REVIEW: Hoka One One Clifton 3

Let’s get this right out of the way:  the Hoka One One Clifton 3 is a damn good looking shoe.  In the past I’ve had a tendency to sneer at the incredibly forward appearance of extra support Hoka is unapologetic for in their aesthetics.  That was not the case when I took these shoes out of the box.  I’m happy to report that these shoes lived up to the great first impression.

I’m an Altra guy.  I’ve pretty much preached the Altra gospel of zero-drop and wide toe box since I got my first pair.  My feet are often self-referenced as somewhere between a Hobbit and a caveman.  Despite the zeal toward Altra, I’ve always been fascinated with Hoka.  By appearance, the two companies designs could not be more different; but, I feel their approach to making quality footwear with specificity of foot and a runner’s overall longevity are the same.  I have heard stories and have friends who suffered terrible joint pain and were not able to run with any sort of comfort until Hoka came on the scene.  Because people I know or know of absolutely swear by Hoka I wanted to give the shoes a try.

The first try was a huge miss.  I went from Altra Instinct 3.0’s to the Hoka Clifton 2, about a year ago.  The Clifton 2 was not at all for me.  The run I had was not enjoyable, as I just imagined how compressed all of my toes were in the extremely narrow toe box.  Despite my discomfort, when I looked at my Strava times after I was intrigued, as it was my fastest 8-mile road run in months.  Because Hoka offers the 30-Day Challenge, I was able to return the Clifton 2’s promptly and within a week my money was refunded, no questions asked.

My second experience with Hoka was this past summer, when I ordered myself a pair of Speedgoats to try.  Hoka collaborated with ultra living legend Karl Meltzer to bring these badass trail shoes to life.  It would be modest to call the outsole lug placement burly, and that monster of an outsole combined with Vibram technology made this shoes hard to resist.  This time I was wary, especially since many reviews of the Speedgoat mentioned how narrow they were, and ordered an entire size up.  Even at a full size larger, the Speedgoats were too narrow and just didn’t compare to the comfort of my Lone Peak 2.5’s and Olympus 2.0’s.  Altra won my feet back, again and again.

Third time really is a charm.  The Clifton 3’s have finally given me a taste of the Hoka-mania I hear in so many running circles.  These shoes are fantastic for road running.  What’s even better is the toe box actually has some space, so my piggies can wiggle all they want while I’m hitting the road (you’re welcome for that visual).

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Here’s the first thing that’s crazy.  I wear an 11.5-12 US, and when I tried these on at my local shop, I started at an 11.5 and they fit great.  I didn’t have to go giant and worry about my heel sliding all over the place just so my toes could breath.  The toe box is nowhere near as wide as an Altra, but it’s to the proportions of the overall shoe, which makes the fit great.  I was very happy how good these guys felt just walking around my house.

The first few runs took some getting used to, but they weren’t as much of a shock as the Clifton 2 run.  It was nothing more than the new shoe jitters.  I’ll get to the actual running in a second.

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As you can see, the outer on this shoe is a good one for the road.  I would not advise running on the trail in the Clifton 3, unless it was a very well groomed one.  These babies were met for the pavement.  I’ve done quite a few runs in these either during or shortly after it’s rained here in Portland.  My local road loop can actually get pretty slick, so I’m glad the outer has a little bit of traction.

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As you can see, the maximum cushion was not at all neglected in this shoe.  Hoka’s ad-campaign online had a man dressed up as a marshmallow, running around, touting the benefits of Hoka’s max cushion.  My opinion is this mid is exactly as cushioned as it appears.  If you suffer from joint problems or other orthotic issues, this cushioning will help carry you along the hard surfaces you may encounter on the road.  My first few runs were long, but I was coming off of months of almost exclusively running on the trail, which usually means sore knees the next day.  Not so with the Clifton 3.  I was doing between 8-10 mile runs and feeling fine the next day, aside from the slight stiffness in the morning.

Max cushioning isn’t a perfect design, though.  I would advise anyone trying these shows for the first time to take their initial run a little slower for the early miles.  The max cushioning nearly caused a couple ankle rolls, just because my running gait was not used to that much height in a shoe.  I got lucky, but I could see how anyone could roll their ankle if they weren’t used to a shoe of this design.  Take the first few miles easy, because, trust me, you will be running fast in these in no time.

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Let’s talk about speed.  These fuckers are fast!  Weighing in around 9 ounces, I thought they sounded a little bulky, but that was not so.  The first run I did was in the dark, so I was a little cautious and never felt like I opened up to the fastest pace I could have.  My first run, in daylight on the Springwater Corridor, my Strava app lit up with PR’s on most every segment I’d run.  I had gone from 8:00-8:30/miles down to 7:00-7:30, and the faster I went in these shoes, the more comfortable it was.  Sure, I wasn’t pulling down Zach Miller speed, but a near minute improvement per mile made the $130 I dropped on these Clifton 3’s seem like a great investment.  I fancy myself a trail runner, but I know the road is useful for speed work and just to change it up once in a while, so I’m excited the time I spend on the pavement will be in these.

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The Lycra upper makes the Clifton 3 very breathable.  Honestly, I got these shoes at the end of the summer, so I haven’t given them a true heat test.  Looking at the upper alone, these shoes look very well put together.  I’m approaching my first 100 miles in these, and there is not indication of wear yet.  I guess it’s a little early to make the call, but the condition they are in now (after some very rainy runs) is encouraging.

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The only real sign of wear that is slightly concerning is on the outer.  I noticed how worn the heel was already, which makes me nervous that the stack height is going to start feeling off after the next 50 miles I put into them.  It’s not a deal breaker, but I’m certainly going to keep an eye on it.

All in all, these shoes are great.  I’ve a new found appreciation for road running thanks to these.  It’s nice to finally be able to understand why so many people are so hyped on Hoka. Like I mentioned before, these shoes are incredibly well put together.  I know their $130 price is not cheap and could even be argued as being a little bit on the more expensive end.  Personally, I think they are worth it and it’s a very fair price considering how well they’ve treated me so far.  Again, with the speed and comfort I enjoy in these shoes, it feels like $130 investment in my health and enjoyment of running.

The Hoka One One Clifton 3’s are available online and at most local running shops.

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