Most shoe reviews are done out of the box, or after just a few runs. While this can still give you a great indication of how the shoe performs, it doesn't take into consideration any issues that may reveal themselves over time. Generally, the earlier a shoe is reviewed plays more to it's strengths rather than weaknesses. For my first shoe review I thought I would feature a show that I have run quite a lot of kilometres in, the Hoka One One Challenger ATR.
I've run in a few pairs of Hokas over the last few years. All have had the familiar chunky midsole and I'm glad to say that overall look of the shoes have improved quite a bit from some of the earlier models. One thing that has been consistent is the cushioning and ride of the shoe... they have all felt like running on clouds.
I've yet to find a perfect pair of running shoes and always have a variety of shoes to rotate through depending on the characteristics of a certain run (distance/terrain/pace). Parallel use of more than one pair of running shoes has shown to be protective of running related injuries .
The Hoka Challenger ATR is one of the less cushioned Hoka trail shoes. That's not to say it doesn't have a lot of cushioning, just not as much as other models such as the Stinson ATR or Mafate. While it has less cushioning than the other models, it more than makes up for it by having what I feel is the best cushion-to-weight ratio in any trail shoe I've run in. These shoes feel fast on the trails; the rocker profile that provides a rolling sensation combined with the lightness and cushioning result in a very enjoyable ride that has me running in a state of "flow" more than any other shoes (road or trail) I have tried.
While the outsole doesn't have the highest profile grip, I have yet to find a situation where I feel there isn't enough traction. There is quite a bit of exposed midsole foam on the soles which will wear down quicker than the lugs. I find the life of these shoes falls a bit short of other Hokas, such as the Stinson which will usually last me over 1000kms before I feel they done, while the Challengers will probably last me closer to 600kms before I stop longer runs but may still use them for short trail runs.
The upper is durable & lightweight which breathes well and allows water to drain away quickly. One of my only complaints about this shoe is that I don't feel the upper holds the foot in place as well as it could. When twisting, cornering very fast or having the shoe slip or slide on pea gravel the foot will move a bit on the the platform, especially the forefoot which in some people may result in blisters or trauma to the toenails. If I could replace the upper of these shoes with something similar to the Nike Wildhorse upper, which I find to be one of the most comfortable uppers, it would be close to the perfect shoe.
Another slight irritation, but one that is easily fixed is that the insole can slip a bit on longer runs. I simply replaced them with some from another pair of shoes so this is not really an issue, but hopefully better insoles are used in future editions.
For me, all the positives outweigh the negatives by quite a margin, and the number of runs I've done in these shoes where I've just floated along for the majority of the run with a much lower perceived effort than expected makes it worth putting up with the minor problems. Perhaps the best indication of how I feel about these shoes is the fact that I'm on my fourth pair with a combined distance of over 2000kms. I'm not alone in my praise for the Challenger ATR - in 2015 it received the Best Trail Shoe from Competitor Magazine, Trail Runner Magazine Editors’ Choice and Triathlete Magazine Best in Class awards.
Currently Hoka One One have a Challenger ATR 2 model which has changes to the upper and a thicker tongue which may address some of my concerns. I'm due for an upgrade soon and will have to decide between the Challenger ATR 2 or the Speedgoat, which is also receiving a lot of praise.
- (Malisoux, L., Urhausen, A., & Theisen, D. (2014). IMPACT OF TRAINING CHARACTERISTICS ON RUNNING-RELATED INJURIES IN RECREATIONAL RUNNERS British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48 (7), 631-632 DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-093494.194)