The Clifton: dancing on minimalism’s grave.
Dan Empfield is probably not a name known to most runners, but for triathlete’s the guy is Gandalf. He pioneered tri-specific wetsuits, tri-specific bikes, and since the first appearance of endurance running brand Hoka One One, he has been a leading light in immediately understanding the shoes’ significance and design elements.
His writeup of the original Bondi in early 2011 at Slowtwitch is still one of the best articles for anybody new to the brand wanting to understand both the key concepts of that particular shoe, and of all Hoka design innovation across the range.
Empfield’s latest writeup is of the new wunderkind from Hoka, the Clifton. The innovators behind Hoka brought their notion of a super light but super cushioned shoe to market at a time when minimalism meant an awkward and ultimately ineffective way to run should be achieved by removing almost all underfoot value from running shoes.
Maximalism, though, as nurtured by Hoka’s founders Jean-Luc Diard and Nicolas Mermoud has inherently been minimal in the manner of Zen. The structures of the foot are protected, not interfered with, structure under the foot is limited but well thought out, and while it seems the shoe has a real nothingness to it, that nothingness is everything.
So now that minimal footwear as an exercise in aversion therapy for runners has either died or gone back to the gym where it always belonged, it’s time for a better kind of approach to minimalism. The Clifton is an insanely light shoe. It just doesn’t make sense how little the Clifton weighs. Don’t believe me? Get to a shop and try them for yourself.
And pull up this article from Empfield on the way and read for yourself from an athlete who has already worked it out for themself. He places the Clifton in the Hoka context of the Bondi and the Conquest, in the athlete’s context of training and racing, running and triathlon, and in the gram counters context of racing flats and performance.
Whether it would work for you as an everyday training shoe depends on how old, heavy, imperfect and broken down you are – if you’re Brandon Marsh it might be your everyday trainer; for me, I need the Bondi’s support in my everyday shoe, the Clifton won’t do beyond racing and very selective high performance training efforts. I’ll attempt here to quantify what you get, and what you have to give up to get what you get.