drive of the Ride. .
ASICS Novablast 3 (RTR Review)
Sam: Weighing almost exactly the same with a 35 mm heel / 27 mm forefoot stack height, so the same heel height but with a 4mm lower forefoot as an 8mm drop shoe to the Clifton 9’s 5mm , the Novablast is ASICS more modern daily trainer and I would say competes directly with the new Clifton. Its FF Blast Plus foam is similar in feel if a bit firmer. Nothing wrong with its upper but here the smoother fitting softer, more secure Clifton’s upper wins. If as a rule your runs are faster paced I would lean Novablast in this match up. For more easy going comfort and softness Clifton.
Puma Foreverun Nitro (RTR Review)
Sam: An intriguing comparison as the Puma has more stack height at the heel at 40mm heel / 30mm with about the same at forefoot and it has a higher 10mm drop. The supercritical Puma Nitro foam is in 2 densities with the outer carrier somewhat firmer than the Clifton’s main midsole and the inner core softer. Somewhat heavier, but not much more at 9.26 oz / 263g in my US9 it has considerably more well arranged stabilizing outsole coverage. The Nitro Foam is more responsive, the 5mm additional drop and narrow midfoot platform have me moving along easier at all paces in the Puma and especially slower ones.
Nike Pegasus 39 (RTR Review)
Sam: Somewhat heavier at 9 oz / 255g US8.5 with a stack height of 33 mm heel / 23 mm forefoot so 3mm less at the heel and a big 8mm less at the forefoot and with a firm Air unit at the forefoot, the Peg is a very different riding shoe than the soft and friendly Clifton. Its React foam is firmer and less rebounding but more responsive with its upper more performance oriented if similar fitting. It has a far more extensive and aggressively lugged outsole which in combination with its firmer more stable platform making it light trails ready, and for sure more so than the Clifton. If you want a more traditional high drop, firmer performance and shorter distances focused ride ready of speedwork and some trails chose the Peg otherwise for a more pleasant easy going and comfortable all around trainer, the Clifton
New Balance 880 v12 (RTR Review)
The 880 is New Balance’s classic daily trainer and in v12 it got a radical update with more platform width, softer foam and a very roomy unstructured upper. It is considerably heavier than the Clifton at 10.14 oz / 288g (US8.5) with less cushion stack overall and a 10mm drop. Pretty easy choice for me, Clifton, as the additional weight of the V12, its over soft midsole in combination with its relatively sloppy upper makes it a miss.
The Clifton 9 is available at our partners below including Europe
Dominique has run for over 40 years, consistently about 25 miles per week at paces between 10 and 11 minute miles and once a week down in the mid 9 minute miles. She races rarely, but always surprises more hard core runners in her age group when she does. She has a 1985 marathon PR of 3:16 in her second marathon which at the time put her on the top 10 Swiss women’s lists. She is the mother of two grown children, both runners post college, and also enjoys nordic and alpine skiing, tennis, hiking and trekking, and gardening.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range, if he is very lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah be it on the run or nordic skis. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.
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