How does the saying go? “You don’t what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”? But sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing until it arrives, right? I have a brand / style of trail shoe that I’ve been loyal to since the beginning of my running career and they’re a tough act to follow. This winter I had to take a hard look at if they were still going to work for me in the long run (no pun intended) and then the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4‘s fell into my lap and I’ve been happy with the switch!
Our blogger Alexa reviewed these back in December and loved them – so this spring I was keen to see if I’d be sold as well.
There seem to be two camps of people when it comes to HOKA (well, 3 if you count the ones who’ve never heard of them): LOVE them or think “Those thick-soled shoes? I don’t know about those”. And it’s true – even these are heavily cushioned and look…well…thick. HOKA’s website describes the cushioning as “balanced” – middle of the road between “reactive” and “plush”. They are considered a stability shoe and with a 5mm drop, they’re a nice middle ground between minimal to marshmallow. They also feature the Meta-Rocker, the way in which the outsole is sculpted, which is supposed to allow for a smoother transition from heel to toe (think of a rocking chair) to compliment a runner’s normal gait, especially with a thicker midsole. If it’s something these shoes indeed do for me, I haven’t noticed and am unable to comment one way or another on it’s usefulness.
My current road shoes have an extremely roomy toe box and from first glance, the Challengers looked to be a bit more narrow than I’d hoped. I popped the insole out and gave it the “barefoot” test – flat on the ground, barefoot, does my foot hang over the side? I was surprised to find that the answer was no. With my foot back in the shoe, I could appreciate the height of the toe box as well and was curious about taking them for a test run.
Over the next few days I took them for a couple of easy dog walks to see how they feel and I immediately noticed how light they felt. Coming in around 7.5 oz, they’re about 3 oz lighter than my go-to trail shoes.
One feature to note is the toe wrap design. The first few times out, the crease for the toes felt unnecessarily stiff due to the design pattern extending too far onto the top of the toe box (the photo below shows this design). It’s a non-issue now, but it gave a questionable first impression. Additionally I noticed that the tongue is quite thin and conforms nicely to the top of the foot, which I like, but then I am annoyed with how stretchy (and long) the flat laces are. This is an easy fix if it’s bothersome, to be sure, but notable.
The ‘ATR’ in the name means All Terrain, which is true. I enjoyed the streets of my neighborhood for walks and runs, the soft singletrack trails of Forest Park, and the muddy, slicks trails at the Spring Fling Half in these, all without issue. The sole features 4mm lugs, which are small enough to make them “all terrain” but large enough to be effective when needed.
Especially during these wet, spring training runs, I enjoy how the mesh upper is as breathable as it capable of shedding water. On one particularly rainy and muddy adventure up Neahkahnie Mountain on the coast, my feet stayed dry, save for one unavoidable mishap. My left sock felt damp, but not soaked, despite the entire shoe being caked in mud. The upper isn’t as structured as some other trail shoes I’ve tried, which is arguably where some of weight is saved, but the heel cup provides great support. I am typically one to re-lace my shoes to prevent heel slipping, but that has not been an issue in the Challengers.
The rest of my spring and early summer race calendar is filled with trail running and I look forward to logging the miles in these. Happy feet = happy running and with over 50 miles logged in the HOKA Challenger ATR 4s, so far, so good!
Company: HOKA ONE ONE (Facebook)
Products and Price:
Specs (from website):
- Weight: 7 oz (W size 7.4) or 9 oz (M size 9)
- Stack Height: 5 mm
- Cushioning: Balanced / Modest
- Dual-layer mesh balances support, durability, and breathability
- Extended toe-cap coverage for added durability
- Internal heel counter provides support on all terrains
- Early stage Meta-Rocker for smooth ride
- Oversize EVA midsole provides lightweight cushioning
- 4mm lugs provide all-terrain traction
- Podular outsole design provides stability on uneven terrains
Thank you to HOKA for providing us with samples. Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.