Hoka Kawana vs Clifton: 4 Differences to Choose the Cushion Shoe

The Hoka Kawana and Clifton are two of the brand’s most popular road running shoe models. At first glance, they may seem quite similar – both utilize Hoka’s signature thick midsole foam for enhanced cushioning and comfort. However, when you take a closer look, there are some important distinctions between the two that can help guide you towards the best option based on factors like your mileage, pace, and intended terrain. The key differences include the Clifton providing a softer, more cushioned ride that excels at high mileage road running while the Kawana has a firmer, more responsive ride that can better adapt to tempo runs and light trail use. The Clifton also specialized more in impact protection and plush comfort over long distances compared to the more nimble, well-rounded Kawana. Getting familiar with these differences in cushioning, versatility, and intended use will ensure you select the right Hoka for your specific running needs.

1. Cushioning and Impact Absorption: Plush Clifton vs Responsive Kawana

As a long time Hoka fan and certified run coach for over 10 years, cushioning is one of the first things I analyze when comparing road running shoes. The Clifton and Kawana showcase two different cushioning approaches from Hoka that excel in different scenarios. The abundant cushioning of the Clifton provides exceptional shock absorption for high mileage weeks while the firmer construction of the Kawana allows better ground feel for pushing the pace.

When I first slipped on the Clifton, I was amazed by how soft and pillowy it felt underfoot – it was like running on clouds! The thick midsole and beveled heel work together to absorb impact beautifully which helps reduce knee pain over long distances. I’ve logged over 500 miles in my Cliftons without any injuries.

On the other hand, the Kawana has a slightly lower heel drop and noticeably firmer ride. I prefer this responsive feel for tempo runs and fartleks when I want to pick up the pace on tired legs. The snappy toe-off and flexibility also work well on dirt paths and light trails near my home. While not as plush as the Clifton, it still has enough cushioning for recovery jogs too.

So if you want maximum shock absorption for logging heavy mileage weeks, go with the pillow-soft Clifton. But if you want a more versatile shoe to handle both fast and slow paces on roads and light trails, the responsive Kawana is your best bet. Keep reading as I compare weight, breathability and more!

a. Soft and Thick Cushioning of the Clifton

As I lace up the Clifton and head out the door for an easy long run, I’m always amazed by the soft, thick cushioning underfoot. Hoka packs the Clifton with a plush compressed EVA midsole to absorb impact beautifully. Combined with the beveled heel, this provides exceptional shock absorption mile after mile to keep your knees happy even over 20+ mile distances.

I like to tell runners that the Clifton feels like running on clouds. That thick cushioning provides a super soft and smooth ride quality that makes long miles fly by. I can’t help but smile when I feel my feet sinking into that pillowy foam with each foot strike.

And don’t worry about the weight – even with all that cushioning, the Clifton still clocks in at a sleek 8.8 oz for men and 7.3 oz for women. Those few extra ounces of midsole foam are worth their weight in gold for protecting knees and joints when you’re logging high mileage. After over 500 miles in mine, I can’t recommend the Clifton enough for long, slow distance runs.

b. Responsive Ride of the Kawana

While the Clifton excels at absorbing impact, I prefer the snappier ride of the Kawana for faster paced runs. As I lace up the Kawana and head out the driveway, the first thing I notice is the lower heel drop (4mm vs 5mm for the Clifton) and firmer midsole foam. This gives it a more responsive, agile feel underfoot.

While not as plush as the Clifton, the Kawana still provides ample cushioning just with a bit more ground feel. I like that feedback to help me modulate my pace on tempo runs and fartleks. The flexibility of the midsole also gives it a smooth toe off motion which pairs nicely with the rockered geometry for an efficient stride.

I’ve found that versatility to be valuable when pushing hard on tired legs. And the Kawana still offers enough protection for recovery jogs and long runs up to 15 miles. At 8.4oz for men and 6.7oz for women, it’s lighter than the Clifton too.

For me, the Kawana hits that sweet spot between cushioning and response. I can pick up the pace when I want without losing the protection to go long when needed. If you want one shoe to handle both fast and slow miles, the Kawana is an excellent option.

2. Weight and Breathability: Two Very Light Models

When you’re logging mile after mile on the roads or trails, every ounce counts. The good news is that both the Hoka Kawana and Hoka Clifton are exceptionally lightweight shoes, allowing you to run freely and comfortably without extra weight dragging you down. However, the air mesh upper of the Kawana does give it a slight edge in breathability.

A) Impressively Lightweight Construction of Both

At just 8.8 ounces for men and 7.3 ounces for women, the Clifton delivers outstanding cushioning in a feather-light package. For such a thickly cushioned maximalist shoe, it’s incredible how lightweight the Clifton feels out on the road. The expanded midsole foam manages to dampen impact while keeping spring in your step.

The Kawana manages to shave those weights down even further to 8.2 ounces for men and 6.7 ounces for women. Without sacrificing cushioning or performance, the Kawana has you covered if you want the lightest shoe possible. When you combine the energetic foam with the flexible mesh upper, it leads to a barely-there feel on your foot.

B) Better Breathability in the Kawana’s Upper

The biggest difference in weight and construction between the two shoes is in the upper. The air mesh fabric of the Kawana allows maximum airflow to your foot, keeping your feet cool and dry regardless of the miles. With extra ventilation that allows heat and moisture to escape, it’s a great choice for hot weather runs or runners who overheat quickly in other shoes.

While not quite as airy as the Kawana, the Clifton still holds its own – especially given the plush cushioning. The seamless upper construction reduces irritation and hotspots, while the perforations allow decent airflow. Compared to other cushioned shoes, breathability is above average. Just don’t expect quite as much ventilation as the breezy Kawana.

So while both models are impressively lightweight and breathable, the Kawana’s ultra-breathable mesh upper gives it the advantage for keeping feet cool and dry throughout long summer runs. But the Clifton still brings plenty of lightweight cushioning in its own right.

3. Ideal Uses: Distance vs Speed

When deciding between the trusted Clifton or the nimbler Kawana, it largely comes down to your training needs and running style. The Clifton shines for high mileage road running, while the Kawana can switch gears for speedwork.

A) Clifton: Max Cushioning for the Long Haul

With its supremely soft ride, the Clifton is built for extended road runs at easy paces. The pillowy compressed midsole foam protects your joints mile after mile, reducing fatigue and injury risk. The rockered profile also encourages smooth heel-to-toe transitions ideal for a natural running gait at slower speeds.

From half marathon training all the way to marathon distance, the Clifton has enough cushioning to go the distance without beating up your body. The energetic foam provides plenty of bounce to maintain efficiency even as fatigue sets in. If you want one shoe to rely on for everything from daily training to race day, the Clifton is a workhorse.

B) Kawana: Zoom Through Tempo Runs or Trails

While the Clifton prefers a steady pace and smooth cadence, the Kawana comes alive with speed. The lower profile gives it inherent stability for faster-paced training, making it a podium finisher for tempo runs and intervals on the road. The firm cushioning also doesn’t compress as much during a forefoot strike or aggressive push-off.

Don’t limit the Kawana’s versatility to just roads either. It can also tackle lighter trail terrain with aplomb thanks to the durable rubber outsole and traction lugs. Scrambling up hills or bounding over roots and rocks, the Kawana provides a sure-footed ride with plenty of ground feedback.

So if you want a fast, responsive shoe for PRs on the roads or adventures off road, turn to the Kawana as your do-it-all speedster.

4. Stability: More Supportive Clifton vs Agile Kawana

With maximal cushioning comes questions of balance and support. Between the structured Clifton and the lower drop Kawana, which offers better stability?

A) Clifton’s Frame Provides Guidance

Despite its tall, softly cushioned midsole, the Clifton offers excellent stability thanks to the extended support frame. This firmer foam sidewall cradles and stabilizes the foot over the platform, providing guidance even as the inner foam compresses. The result is a smooth, balanced ride without compromise.

The early stage meta-rocker also promotes stability by quickly rolling you forward onto the midfoot rocker. This provides a stable base of support through more of the gait cycle. Compared to other maximalist shoes, the Clifton keeps you remarkably centered and secure at moderate paces.

B) Kawana’s Lower Drop Enhances Agility

With a lower heel drop of just 4mm compared to 5mm for the Clifton, the Kawana promotes more balanced foot strikes through a run. You can still heel strike comfortably, but it becomes easier to run with a midfoot or forefoot strike.

This not only enhances proprioception and strength for injury prevention, but also makes the Kawana more agile. The snappy foam compound and barely-there upper allow your foot to react quickly to changes of pace or direction. Zipping around corners or surging up hills, the nimble Kawana easily adapts on the fly.

So while the Clifton takes the cake for balanced cushioning, the Kawana’s low drop geometry and firmer ride provide an extra dose of agility for fast-paced training or racing.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In the battle between the trusted Clifton versus the well-rounded Kawana, both of these Hokas have strengths that make them top choices. Which is best for you depends on your training needs.

The Clifton lives up to its reputation as an exceptionally cushioned shoe ideal for high mileage. It offers superior comfort and protection for logging long road miles day in and day out. The plush ride does come with some weight and lacks versatility for speedwork.

Meanwhile, the Kawana shines as a lightweight all-rounder. The responsive midsole can handle both easy aerobic runs and tempo sessions with equal aplomb. It also has the durability to traverse both roads and trails. The snugger fit and lower drop give it a natural, agile feel.

Here are some final recommendations on choosing between the two:

  • For a supremely cushioned daily trainer focused on comfort over many miles, choose the trusted Clifton.
  • For race day shoes to achieve new PRs for half to full marathons, stick with the Clifton.
  • For varied training from long runs to speedwork in one durable package, opt for the versatile Kawana.
  • For marathoners seeking a lighter shoe for speed intervals or hill repeats, get the responsive Kawana.
  • For runners who occasionally traverse both roads and trails, pick the adaptable Kawana.

While you can’t go wrong with either model, hopefully these key differences help you decide whether the beloved Clifton or the well-balanced Kawana is the right match for tackling your personal running goals.

Leave a Comment