Hoka One One now has four lightweight shoes in their line-up: Tracer, Clayton, Clifton 2 & Odyssey. While they may seem similar in some respects, there are subtle and major differences.
For starters, the Clifton 2 and Odyssey are built as very similar shoes. Both shoes use essentially the same midsole, with only slight cosmetic differences. However, the outsole rubber/EVA configurations are different between the two shoes. The Odyssey has more rubber outsole coverage than the Clifton 2. As a result, the Odyssey feels a touch firmer than the Clifton 2. It’s still on the soft side, but seems to have a little less give underfoot than the extremely soft Clifton 2. The fit is nearly identical between the two shoes, as is breathability in the upper.
Moving onto the Clayton and Tracer, the differences are much greater. The Tracer is the first Hoka shoe to be built without an Active Foot Frame. The Active Foot Frame is a design feature in which the midsole material wraps up above where the foot sits and thus creates a “cup” that the foot sits in. So, in essence, the foot is being cradled by the midsole, which adds inherent stability to Hoka shoes using an Active Foot Frame. Another big difference with the Tracer is the base of the shoe is not nearly as wide as the base of other Hoka models, including the Clayton. Since the Tracer has a lower stack height than other Hoka shoes, it was not necessary to incorporate the stability features of a wide base and Active Foot Frame.
So what makes the Tracer a true Hoka shoe? It’s the cushioning-to-weight ratio. Hoka has always been about covering a given distance as fast as possible. What many people don’t know is the distances Hoka shoes were initially designed for were ultra marathon distances, like 100-milers and 100k races over varied terrain and gradients. When it comes to the Tracer, the race distance is the marathon.
So like all Hoka shoes, the Tracer delivers a great amount of cushioning material relative to its weight. The Tracer is more than a half ounce lighter than the popular adidas Adios and New Balance 1400 v4 marathon racing flats, but is 5mm thicker in the forefoot than either of those shoes. However, the Tracer has a 4mm heel-toe offset compared to the 10mm offset Adios and 1400. This means the Tracer is best suited for forefoot and midfoot strikers. A low heel-toe offset is a common theme through all Hoka shoes and it makes sense that the Tracer is also built this way.
Since the Tracer is really intended as a racing shoe, the fit is quite snug. The narrow fit keeps you connected to the shoe, so the foot stays secure when rounding corners in a race course. And while the name Tracer is a combination of the words trainer and racer, the shoe is mostly a racer, just like its name is 5/6 “racer”.
With the Tracer, Hoka has introduced a new construction concept called Pro2Lite. The design has a softer heel that blends into a firmer forefoot. This results in a much firmer feel for forefoot and midfoot strikers than that found in the much softer Clifton 2 and Odyssey. If you are a rear midfoot striker the shoe feels semi-soft, but not as soft as the Odyssey. Regardless of footstrike, the forefoot firmness is great for fast propulsion.
Moving on to the Clayton, we find elements of both the Tracer and Clifton/Odyssey. Like the Tracer, the Clayton also uses the Pro2Lite design concept and thus feels soft then firm, from heel to forefoot. At just around one quarter ounce heavier, it would seem the Clayton could be used just like the Tracer. But there are differences that make the Clayton better suited to training, albeit uptempo training.
For starters, the Clayton sits higher off the ground than the Tracer. The Clayton has the same forefoot stack height as the Clifton/Odyssey. Offsets are nearly identical as well, with the Clayton at 4mm and the Clifton/Odyssey at 5mm. And like the Clifton/Odyssey (and most other Hoka shoes) the Clayton uses an Active Foot Frame and wide base for inherent stability. However, because of the Pro2Lite, the Clayton has a firmer feel in the forefoot.
In conjunction with the Pro2Lite design, the Clayton has an RMAT sole. The RMAT has more rebound than the EVA/rubber sole combination of the Clifton/Odyssey. Also, the forefoot matrix pattern of the RMAT enhances the dynamic aspect of the material. So the Clayton feels more lively underfoot, and with the Pro2Lite design, it has more propulsion at toe-off than the Clifton/Odyssey. On the other hand, the Clifton 2 and Odyssey maintain their respective underfoot feeling no matter where you land and throughout the entire time the shoe is on the ground. Compared to the Tracer, the Clayton is more relaxed. Overall, the Tracer feels taut like it has been wound up and ready to pounce. The Clayton is 4mm thicker than the Tracer, the RMAT has more give than the thin rubber of the Tracer, and the result is the shoe is more compliant under foot than the Tracer. This makes the ride better suited for tempo runs than pure speed.
The fit of the Clayton is much more accommodating than the tight fitting Tracer, making it suitable for faster efforts. In fact, I argue the Clayton is the best fitting Hoka shoe to date. The midfoot fit is a true medium volume, which means it fits a broad range of foot shapes. Older Hoka shoes had really high volume midfoots. However, many Hoka models have moved to this type of fit. Where the fit of the Clayton shines is the toebox. It’s more open (rounded) than the Clifton 2 and Odyssey but it’s not sloppy like some shoes. There is plenty of room for toe splay and the medium-low height feels just right.
In summary, the Clifton 2 is the softest feeling of the bunch followed closely by the Odyssey. And no matter where you strike the ground, the Clifton 2 and Odyssey will feel consistent underneath the foot. The Tracer and the Clayton have softer heels and firmer forefoots. The Tracer is the lightest, closest-to-the-ground, snuggest-fitting, firmest and fastest shoe. And the Clayton sits between the Odyssey and the Tracer, but leans closer toward the Tracer.
If you owned all four models, here would be the recommend use: Clifton 2 – recovery days. Odyssey – daily training. Clayton – tempo runs, fartlek. Tracer – long races and intervals.
If you only want to own one pair of shoes, you should change your wants (smiley face). But here are some additional recommendations. If you’re all about soft, then it’s all about the Clifton 2. If you want a versatile racing shoe that could do double duty as a trainer for an efficient runner, get the Tracer. If you want just one shoe for a broad variety of paces, get the Clayton.