You look at this shoe and it's hard to tell where Hoka carved more than 3 ounces out of the already admirably light Bondi. One Slowtwitch forum reader, who I know to have a high attachment to precision and attention to detail, wrote that his size-10.5 Clifton is exactly 3.75 oz lighter than his Bondi 3. His Clifton is 8.25 oz, I believe the size-9 shoe typical for apple-to-apple weights is 7.9 oz. Add to that the fact that I think these shoes are sized a bit large, that might bring the weight down another tenth of an ounce. Point is, the Clifton is light.
It's in that sweet spot for triathletes where you get the cushion and support to keep you from getting legsore during a half or full marathon following the bike segment, but it's light enough to be a true triathlon race shoe. What does this cost you, in features, versus what's in the Bondi? In my opinion, the cost is significant but acceptable for an overpronator like me, if we're talking a race shoe. Whether it would work for you as an everyday training shoe depends on how old, heavy, imperfect and broken down you are – if you're Brandon Marsh it might be your everyday trainer; for me, I need the Bondi's support in my everyday shoe, the Clifton won't do beyond racing and very selective high performance training efforts. I'll attempt here to quantify what you get, and what you have to give up to get what you get.
The shoe fits rather like a Conquest. And it looks like a Conquest. Below is an image of the two shoes and it's hard to tell which is which. The Clifton is above, the Conquest beneath it. You can see from the architecture of the shoe that much from the Conquest is borrowed in the Clifton's design. And it's not just the midsole architecture that makes these shoes seem similar. The upper, the tongue, the materials in the upper, the fit, are all very similar between these shoes. If you like how the Conquest fits and feels you'll really like the Clifton. If you find the Conquest was too narrow for you, you still might like the Clifton. The Clifton is very slightly wider than the Conquest, but not nearly as wide as the Bondi 3. The Clifton, in width, sits between the pretty narrow Conquest and the middlin' Bondi 2.
But the Clifton is 2 to 3 oz lighter than the Conquest, so why would you buy the Conquest? Two reasons. First, the Conquest is a more structurally sound shoe for pronators, and the Conquest has a firmer ride – it's not as soft as the Clifton. The Conquest was released to big fanfare, but the Clifton is going to claim a big chunk of the Conquest fan base, causing the Conquest to recede a bit and maintain a space in Hoka's lineup that no other Hoka shoe inhabits.
How can the Conquest be "more" shoe than the Clifton, but offer less plush cushion? The Conquest has a significant amount of its midsole made of a material called RMAT, which has a lot of fine qualities associated with it, but plushness is not among them. RMAT makes the Conquest durable, stable on pavement, with great wear resistance, and great in slippery conditions.
Now let's talk about what you give up. The image below is a Bondi 2 (at right) and the Clifton, from the back. You almost can't imagine that this is the same shoe you're looking at in the other images. Now maybe you can see where Hoka found 3 oz worth of weight savings.
You might look at this image and think the Clifton is a lot lower, that is, there's less shoe between your foot and the road. It is lower. The Clifton has heel and forefoot heights of 29mm and 24mm, and these are each about 4mm to 5mm lower than the Bondi. But the image above makes it look like the Bondi is a lot more than 5mm taller than the Clifton, and that's because of one of Hoka's most important features: the midsole that wraps up and around the upper, giving the upper a ton of medial support. This is what makes the Bondi such a fantastic shoe for overpronators even though it lacks the typical supportive gimmicks attached to typical guidance or stability shoes.
This makes the Clifton a stable shoe for pronators, a good shoe for pronators, but not for long distances and not for a lot of miles. I would not train in the Clifton, except for those rare occasions that called for a specific quality workout. This is my racing flat. Furthermore, it's my flat for up to 13.1 miles assuming I'm ever again able to run 13.1 miles in a race. For 26.2 miles I'd be in the Bondi.
This isn't to say that you should be encumbered as I am. The Clifton may well be your training shoe, but if so you'll probably be lighter than I, or less of a pronator than I.
One thing I'm supremely happy about: Hoka did not attempt to carve out the arch of the shoe. A truly neutral race shoe will usually have this carved, more like a track spike. This ruins the shoe for anyone who does have a tendency to overpronate, and no medial posting mechanism or feature will fix it. This makes the Clifton hold up. There is just enough shoe there to be supportive for the great majority of runners. There is just enough cushion there for the shoe to make Hoka devotees happy. But there is only just enough. Hoka jettisoned every bit of ballast off this shoe. It is the least amount of Hoka you can buy, and still have it be a Hoka.
It's surprising, in this world of less is more – as in the less it weighs the more it costs – that this shoe came in as low as $130. But it really had to be this price if Hoka wants this shoe to displace the Kinvara, which this shoe is clearly capable of doing for a lot of runners. Saucony's ultra popular shoe sells for $30 less than the Clifton and weighs about the same. What the Clifton adds is a plusher ride and more medial support, for those who need it.
The Clifton isn't going to win against Saucony's Fastwitch or A5, or Nike's Flyknit Racer, or Asics Gel Hyperspeed, if the metric valued by the user is simply weight. These shoes are anywhere from 5.6oz to 6.9oz, versus the Clifton's 7.9oz. The Clifton's value is not going to be recognized by those who never get legsore in the latter miles of a race. But look at the difference in some of these shoes. The Hyper Speed 6 has a heel and forefoot height of 16mm and 10mm, versus the Clifton's 29mm and 24mm. The Hyper Speed has no midsole wrap of the upper. It's an absolutely neutral shoe. The Hyper Speed is typical of racing flats. In my opinion, anyone who needs medial support or support under the arch is playing with fire racing in any of these flats, not just because of injuries that may take place in the future, but in the speed you lose in the last miles of the race when you feel as if you're running on sticks instead of legs.
Still, it should be noted, when you look at the list of top athletes in Kona, these top-10 pro men and women overwhelmingly tend to race in 6 oz shoes. The Clifton's value is in its ability to provide cushion, plush, and support in a sub 8 oz shoe. The Clifton is the least substantial shoe I can run in. The further away from me you are, and the closer to a 130-pound Kenyan, the more these 5 and 6 oz shoes make sense for the run in a 70.3 or 140.6. The closer you are to me, I offer you my condolences, and I recommend the Hoka One One Clifton.
I also have in my possession Hoka One One's new Huaka. That review is forthcoming. I am personally less inclined toward the Huaka so far. It seems to me the Huaka is the race answer to the Conquest, just as the Clifton is the race answer to the Bondi. Both the Conquest and the Huaka have a lot of RMAT in the shoes, they are a firmer than the Bondi and the Clifton. Probably because I'm more of a Bondi than a Conquest guy, this makes me more of a fan of the Clifton than of the Huaka.