Hoka Challenger ATR 7 Review: A Clifton For The Wild Side
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8.9 oz. (252 g) for a US M9 / 7.7 oz. (218 g.) for a US W7
31 mm in the heel, 26 mm in the toe (5 mm drop)
Light road-to-trail days
Two extra millimeters of a new, lighter foam, and a completely revamped upper, a la its Clifton cousin
🟢 Comfort king on both roads and trails
🟢 Ain’t no Achilles pain here, thanks, elf ear
🔴 Not one for the technical terrain
TAYLOR: I’m from Colorado, which means I have a Subaru and love being outdoors. It’s basically a requirement when you move here. Slosh through the trunk of my Forester, and you’ll find a full kit of emergency running clothes and a pair of do-it-all shoes. Any guesses about what they are? If you’re this far into the review, you probably have a good idea.
I’ve reviewed well over a hundred pairs of trail shoes during my time at Believe in the Run, but one of the shoes that I didn’t expect to grab over and over was the Hoka Challenger ATR 6. It was one of those that got better as time went on. Go long or short, slow or uptempo, road or trail — it was all possible. Hoka’s Challenger was designed to handle a variety, and I feel like it really has the tools to do so. After all, it is the Clifton’s trail counterpart.
It’s been a while since Hoka graced us with a new update. Based on my surprise affection toward the Challenger ATR 6, I’ve been anticipating this one for a long time. Well, we first got our hands on a pair back at TRE, and immediately learned that the update swings the Challenger just a bit more to its road-ready roots. Ya know what, I don’t hate the idea, either.
What that means is that it followed the update to the Clifton by getting a brand new EVA midsole with a little extra cushion, a reconfigured outsole, and some big adjustments in the upper. It is darn near a new shoe that comes in lighter than its predecessor. The overall shape remains the same as being a neutral shoe with five millimeters of drop (31/26mm).
If you’re looking for a Hoka shoe that can do some of everything, read on.
ALEX: The Hoka Challenger was the first Hoka shoe I ever owned and getting out in this one filled me with nostalgia. I will admit that most of the miles I logged in Challengers over the years have been on the road. It’s felt so good on the road… and this version is no exception. I find myself consistently reaching for it over most of my road shoes.
RYAN: Lil’ old editor Ryan popping in here to say that I also received a pair of the Hoka Challenger ATR 7, my first official Hoka to review. However, I’m nursing a cuboid injury — which is some bullshit ’cause it’s not even a weight-bearing bone — so I’ve mostly stuck to walking in it and wearing it to the gym. It’s excellent in both of those scenarios, as well as, I would assume, on the trails.
I also wasn’t sold on the yellow colorway I received, but it has since grown on me. Maybe just because it gets comments from college students and gym moms alike. Ladies love a yellow shoe, apparently.
TAYLOR: Here’s the thing. There are a lot of shoes, both road and trail, that can do fine with the switcheroo. I’m the type of runner who loves to bebop back and forth from gravel roads to trails and add some pavement if needed. Few shoes are made specifically for that task. Even fewer can do it really well. The Hoka Challenger ATR 7 is one of those shoes.
The biggest factor that leads to this successful transitioning is a thick stack of compression molded EVA with a rockered geometry. Such a midsole profile will do good on just about any terrain. The material itself feels a little firmer, lighter, and more durable than past models. It’s also semi-responsive, especially on the roads. Many would expect the overall ride to be cushy, but I felt like it’s much closer to a medium-soft density. With 31 mm of stack in the heel, there’s certainly no shortage of protection.
Geometry is a big deal too. Hoka isn’t the only crew sporting the rockered midsole, but they are the originals for the trail. They’ve got the shaping and width on lockdown. When on non-technical terrain, the transition between the initial foot strike and toe-off is so smooth. The rocker rolls the foot forward in a natural feeling way. When combined with a little bit of cushioned comfort and a touch of responsiveness, the feel is simply pleasing. Even when hopping onto mildly technical terrain, the overall width provides natural stability to continue that forward trajectory.
An engineered mesh gives a really nice balance of soft feel around the foot and a snug sensation through the toe box and midfoot (sometimes too snug, refer to next section). Just like the midsole, the upper allows for both general comfort and a fit that can handle some light trails to moderate trails.
The heel region of the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 is the money maker, though. The counter is stable. There is plenty of cushion in the collar. Comfort and more security come through via the elf-eared heel tab. It’s almost excessive, but it is the one part of the shoe that feels premium-level comfortable.
Continuing on with the best-of-both-worlds trend, the outsole is skimpy enough at about two-thirds rubber coverage and four-millimeter lugs to handle the road segments without the feeling of “this is too much.” The same is true when dirt comes into play. The overall outsole design with multi-directional/shaped lugs is plenty for gravel, light to moderate trails, and anything in between.
When all of the aforementioned positives can be within a single shoe, being one of the lightest in its category (9.5 oz. in my US M10.5) and beautiful are just the icing on this treat. The frosting is what lures me to a cake in the first place. All colorways are cheer-worthy, but I am partial toward the Passion Fruit/Golden that I received.
ALEX: The Challenger ATR 7 has always been, and continues to be the most versatile shoe I have run in. It’s like that cool, reliable friend you can spend an entire day with, bring anywhere, gets along with all of your other friends, and is up for just about anything. Like Taylor, I love to weave mixed surfaces into my runs. Gives the mind and legs some variation and effectively lowers my average pace on Strava (the real reason).
The stack height of this one is 2 mm higher than previous versions, providing more cushion and protection for long runs (without adding any weight). The compression-molded EVA foam midsole feels most responsive on hard-packed trails and pavement. On trails, it feels plush and forgiving. Regardless of the terrain, it feels stable and well-balanced.
I am a big fan of the Hoka heel designs that allow for easy on and off. More importantly, there is no rubbing or pressure on the ankle or Achilles. This one has been redesigned to provide even more comfort and security.
The new colorways are poppin’. I love the orange color that I received.Shop Hoka Challenger - Men Shop Hoka Challenger - Women
TAYLOR: Some of my qualms are ones that I haven’t felt toward a Hoka shoe in a long time. The Challenger ATR 7 is a great update, don’t get me wrong, but it has fallen into a trap that they’ve been in before. We’re talking about overall quality and fit. Both go hand in hand.
Quality is a questionable one mostly in the upper department. For starters, the toe box feels a bit slim, especially over time. My forefoot felt crunched from the initial step all the way through my test miles. Even on a day when I wore the Challenger casually, the forefoot felt slim and had low volume all around.
Where this feeds into upper quality is that the lighter engineered mesh will be busting out on both sides, especially if you want the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 primarily as a trail shoe. Besides being uncomfortable, the added pressure to an already highly-abrasive area is a recipe for a premature disaster. Even with running bare-minimum mileage for testing, I noticed there is a little bit of wear. For once, the midsole of a Hoka will probably outlast its other components.
The opposite issue occurs below where the EVA midsole will take a little extra time to break in. The midsole is firmer than past models and simply took a few runs to feel like it was showing its true character. A break-in period isn’t really a negative thing at all, but breaking in your shoes is a thing that doesn’t really happen anymore. Most shoes are good to go out of the box. Be patient with the Hoka Challenger ATR 7.
One more note to consider is that this shoe is meant for roads to light trails. It will be good to keep it in that box for most miles. Sure, it can step into some moderate-level stuff when needed, but this isn’t your all-mountain trail runner. Foot security, outsole patterning, and durability up top will confirm that fairly quickly in rugged circumstances.
ALEX: Like Taylor, I was surprised to find that there was a break in period. This is not necessarily bad and certainly not a deal breaker; it just came as a surprise as many shoes more recently don’t require one. The area where I experienced this the most was in the midsole and also the heel collar. Both felt stiff at first. This one gets better with each run.
The Challenger ATR 7’s performance quickly declines on loose, icy, or steep technical terrain. I had a number of spills on steep, hard-packed snow. The outsole is equipped with 4mm lugs which are pretty standard, although the design simply doesn’t grip like the Hoka Tecton X, which is also equipped with 4mm lugs but has Vibram MegaGrip and a better lug pattern for technical terrain. A lack of midfoot security is another reason this shoe does not perform well on the technical stuff.Shop Hoka Challenger - Men Shop Hoka Challenger - Women
TAYLOR: Hoka is shooting for giving the best of both worlds, and they’ve done a pretty darn good job. I’m always down for a solid update. IMO, an update should improve performance and showcase some of the latest in the industry. From that perspective, the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 is a great update.
It’s impressive when a shoe can get lighter while adding more to the equation. Hoka’s “more” here was a couple of millimeters of a new foam that is more durable. Performance is equivalent to, and some will argue, greater than past models.
The Hoka Challenger ATR 7 is one of the few shoes designed for and that can run roads just as smoothly as it can on light to moderate trails. Fit will likely be the biggest limiter for runners. The forefoot is a bit constricting.
It is a solid all-arounder that will please many with its versatile performances whether hitting pavement or dirt.
ALEX: I am super excited to add the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 to my Hoka trail lineup. It is the perfect option for runs that involve mixed surfaces, performing well on moderate trails, gravel, and pavement.
Overall it is lightweight, stable, and comfortable.The extra stack height adds more cushion and protection to keep you supported for your longer efforts, and the midsole delivers a responsive ride while maintaining that plush feel that I always appreciate.
You can pick up the Hoka Challenger ATR 7 for $145 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.
All-time favorite shoes: Hoka Tecton X, Speedland SL:PDX, Merrell MTL Long Sky 2.More from Taylor
Alex is a trail and ultra runner from the upper midwest who loves Minnesota’s long winters and logging miles on the rooty, rocky, steep trails of Lake Superior’s North Shore. She was the first female to set a supported FKT on the 310 mile Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and enjoys multi-day events and races, especially if they involve snow and -20 degree temps.
All-time favorite shoes: Hoka Speedgoat Evo, Hoka Tecton X, Altra Timp.More from Alex