Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 Review

Running-shoe companies can have the tendency of overcompensating for design flaws on earlier versions of an almost-perfect shoe. I can think of several occasions where a great model was ruined by over engineering or complete design overhauls, which alienate the shoe’s original market. It’s important to understand some of the forces behind shoe design, especially the fact that production schedules are much further down the road than what I’d ever anticipated. For instance, I was a wear tester in the past for a major running-shoe brand and I would often get a model to test three months before it would hit the market. I found this fascinating because my feedback did nothing to change the current model and could only be beneficial to future models. I was always left wondering, “Who tested this first, and why did they think this was a good idea?”

We’ve seen some trail running shoes become barely changing standards over the years, including the Brooks Cascadia, Montrail Mountain Masochist, Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra, and the now-extinct Pearl Izumi Trail N2. The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 ($130) seems primed to join the pantheon of trail running shoe mainstays, which have stayed true to their original design intent and purpose. The original Challenger ATR design featured a stripped-down and airy upper on a very well cushioned, soft-durometer midsole, at under 10 ounces. While this was a highly revered shoe in the ultra community, it did have some vulnerabilities with the upper blowing out and a paper-thin insole. The Challenger ATR 2 fixed these durability issues for the most part but had other fit issues with a lower-volume upper and tight toebox. With this third iteration Hoka seemed to listen intently to its customer base who loved the first two versions but found the fit a bit narrow.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 Upper

For the record, I’ve enjoyed the first two versions of this shoe and I put a lot of miles on them. While I felt crowded in the toebox, the midsole cushioning and light weight were just too good to pass up. With the Challenger ATR 3, Hoka widens the toebox ever so slightly through the metatarsal area. While the toebox still tapers significantly, especially on the lateral side of the shoe, I don’t feel as hemmed in with this version. While I can’t confirm this, it also seems that the slight widening of the upper also widened the overall platform of the shoe, making it the most stable-feeling Challenger ATR to date.

Other changes to the upper include 3D Puff Print overlays, which are basically a system of welded overlays covering the entire mesh upper. This overlay system feels more locked down than past versions of the shoe and they also seem significantly more durable. Hoka retains its effective toe cap, and reflective accents around the heel and toebox are a nice added touch given the hybrid road/trail nature of the shoe. The heel cup is moderately firm and much more stable feeling that the original Hoka Challenger. Hoka also uses some great laces on this new model, which are flat and have just a bit of elasticity to them. They stay tied well and provide some give with foot swelling. A substantial Ortholite insole is a nice touch over the first two versions of this shoe as well.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3’s lateral upper.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 Midsole

I’d complained in the past about the midsole of this shoe compressing over time. It was like 150 miles of absolute bliss followed by denial, and then 100 miles of the realization that the midsole was dead. The new midsole has the same transition and ride but does feel slightly firmer. This could be a figment of my imagination, but I’m close to 200 miles in on my pair and I’m not noticing any deadening of the midsole. I’m also not seeing any telltale signs of midsole wrinkling or compression of any kind. I mentioned before that the platform seems slightly wider, which also gives the Challenger 3 more stability and confidence on technical trails.

On the road the Challenger ATR 3 is a pleasure to run in and, at 9.5 ounces (men’s size 9) with a 5mm heel drop, this shoe can handle faster cadences well. This is a shoe I took out for a 5k turkey trot on Saturday followed by a long trail run on Sunday. This is a great road-to-trail shoe without sacrificing its true trail heritage. I felt more confident on downhills in the Challenger ATR 3 and I never experienced any of that platform-y Hoka sensation that I sometimes get on technical trails.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3’s medial upper.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 Outsole

Why fix it if it ain’t broken? The Challenger outsole remains exactly the same as it ever was. While I originally scoffed at the exposed area of midsole foam in the midfoot, this is an outsole that holds up for 500 miles. It’s also surprising just how well the 4mm lugs hold up and provide ample traction. Though I’ve heard other runners complain of losing lugs, I’m on my fourth pair of Challengers and I’ve never lost a lug or experienced significant wear.

The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3’s outsole.

Overall Impressions

I think this will be a trail shoe that we’ll see at a lot at ultras throughout 2017. In my opinion, Hoka really nails the design and captures the essence and purpose of this model without going overboard. Since I received this pair to test I’ve had difficulty running in anything else, be it on road or trail. This is a trail shoe that can definitely handle 100 miles and with the slightly wider profile it should accommodate more runners’ feet. I still wouldn’t recommend this shoe for runners needing wide toeboxes, and it does not come in multiple widths at this time.

In my opinion, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 is a must-try for 2017 and it will be tough to beat this shoe out for a ‘best of.’ As of right now, and with all things subject to change with new models coming out, this shoe will be my go-to racing shoe for spring ultras. Hoka really seemed to listen to its customers with this design, creating a more resilient midsole and wider toebox that will make more than a few converts to the brand.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you running in the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3? If so, what are your impressions of this shoe?
  • Have you run in previous iterations of the Challenger, too? If so, can you share your thoughts on this model’s updates to the upper, midsole, and toebox that Tom described?
  • What other details about this model have you noticed?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with brand that produces running shoes, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

More Trail Running Shoe Options

To find more options for trail running shoes, check out our Best Trail Running Shoes article and our full collection of trail running shoe reviews.

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.

View Comments (63)

  • Whilst the outsole is similar - the centre of the forefoot has lost a handful of lugs.

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    • T&T-

      Approximately how many miles on your ATR 3s. I know this happened to some runners in past versions of the shoe. The only part of the outsole that is showing wear on my pair, at close to 200 miles, is the exposed midsole area in the midfoot. But, I'm mostly running on dirt trails.

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      • He's referring to the number of lugs on the two shoe models to begin with. Hoka has changed the number of center forefoot lugs.

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        • T&T, Jaime-
          I apologize; misread. Yes, the center of the forefoot has lost some small lugs with the new design. I didn't notice any issues with traction between the two outsole designs though, and I have spent a lot of time this fall/winter in mud and snow. Let me know if you've experienced otherwise.

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    • The rubber on the toe is now contiguous with the lug rubber on the outside forefoot. This is seems like a big improvement to me because I lost the toe lug furthest out on both shoes right out of the box on my ATR 2's. (They were factory reject shoes)

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  • Why is there no bird's eye view photo of the top of the shoe? This is an important angle if the toe box has been changed from the previous version.

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  • Great synopsis of the ATR 3. I love everything about this model...durable, responsive, light. The 3 is an excellent update on an already awesome shoe.

    Patrick Reagan
    Hoka One One
    #timetofly

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  • Any Hoka model with a wider forefoot? I lost the overview! :)
    Thanks guys

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    • Matthias-
      That's tough as I haven't run in the entire Hoka lineup. I did try on a pair of Claytons recently and they were the widest in the forefoot of any Hoka I've tried. Also, the Speed Instinct is about as wide as the Challenger ATR 3, but the toebox is a bit shallow.

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    • Unless you have really narrow feet, a "slightly wider" Hoka still isn't going to be a comfortable fit. I tried the new Clayton and it's still very narrow relative to shoes that are focused on normal/natural toe splay like Altra or Topo.

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  • Of all Hoka shoes, do you think this is the one with the most cushioning and lightest weight combination? I somehow got into Western States and I am looking for the right shoe for that race. I do like Hokas although I have not tried the Challenger yet. I do have wide feet so that has always been one problem I have with Hokas although if I go about a full size too big I can sometimes get around that.

    I'd like ultra's to and the Olympus is a possibility but it blew two pieces on me way too quickly.Thanks!

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    • Ugh at typos. I meant to say, I like Altras too but the Olympus blew apart on me too quickly. and while they have the width that is great for me, I like the cushioning of the Hokas better. If only these two companies could get together...

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      • I agree on the cushion of the Hoka. If the Olympus had the Hoka cushion. I would never read another shoe review. I go with Altra because the cushion is good enough (I find it a little stiff), and the toe box is perfect.

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        • I agree, Burke!

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    • Tim-
      I do think this is a great combo for lightweight cushioning, especially for 100 miles. The only other lightweight Hoka trail shoe I've worn is the Speed Instinct and I'm not sure that it would be enough shoe for 100 miles unless you're incredibly efficient. I know other athletes have used the Clayton, but I have not.
      Since you have wide feet this would be a shoe you'd want to try on before buying. I have a wide forefoot, but the rest of my foot is pretty average. This isn't what I would consider a high volume shoe that can handle wider feet in my opinion.

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      • Thanks Tom. I think only my forefoot is wide as well. I'll definitely hit up a store to try these on first. Thanks!

        Tim

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        • I'd try the Claytons Tim. Best cushion to weight of any Hoka shoe I believe. And the RMAT is plenty grippy for the trails of Western.

          A really awesome alternative and direct competitor to the ATR3 is the new Brooks Caldera. I suspect the Caldera will be a great 50-100 mile shoe for many folks this year.

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  • Great review! I agree with all of what you say and find it to be the best performing trail Hoka yet and one of the best shoes I have worn from any brand. Re: Outsole, I think T&T meant that Hoka reduced/spread out some of the lugs in the center of the forefoot, which is indeed the case to reduce mud build up. My only gripe with the ATR though is the durability of the outsole, where the rubber lugs peel off of the foam. I had this happen to 2 pairs of the ATR 1 after 35-40 miles and also had it happen with the ATR 3 in less than 10 miles. I have heard of this being a common problem from friends who run in the ATR, as well as confirmation from several local Hoka dealers. Granted, I do run almost exclusively on rocky technical trails here in Boulder, but that is the case with all the shoes I test and rarely see this type of tread failure. That said, it is an amazing enough shoe that I'll be mending with glue and saving for the Pikes Peak Marathon in August.

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    • Jeff-

      That is brutal. 10 miles! I'm not on anything as rocky or burly as you down here in Colorado Springs. Was Hoka willing to replace the shoes as defective?

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      • Tom, yes, Hoka was very good about it, as they warrantied the ATR 1 (I bought them on my own outside of testing) and sent me a 2nd pair of the ATR 3, but the same thing occurred with the second pair of ATR 3. I think it is just the nature of that type of design, as I imagine it is difficult to reliably bond rubber to foam and withstand the shear forces of steep, rocky technical terrain. Your findings back up my assumptions that this would not be an issue on more mellow terrain though, which is more likely for the average user. Though they handle rough trails well, I recommend against it for routine use. Still one of my top picks though and #1 for my PPM in August, which is saying a lot.

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        • I have had four pairs of the first version of the Challenger, putting 1038, 503, 751, and 760 miles in the shoes. The outsole peeled on at least two of the pairs, and I also associated that with the rockier terrain that I used those in. It wasn't a big deal for me though - the shoe's were about done then.

          The midsole cushion on the first pair seemed good to at least 700+ miles - better at that mileage than a brand new Nike Wildhorse in my opinion. The second pair seemed to go flat quicker, thus the lower mileage, but maybe it was my perceptions changing rather than the materials. The last two pairs were somewhere in between.

          I have wide forefeet, and the first Challenger was fine in width for me by going without the insole. It's my favorite shoe of all time, and I've been running since 1985. It's great for almost all my running and trail racing. It's also the best downhill shoe I've ever had despite some comments on the original's thin upper not being that secure. I am a bit sad to hear that the new version is heavier, since I liked the thin upper and tongue of the original (only 10.1 oz for my men's size 11.5).

          I'm using up my other shoes before buying more, so I probably won't get this version 3 until is goes on clearance next year, but it will definitely be on my radar.

          I like the longevity and more responsive nature of the RMAT midsole in the Huaka, and wonder what it would be like to have that in the forefoot of the Challenger, since that's what flattens first for me as a mid/forefoot strike runner. The more rockered profile of the Challenger is preferable for me, though I'd love to try a version just as rockered, but with a lower drop.

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    • I've had two pairs and on both pairs the sole has delaminated in less than 150 miles. I only weigh 135 lbs and consider myself easy on shoes. My guess is there could be a manufacturing defect. Note that Hoka replaced both pairs under warranty so that makes me feel better about my experience. Otherwise - a great 100 miler shoe!

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  • thats funny, i have the exact same bliss and denial phases!

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  • Never wore the Challenger 1, but I found the Challenger 2 to have a fairly wide toebox, especially when compared to the Clifton. Are you saying the 3 is even wider?

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    • Mitch-
      Yes. I could wear the Challenger 2 but my toes felt pretty hemmed in. This is just a touch wider.

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    • I feel like this version (ATR 3) is actually more snug and not as wide. Big toe blisters already forming after only a few runs. Secure the foot more but width seems compromised.

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      • I also feel that the 3s are more snug than my 2s, even after going up a half size.

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  • LOVE this shoe. I have owned all 3 Challenger ATRs. This is my favorite. I bought them as soon as I could. This will be my shoe this year!

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  • Hello and thank you for the review!

    I am curious if you have any input on sizing with this shoe. I have run in the Clifton 3 and wanted to know if the same size would work.

    Thank you for your time,

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    • Andrew, I have not worn the Clifton, but can say that the ATR 3 runs true to size.

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      • I use size 10.5 in the Cliffton, Clayton, Speed Instinct and Tracer - but the Challenger ATR 3 needed to be 11. Also, fantastic shoe! :)

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    • I'm a 10.5 in the Clifton 3 and had to go up to a 11 in the Challenger 3 because the toe box feels tighter. They fit fine 1/2 sz up and don't slip or feel loose anywhere else.

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    • Hi Andrew,

      I strongly suggest you size up 0.5 from your Clifton 3, these ATR 3 do fit small.

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  • ATR's are great shoes. Have had 3 pairs...one of the 1's...two of the 2's. Buying 3's shortly. One pair of the 2's had the outsoles issue but Hoka replaced. Any word on new Stinson's? You talked about taking a model and overcompensating...Hoka butchered the Stinson 3 ATR! Stiff, narrow in the toe box and outsole! The previous Stinson's were incredible and now no one will even buy the remaining 3's. Hopefully Hoka can bring the magic back!

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  • Wait till ya'll see the Speedgoat model in June....A whole nother level...

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    • I just hope it's on a different last (similar to the Challenger) - love the outsole but the Speedgoat models released so far don't fit my foot at all...

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    • any previews on those, karl? so available in June? would be just in time for the big milers in the alps here in europe

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      • I don't recommend Challenger's for rocky alpine trails. I've had the soles delaminate or lose lugs on 3 pairs, with none lasting more than 80k. Speedgoats are awesome on this terrain though.

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        • Thanks for posting this. I hadn't seen any of these new models besides the Hupana. The Speedgoat 2 looks awesome!

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  • This is finally the first Hoka I'm gonna run in. I've tried to avoid them in the past and trying on the Speed Instinct (so STIFF!) and older Challenger didn't make me shell out the money. But, trying on the Challenger 3, I'm thinking it'll be a good fit for some rocky races coming up. Still a lot of $$$, hoping they hold up!

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  • Had some of the xt combos from way back and loved them. Everything the past few years though has been narrow in the forefoot and at the base of the shoe. These are three closest I've seen to the original hoka models that everyone misses. Still a little too narrow in the forefoot though and the base is definitely too narrow. Wider base means a more stable shoe. People that complained about rolling ankles should spend more time in the gym or watch their footing.

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  • my stinsons ripped on both sides in both shoes after 100miles. Followed sizing guidelines on HOKA site BTW. They fitted perfectly and xtremely comfy , shame lovedd them and now dissapointed:( I would love to try again but afraid to loose money.

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  • I have very wide feet and need Quote a wide toe box. I have Bern doing well with nike so far but i dont have a lot of experiance with other brands. What Brand vor model oft a road-to-trail shoe that would be a solid choise for a 50k vor Marathon provides a wide foorefoot/ toebox ? Thanks guys

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    • Sorry for spelling mistakes, having problems with my german phone =)

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    • If you really are looking for a very wide toebox I would choose an Altra or Topo model. The Altra Paradigm is a great shoe for that distance on trails.

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      • Whoops-
        Sorry Max. I meant that the Altra Superior 2.0 is a great shoe for shorter ultras. Sorry for the mistake!

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  • Thanks for the review, Tom.

    I LOVED the original Clifton and ran some in the first Challenger. I still cry about what they've done to the Clifton. It's now heavy and stiff. So my question is for anyone else who loved the first Clifton is ... can I love the Challenger 3, or are the changes similar to what brought us the Clifton 3.

    And Karl !! ... I LOVED the feel of the first Speedgoat, but was constantly rolling my ankle in them (I don't need "stability" in a shoe, as I always wear neutral without a problem). Is that addressed at all? I've heard the complaint from others.

    Man, that's two complaints I hope can be addressed. I really want to love Hoka again (loved the Huaka, too, but well ...)

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    • Todd-
      I know a lot of runners are upset about the Clifton 3. While I have never run in a pair of Cliftons, the Challenger 3 is a bit more robust than the original challenger. Here is what I'm noticing:
      1) Challenger 3 midsole is not compressing like the Challenger 1
      2) Upper holds the foot better and I'm not sliding on downhills or sharp turns
      3) Challenger 3 has a wider platform and toebox and I feel much more stable

      I also feel like this version retained a fairly light and minimalist feel. I have no doubt that I could get 400-500 miles out of a pair of these.

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    • Hi Todd,

      I loved the original Clifton... and I like the Clifton 3 even better, because of the wider platform! I guess the concept of a perfect shoe is relative to each runner:-)

      Anyway, back to the Challenger ATR 3, I really wanted to like these, having gone through 2 pairs of ATRs 2, I was dreaming of having the same Clifton 3 platform/fit with a more aggressive ousole and durable upper...

      Outsole, same as previous version: good
      Weight: these are light!
      Upper, seems tougher than version 2: good
      Fit: huge disappointment, if compared to the improvements between Clifton 2 to Clifton 3. The toebox might be wider but the upper is stiffer so the result is a mixed feeling.
      Midsole: another disappointment, way too stiff in my opinion, not sure I could handle more than a 50K on these shoes.
      Colour combo: plain, borderline ugly (what happen to the happy Hoka flashy colours?)

      I think I am going to put a Vibram outsole (http://us.vibram.com/company/education/sole-factor/) on my older pair of Clifton 3 and stop ranting about the new ATR 3.

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      • Fab - I totally agree with you. I adored the Challenger ATR 2 (womans) - I have never felt so comfortable in a shoe for years. The stability, the cushioning, the general fit. I haven't felt confident running on trail for so long due to ankle issues but with the ATR 2 absolute bliss.

        And then I moved on to the Challenger ATR3 very recently .... so disappointed. I have a narrow foot. This version now feels sloppy. I feel like I am slapping the road rather than rolling into it... which I believe is also due not only to the shoe feeling loose, but also due to the lack of flexibility&stiffness. The unusual thing about this is that I had to go from a size 9 (ATR 2) to a size 9 1/2 (ATR3) so that my toes were not pushing hard against the top. Why did the "improvements" change the length of the ATR3 (womans?) I will definitely look at trying to "revive" my ATR2..

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        • I have had the EXACT same thoughts about the atr 3. The only caveat is that I really don't have a narrow foot. I agree completely that it feels a tad sloppy and that the roll action is not what it was.

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  • Hi Tom - how would you compare the Nike Terra Kiger 3 vs the Hoka ATR Challenger 3?
    Both being Trail-shoes that are more on the lighter end of the market they almost seem to be in the same range or would you say the ATR offers much more comfort&support compared to the Kiger?

    Cheers, Leo

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  • Great review Tom,

    I have about 150 miles on my Hoka Challenger ATR 3's. The first pair of Hoka's I owned were the Mafate 3's and they were fantastic. The cushioning on them was substantial but not off-putting and it had a good toe box. Although an ugly shoe, they served their purpose as a cushiony, durable, trail runner. I was able to get 500 miles out of them without any breakdowns in the upper or loss of lugs. I switched to the Challenger ATR 2's when they came out and boy what a difference. The ATR 2's were much stiffer and took me a bit to get adjusted to. I was able to put 400 miles on them without any breakdowns in the upper or loss of lugs on this shoe as well. I have been running on trails and road in all weather conditions without these tearing apart or losing their rigidity. The toe box was more cramped than the Mafate 3's and I really missed the cushioning. Once the Mafate model was dropped, it looked as though the Challenger would take its place and my hope was that the next Challenger would combine that wider toe box and extra cushioning of the Mafate. Well Hoka didn't let me down with the Challenger ATR 3. The cushioning is much better, the toe box wider, and the fit more snug. With 150 miles-ish on them now, they are just as good as the day I put them on. Out of all the Hoka's I have owned, the ATR 3's have been the best so far.

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  • so this seems like a great place for first timer (well sorta) info. Just trying to start running again after a 2 year couch vacation. I also just had cervical spine surgery 4 months ago (neuro surgeon says I should be fine to run again). I tried some Hoka Huaka about 2 years ago and liked them although I wore through the toes area of the soles after like 60mi. How would the ATR 3 compare to the Huaka from a few years back and do you think it would be durable on the roads. I have no trail around me so it would be all road running. I am guessing they will not be as firm as the Huaka but I am thinking a little more cushion for me neck might not be a bad thing.
    Thanks in advance for your opinions/help

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