Hoka One One Challenger ATR Review

If maximalist running shoes are a narcotic, then the Hoka One One Challenger ATR ($130) is like a gateway drug. A place where previously minimalist trail runners dabble in the possible benefits of having extra protection underfoot, in the implausible hope that they will finish their next long run or ultra race with feet less battered. Anyone who is over 35 can tell you that at some point the old bones just don’t tolerate the pounding like they used to, no matter how fleet footed you are. In my attempts at looking for a fix, I purchased the Challenger to fit a void I’ve been experiencing lately. Namely, the perfect 100-mile shoe.

Now some of you have your favorites, but remember, my hobby is to be obsessive, even to the point of neurosis in this search, so that you don’t have to. Back in February I teased The Competitor Group for naming the Challenger ATR their “Shoe of the Year” award. I replied to their Twitter post with a casual, “C’mon guys, it’s February,” and then wondered if they were on to something. So, what follows is a subjective take on a great trail running shoe.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR

Hoka One One Challenger ATR. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Upper
The Hoka Challenger ATR is based on the popular Clifton model, a 7.8-ounce road shoe with pillowy cushioning equal to that of a far heavier shoe. I’ve always thought of the Clifton as a Saucony Kinvara on steroids, and the cushioning is great for runners who desire a softer-durometer midsole in a lightweight package. This shoe absolutely shattered the Hoka mold and perception, but was really just a stripped-down shoe with great cushioning. The Challenger ATR is the trail version of this shoe, and the upper employs the same lightweight materials. Welded overlays provide a decent amount of structure throughout the upper, covering a fairly beefy mesh. Hoka uses a rubberized toe cap which provides a decent amount of protection, and a very thin tongue that stays in place and provides just enough comfort over the top of the foot.

I have heard from many runners that Hoka has narrowed the construction on the forefoot of their shoes over the past couple of years. Because of this, I was skeptical to try the Challenger ATR, feeling that it would result in pinched digits and a hemmed-in feeling. However, the combination of dual-density mesh and welded-on overlays have broken in well over the last 300 miles, allowing plenty of accommodation for my relatively wide forefoot. Understand, its not that my forefoot is exceedingly wide, but when I’m looking for a 100-mile shoe I know that I need to account for swelling late in the race. This is an upper that will provide some give and stretch over time, and it has molded to my foot a bit with additional wear.

I have been able to take the Challenger ATR through quite a bit of water crossings recently, and I will say that it drains fairly well. The midsole doesn’t seem to absorb any water but the mesh in the upper did hold onto more moisture than I expected, and my feet would still be wet over an hour after submerging them in a water crossing.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR - lateral upper

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR lateral upper.

Midsole
With 33 millimeters of stack height, the Challenger ATR appears to be very much a traditional Hoka shoe. However, at under 9 ounces the Challenger feels nimble and responsive during early runs. As with most Hoka shoes, the foot sits down in the EVA midsole alleviating the fears of rolled ankles or instability. While I found myself being more careful on steep, technical descents, the amount of cushioning allowed me to bomb anything cruiser or smooth. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I didn’t have any more difficulty on technical terrain in the Challenger as I normally would in a lower-profile shoe.

The Challenger ATR features a huge hunk of lightweight midsole which is 33% lighter than traditional EVA, and initially this shoe offers pillowy cushioning, especially given the sub-9-ounce weight. However, after the 250-mile mark I noticed a great deal of compression in the midsole foam which lead to sore feet over the 25-mile mark in races and long runs. I put the Challenger through multiple 20-mile runs when I first bought the shoe, but after experiencing the compounded compression during a 50k several weeks ago, I realized that this was not a shoe I would be racing 100 miles in. Simply put, the Challenger seems to be very resilient for about 200 miles, and then the EVA compressed and the shoe lost its plush feeling underfoot. While some runners may not be bothered by this change, I found that I was longing for the out-of-the-box feel and dropping another $130 was not a welcomed alternative.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR - medial upper

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR medial upper.

Outsole
Surprisingly, this fairly low-profile outsole rubber provided excellent traction in all but the muckiest of surfaces. Durable carbon rubber is glued on high-wear areas of the outsole in the forefoot and heel, while the midfoot area of the outsole remains as soft and unprotected EVA foam. While it did take a beating, this uncovered EVA does provide excellent surface-area traction and the larger footprint of the Hokas works great on surfaces such as sand, snow, and sometimes mud. During the aforementioned 50k race, I encountered loads of clay-riddled mud, which turned my Hokas in moon boots. But after running through these sections I could feel the clay and mud being shed from the bottoms of the shoes and the low profile of the lugs aids in this process.

I have read reviews that some runners have experienced issues with the glued-on carbon rubber sections on the outsole. After 300 rugged miles, my Challengers don’t shoe any weak points or corners coming up on the outsole, and I’m positive that I could get 500 miles out of this shoe.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR - outsole

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR outsole.

Overall Impressions
By all accounts the Challenger ATR is a great trail shoe. Whether or not the wearer can tolerate the midsole compression that I experienced after about 250 miles will be purely a subjective experience. Runners who may initially be turned off by the softer-durometer feel out of the box might find that the longer they run in the Challenger, and the more the midsole compresses, the more enjoyment and firm underfoot feel they derive from the shoe. Conversely, for runners such as myself who enjoy that amazingly cushy ride, I’m not sure what Hoka could do to increase the resilience of this EVA. After all, even though most would consider this a maximal shoe, the construction is very minimal and Hoka doesn’t employ anything unnecessary that would add weight.

I hope that this review inspires a lively debate in the comments section regarding other’s experiences with the Challenger ATR. While I won’t be toeing the line at a 100 miler in this shoe, I am very much looking forward to future revisions and improvements as Hoka One One definitely has a winner with this design.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you run in the Hoka One One Challenger ATR? What are your overall impressions of the shoe?
  • What parts about it do you like the most and what would you like to see improved?
Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar’s Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 18 comments

  1. TrailduProf

    I recently bought a pair of these after being disappointed in trying out Altra Olympus. I already had a pair of Stinson's and like the overall feel of Hoka's. I was truly amazed at the minimal weight of the Challenger's while keeping the cushion feel. I only have 5-6 runs in these (including a wet and muddy mountain run) and they hold up great. Time will tell in regards to how the various parts hold up.
    My dislikes are the thin tongue and the thin insoles. The insoles are more of a personal preference. I need more arch support and use superfeet inserts (they fit great!). The tongue is the one area I would like to see an update. It would be nice to have the padded tongue of the Clifton 2 and possibly a bit more padding in the Achilles area.
    If these last 500+ miles, I will be sticking with them.

  2. ThaMessenjah

    I wore the Challengers for 100k of a 100 miler and LOVED them. I was on gravel road the entire time and they climbed really well. Great grip on the ups and the downs. The insoles aren't great. I took them out. The only reason I took them off at 100k was because I wanted a little more cush from the Stinson Lites for the final 38. They are great shoes!!!

  3. mattyilo

    I purchased these and returned them. I felt that the minimal upper on top of the large platform did not keep your foot in place on technical trails. The paint also came off of the outer parts of the sole within 2 runs (maybe it was a defective pair). I like Hoka's I run on road with Bondis but I definitely do not recommend these shoes.

  4. @runwillt

    I'm on my 2nd pair of Challengers and they are my go-to shoe for most of my daily runs. As Tom mentioned, I was surprised how much compression took place during the 300 miles of the first pair. There was at least 5mm of compression between the old and new pair. It's a steep price to pay for only 250 miles, but in my book they are worth it. The upper stayed together for all 300 miles of the first pair and I had some lugs starting to come up, but I tend to spend most of my miles on very technical trails. I like Tom can't get more than 20 miles out of the shoe in an outing or I will start to feel some metatarsal pain, so I have to stick to the Mafate Speed for longer than 20 miles. Curious how the Speedgoat will fill to this.

  5. D_Landry

    I like the Challengers a lot! However, after just 115 miles, there is a small tear in the upper by the toes, which I'm sure debris is now going to get in through. I think I will patch it with some shoe goo and keep on running for another 100 miles or so before purchasing another pair. So, the point is, I will be buying another pair. Really great, comfortable shoe.

  6. @sockgeek

    Added the padded tongue from the Clifton 2 and firm up the overlays to keep the foot more stable on really uneven terrain and you'll have one heck of a great shoe.

  7. cmalcolm

    I really love these shoes. I recently raced a trail marathon in them, but do feel like any shoe they have their own limitations. These are an all-terrain shoe, but not an aggressive trail shoe. Buffed out smooth single track, dirt roads, town trails this is your shoe. Technical, loose, rocky terrain not so much. At just around 200 miles the glued on pieces of outsole were ripping off in multiple places. I was lucky the local running store replaced them for unusual wear.

  8. steve_gh

    I have been a long time Hoka user – due to old injuries I basically can't run in anything else. I typically run 2 or 3 ultras a year, plus training year round.

    For comfort, fit, grip etc, these are the best Hokas ever. Utterly awesome. Magnificent.

    Most of my serious running is in the Alps, and they are stupendous on rocky alpine trails, woodland trails full of roots, snowfields, wet rock, the lot. They are light and comfortable, and despite the fat sole, the pro-perception and feel of the terrain is excellent.

    The one issue I have is that Hoka clearly have intermittent issues with build quality, particularly around sole construction. I had an earlier pair (Mafate 2 IIRC) had a sole partially detach during a race, and my Challenger ATR's suffered massive sole problems after a total of 70km use – half way through the Mt Blanc 80km! The front half of the right sole detached from the upper, and the carbon rubber patches on both soles were detaching. Thankfully I still managed to finish!

    I returned them to the shop – who were horrified, and have got me a replacement pair (so far so good, but today was the first day out).

    If Hoka can get their sole gluing quality issues sorted, this shoe will be the one!

    1. steve_gh

      Update: I have just taken my replacement pair of shoes back to the shop. Once again, the soles have started coming away from the upper, and the sole inserts have started coming away too. This is after 80km or so of alpine trail running.

      1. Netta Pressman

        same issue for me. the sole came off after 250 miles. (in my case non rugged trail runs) not sure I can afford to replace this shoe every 2.5 months

  9. Walpurgis Hodge

    I find the Challenger a great compromise between the more grippy Rapa Nui and the softer Stinson or even Bondi models. I just ran the 100km CCC in dry, alpine conditions, after having already put some 600km into my pair, and there were absolutely no issues. Comfortable, never a slip on the terrain descents and sufficiently wide in the toe box to accommodate my wide feet. The only two points I note are the tendency for the uppers to split on the width of the shoes – here the fabric is starting to tear – and the need to buy a bigger size than a normally-marked shoe. I use Hoka size 47 for my 44 sized feet. Hoka OneOne should inform buyers to take a few sizes up when buying, at the risk of black toenails. All in all, really great shoes.

  10. glwage

    Love the Hoka One One Challenger but the insoles are terrible. On steep uphills the insoles slide back and seem to be impossible to keep in place. Anybody have a replacement suggestion?

  11. Tony Holt

    I loved my Hoka challengers in every respect part form the durability of the sole, I had worn them through after 300 miles and would expect to get nearly double this. In contrast my previous shoes from Mizuno had hardly shown any signs of wear after 300.

    Is this a common issue?

    It is the only thing putting me off getting another pair.

    1. Netta Pressman

      I am having the same issue after 250 miles but I’ve seen a comment here about the sole coming off after only 80k. looks like it is a common problem

  12. Papagayo

    These are by far the most comfortable shoes I have ever hiked in. Have done th AT in boots and many miles in light trail shoes. They fit wide fore foot great. Naturally they do not last as long as hikinig shoes, but I have well over 150 miles on back country hiking in Big Bend. Never had hot spots.

  13. Ann McGowan

    So disappointed in my Hoka one one Challenger ATR 3, wonderful at first then after a couple weeks the rough upper inside area where the tongue is attached rubs on upper foot and causes much irritation, pressure and pain. At $130 and the reputation of the shoe I sure expected more, I’m absolutely going to return them. Such a waste of time, have to start all over and find a decent shoe, any suggestions?

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