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Review: Hoka One One Clifton 4 || Reliable road trainer, but not characteristically Clifton

The Clifton 4, a firm (by Hoka standards) daily road running shoe that will best fit normal and wide feet.

The Clifton 2 was my first shoe from Hoka One One. I loved it: its plush midsole was wonderful; its last fit my narrow-ish feet; its reinforced upper provided good control, to the degree that I occasionally used it on moderate trails; and its weight was feathery, all things considered. (Read my full review.) But after running 550+ miles in them, they needed replacement.

Review: Hoka One One Clifton 4

Naturally, I looked to the recently released Hoka One One Clifton 4, the fourth (and newest) generation. Hoka describes it as having an “air of refinement” relative to earlier iterations, and states that, “we believe Clifton 4 is the best Clifton yet.”

In some respects, it is. It’s a reliable daily trainer for roads and non-technical trails. Consider that I have laced up mine — which were generously sent by Hoka — for nearly every road session since I received them, now totalling over 100 miles.

But the Clifton 4 is not characteristically Clifton. The midsole is firmer and heavier; the last is wider and shaped differently; and the construction of the upper has changed. It therefore has different optimal users and uses than earlier generations. Existing Clifton fans may not be thrilled by C4, but it will still find an audience.

Key specs

  • Weight: 9.3 oz M’s US 9; 11.3 oz M’s 11.5
  • Stack height: 29 mm/25 mm at heel/toe, respectively
  • Drop: 5 mm
  • Midsole: EVA that is firmer than earlier generations
  • Outsole: Low-profile rubber, only in high-abrasion areas
  • Last: Average and wide feet
  • Upper: Breathable mesh with minimal exoskleton
  • MSRP: $130
  • More product specs

The Clifton 4 seems to fit true to size. My review pair is size 11.5, as were my Clifton 2’s. I am also size 11.5 in Altra, Merrell, Salewa, and Salomon; and size 45.5 in La Sportiva.


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Fit

The Clifton 4 will best fit medium and wide feet. In comparison, the Clifton 3 was designed for medium feet, and the Clifton 2 was snugger, notably in the forefoot.

The shape of the last seems to have changed, too. While the shoe is wider, it seems to fit straighter feet, whereas earlier generations (or at least the Clifton 2) had more curvature, providing more room for the big toe.

This single factor changes the Clifton 4’s core customer. If you love, say, the Altra Instinct or Lone Peak (my review), you should now also consider the Clifton 4. Whereas if you loved earlier Clifton generations or, say, the La Sportiva Bushido (my review), you probably will have to look elsewhere.

Upper

In addition to the wider last, the new upper construction also contributes to the wider-feeling fit. Previous generations were made of breathable mesh and a reinforcing TPU exoskeleton.

The Clifton 4 upper is made of highly breathable mesh, which helps to reduce the buildup of heat and perspiration.

The Clifton 4 upper is less reinforced, which improves foot mobility and air-permeability, but which reduces lateral and fore/aft control. The cumulative effect is noticeable: whereas I felt like the trail-worthiness of the Clifton 2 was limited only by its road-oriented outsole, I keep the Clifton 4 on roads and flat graveled surfaces only.

As with the Speeedgoat, the Clifton 4 features elasticized laces. In theory, this could improve fit and comfort, but I’d prefer standard static laces, which are more secure and more durable, and which retain less water.

Comparison of the Clifton 2 (red) and Clifton 4 uppers. Notice how the Clifton 4 is less reinforced. This improves foot mobility and breathability, but reduces foot control.

Midsole

In my view, the typical Hoka shoe is “marshmellowy” — they’re like pillows for your feet. The squishiness has drawbacks (e.g. lack of sensitivity on technical trails), but it eliminates — or at least greatly minimizes — any sense of “pounding.” In the Speedgoat 2 (read my review), for instance, I can barrel through gravel beds and leap down log staircases with minimal caution.

The Clifton 4 is notably firmer, especially when new. It’s soft enough, but not “Hoka soft.” The change does improve responsiviness (and therefore speed), and probably midsole longevity, too.

Outsole

Perhaps my chief complaint about the Clifton 2 was its outsole, which was stingy on rubber, notably in the push-off zone for the big toe. No surprise, the exposed foam became disproportionately worn in this area, and was the most limiting factor in the shoe’s lifespan. This was fixed for the Clifton 3, and remains fixed for the Clifton 4.

The exposed foam elsewhere on the outsole proved to not be a concern on the Clifton 2. The design is unconventional, but seems to work, and helps reduce the shoe weight.

Outsole of Clifton 2 (right) and Clifton 4, which feature rubber only in high-abrasion areas. The Clifton 2 lacked rubber in one critical spot, below the big toe. That has been fixed for the Clifton 4.

What questions about the Clifton 4 do you have? Or what has been your experience with them?

Learn more about the Clifton 4


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23 Responses to Review: Hoka One One Clifton 4 || Reliable road trainer, but not characteristically Clifton

  1. Chris September 28, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

    I’m hoping it was just a defective pair, but wow, the Clifton 4 ripped up my left instep something fierce. I could tell right away that these were nothing like the 3, which is still my favorite shoe. There was a noticeable “hump” in both insteps. Terrible. After one run, I tried them on again the next day and could barely walk. Returned them, and got a pair of Tracers.

    • Andrew Skurka October 5, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      CINO = Clifton IN Name Only

      • Marianna December 2, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

        YES!! Had the same issue! My feet hurt so bad!

    • Jpage May 3, 2018 at 7:56 am #

      Just got a new pair of Clifton’s. I loved my 3s but the Clifton’s 4s put blisters on my arches. I’ve been running for 20 yrs and have never had a pair of shoes leave blisters on my arches.

  2. AT September 29, 2017 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks for this review! Now that a little time has passed, how are the Clifton 4s wearing? Do you reckon they will last for 500+ miles? I just cruised through the 300 mile mark on mine and suspect they might be starting to wear down…

    • Andrew Skurka October 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

      Not sure yet. I’m at 125+ miles with mine (didn’t do much running in Sept, while recovering from UTMB and guiding some backpacking trips). Some visible outsole wear, but the uppers are like new.

      • AT October 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

        FYI, Hoka customer service says Clifton 4s should last up to 450 miles, maybe more if you put in treadmill time. Mine are definitely dead at 300, and that’s also the mileage at which I’ve heard other friends retiring theirs.

  3. jamie January 29, 2018 at 1:37 pm #

    I loved the shoe at first- but at the 180 mark I started having knee problems. I am a big guy – 6-3 and 245- do you think my size may have contributed to the shoe breaking down much to soon?

    • Andrew Skurka January 29, 2018 at 3:01 pm #

      Most definitely, heavier runners are going to wear out shoes more faster than lighter ones. Simple physics.

      In comparison, I’m 160 lbs and have 350+ miles on these, and I think it’ll probably a 500-mile shoe for me, maybe longer. The outsole is going to be the first to go, not the midsole.

      You might want to look for shoes with “resilient” foam, not just cushioned foam. These foams — like Boost — are polyurethane-based and supposedly have much longer lifespans. In conversations with reps from both Adidas and Sketchers, both commented that the lifespan of the foam has forced the companies to redesign other parts of the shoe in order to keep up better.

      • jamie January 30, 2018 at 12:57 pm #

        Makes sense Andrew. So my store put me in the Bondi 5. This is supposed to be a little stiffer shoe and might last longer for me. the Bondi does not have as much bounce- but is still a soft ride. Strange thing is I put 400 miles on my Brooks Adrenaline 17 before they started breaking down and my knees hurt. But turns out it is a stability shoe and likely the cause of some hip pain since I don’t pronate.

        I am a heavy heel striker, and for the first time yesterday I made myself strike mid foot, for 4 miles. My knees seem to hurt less, not sure if it is the shoe or the mid foot strike that really helped. I have only been back to running the last 6 months, but before I was running 4-6 miles a day 4-5 times a week, and had no knee problems or hip problems.

  4. jamie January 30, 2018 at 11:33 am #

    Makes sense Andrew. So my store put me in the Bondi 5. This is supposed to be a little stiffer shoe and might last longer for me. the Bondi does not have as much bounce- but is still a soft ride. Strange thing is I put 400 miles on my Brooks Adrenaline 17 before they started breaking down and my knees hurt. But turns out it is a stability shoe and likely the cause of some hip pain since I don’t pronate.

    I am a heavy heel striker, and for the first time yesterday I made myself strike mid foot, for 4 miles. My knees seem to hurt less, not sure if it is the shoe or the mid foot strike that really helped. I have only been back to running the last 6 months, but before I was running 4-6 miles a day 4-5 times a week, and had no knee problems or hip problems.

  5. Darren Philip February 13, 2018 at 3:53 am #

    Cliftons have never been the same after the 1, Hoka have slowly made this shoe worse, it is meant to be light and cushioning, instead they have made it heavier and less cushioning, go back to the original design and make it wider, and the upper slightly more durable, nothing else”

  6. Michael Perukangas March 14, 2018 at 6:16 am #

    A Finnish reviewer and the most notable Finnish running magazine warned that this is unsuitable as the only pair of shoes as it passivates the feet muscles. This sounds intelligible to me as the foam pillow is so thick.

    • Andrew Skurka March 14, 2018 at 7:43 am #

      Curious if there is scientific data to support this claim, or if it’s mere speculation. In addition, have negative consequences (e.g. injury) been proven to be a result of this?

  7. Bryon May 2, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

    Andrew…have you ever backpacked in Hoka’s of any model? Thinking about trying that with a 30 lb. pack for 10 mile days. Will I regret it? Your thought on best Hoka for that?

    Met you in Bozeman, Montana.

    • Andrew Skurka May 2, 2018 at 6:16 pm #

      No, I have not. Of the models I have tested, the Challenger ATR would be best. They’d be good for trails, not so good off trails (too high and not a durable enough upper).

      The Speedgoat 2 would be great for trails too if you can tolerate the tight toebox. I’m not even sure that I could, and I have a narrow, low-volume foot.

  8. Mike May 8, 2018 at 8:02 pm #

    I’ve owned Clifton 2 for about 750 miles and just bought Clifton 4 a couple weeks ago. I would agree. Not plush. I bought Hokas for my knees and the 2s have been great. The 4s aren’t helping and actually seem like they are making my legs tired the next day.

    What is the recommended alternative to Clifton 4 (or replacement for my Clifton 2s)?

    Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka May 8, 2018 at 8:10 pm #

      I did not love the Clifton 4 at first either. But I tried to look at them fresh, and found a use for them. The 4 and now the 5 (early samples, out later this year) are my daily reliable trainers. Not fast, but comfortable and reasonably cushioned.

      If you want a perfect replacement for the 2, you might look at the Mach and Cavu. Both are feathery light, and fast. More responsive than the Clifton 2, esp on push off, but still good cush.

      • Mike May 8, 2018 at 8:25 pm #

        Thanks! The Hoka website suggests that both the Mach and Cavu are less plush than Cliftons, but I’m interested in trying them. Thanks again for the reply!

        • Andrew Skurka May 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm #

          Only less push on the toe-off, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think most people like the “landing” cushion, but if it’s a marshmellow on the toe-off too then it feels like it’s sapping energy.

  9. Darren Philip May 9, 2018 at 12:03 am #

    I’ve just bought the Mach and have to say that they are the best Hoka yetbi have run marathons in all the Cliftons and the only good 1 is the original, tried the Challenger, the Arahi, the Stinson and the Mach fly is light supportive, cushioning in the right places and a stable ride, an db allows me accelerate hard as well as protecting my knees, amazing

    • Mike May 9, 2018 at 9:32 am #

      Great! Thanks for the feedback! I’ll take a look at the Machs!

      • Andrew Skurka May 9, 2018 at 9:37 am #

        I have put 400+ miles in the Cavu and are approaching 100 in the Mach. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference the shoes. They fit very similarly and have the same midsole (soft heel, firm midfoot). The uppers are constructed differently, but the shape is similar, with the Cavu perhaps being possibly better for higher-volume feet.

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