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Review: HOKA ONE ONE Clifton 5

It's time to fly with the Clifton 5. The lightweight cushioning shoe is comparable to running on clouds.

HOKA ONE ONE is quickly becoming a popular shoe in the multisport community. Some of the world’s top professional endurance triathletes are making the brand their shoe of choice. For example, Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda Carfrae, the triathlon couple, share the same shoe sponsor, HOKA ONE ONE. In the running community, the brand is solidifying itself with top performances. Cam Levins, in his marathon debut at the 2018 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, ran a 2:09:25 and broke a 43-year-old national record. HOKA ONE ONE delivers exceptionally durable products that prioritize comfort and performance.

Hoka One One
Cam Levins after winning the Canadian Marathon Championships. Photo: Maxine Gravina

One of HOKA ONE ONE’s most popular model is the Clifton. Known in the running community for its cushioning and lightweight features, the Clifton is ideal for those looking for a durable shoe that offers comfort for their long runs but is light enough to race in.

A few years ago, when I was returning to running following a foot injury, I was looking for a shoe that would provide the cushioning I needed, but also something that wasn’t heavy. That’s when I fell in love with the Clifton 2s. Now, in their fifth edition, the Clifton 5, HOKA ONE ONE has made a few changes to this cushioning lightweight shoe.

Keeping their famed midsole geometry, the Clifton 5 delivers cushioning you can feel. I would describe it as running on a cloud. Even though I have put on over 450K into these shoes, I still get the impressive shock absorption and comfort when I slide into my Clifton 5 shoes. What makes the Clifton 5 midsole so soft and responsive is the EVA foam and meta-rocker geometry. The EVA foam is designed to absorb shock and respond to the ground on contact, while the rocker is what propels you forward.

The meta-rocker design of the Clifton 5 is a feature I fell in love with from the very beginning. Running in these shoes is easy, and I cannot get over how natural they feel. The meta-rocker geometry, also known as the rocking chair, propels you forward, bringing your weight onto your forefeet. This smooth roll effect is noticeable within the first few strides, from the moment your foot strikes the ground, all the way to toe off.

Something I did not know when I first tried HOKAS is that the Clifton model uses something called an active foot frame. This technology is also known as the bucket seat. While other shoe brands have you sit on top of the midsole, HOKA ONE ONE have you sit deep in the midsole. This provides you with a lot of stability. It is also why you don’t feel out of control, despite the impressive amount of cushioning.

In 2017, HOKA ONE ONE released the Clifton 4. The 4s introduced a breathable mesh upper, ideal for those longer races in the heat. The Clifton 5 has kept that same, breathable mesh, but has reduced the number of overlays to optimize breathability and comfort. What is clearly different between the Clifton 4 and 5 is the number of holes in the upper mesh. While I was tying up my Clifton 5 shoes for the first time, I immediately noticed the number of hole cutouts in the upper mesh. I experienced the comfort they brought when logging over 30K in my long runs – I had no pressure points on the dorsum of my foot.

Having worn multiple Clifton models in the past four years, I’m impressed with the improvements made in the durability of the outsole. The areas of the EVA foam exposed to the ground can get chewed up, depending on the type of terrain you are running on. In recent Clifton models, however, especially the Clifton 5, the amount of exposed foam has been reduced by increasing the amount of padded treads. Despite nearly logging 500K on these shoes, the Clifton 5 outsole is in good condition.

The Clifton 5 shoes are listed at $170.00 and weigh 265 grams (men’s size nine).