If you’re a runner looking for a highly cushioned daily trainer with a rockered ride, the Clifton 9 will deliver. The Clifton 9 has a high level of stability and feels efficient over long distances.
If you have really wide feet, the Clifton 9 won’t work for you because even the wide version feels narrower than most trainers. If you enjoy a flexible daily trainer with lots of ground feel, the Clifton 9 also won’t work for you because of its high stack height.
When Running Warehouse announced their best selling shoes of 2022, The Clifton was the number 1 selling running shoe in both the men’s and women’s categories. This is impressive considering there have only been 8 versions of the Clifton to date and it goes up against stalwarts like the Pegasus and Wave Rider which have been around for over 25 years.
There are a couple reasons why the Clifton sells so well but the main reason is its thick, chunky midsole which provides deep cushioning. While they aren’t the softest shoes on the market by any means, they “look” very protective and very modern. Recently, Hokas have also been seen on the feet of celebs like Reese Witherspoon and Britney Spears.
I’ve run in the last 3 versions of the Clifton and the shoe has slowly evolved over the years. It used to be a really soft, plush riding daily trainer, good for only slow runs but over the years it became firmer and more versatile- a true daily trainer.
I found the previous version, the Clifton 8 to be an excellent daily workhorse with no major weaknesses. I enjoyed the stiffer forefoot which made it more capable of faster-paced daily runs but it had the prominent bucket seat which poked into my arch (a trademark character of the Clifton franchise).
There was no Clifton update last year and the Clifton 8 was a complete revamp (upper, midsole and outsole) so it’s surprising that this year’s Clifton 9 is also a complete revamp. Notable updates include 3 mm of extra midsole stack height, a tweaked CMEVA midsole and a retooled outsole.
It now weighs 8.7 oz (247 g) for a men’s US 9 which is 0.2 oz (6 g) lighter than its predecessor. It has gone up to $145 which makes it one of the most expensive mid-range, neutral daily trainers on the market.
I tried on 2 versions in the store: the wide and the regular width version. The wide version felt comfortable but I didn’t like how clunky it looked. The regular width version felt comfortable a half size up from my regular size and it looked sleeker- more streamlined so I purchased the regular width.
My first run in the Clifton 9 was a really slow recovery run. I wore medium-thick socks and the upper felt way too tight, especially in the forefoot and toe box. I had to stop to loosen the laces 3 times during that run to try to create more space in the shoe. I regretted not buying the wide version. After that run, I only wore thin socks and the fit was much better but it was still not wide enough.
The last two shoes I tested were the Invincible Run 3 and the Nimbus 25, two very soft max-cushioned shoes so the Clifton 9 felt substantially firmer but I expected this. It felt very similar to how I remember the Clifton 8: very cushioned, smooth with a gentle Meta-Rocker midsole but the Clifton 9 felt softer.
The other noticeable thing for me on that first run was that there wasn’t the prominent bucket seat sensation poking into my arch. This was something that I would always feel in previous Cliftons.
I’m not sure why but Hoka has an obsession with super narrow toe boxes. Even in a half size bigger than my normal size, the Clifton 9 (in the regular width) was so narrow that it gave me a black pinky toenail during my long run in it.
I recommend the wide version if you have normal width feet because the normal width version was even too narrow for my extremely narrow feet. It fits true to size in the wide version.
The tongue has been changed from a semi-gusseted tongue, attached on both sides to one which is attached on only one side. I didn’t notice any tongue slide so I think it’s a good change because it allows for a more relaxed midfoot.
Heel lockdown in the Clifton 9 is excellent, with or without a runner’s knot. The ankle area and heel tab are very well padded so comfort around the rear of the shoe is top-notch. There’s still an elf heel tab which is very 2020.
The upper is made of an engineered knit mesh which doesn’t feel like a knit at all- there is no stretchability so it’s of the utmost importance that you order the right size. Breathability is better than the Clifton 8 due to the knit mesh being thinner.
There are lots of runners who want Hoka to change the Clifton’s midsole foam from EVA to TPU, a supercritical foam or something else which provides more energy return but the reason Hoka uses compression moulded EVA is that it’s incredibly lightweight and it allows them to cram a lot of foam into the Clifton’s midsole while keeping it under 9 oz (255 g) for a men’s standard size.
The new formulation of CMEVA in the midsole of the Clifton 9 has been improved to be softer and lighter however it still doesn’t have much energy return. The midsole has 3 mm of extra stack height but it’s lighter than the previous version at the same time.
The ride of the Clifton 9 is on the softer side. You can expect a softer and squishier ride than other mid-range daily trainers like the Ghost 15, Pegasus 39, Ride 15 and Novablast 3 so if you prefer a firm riding daily trainer, the Clifton 9 is not for you.
I enjoy the Clifton 9 for easy paces slower than 5:30 per kilometre (8:52 per mile). I feel that its soft ride makes it less suited to fast paces unlike the Clifton 8 which could handle faster paces better. The Clifton 9 has more long-distance comfort so it’s better for long runs.
One of the Clifton’s main defining characteristics, apart from its jumbo midsole is its Meta-Rocker geometry. The shoe’s rounded toe and heel create a curved midsole for smoother and faster transitions because the runner does not land flat-footed. The Meta-Rocker makes long runs in the Clifton 9 feel really efficient and energy-saving, as if the shoe is helping you along the way.
Stability in the Clifton 9 is excellent. Not only does it have a very wide base but it also has a midsole rim which cups your foot and guides it through the gait cycle. This neutral trainer should be fine for even mild overpronators due to its high stability level.
The Clifton 8 had a redesigned outsole with diagonal flex grooves in the forefoot instead of lateral flex grooves so the Clifton 8’s forefoot was stiffer than previous Cliftons. The Clifton 9 also has diagonal flex grooves, similar to the Clifton 8; the stiffer forefoot makes the forefoot more snappy and it helps the rocker function more effectively.
The outsole has a decent amount of rubber protection and you can expect similar durability to the Clifton 9. I haven’t noticed significant outsole wear during my testing of the shoe. Outsole grip is average on wet surfaces because the outsole design is flat.
The Clifton 8 was one of the most popular running shoes last year and the Clifton 9 will be one of the most popular this year. The majority of runners want a comfortable running shoe which has a highly cushioned ride and a decent weight; the Clifton 9 delivers all 3 (if you purchase the correct size).
The main difference between the Clifton and other mid-range, neutral daily trainers is that the Clifton looks like it’s a max-cushioned trainer because of its gigantic midsole so it gives you the perception that it’s softer, plusher and more protective than its competitors.
Don’t expect a fun, bouncy ride from the Clifton 9 though because you’ll be disappointed. This trainer was designed to be a safe and predictable daily trainer in the same vein as the Brooks Ghost and the Nike Pegasus.
The Clifton 9 is an improvement over its predecessor and I recommend upgrading if you prefer a softer ride with more cushioning. The poking arch sensation has been dialled down and it isn’t as prominent so it feels more comfortable for flat-footed runners.
The main thing you need to be careful of is its sizing- the regular width has an extremely narrow toe box so most runners will need to get the wide version.
The Clifton 9 is also overpriced. For $5 less, you can get the Hoka Mach 5 (another daily trainer).
Apart from durability, the Mach 5 beats the Clifton 9 in every other aspect: it’s lighter, faster, more energetic and it has a more comfortable fit.