Hoka Clifton 3 Review

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The Clifton 3 is a remarkable achievement for Hoka, giving an amazing level of cushioning for its light weight. If you want a Maximalist shoe, this best seller is the place to start. The Clifton 3 has the most forefoot cushioning of any shoe I've tested, as well as rear cushioning that's in the top tier. I've rated the Clifton 3 as "The Best of the Best." (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Hoka Clifton 3 top
Hoka Clifton 3 bottom
Hoka Clifton 3 inside
Hoka Clifton 3 outside

1 Characteristics

  • Cushioning . The Clifton has a high level of cushioning, with the soft ride that Hoka of famous for. The cushioning that the Clifton provides for its weight is quite remarkable, and better than any other Maximalist shoe. However, the latest version continues the trend of putting on weight, so its cushioning-to-weight ratio is not as good as the Hoka Clifton 1.
  • Drop. The Clifton has about a 3-4mm drop which is close enough to zero drop for me to be happy, though some may prefer a true zero-drop shoe.
  • Structure. This shoe is made of a single type of foam, though it is colored to appear like there are two different foams in use. The Clifton has a less abrupt taper at the very front of the shoe than the Bondi, but not as gentle as the Altra Olympus. The very rear of the shoe is cut away slightly, creating a little bit of a rocker shape that's common to the Hoka range. The midsole wraps around the lower part of the foot to create additional stability. This helps overcome some of the problems you get with a thick sole creating a stilt like instability.
  • Flexibility. The Clifton is reasonably flexible for shoe of this thickness, and is rather more flexible than the Bondi or Olympus.
  • Outsole. The Clifton has some exposed midsole, with some durable rubber in high friction areas. The durable rubber is placed in much better positions than it is in the Bondi, improving the life of the shoe. In fact, the midsole that is in contact with the ground seems to be remarkably durable, probably because it is in not in the high impact areas.
  • Shape. The Clifton has the typical Hoka shape, which includes a horribly constricted toe box. I've noticed at Ultras the Hoka toe box causes a distinctive pattern of blisters, so it's critical to cut open the toe box of any Hokas. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper is reasonably thin, breathable, and inflexible, with reasonable padding around the ankle opening.
  • Tongue. The Clifton has a classic tongue rather than a tongue-less sock style of upper. The tongue has plenty of soft padding.
  • Lacing. The Clifton uses thin flat laces which stay tied. The laces have a slight bit of elasticity in them, improving the overall comfort of the shoe.
  • Heel Counter. The Clifton has only a modest Heel Counter that is both useless and harmless.
helping-hand.jpg

2 Update after 200 Miles

After 200 miles the sole of the Clifton 3 remains virtually unchanged. It's a little dirty and there are some tiny spots where the exposed midsole as worn, but it's all extremely minor. The upper remains comfortable and functional, with no signs of wear even though I've cut the toe box open. The main issue with the Clifton 3 longevity is in the midsole cushioning. Most of the shoe is okay, but the spot under the ball of the foot has undergone significant compression. This is worse than if the whole shoe had compressed as it means the ball of the foot is lower than the rest, twisting the foot. This seems to create some problems for me, and my left knee is reacting badly. For the first time I have taken repeated measurements of the cushioning under the ball of the foot to give a picture of how a shoe degrades with mileage. So far, the decline has been gradual over the 200 miles, and I've not reached the point of rapid decline that I expect as the shoe starts to fail. The compression under the ball is noticeable by touch, feeling like a divot in the midsole. The compression is about 3-4mm, but that's enough to concern me, though my MilestonePod hasn't detected any significant change in impact so far. Update: I was able to continue until I reached 240 miles, as which point the compression in the midsole was tilting my foot too much for my knee to tolerate and I stopped running in them.

3 Comparisons

Here are some direct comparisons with its potential competition.

3.1 Hoka Clifton 2 and 3

I found the changes from the Clifton 2 mostly favorable. (Full review Hoka Clifton 2.)

  • The third iteration of the Clifton is a little heavier (9.8oz) than the second version (9.1), but I found it to be better cushioned in the forefoot so its cushioning-to-weight ratio is about the same.
  • The ankle opening is slightly less padded, though it's still more than ample and there might be a tiny bit less padding on the tongue.
  • The hard rubber outsole covers slightly more of the sole, though the increase is in an area where I would not expect much wear.
  • The ankle opening is a different shape, with the rear coming slightly higher up the Achilles and lower under the ankle bone. The rear also has a cutaway for the Achilles tendon. This is something to check if you have issues with your Achilles.
  • Hoka claim the forefoot is a few millimeters wider, but it's hard to detect the change in practice. The extra width is across the forefoot, not the toes, so you need to either cut the toe box open or have your toes crushed. The heel feels slightly narrower to me, which I felt improved the fit.
Hoka Clifton 3 top
Hoka Clifton 3 bottom
Hoka Clifton 3 inside
Hoka Clifton 3 outside
Hoka Clifton 2 top
Hoka Clifton 2 bottom
Hoka Clifton 2 inside
Hoka Clifton 2 outside
helping-hand.jpg

3.2 Hoka Clifton 1 and 3

The changes between the original Clifton and the third iteration are a little larger. The Clifton 3 is now 1.6oz heavier than the original, which seems outrageous to me. To be fair, the latest version is a little better cushioned and padded, but I feel like the original is the better shoe. (Full review Hoka Clifton 1.)

Hoka Clifton 3 top
Hoka Clifton 3 bottom
Hoka Clifton 3 inside
Hoka Clifton 3 outside
Hoka Clifton 1 top
Hoka Clifton 1bottom
Hoka Clifton 1 inside
Hoka Clifton 1 outside
helping-hand.jpg

4 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

5 Visualizing the Attributes of the Hoka Clifton 3

How Hoka Clifton 3 compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Hoka Clifton 3 compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Hoka Clifton 3 compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Hoka Clifton 3 compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

6 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review

Brand Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review Asics 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6
Saucony Type A6 Review Saucony A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adidas Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7
Hoka Bondi 5 Review Hoka Bondi Recommended $150 6.1 11.6 18.1 38 42 5 7.1 4
Hoka Clayton Review Hoka Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 5
Hoka Clayton 2 Review Hoka Clayton 2 Review Pending $150 9.1 8.3 12.9 23 28 1 7.5 6
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Hoka Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 6
On Cloudracer Review On Cloud Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8
Hoka Conquest Review Hoka Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Saucony Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Mizuno Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 7
Newton Distance IV Review Newton Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review Asics DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Mizuno Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin 2 Review Saucony Endorphin 2 Worth considering $115 8.0 5.1 9.6 15 13 -1 4.1 8
Adidas Energy Boost Review Adidas Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6
Altra Escalante Review Altra Escalante Best of the Best $130 9.1 8.7 13.5 28 25 -1 7.9 7
Puma Faas 100 R Review Puma Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9
Saucony Fastwitch Review Saucony Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 8
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Topo Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 6
Nike Free 4.0 Review Nike Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6
Saucony Freedom Review Saucony Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 25 29 3 5.8 7
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Asics Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review Skechers GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review Skechers GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review Skechers GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review Skechers GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 7
Asics GT 2000 Review Asics GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4
New Balance Hanzo S New Balance Hanzo Worth considering $110 7.6 6.9 10.7 21 19 2 5.2 6
Hoka Hupana Review Hoka Hupana Recommended $115 6.1 8.9 13.9 31 36 7 5.4 5
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Asics Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 7
Altra Instinct 3.5 3.5 Review Altra Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 6
Altra Instinct 4.0 Review Altra Instinct 4.0 Worth considering $120 6.0 9.8 15.3 29 25 -1 5.9 6
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Asics Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 7
Saucony Kinvara 8 Review Saucony Kinvara 8 Best of the Best $110 9.3 8.6 13.4 26 31 3 8.0 6
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review Nike LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 6
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review Nike LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Hoka Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review Pearl N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
Saucony Nomad Review Saucony Nomad Worth considering $110 4.3 10.5 17.2 25 27 2 4.5 5
Hoka Odyssey Review Hoka Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4
Altra Olympus Review Altra Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4
Altra One 2.5 Review Altra One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8
Altra One 3.0 Review Altra One Review Pending $100 6.1 8.8 13.7 23 23 0 5.4 7
Altra Paradigm Review Altra Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Asics Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review Brooks PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Salming Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 7
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review New Balance RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review New Balance RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review New Balance RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 8
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Skechers Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review Inov-8 RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 9
Topo ST-2 Review Topo ST-2 Highly Recommended $90 8.2 7.3 11.4 20 18 0 6.0 8
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Hoka Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Nike Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 6
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 6
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Altra Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 5
Hoka Tracer Review Hoka Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 6
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Merrell Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9
Topo Tribute Review Topo Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 7
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Mizuno Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Merrell Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review New Balance Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 6
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Asics Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 7

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, New Balance 980 Review, Brooks Transcend 2 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.