Is Ed Hoka One One’s number one fan? He’s put over 1000km into two pairs of Hokas and just bought a third pair. Here’s what he makes of the Challenger ATR Range.
If you follow any trail runners on Insta, you’ve more than likely seen more of Hoka One One over the past few years as the community embraces their cushioned kicks. For me, the tipping point to pick some up came from Lucy Clark, a Bright based runner who ran the length of New Zealand in 66 days, breaking the women’s record along the way. Having seen her run over 3,000 km in her various Hokas, I decided to give them a try in early 2020.
I was looking for an all-terrain shoe that was going to be great on the trails and stand up to some pavement pounding city runs too. Lockdown in Melbourne was just starting — and finding myself a couple of kilometres from the Yarra river trails — I needed something to suit increasingly random routes as I exhausted my regular running loops.
Hoka One One pitch the Challenger ATR range as an ‘adaptable, all-terrain shoe that defies convention — performing light on the trail and smooth on the street, thanks to its midsole geometry and outsole construction.’ And that sounded perfect.
I’ve now worked my way through two pairs of the Challenger ATR 5’s with over 500km of hiking and running in each, and I’ve just bagged a pair of the new Challenger ATR 6’s. Here’s what I think of them, and why I keep coming back.
Hoka One One weren’t joking when they wrote that blurb above. I’ve been continually surprised by how agile the Challenger ATRs are. From my lockdown 5K runs, to hikes, to weekend ambles in national parks — they’re great for all occasions.
I wore these shoes for a three-day overnight hike on the Grampians Peak Trail, they’ve been up some challenging mountain scrambles like Mount Amos and Bishop & Clerk in Tassie, and they’re my daily runner too.
The lugs on the sole give great grip and solid response on the trails without feeling cumbersome on the tarmac. My only real complaint is that they probably weren’t designed for some of the thrashing I’ve given and the uppers have been the first to go on both of my first two pairs.
Really, a hiking shoe?
Yep, I think so. Based on the hikes they’ve conquered above, they really are an all rounder. Comfortable for long, multi-day trips with enough ankle support for some scrambles too.
Having grown up in the damp, muddy hills of Wales, waterproof hiking boots were a staple for me before arriving in Australia and the thought of a hike without good boots seemed reckless. To be confident in a much faster, lighter weight, comfortable alternative has been amazing. My hiking boots haven’t been out of the back of the wardrobe since I bought these shoes — I really do wear them for everything.
And if you’re looking for something for those more extreme conditions, the Challenger ATR also has Gore-Tex (fully waterproof) options, and what is essentially a hiking boot version in the ‘Mid’ styles.
If you’re used to other brands of shoe, you’ll likely take a few runs to settle into the chunky Hoka One One sole. While the competition is building trail shoes that are getting thinner, lighter, and adding carbon plates, Hoka is adding pillow levels of cushioning to their soles. In fact, they claim to have 2x as much midsole cushioning as other shoes on the market.
So what does that mean for the ride? Honestly, it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a bit like running in platform shoes (not that I’ve tried), and it does take some time to adapt. But, once you’ve put some miles through the ‘meta-rocker’ (as Hoka calls it), the ride’s a smooth one and I’ve learnt to love it. I expected the Challenger to feel unresponsive on technical trails due to that hefty sole, instead I feel confident that I’m going to have a soft landing.
As someone who has struggled with knee pain while running in the past, the cushioning in these shoes has been a revelation, and the Challengers aren’t even close to the most cushioned shoe in the Hoka One One range.
The Challenger ATR comes in both standard and wide sizings — ideal if you’ve got big flippers. I’d consider myself to have a wide foot, but have been fine in the standard sized shoe, although the new ATR 6 does seem to have a narrower build than its predecessor, more on that later. The lightweight upper is breathable, quick to dry and easy to wipe down after a day on the muddier trails. There’s no speed lacing here, but it’s not really something I’ve missed.
With that big ol’ cushioned midsole, the Challenger was never going to be the slickest shoe on the market, and neither does it pretend to be. I do wish there were some more options when it came to the colourways on offer as many of the styles for Hoka’s road and crossover shoes (Challengers included) look a bit dated, especially when you compare them to what The North Face, Salomon and On have on offer right now.
I’d love to see some of the amazing designs we’re seeing from Hoka’s trail range (especially the Speed Goat) coming to the Challengers in the future. But when they’re covered in mud, who really cares?
Challenger ATR 5 vs Challenger ATR 6
I was half dreading the launch of the new generation. What if they broke this amazing shoe? Well, there are some changes with the ATR 6 — some good, some bad. I’ve now done 100km in my 6s and this is what I’ve noticed:
It’s a harder ride. It definitely feels like there is less cushioning on the new generation. That makes for a faster shoe on the flat, but I don’t feel quite as confident on technical trails. With more and more trail specialist shoes coming to Hoka’s range, I wonder if they’re thinking about this shoe more for the occasional trail runner who mostly runs on the road? It’s still very solid on both, but they’re not quite as versatile as the 5’s.
A narrower shoe. As mentioned, the Challenger ATR range comes in a wide and standard fit. I’ve been using the standard, but with the new generation I wish I’d opted for the wide fit. The 6 is definitely narrower and tighter round the middle of my foot.
They’ve broken the laces. The laces are no longer long enough, and a change in material means they don’t seem to have as much stretch. This means they come undone more than I’d like. Obviously laces can be changed, so not the end of the world, but I hope it gets addressed.
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6 has an RRP of $240. The Gore Tex versions start at $320. That’s a pretty good deal for a shoe that will do everything, and puts them in a similar price range to all-terrain shoes from Salomon, On and The North Face. I’ve put over 500km through both of my first two pairs, and while they’re still going OK, they’ve lost a lot of grip and the uppers have taken a beating on the scrambles so they needed replacing before they had a more serious breakdown.
If you’re looking for a shoe that is strong on the trails and great as a daily runner, you’re going to be a fan of the Challenger ATR range. If you’d like that shoe to join you on hikes too, you’ll be delighted. They really are all-rounders — and if there’s only room for one pair of outdoor kicks in your bag when travelling, you really can’t go wrong.
With the latest generation it feels like Hoka One One may be starting to push this model more for the road than the trails, but perhaps I’m just not used to them yet. The Challenger ATR 6 is a harder, narrower, faster ride, but it’s still a great shoe for all-terrains.
Ed purchased all three pairs of Hoka’s of his own accord, the views and the shoes are his own.
All photos of Ed taken by @instajameswest.