The Clifton 5: HOKA Made a Good Shoe Great

You guys know by now I’m not afraid to criticize HOKA, right? The Bondi – my favorite shoe of all time – has gotten good and bad reviews here, depending on how I feel HOKA One One has done as that shoe has migrated during its 6 iterations.

Now that I’ve completed a fair number of runs in the Clifton 5, how has HOKA done with it? What is this shoe’s mission? Does it perform the mission? How does it compare to prior Cliftons?

And, pardon our dust. I’m photographing my shoe, and I just came in from a run before I snapped these pics. This is the shoe I’m reviewing.

This shoe is a lightweight trainer. It’s a very good race shoe for triathletes who don’t weigh 125 pounds and who didn’t grow up in Kenya’s Rift Valley. I weigh closer to 170 pounds, and I need more than piece of EVA duct taped to my feet. The Clifton has become an important shoe for me. Note the “has become.” I didn’t grow to like the Clifton. As the Bondi morphed out of the shoe I needed, the Clifton morphed into the shoe I needed. Or, closer to that shoe.

In my size (46, size 11.5, well above the mens size-9 companies use to state their shoe weights) the Clifton 1 weighed 8.3oz. The Clifton 2 weighed about 9.15oz. And as of this iteration, the Clifton 5, the shoe weighs 10.1oz. Am I grumbling about this? No. I’m jumping for joy. In my Cliftons.

This shoe has gotten more substantial. Not wider! The footprint remains the same as it did originally. In fact, as the Bondi’s outsole got wider, the Clifton’s outsole remained the same in width, both in the forefoot and rearfoot, and it’s very close to the footprint of the original Bondi I fell in love with.

Why does it weigh more? (In the image just below you'll see the weight of the original Clifton, on my scale; below that is the weight of the new Clifton 5 on my scale.) The tongue is no longer the paper thin thing that I didn’t like, and that came in the original HOKA Conquest and Clifton. It’s now a very comfortable padded tongue, and the rest of the upper has gotten more comfortable too. That seamless upper, and its fabric, just weigh more. There’s more scuff-resistant outsole material in high-wear areas, to make this shoe last longer, and that weighs more.

While it’s grown modestly heavier, it’s still quite light, and it’s a pleasure running in this shoe and when I complain about a HOKA these days it’s never about the comfort. Whether the Elevon, the Bondi 6, the Clifton 5, or even the Tor Ultra HI WP hiking boots I walk in, all these shoes are just a pleasure on my feet. My complaints, if I have them, are only about the cushion (i.e., I have a midsole materials complain) or about the a shoe’s changing mission. Never about comfort, or fit. HOKA solved this.

In fact, here’s my observation, having completed my 8th year running in HOKAs, which began when the company made 1 shoe model: For the first 5 years of its existence HOKA One One taught itself, on behalf of runners like me, how to perform miracles. For the last 3 years it taught itself how to make shoes.

The original Bondi – that shoe I’m still looking for – weighs almost an ounce more than the Clifton 5. This is because the “active footframe” in that original (and all subsequent) Bondis is larger, has more mass, cradles the upper more completely, more securely. I need that for a lot of my runs. The Clifton has more of an active footframe than other shoes from other companies. But it doesn’t have what the Bondi has. Or the Elevon. This makes the Clifton 5 an important shoe for me, but it can’t be my everyday runner. It’s a shoe for my faster runs. I split time between this shoe and the Bondi, and I’d split time between this shoe and the Elevon if the next version of that shoe is softer.

If you’re lighter, younger, faster than I am, and/or if you have a more perfect footfall (you don’t overpronate, like I do) I might imagine the Clifton 5 would be your everyday training shoe.

What about as a racing flat? Yes, I think so, for many of us, if it’s a 13 or 26 mile run at the end of a triathlon. For me, for, say, a 5k, it’s the old Clayton. I’ve got a few of those banging around, they do have that active footframe, but the Clayton doesn’t have all the structure, and the harder, stiffer heel cup that I need in the Clifton as my training shoe. The Clayton is just a 426CID Hemi with no sunroof, crank window and an AM/FM radio. If you just want lightweight cushiness and nothing else, that’s the Clayton. Yeah, baby.

We all are in HOKAs partly because of the cush (see my comment at the end). Is this a cushioned shoe? Yes. Not as much cush as the Bondi 6. Probably slightly more than the Elevon, tho the Elevon was supposed to be a more cushioned shoe. If you’re looking for ultra-plush, this probably isn’t your HOKA. But it’s pretty cushy. It’s got a 5mm drop, heel-to-toe, so, right in HOKA’s wheelhouse. It’s made in men’s sizes 7 to 15, with only full sizes in 13, 14 and 15; women’s come in sizes 5 to 11, including half sizes throughout.

I’ve read some complaints about the sock liner in this shoe (the removable insole). I can’t comment on this because I run in orthotics – I immediately remove the sock liner on every pair of HOKAs and every pair of every other shoe in run in.

There is a new model called the Clifton 5 Knit. What I’m running in isn’t it. This new shoe features a knitted upper. Compared to my current model’s mesh upper. Fine.

The Clifton has grown into a shoe about which I have few reservations. It’s a great shoe. Next up for me is a Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo. I'll be shocked if I can run in that shoe. My sense is that I'm spending $180 for a 2-mile run. Not that it won't be cushy. Just, for those who think HOKA is only about cushy, you just don't understand this brand.

Read more about the HOKA One One Clifton 5.