Hoka Challenger 7 Review
Could there be a better way to finish the year than with a Hoka One One Challenger 7 review? The Hoka Challenger ATR was designed as an all-terrain shoe, also known as a road-to-trail shoe. It offers the cushioning level and and softer feel of a road shoe, but is grippy enough to cope with tracks and trails and offers some underfoot protection to reduce the chance of getting thorns or rocks damaging your feet. Shoes of this type are always a compromise. Whether it’s a good compromise depends on what the trail part of your run looks like and what you like your trail shoes to feel like.
Technology Shared with Hoka Clifton
The Hoka Challenger 7 is the all terrain version of Hoka’s most popular everyday day road training shoe, the Hoka Clifton 9 (launching Feb 2023). They share the same compression moulded EVA midsole, heel to forefoot drop and curved midsole aka meta rocker, which is designed to reduce heel strike, increase cadence and encourage you to run with a more efficient and upright posture. All making you lighter on your feet. This gives the Hoka Challenger a similar ride to the Hoka Clifton, but the similarities end there.
Challenger 7 vs. Challenger ATR 6
Firstly, the Hoka Challenger 7 is made on a slightly wider last than the Hoka Clifton. This is to give your feet a bit more room to spread and expand on those longer trail runs. The Hoka Challenger ATR 6 and previous models had quite a boxy shape to the upper. This made the shoes feel very roomy. The Challenger 7 upper has been completely redesigned. The upper is a dual layer engineered mesh. Compared to the Challenger ATR 6 and older versions it feels softer and a lot more pliable. Some of the volume has been taken out of the upper and although the Challenger in regular width is still slightly broader than the regular width in the Hoka Clifton, the fit of the Challenger 7 is a lot snugger. The pliability of the upper allows it to take the shape of your foot much better than the previous version. The advantage of the snugger fit is that your foot is held onto the midsole better. When you are on broken trails or running on a camber, your foot doesn’t move around inside the shoes.
Fit and Feel – Upper & Heel
The upper is 100% recycled, as are the laces. The tongue is nicely padded and the laces are flat. Coupled with the padded tongue this puts no pressure on the top of the foot. The heel cup feels low and grips your heel at the base of the heel cup. Hoka has used the extended heel tab that they use on a lot of their road shoes. This pulls the heel tab away from the Achilles to cut down on any chance of rubbing and makes the plastic heel cup work like a spring. The heel cup is pushed against your heel, giving the shoe a good hold of you, which reduces the chance of any heel-slippage. This does feel looser than the previous versions’ heel cups but in my experience works well. If you feel you need to make the heel fit snugger then the Hoka Challenger 7 does have an additional lace loop. You can butterfly the laces to pull the heel cup in further. The heel cup is nicely padded to give a lovely, cushioned feel in my experience.
The toe cap is reinforced to protect your toes should you kick a rock. The tongue is gusseted to reduce the chance of debris getting into the shoes. The gusset also helps pull the upper around the foot to enhance the fit of the shoes.
The midsole is 2mm thicker than the previous model, making the stack height 29mm in the heel and 24mm in the forefoot. The 5mm heel to forefoot drop helps encourage a more midfoot landing. Despite the increase in midsole thickness the Challenger 7 is about 25 grams lighter than the previous version. The men’s UK8 weights 252g and the women’s UK5 207g.
Outsole Grip vs Tarmac Feel
The outsole is covered in 4mm long lugs. These are made from Durabrasion rubber. This is designed to be durable enough for road use but not too hard that they slip on wet surfaces. This rubber isn’t as sticky as the rubber used on more trail orientated models like the Tecton X, Speedgoat 5 or Mafate Speed 4 but is still grippy enough for a road to trail type of shoe. The lugs are closer together at the edges to offer more bite into the trail and more spread out in the centre to reduce clogging and create a better feel when running on tarmac. Shoes with a lot of lugs often don’t grip as well on tarmac and you lose the feel for the ground, which makes them feel very ‘clumpy’. In comparison the Hoka Challenger 7 feels very smooth and cushioned on the tarmac.
All Hoka running shoes have an oversized foot print. Your foot sits inside the midsole. This increases the stability of the shoes. The midsoles are designed to be soft enough to absorb the lumps and bumps of the trail. A bit like a mountain bike tyre does. This means that despite the high stack height and large footprint you don’t get thrown around by the trail. You don’t have a lot of feel for the trail so you rely on the shoes to absorb the bumps, rather than being nimble like you would be in a more flexible but less cushioned trail running shoe. This allows the Hoka Challenger 7 to offer the same soft, smooth feel to the cushioning as you would expect in a road shoe. That’s what makes the Hoka Challenger such a popular road to trail shoe. It feels great on tarmac but and functions well on tracks and trails.
The Hoka Challenger 7 is available in regular and wide width.
If your runs are often a mix of road and trails (or you are getting bored of purely-tarmac) then the Hoka Challenger 7 would be a better option for you than a purely-road designed running shoe like the Hoka Clifton. The ride of the Challenger is as good on the tarmac as the Clifton. You could quite happily run road runs, races or speed sessions in the Challenger if you wanted to. They are designed as an all-round everyday training shoe. The cushioning is soft, particularly at the heel and feels a little more responsive in the forefoot, for a slightly more energetic toe off. The curve of the midsole allows you to hold good posture and feel able to run quickly in the shoes. Rather than affecting your push off, the ‘rocker’ encourages you to pick up your feet nice and quickly! This promotes a more efficient running style, which is why more and more brands are starting to put rockers into their running shoes.
Scarpa Golden Gate ATR: A firmer more solid ride. The midsole is much more durable and will therefore do more miles. The outsole rubber is both stickier and more durable. They don’t feel as light and smooth at the Challenger 7. Here is a link to our review which will give you some more information: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/scarpa-golden-gate-atr-review/
Inov-8 Parkclaw G 280: A complete contrast to the Hoka Challenger 7. The Parkclaw has a much thinner midsole that is a lot more flexible and moulds to the ground. So, they feel a lot more like a traditional off road shoe. The cushioning is adequate but, not as soft and smooth as the Challenger. If you like your fell shoes and want a road to trail shoe with a similar nimble feel then these would be worth a look. Here is a link to our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/inov-8-parkclaw-g-280-review/
Brooks Caldera 6: These are even more softly cushioned than the Challenger 7. This feels lovely and cushioned to takes away from the ride making them not as smooth and best kept for long slow runs. So, not as versatile as the Hoka Challenger. Here is a link to our review:
Karhu Ikoni Trail: Softly cushioned but the fulcrum encourages you to pick your feet up and run with good posture. More a trail shoe that is cushioned and comfortable enough to get you to your trail than an all terrain shoe that you would be happy racing a road 10km in. Here is a link to our review:
La Sportiva Akasha II: Like the Ikoni Trail these are a trail shoe that you could use on the road. They offer better traction in the wet and the mud but what you lose is the smooth, cushioned feel of a road shoe. Whether the Ikoni, Akasha II or Challenger 7 is the best shoe for you will depend on what you intend to use the shoes for and what your trail looks like. Here is a link to our Akasha II review:
Altra Timp 4: If you prefer a more rounded toe box and a zero drop then the Altra Timp 4 is a shoe to consider. Here is a link to our review:
Topo Ultraventure 2: Topo shoes have a broad rounded toe box designed to give your feet the room to spread on impact and function in the shoes. The drop is 5mm the same as the Challenger but, there is no rocker. This is because the broad rounded toe box allows you to use the spring from your feet. Here is a link to our review: https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/topo-athletic-ultraventure-2-review/