Hokas have definitely become a favorite around the office with several of the team and when the chance to test out the new Clifton 2s arose, I jumped at the chance. I was a huge fan of the Challenger ATRs as you will note in our prior review, so I also seemed like the best candidate. For those of you that followed our triathlon feature, you will notice that the Clifton 2s also became the running shoe of choice for that final leg, so that’s probably a good indication of how this review is going to go.
The Clifton 2 is an update to the original Clifton model which was pretty much the de facto Hoka road running shoe and has become the model by which all other Hokas are judged. The similarities are numerous and they definitely approached the 2 as more of a refinement. This turns out to be a really good thing because those things that work well still perform admirably and those things that were changed only seem to make them function even better.
Design and Structure
The exterior of the Clifton 2 features a seamless design and as we have noted, most running shoes are headed this direction. Stability points are created through the use of exterior structural fabrics and they create the actual shell of the shoe. The entire upper of the shoe is very simple in its design and this contributes to the fact that the shoe overall is very lightweight on your foot regardless of the fact that a lot of people view them outwardly as bulky. It’s a sad misnomer driven simply by the maximum amount of cushioning and reinforced by the visual of the shoe. The upper is very thin and the tongue features next to no padding, it’s a “barely there” feeling. I find this to be incredibly appealing and the amount of simple structure it has built-in provides just enough stability and control so the shoe feels more like a shoe and less like a sock. Basically, you get the feeling of an absent upper, but they’ve done a good job still providing structure which creates control.
Next is really Hoka’s bread-and-butter. The footbed and the sole. Before I first started running in Hokas, I was turned off by the visual of the maximizer sole. It gives you the impression visually of a stilt or lift, so your mind goes to this place where you think you could roll your ankle when you wear them and I have heard this from countless people. What Hoka does really well though is in coupling their footbed design with that maximizer sole. When your foot goes into the Clifton 2 you immediately feel like it’s being cradled by the footbed so you’re not so much sitting on top of the sole, but instead you feel like you’re a part of it. The shoe feels like it cradles you and this to me is where the shoes really shine because those rails within the footbed provide you an element of control that you just wouldn’t expect. All this coupled against that very high-level of cushioning, it’s no wonder that some of the top runners in the world are making the move to maximize her shoes.
Also this control makes Hokas more viable for non-distance athletes as well. We are seeing people in the 10K, 5K and even the mile set records using Hokas and that’s something that leaves a lot of people shaking their heads. The view is the shoes shouldn’t be fast because they look so big, but remember that this shoe weighs in at just under 8 ounces so it’s just as light as your average running shoe. When I wear them, I’m not afraid to just let loose and go for it and I know and trust the Clifton 2 to respond properly and allow me that additional speed that I’m looking for.
Styling and Preconceived Notions
I think the styling is one of the most difficult things to talk about when it comes to Hoka. People have tons of preconceived notions about the shoes. First, you have the people who see them and are immediately interested in why they are structured the way they are and are actually interested in trying them. Conversely, there is a large group of people who see them and think they’re orthopedic, almost viewing them as a joke and I’m not sure I can sway those people, but I’ll try. Hoka has done a good job with the Clifton 2s in creating an exterior and accompanying colorways that match the visual cues of most other road shoes that are out there. So this is already in their favor in that basically, it looks like a pretty solid running shoe. I was testing the silver, white, and red pair and it does hit the mark really well.
Next let’s weigh value against the styling. The shoes provide an inherent level of value over and above many other running shoes simply because of their product design. The sole can be offputting for people, but the value against that is incredibly high. During the triathlon, I got a lot of questions from people on why I chose the Hoka over a traditional tri shoe and it may be a different case for professional athletes, but for me making the transition into a run meant legs that were tired from cycling and feet that were tired from road shoes and landing in the Clifton 2s immediately felt appealing. Most people and most runners I run with our now really interested in trying them out.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
To me Hoka is in a really great spot right now. They have an incredible trail shoe in the Challenger ATR and they now have a top-notch road shoe in the Clifton 2s. Both shoes can be used at distance or for short runs and their appeal runs the gamut, both male and female, effective at any skill level, as well as almost any age group. The shoes encourage proper running technique and provide a level of comfort and support you might not expect. And finally, they’re super light so even performance runners will take something away from using them. The Clifton 2 have become my everyday shoe now and unless I’m hitting the trails, they are where my eye goes first when I look to grab a pair. That says a lot, and I test a lot of shoes, but after the performance in the tri line and the hundreds of miles I have now put on them, I can definitely say they’re one of my favorite so far.
You can purchase Hoka Clifton 2s directly from the Hoka website for $130 or find them at athletic/outdoor retailers in your area.