Hoka ONE ONE Clayton 2 Review

   We have another review today from the great Dr. Nathaniel S Kollias DVM, MPH.  Dr. Kollias was kind enough to provide a review on the HOKA Clayton 2.  Read on to find out his thoughts.
History of HOKA ONE ONE:
Anyone who has read my reviews before knows that I like to do my homework on shoe brands.  I feel this is important as it gives one an insight into the philosophy, design, and people involved in creating the shoes.  So here we are with another review; this time on a shoe from the company that put maximalism on the map – HOKA ONE ONE.  
You may or may not know, but HOKA was founded in 2009 by two Frenchmen, Nicolas Mermoud and Jean-Luc Diard, who both formerly worked for Salomon (some of my personal favorite trail shoes!).  The company name comes from the Maori language and means “flying over the earth,” which is fitting for these gargantuan shoe design of maximal cushion from the ground.  (Random fact, but the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand.  This population of people are closely related to the people of the Cook Islands Māori, Tuamotuan, and Tahiti).  The company first made its entry into the running world via ultra marathons as a way to provide cushioning and a smooth ride over those long events.  The brand was purchased by Deckers Outdoor in April 2013, and since then has blossomed into becoming a dominant shoe brand in America.  The maximalist movement like the minimalist movement, have both peaked, but both movements have contributed greatly to shaping the new technologies we are seeing with running shoes.  I for one am always in favor of crazy ideas in running shoes, because it pushes the envelope and gives me (and other runners) an excuse to try to new shoes and makes us better runners.  Now let’s jump into this review of one of HOKA’s newest releases, the Clayton 2.
Holy moon shoes batman!  Well, that’s what I think when I see HOKA’s, but the Clayton is one of HOKA’s newer shoes that have a more “traditional” stack height.  The shoe on first look has a very flash design and is marketed as a go-fast shoe for uptempo training and racing long distances.  This shoe was first introduced to the masses last spring 2016 with much fanfare, BUT there was one small issue…. the arch of death, the foot shredder, the blister machine, and many other names to describe the widespread complaint from people who wore/tried this shoe (I was one of them, but had to return do to my feet being torn up).  So, does version 2 correct this? How does it perform?  Let’s get to it!

Image via runningwarehouse.com
Flashy is the first adjective that comes to mind when looking at the Clayton 2.  All the colorways available for this shoe will garner attention when you are out running.  I like the pattern design on the upper as it gives the shoe a slimming look despite the beefiness (it is a HOKA after all).  The shoe has the classic rocker profile, but appears to be a bit more subtle compared to the other offerings from HOKA such as the Clifton 3 or ATR.  To me this is a good thing as it gives a less moon shoe appearance.  Overall, not a bad looking shoe.
(thanks to Running Warehouse®)
Heel to Toe Drop – 28mm heel, 24mm forefoot
Weight – 7.9oz men’s size 9, 7.2oz women’s size 8
Price – $150
Colorways – MENS: Black/White/Citrus, Blue/Green/Black, Blue/Orange. WOMENS: LE Osielle Black and White version, Blue/Fuschia, Fuschia/Black/Blue, White/Acid
Image via runningwarehouse.com
Fit and Upper:
Before I write anything I will say this – NO MORE BLISTER ISSUES!  HOKA ONE ONE listened and placed a more substantial sock liner and readjusted the design of the upper.  Now that we have cleared the air on that….
One of the unique design aspects of this shoe is that the foot sits down within the midsole to a degree (Editor's Note: This is called the Active Foot Frame).  I liken it to sitting in a sports car, where you are in a more reclined position and closer to the ground then say in a sedan or SUV.  This is precisely what HOKA was aiming for with having the foot sit lower into the midsole with the sidewalls coming up alongside the foot and cradling it around the heel and midfoot region.  (Editor's Note: As Dr. Kolias pointed out, the foot sits lower in the midsole. The idea is to supposedly create stability via the side walls for a variety of foot types).
Looking at this picture above you can somewhat appreciate how the foot sits lower within the shoe and how the upper and midsole comes up alongside the shoe.  I know, not the best photograph, but hopefully the description I gave aids with this image.
The result of this design equated to me having pain on the middle top side of my feet toward the angle region.  This pain was a burning sensation and would start at about 1-2 miles into a run and would immediately disappear if I removed the shoes.  I also noticed that the material that sits right on top of the foot is very stiff and non-compliant.  Furthermore, the midfoot area is very voluminous and the heel area doesn’t secure the rear aspect of my foot. I could feel the rear half of my feet lifting slightly in the shoes every time I took a step.  My theory is that the combination of that stiffness, my foot riding low within the shoe, and having narrow feet equates to my foot rubbing the top of the shoe and lead to me having this burning pain.  If I had a higher volume foot maybe this wouldn’t be an issue (Notice from my images how much I had to crank the laces).  I also had this very same issue with the HOKA Clifton 2’s, but not in the Clayton v1s (but only wore them on 2 runs due to the blister machines that those shoes were).  Speaking of the laces, they are ridiculously long and are of the stretchy variety.  So just keep that in mind as well.  The fabric of the upper overall has changed little from version 1, with subtle tweaks increased padding in the heel area, increased toe box width and increased flexibility in the material over the toes.
You can see how much I had to crank the laces to prevent my foot from slipping.
Ride and Midsole:
The midsole is made up of HOKA’s Pro2Lite, which is designed to be softer in the heel and firmer in the forefoot with an early stage meta-rocker geometry.  The outsole is full contact and is made up of HOKA’s RMAT material, which is supposedly very responsive, and covers the entire outsole.  The midsole itself is surprisingly flexible for such as meaty shoe.  Granted, I wouldn’t consider this a highly flexible shoe, just much more flexible then one would expect with a maximalist design. When walking around in them I had a sensation that my foot was falling forward.  When I ran in these, they felt a bit awkward and clunky.  It’s as if my heel is hitting prematurely and my feet feel like they are being forced into a different type of gait pattern.  As you can notice on the photograph below, the heel is quite substantial.  Yet this shoe is built on a meta-rocker design, but I will let Matt address that and maybe his input into why the shoe feels awkward for my running style…..

After pondering the question of why some individuals like the meta-rocker while others do not, due to some recent patient cases I may have a theory on this. There are different lower extremity "strategies" that can be utilized for balance or propulsion. Wherever the most joint torque or muscular activation occurs, that would be that individual's personal joint strategy. Optimally the ankle, knee and hip would all be utilized together, but my experience has begun to teach me that most people tend to rely on one. I can usually pick this up pretty quick with a simple squat test. Generally when I see someone squat and they utilize their quadriceps extensively via excessive sagittal plane knee translation, that is called a knee strategy. That individual for whatever reason tends to use their quadriceps and hamstrings first when they move. Other individuals may sit their rear ends back and you may see far more bend at the hip than at the knee. These individuals are using a hip strategy and they tend to utilize their hip musculature first during movements. That is just an example with the squat test I use as a quick screen. With running and walking, ankle strategies become much more common. Those individuals who tend to have limited hip and knee movement and power themselves forward mostly with their calves tend to be those who mostly use an ankle strategy. Other signs may be those who have sore calves all the time or a history of achilles, posterior/anterior tibial or fibular muscle or tendon injuries. These individuals again rely heavily on their plantarflexors (calves, posterior tibialis and peroneus longus) to get them forward.

Terminal Stance (Foot with Saucony Type A/Green shoe). Greatest engagement of calf muscles during gait. An excessive forefoot rocker rolls you forward with less input from the calves needed. Normally the calves must power you over the forefoot rocker.

The meta-rocker shape of HOKA shoes may not feel good for these individuals who utilize a majority ankle strategy because the excessive toe spring/rocker in the front acts as an artificial forefoot rocker. I have discussed previously the three natural rockers of the foot (heel, ankle and forefoot) that serve to make the foot more energy efficient by assisting with rolling the foot and maintaining forward momentum. The calves act in propulsion during the midstance to terminal stance phases of gait and power the foot over the metatarsophalangeal joints. What keeps this power in line is the plantarfascia and the toe flexors acting acting eccentrically to not let the toes be smashed into dorsiflexion. When you take this out with an artifical forefoot rocker, it disconnects this a bit by artificially creating MTP dorsiflexion and potentially rolling over these joints at a different rate than the calves with normally create that power. So for those individuals who rely heavily on their ankles and feet for propulsion, this basically shakes them out of their norm. It is similar to telling someone to change their footstrike. Your body is used to a certain timing of muscle activity. When something changes that dramatically, things get thrown off. What usually is a normal motion now feels awkward because it takes time for the body to adapt and learn the new motor and muscle firing patterns. So perhaps I should say this design may feel more awkward initially for those who tend to utilize an ankle strategy. I personally do not think this is a bad thing as this design does tend to reduce load (testimonally) on my patients' calf muscles and helps force them to utilize their hips and knees more if they adapt properly (emphasis on "if"). So it can force individuals to run a bit different, which is almost like cross training in a way due to forcing a different movement pattern. A little variety in training is a good thing.
The heel rocker aspect of the meta-rocker I have discussed before and again I have no issue with as that is the exact same set up as the one in the calcaneus. The forefoot rocker aspect of the meta rocker depends on the person. I would much rather have good flexibility in the forefoot for most runners as that better engages the natural set up of force and moment transfer via the plantarfascia, calves and other tissue in the foot. However, as I have mentioned previously, for those who lack motion in their MTP or ankle joints, the meta-rocker will serve you well by helping you replace the lost natural rockers. So like any aspect of a shoe, you just have to know what works for you and what doesn't. Some people like a ton of toe spring because they want to be rolled forward during late stance phase. Others do not as it may feel like they have less control over propulsion. Some people like very wide soles because it gives them a sense of more stability. Others may like narrower soles because they need more room to pronate and attenuate shock. You have to find what aspects of a shoe work for you and then seek them out. There is no one size fits all for runners or people in general. There will never be a shoe that everyone likes. Someone will always have some biomechanical issue that doesn't work well with a shoe. That is why when people ask me what is the best running shoe, I will always answer "It depends on you and your individual biomechanics!" -Dr. Matthew Klein, PT, DPT

Not the thick midsole and minimal structure of the heel.
Despite the weirdness underfoot, the RMAT outsole material is rather responsive and rides firm. The extra wide, full contact, outsole shape provides plenty of stability against lateral movement (Editor's Note: This is not a stability shoe but a lightweight neutral shoe).  The Pro2Lite is an interesting concept for having the heel softer and forefoot firmer, but is applied appropriately in this shoe. As the forefoot does feel firmer, it feels like it aids in proprioceptive feedback for the forefoot despite the max cushioning presented underfoot.
The thick Pro2Lite midsole and bouncy full contact RMAT should provide a decent amount of longevity for the midsole/outsole.  I have read other reviews from HOKA wearers that the RMAT is very durable material and holds not only its shape, but ride characteristics over time.  If you are a featherweight runner and nimble on your feet, you could probably get around 600 miles on these.  The upper is on the flimsy side, but should hold up as long as you don’t run on trails with these.

One can appreciate the very wide, full contact, RMAT outsole.
Areas for Improvement:
This is hard to address, as it could very well be that a meta rocker running shoe will not work with my biomechanics.  Yet, I feel that HOKA could make the upper softer and make the lace eyelets further apart to help disperse the pressure on top of the foot. Also get rid of the stretchy laces and make them shorter.  For those who enjoy running in this style of shoe, you will be happy with overall quality.
  The Clayton v2 is what the Clayton v1 should have been, as the blisters in the arch area dampened this shoe model and the HOKA company.  This miss on the Clayton’s maiden voyage is reminiscent of New Balances first Fresh Foam shoe, which resulted in a shoe with mediocre reviews and didn’t match what was advertised.  Then the following year New Balance released the Zante and changed New Balances fortunes.  Overall, this is a shoe that will work for you if you have run/do run in meta rocker styled running shoes or enjoy maximal cushioning.  This shoe did not work for me and I continue to gravitate to full contact, lower riding, light weight racer/trainers.  This shoe is one I highly recommend trying on before making a purchase.  Finally, don’t forget to leave comments/questions below and continue to Tack On (or so Matt says).

These opinions are my own, these were a personal purchase, and I received no monetary compensation for this review.  -Dr. Kolias, DVM, MPH

Editors Note:  As always, the views presented on this blog belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts).  My blog should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking professional medical care.  If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist or medical professional.

Currently Dr. Kollias has well over 50 miles on his current pair of Hoka Clayton 2's.  We put at least 50-75 miles on trainers and 25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them.  If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Thanks for reading and don't forget to tack on (as Dr. Kollias already mentioned)!

-Dr. Klein, PT, DPT and Dr. Kollias, DVM, MPH