Hoka Clifton 9: Light, Fast, and More Cushioned Than Ever Before

Writer Gabrielle Hondorp standing in the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes during testing.
Gabrielle Hondorp

The Hoka Clifton has become a staple in many runner’s closets, as well as the general population. They’re light, comfortable, and support tired feet, whether you’re running long distances, a beginner runner, or standing at work all day.

The last pair of Cliftons I owned were the 7s which I wore for a half marathon… despite not training in them at all. Something I would call a rookie mistake if I hadn’t known better. After leaving the race with what felt like more blister than foot, I was suspect as to why this was such a popular half marathon shoe. But after retiring them to use as walking shoes, I began to become quite fond of them for more casual wear. 

When I received the Clifton 9, I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as running. I was very wary of ending up with another case of month-long blisters. But all of the issues I had with the previous model — the midsole feeling too soft and muddy after long miles, blistering along the big toe and arch, and pain in the arch from the active footbed — have been eliminated, and the Clifton 9 has redeemed itself in my book. 

Writer Gabrielle Hondorp lacing up her Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes to test them for her review.
Gabrielle Hondorp

How I Tested

I tested the Hoka Clifton 9 over the course of two weeks, taking it out on different types of runs, walks, errands, and daily wear. I made sure to test it on different surfaces including grass, road, sidewalk, track, and treadmill to see how it performed both in feel and grip under different conditions. 

Late spring in Pennsylvania, temperatures ranged from about 65-80°F — pretty temperate, but warm enough to work up a sweat. This allowed me to see how breathable the shoes are once things heat up. 

While I didn’t take these shoes out for a long run, I did wear them for full days of walking to see how they held up overtime. I also wore them to a workout class to get an idea for how they performed with HIIT exercises and lateral movements. 

Specs

Infographic conveying our Hoka Clifton 9 review of the shoe's fit and performance after two weeks of testing.
  • Fit: Hokas are really hit or miss on fit. Initially, these felt snug then on my narrow feet. The Clifton 9 runs slightly wider than the 8, and with a couple of wears, they stretched slightly to accommodate the shape of my foot and no longer felt too snug. If you have a wider foot, however, you may want to opt for a wide width. Hokas also run notoriously long, and the 9s are no different; size down half a size. While Hokas tend to run wide in the heel, the tapered heel of the 9s felt more secure than usual, but I did choose to lace lock them nonetheless to prevent any slippage. 
  • Comfort: I have pretty bony and temperamental feet — thank you pointe shoes — so I generally experience some sort of discomfort during any standing activity. The Clifton 9’s are incredibly comfortable: They have just enough room in the upper that I am supported without slipping around, the midsole is soft but dense and supports the arch without pushing into it, and the lower drop keeps me standing on my midfoot so the pressure is evenly dispersed. Ultimately, while these aren’t my personal favorites for running — I prefer a more responsive feel — they are absolutely my go to for everything else. 
  • Upper Fit Security: Once you snug up these shoes, your foot isn’t going anywhere. The tongue and heel come up higher on the foot than most running shoes which makes them super secure and unlikely to slip off. They do cut down on the sides of the ankle though, which allows for the security without rubbing and irritating the ankle bone. 
  • Upper Comfort: Overall, these are pretty comfy on the feet. They don’t have any seams or overlays that dig into the top of the foot, and the mesh is breathable and regulates temperature well. These shoes don’t have a ton of vertical or horizontal room, so they can be a bit tight if you have a wide or high volume foot. Even though my foot is on the narrower side, I sometimes find them to feel a bit constricting in the midfoot and need to loosen them in the middle of my run or day of wear. 
  • Toe box comfort: The toe box is comfortable, but narrow. Underfoot, there is fantastic cushioning that is super thick and supportive on the ball of the foot, and the midsole flares to give some additional stability. But the upper is just a tad too narrow for most feet.
  • Heel Lock: The Clifton 9 has a flared heel counter, but reviews are mixed on the feature. Despite the undesirable aesthetics to some, this feature does take pressure off of your achilles while still keeping the shoe secure on the foot. It also allows you to slide your foot into the shoe with less resistance and therefore less of a chance of collapsing and damaging the structural integrity of the heel. So while some don’t love the look, it really is an intentional and important aspect of the design. 
  • Cushioning: True to both Hoka and the Clifton model’s reputation, the sheer amount of cushioning is one of the main benefits of this shoe. With the 9, Hoka has made the shoe lighter and added an additional 3mm to the stack height. The midsole foam is still an EVA base, but more responsive than the previous model — something I actively noticed while I both ran and walked in the shoe. Instead of feeling too squishy or too firm — a fault of previous models — the 9 felt cushioned but with a much bouncier feel for better energy return. It is also amply cushioned from heel to toe, so there isn’t an area that feels as if it is lacking or could use more plushness. 
The heel of a Hoka Clifton 9 shoe displaying the brand name.
  • Midsole Stability: The Clifton is a neutral shoe, so it’s not going to offer any motion control. In fact, even though I am a neutral runner, I sometimes feel as if the shoe forces me to overpronate slightly. But the Clifton 9 is a shoe with excellent stability in its width; it flares at the heel and toe to give you a larger, more stable landing surface. It also has an active footbed which means that the foot sits down in the foam slightly, so you feel as if you are being cradled and supported underneath the foot. 
  • Ride Responsiveness: This is definitely the most responsive Clifton yet, but compared to some of the other shoes out there, it isn’t exactly what I’d call a snappy ride. It is excellent for everyday training and recovery runs, or as many wear it, an everyday shoe. But it wouldn’t be my first choice for anything too speedy. 
  • Transition Quality: Another notable feature of the best Hoka shoes, the Clifton has an early stage meta rocker design, so it encourages the foot to roll through from heel-to-toe. This does actually help the shoe feel a bit more natural and responsive, and it decreases shock which is great if you are prone to stress injuries or are hitting high mileage weeks. 
  • Traction: In order to help keep the weight down, the Clifton 9 uses a zonal outsole on the areas of the shoe that need the most grip and receive the most wear. While in many shoes I would find this to be concerning, I have never had an issue with the midsole wearing down where it’s exposed. And the tread on the shoes is actually quite effective, even in wet conditions. 
  • Durability: High-cushion shoes usually take longer to wear through the midsole. This is accurate for previous Cliftons, and seems to hold true with the 9s. The upper is also quite resistant to wear — and I’ve noticed that it is easier to clean than some other mesh options, so getting a lighter color isn’t as much of a risk. 
  • Breathability: This shoe is pretty breathable, but I do feel like it gets a bit warm especially in hot and humid weather. Part of what traps heat in the shoe is the active footbed, or the foam coming up and cradling the outside of the foot. And while this isn’t a huge deal for me, it is something worth noting, especially if you are someone that is prone to sweaty feet or blistering. 
  • Weight: Although this shoe may look a bit bulky, it is impressively lightweight. At only 7.3 ounces, it weighs about as much as some racing shoes (for example, the Nike Alphafly 3 weighs 7 ounces). 
  • Design/Aesthetics: There are a lot of ugly running shoes out there, and, while some would put Hokas in that category, I think the Clifton 9 strikes a balance between fashion and function. It is well thought-out without being overdesigned, and incorporates fun color accents and textures without compromising the feel and performance of the shoe. 
  • Innovation: There wasn’t a ton of change with this shoe from the past couple models, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hoka has kept the innovations to a minimum, keping loyal Clifton runners happy. But they’ve also tweaked the shoe slightly to make it better: an updated midsole foam that’s both plusher and more responsive than past models, and it adapted the active footbed to prevent discomfort in the arch. 
  • Versatility: I do think that the versatility of this shoe is a bit subjective. Since I personally prefer a snappier shoe, I think that it’s a bit too soft for speedwork. But I know many runners that joyfully use this as their do-it-all training shoe. Since it’s so light and has a meta-rocker to help you roll through your feet, it helps you keep a high cadence, and the high cushioning makes it a great fit for long and recovery runs. 
A side profile of the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoe

Design and Aesthetics 

I am a platform girly — give me a thicc, chunky midsole, and I’m happy. So I may be a bit biased when I say that I really like the look of Hokas in general. But even if you don’t love the aesthetics of a thick midsole, the Cliton 9 is really pretty sleek. 

Since it’s such a popular model, there are a ton of colorways to choose from, including your classic black, white, and neutrals, and Hoka’s signature fun and funky colorways. I love that Hoka not only uses interesting color combinations, but the placement on the shoe really varies from one colorway to the next. You could have two Cliftons that look completely different. 

I also appreciate that the materials used on the shoe feel high quality. If I am paying over $120 for a shoe, I expect it not to feel cheap. One of the biggest advancements with this model is the midsole. It’s made with a lighter, bouncier foam than previous models, and they added an additional 3mm to the stack height (thickness) which gives it even more cushion than before. 

Something else I love about this shoe is the amount of cushioning under the forefoot. This is usually the first place to wear out in a shoe for me, but because of the amount of cushioning and lower drop in the Clifton, it takes longer to wear through, and there is less pressure put on that spot on the foam so it compresses less than most shoes would. 

Writer Gabrielle Hondorp running in the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes during testing for her gear review.

Testing Performance

Because my last pair of Cliftons gave me terrible blisters — okay, partially due to my own misguided race-day choices — I was honestly hesitant to run in the Clifton 9s. However, once I put them on — even before running — I noticed some immediate changes to this model:

The most notable was that the inner arch of the shoe is way more comfortable than past models. The Clifton has an active footbed, which means the foot sits a couple centimeters down into the midsole foam. This design works great for some, but others have reported it pressed way too aggressively into the arch, causing arch pain, blistering, or both. This issue seemed independent of overpronating. 

When I put the 9’s on, I noticed immediately that the inner arch wasn’t pressing into my foot, and, besides touching it lightly, I didn’t notice it much at all. This remained true as I began to walk and run in the shoe, and to date, I have had no issue with blistering or discomfort. 

I’ve also found previous Clifton models too soft to run in, feeling muddy as I got tired. The Clifton 9s, however, have a bit more spring to them. Even towards the end of my run, I was rolling through the foot naturally, kept up a good running cadence, and didn’t feel like I had to use excessive energy to move forward. 

I also appreciate the firmness for everyday use as it feels more supportive underfoot when I’m standing for long periods. 

Both Hokas in general and Cliftons specifically tend to run quite narrow. The 9 seems to have widened out a bit. I didn’t have to break them in at all. Even with a thicker sock, my foot fit comfortably side-to-side. Like all Hokas, the right fit was a half-size smaller than my usual running shoe size. The Clifton 9s also seem to fit better in the heel than previous models, as I didn’t feel myself slipping out even without lace locking them. They do come in wide and extra wide, so you can get the additional toe room if you need it. 

A profile view of our writer runnning in the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes during testing.

Over the course of wearing these, I noticed little wear and tear. Despite being white, the upper is pretty resistant to grime, and easy to clean if it does get dirty. The midsole did crease slightly where the toe bends, but this also happened in my 7s, and even after years of wear, the creasing never turned into cracks. 

Perhaps it’s trivial, but one thing I enjoyed most about this shoe was my specific colorway. I loved how they paired a white and light gray upper with a darker outsole. It made it neutral without looking like a hospital shoe — like the all white can — and it paired with all of my summer workout outfits.

If you aren’t a runner and just want the Clifton for casual wear or walking, Hoka offers some suede upper options as well as all terrain — best for trails, grass, and gravel — and Goretex which makes them wind and waterproof. 

Pros and Cons 

There are pros and cons to every shoe, and just because a shoe has some downsides doesn’t mean it’s not still a great shoe, and it doesn’t mean that it can’t be a great fit for you. Here are my personal opinions on what makes this shoe great, and where it could use some improvements. 

Pros: 

  • Very high cushion 
  • Early-stage meta-rocker helps you roll through the foot 
  • Durable upper 
  • Lightweight 

Cons: 

  • Runs a bit narrow 
  • Upper could be more breathable 
A side view of the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes in white.

How the Shoes Stack Up 

It used to be that there were no shoes quite like Hokas. While that’s still somewhat true, many shoe companies have begun to emulate the brand’s roll-through feel and thick midsole — in particular the Brooks Ghost Max and Saucony Guide 17

The Hoka vs Brooks debate goes deep. But the Ghost Max specifically is one of Brook’s newest shoes and it has a similar upper and design to the original Ghost, but with much more cushion. It sits somewhere between a mid- and high- cushion shoe, and because of that, comes at a middling price of $150 — only $5 more than the Clifton. The Ghost Max shoe was designed more for walking than running, and is a bit heavier than the Clifton. It still has a rocker that encourages you to roll through the foot and a flared base for additional stability. I personally have and love the Ghost Max as well. I find that it fills my arch a little better — not offering more support but rather the feeling of gap or no gap — and it offers both more width and vertical room. 

The Saucony Guide 17 is a bit of an unexpected choice, but the most recent update has it looking and feeling more like a Clifton than you’d think. It uses a similar-feeling soft foam with a thick midsole and even has other Clifton-like features like higher sidewalls and a flared base. This is still a stability shoe though, and it uses an asymmetric design — higher instep than outside edge — to prop up the arch and prevent overpronation. 

If you are looking for a stability model that has a similar feel to the Clifton 9, you may prefer the Saucony Guide. If you have wide or high-volume feet, you may prefer the Ghost Max. But if you like that roll-through feel and lightweight foam, stick with the Hoka Clifton 9.  

Writer Gabrielle Hondorp tying the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes during testing, before a run.

What Other Runners Think

I have seen everyone from runners to grandmas to sorority girls wearing and loving this shoe —  and it reflects in the ratings and reviews. With over 4800 reviews on the women’s shoe on the Hoka website, the Clifton received a 4.4/5 star rating overall.

“I love the support this shoe provides!”, wrote one reviewer.  “I am a long distance runner and have had stress fracture issues in the recent past and these are a great shoe coming out of the gate. The front foot cushion/support provides comfort all of the way through my runs and they’re super speedy! I also love the bright colors.”  

Another customer was looking for a walking shoe for Disney and took a chance on the Cliftons. “The sneakers were comfortable, springy, and stayed cool. The Clifton 9 was beyond the right choice and honestly is worth every single penny of the cost,” she said. 

Reddit user weasel_fairy noted the change in the arches just like I had noticed, writing “I have low arches and clifton 8 was stabby in the arch. Clifton 9 is great, just got it as my new daily trainer. Worth it.” 

Some Reddit users mentioned that they thought the Clifton 9 lost some versatility by adding more cushion and opted for something lighter with the Mach 6, but overall, the response was overwhelmingly positive. 

The front view of a pair of white Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes.

Price and Value 

Although the Clifton is considered a mid-cushion shoe, it feels much closer to a high cushion shoe especially due to the sheer amount of foam in the midsole. Since it’s priced at only $145, it’s a great option for those that want a plush feel but don’t want to spend upwards of $160. 

When compared to other mid-cushion shoes, it’s also appropriately priced as most are in the $140 to $145 range. 

Although EVA foam is known to be less durable than some other foams like TPU and PEBA, the amount in this midsole makes it difficult to wear through, giving it an excellent lifespan. Plus, areas of high friction and wear are well protected by the rubber outsole. 

The only real issue I have seen with the wearing of the midsole is with people that drag their heels while they run. Once they wear through the outsole, they end up quickly shaving down the midsole rapidly since it’s so soft. 

The upper however is excellent in the durability department. Unlike many shoes which are a mesh, this upper is knit which makes it thicker and stronger, but it’s made with a non-stretch material that keeps the foot secure and prevents it from stretching out over time. 

Ultimately I think that the Clifton 9 performs above its price range and is definitely worth a buy if it’s the right shoe for you. Everyone that I have ever known to wear this shoe has gotten more than the expected mileage out of it — and often people find that their tread wears out even before all of the cushion is gone. 

Writer Gabrielle Hondorp walking in the Hoka Clifton 9 running shoes during testing.

Final Word: Should You Buy the Hoka Clifton 9? 

The Clifton 9 is one of the most popular and well-liked running shoes currently on the market. If you are looking for a new daily trainer that is capable of handling the high stress and shock absorption of a long run, and light enough for some speed work to improve how fast you run, then the Clifton is a great choice for you. 

Likewise, if you are in a profession where you stand all day, or want a shoe that can keep you comfortable while running errands, this is a great option. 

If you find you want even more cushion however, you can try something like Hoka’s Bondi 8 which is its highest cushion model, or consider the Hoka Arahi 7 if you like the feel of the Clifton but need some more support. 

Buy it: Hoka Clifton 9 Men’s | Women’s

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