An aesthetically-insane, maximalist counter point to barefoot-style running
*images by The Field
Running has experienced a serious surge in popularity of late, and for good reason. A number of recent studies have detailed its myriad benefits, like improved decision making. But best of all, running is cheap and hyper-accessible: you can run anywhere and need nothing but a pair of decent shoes to do so.
But, if you’re an urban dweller like myself, there’s not much terrain to run on except concrete. And for all the benefits of a high-intensity cardiovascular workout, hard surfaces highlight the dark downside of running: it’s brutal on your body. After over 1500 miles of marathon training in the mean skreets of New York City, my knees began to ache. The paranoia of injury set in. And the awards continued to stack for Hoka One One. It was time to finally give the up-and-coming, aesthetically-insane footwear line a try.
Hoka One One (pronounced “O-nay, O-nay”, though around TF HQ we're sticking to "one, one" just because) was founded in 2010 by Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, two Frenchman who previously ran the Salomon design center in Boulder, Colorado. Their initial insight was inspired by the over-sized design concept utilized in things like powder skis and fat bikes--that overall performance is enhanced by providing a larger sweet spot. So they set out to create the equivalent in running shoes, hacking into EVA foam by hand and building hundreds of prototypes before finalizing their first production model. The result was a counterpoint to the minimal, barefoot-style running shoes that have dominated sidewalks worldwide for the last few years, and Hoka One One now leads the charge in a new category of “maximal” running shoes that are designed to provide as much cushioning as possible.
Widely regarded as the crown jewel of the maximal category, The Clifton 2 is the second iteration of Hoka One One’s wildly successful Clifton model. They’re immediately identifiable by their massive “stack height”, the thickness of the Clifton’s compression-molded EVA midsole that has 2.5x the shock-absorbing volume of your typical running shoe. That extra cushioning is also shaped into Hoka’s Meta-Rocker Geometry, which is a curved sole profile meant to ease the transition from heel-strike to toe-off on each stride. And beyond cushioned, the Clifton is also inherently more stable than traditional running shoes thanks to the Active Foot Frame midsole geometry. In the Clifton, rather than sitting on top of the midsole, your foot actually sits within it, yielding extra support and protection against slight pronations.
"Hard surfaces highlight the dark downside of running: it’s brutal on your body"
You’d assume that all this extra “technology” would result in a bulky shoe that’s heavy on the feet, but you’d be wrong. Thanks to exclusive use of ultra-lightweight foams and a no-sew upper, the Clifton 2 weighs in at featherweight 7.7oz (for a men’s size 9). With an unprecedented cushioning-to-weight ratio, the Clifton 2 brings maximal shoes usually reserved for ultra marathons to the starting line of even short distance races.
And most importantly of all: over 100 miles of testing, the Hoka One One laces never came untied during a run. This matters!
The Clifton 2 is a stellar shoe, and I won’t likely find myself running in Nikes again anytime soon. (We additionally tested the Vanquish 2, and found similar performance and benefits, though to save you another 500 words we’ll limit that shoe review to this mention.) But running shoe selection is a highly personal decision, and if you’re thinking about catching a daily runner’s high, get a gait analysis first. That will ensure your maximally-cushioned (or not) miles extend far into the future.