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HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 3 Review
Cons: Bulky, limited protection
Bottom line: A light, versatile maximalist shoe that will last multiple seasons.
The field of running has seen many changes and innovations since humans' ancestors transitioned away from their quadrupedal ways. We have seen perennial swing after swing, moving from demand for padding and protection to theory on biomechanics and natural mimicry. Enter HOKA ONE ONE and maximalism. Maximalism marries the idea of natural movement to the demand for padding and protection and has been very popular with marathoners and ultramarathoners. We have included the HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 3 in our lineup and it ended up earning our Top Pick for Stability Award. We certainly would not call it an attractive shoe and suggest that it looks something like the faddish Skechers Shape Ups from a few years ago, but once we took them out and put some miles on them, we came around and saw their great qualities.
As we noted elsewhere, it is important to explain that the Clifton 3 is listed as a neutral shoe by HOKA ONE ONE, but we consider it a stability shoe because it has a number of stabilizing features, like its wide platform and great cushioning that guide the foot to a natural position.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Clifton 3 is a great shoe for the runner in need of a good, solid stability shoe, especially if they are tired of wearing the bricks that make up the industry standard. The Clifton 3 brings a new approach to cushioned running shoes by essentially placing a gel pillow beneath your feet and daring you not to have a good time.
Check out the chart below to see where the HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 3 ranked amongst the competition.
We found that the responsiveness of the Clifton 3 was not outstanding in the lineup, but the thick EVA midsole was firm when compressed and rigid when flexed, which added to its responsiveness.
We also note that because the midsole's thickness did not severely diminish at the forefoot as in most shoes, we did not experience the loss of responsiveness that in models like the Mizuno Wave Prophecy 5, which have to spend more on heavy reinforcement or additional embedded and appended features to improve responsiveness. If responsiveness is your primary concern, we suggest giving the Altra Torin 2.5 your attention.
Alongside the Brooks PureFlow 6, our Editors' Choice winner, we gave the Clifton 3 the highest score for landing comfort. Both shoes are extremely comfortable landers, but for rather different reasons. Whereas the PureFlow 6 has a low profile and a natural landing best suited to speed, the Clifton 3 has an extremely cushy landing that dampens every bit of percussion, which is likely why marathoners and ultramarathoners are so drawn to it.
This shoe would also be a great shoe for heavier runners who experience percussion in their running much more intimately than a bantamweight runner. With HOKA ONE ONE's Early Stage Meta-Rocker guidance system and 29mm of heel stack and 24mm at the forefoot, there is adequate padding and structure for any style of gait at any distance. The best way to explain the Clifton 3 is that it is like running barefoot on a football field laid on top of carpet foam.
This shoe has one of the more comfortable uppers in our lineup. Whereas the most comfortable uppers like the Brooks Glycerin 14 had more uniform padding and silky covers for the heel padding, the Clifton 3 features a rougher, cloth-like cover over a well-padded heel collar that tapers off near the bottom of the heel counter and footbed and thick, padded tongue covering the laces. While the Clifton is certainly a very nicely-fitting, light shoe, we feel that the Saucony Kinvara 8 has a more natural fit, which is why we rated it as a top scoring upper alongside the Glycerin.
The Clifton does have a second skin feel with its fine inner mesh layer, but the Kinvara 8 really feels like a padded extension of the foot. We can't suggest a more comfortable shoe that will give you both the broad stability and the great compression cushioning of the Clifton 3, but there are certainly more inviting uppers.
The most breathable shoes in our lineup tended to be those with mesh uppers, but some of them, including the Clifton 3, had multiple mesh layers and at least one with very fine (read: less permeable) inner layers. While these inner layers cut down on the discomfort and chafing that comes with miles and moisture, they tend to keep in moisture over the miles. Furthermore, the HOKA ONE ONE has a well-padded heel collar and tongue, both of which make for moisture stage units and can get very hot on a long run. If breathability is important to you, we suggest looking at our Best Bang for the Buck pick, the Saucony Kinvara 8, whose lower padding and thin build give it superior breathability.
Despite its volume, the Clifton 3 has very little mass. The shoe is a relatively large shoe, but It is only 20.3 ounces for a pair of men's 11, making it one of our lightest running shoes. Only the Vibram V-Run, Saucony Kinvara 8, and Nike Flex Fury 2 were lighter.
The most approximate lighter model for padding or maximalist features would be the Kinvara 8, but if extreme cushioning and/or stability features are the aim, there is no better lightweight choice than the Clifton 3.
One of the unfortunate downsides of such lightweight shoes is that their durability typically suffers. That is certainly the case with this contender, along with the other lightweight shoes in our review. We noticed a degree of wear to the outsole comparable to the Saucony Kinvara 8, which also received the same durability rating. There are more durable stability running shoes like the Pearl Izumi E:MOTION Road N3 and ASICS GEL-Nimbus 19, or the most durable shoe in our lineup, the Mizuno Wave Prophecy 5, but the Clifton 3's extra cushioning may be enough to justify its lower durability for some runners.
The Clifton 3 is a great stability road shoe for training and even racing. This model has been particularly popular both with marathon and ultramarathon runners. The Clifton 3 could prove well on low to moderate trails, but its bulk, though light, could create difficulties on more technical terrain.
The Clifton 3 comes in around $130 and we think the price fits. However, we suggest that runners do their research and are sure that this style of shoe is right for them before they take the plunge into this new style. The shoe may lack some durability, but for those who put in the hard miles or have a hard time putting in the miles, the ultra-thick padding and great level of comfort combined with the extreme lightness of this shoe make it every bit worth the price tag.
Being a product of the self-proclaimed maximum shoe company, HOKA ONE ONE's Clifton 3 is the only true maximalist shoe in our lineup, which makes it unique. The shoe offers a very interesting running experience that might not be for everyone. We found the Clifton 3 to be a suitable shoe for all different foot strikes, but is perhaps best suited to a heel or midfoot strike and it showed its colors on the longest runs that tend to wear on the repeated strike spots. We also appreciate that its relatively uniform stack height does not force runners into uncomfortable heel strikes as with other models with large heel-to-toe discrepancies like the ASICS GEL-Nimbus 19 and the Mizuno Wave Prophecy 5. Yet its design easily accommodates those looking for the high degree of heel support and padding of traditional stability shoes.
— Ryan Baham
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