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Trail • March 6, 2020

HOKA ONE ONE Challenger Low GTX Review


What You Need To Know

  • It’s a whopper – weighs 14.6 oz. (413 g) for a US M9.0
  • Features a GORE-TEX booty and waterproof upper to keep the feet bone-dry
  • Despite its weight, it rolls along nicely
  • If you have any questions about Midwestern ranching, or if you’re just a creep, drop a comment to Taylor or slide into his DM’s

TAYLOR: I’ve spent a good deal of time in Nebraska. For the state that created arbor day, there are not many trees, but there are a lot of cattle. Supposedly they outnumber humans four to one in the state.

They don’t know it, but if they teamed up and got some opposable thumbs, we’d be the ones in stockyards. Terrifying.

Subsequently, there’s also a lot of ranch land, ranchers, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, Jolly Ranchers, and ranch roads through pastures that also produce smooth double-track trails. This is where new HOKA ONE ONE Challenger Low Gtx belongs. Okay, not exclusively, but this would be a fine shoe choice for any midwesterner throughout the winter months.

As one of the OG trail shoes from HOKA, the Challenger Low GTX offers a ton of underfoot protection (31 mm stack height in heel, 26 mm in toe), a moderately aggressive outsole, and a durable upper. What’s different from the traditional HOKA Challenger is the waterproof upper, GORE-TEX booty, and all-terrain outsole.

It’s a shoe that can handle light trails, dirt roads, and even pavement all the same. Aesthetically, there’s a casual flare with a fine cattle-hide (Nubuck leather) upper that would be conversation-worthy if you chose to take these from the trail to downtown Omaha on a Friday night.

Yeehaw!… Though, maybe stay away from square dancing. You’d easily roll an ankle on account of the stack height.


The Good

TAYLOR: As with all reviews on this site, I have to be honest. I’m glad that out-of-the-box comfort isn’t a criterion for review, because I would have had a hard time pushing through to do more miles. But as miles added up, I was more surprised at how much I was starting to like these shoes.

Here’s why: The Challenger Low GTX has a slick (Minnesota jargon for “pretty neat”) waterproof upper. As previously mentioned, it’s made of Nubuck leather which is… stylish… I suppose… and it definitely served its performance purposes. Thanks to a GORE-TEX booty, this shoe was surprisingly breathable too– yes, even with a leather upper! Breathable compared to what? Well, it’s more breathable than many standard uppers out there. Did I mention that it’s fancy leather?

Also, thanks to that GORE-TEX booty and comfortably padded inner-liner, my feet stayed warm. I ran through knee-deep snow, slush, ice, sub-zero temps, etc. On all of those runs, my feet were plenty toasty.

Here’s the biggest surprise for the Challenger Low GTX: At nearly 15 oz (a surprise in itself), this behemoth of a shoe is a heckuva smooth ride! Newton’s laws of motion are true! I used this shoe from workouts (getting down to 5:30/mi pace) and up to a 15-miler in the full gamut of winter conditions. The early-stage meta-rocker really does keep you rolling smoothly. A high-stack of firm CMEVA foam does assist with some responsiveness too. If the foam was a little softer, it’d be Cadillac Escalade smooth.

This smooth ride wouldn’t be possible without the all-terrain outsole. There are 4 mm “podular” lugs underneath. It looks how it sounds. This is the component that makes it possible for a shoe like this, that is traditionally meant for the trail, get on the highway. The outsole had plenty of grip for gravel and trails that were less-than-moderate technicality. At the same time, the podular formation made it a very smooth ride on pavement. Actually, I preferred pavement or gravel with this shoe over trails. This is a true door-to-trail shoe. One of the best I’ve tried too.


The Bad

TAYLOR: I try not to let my first impressions dictate my overall feelings of a shoe, but the Challenger Low GTX was one of the shoes I would have sent back. I do have to say that I am glad that I had to keep running in it for review purposes because they got better and better to the point where I really do enjoy running in them.

The moral of the story with the Challenger Low GTX is that it just takes awhile to break in. Maybe it’s worth the time, but maybe not?

The Nubuck leather was a tough upper to get used to. It’s very, uh… old school, to put it nicely. It is thick and not very malleable. It pinched at various places and folded awkwardly on the top of the forefoot until at least 20 miles were put on. These sensations never completely went away. Steeper downhills and moderately technical terrain would bring back some of those same pinchings and foldings.

The midsole and midfoot footbed were also bricks for the first few runs. The midfoot holds securely, but it was really tight until the leather upper loosened up. Even after that, the midfoot was somewhat invasive on my medial arch.

As for the midsole, it’s a lot of really dense foam (even though it claims to be soft). The stack height is simply unnecessary for how firm it is. Cut a few millimeters and the same amount of protection and cushioning would be available with less weight (which was obviously not too much of a concern for this shoe).


HOKA ONE ONE Challenger Low GTX Conclusion

TAYLOR: The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger Low GTX is a shoe built for both city and trail. Against my preconceived notions, I can now believe it! This shoe has plenty of protection, is amazingly both waterproof and breathable, and is a smooth-as-butter ride for both light trail and roads.

Though it’s a little excessive and a toughy to break in, I did end up enjoying the shoe for its winterized purposes and eventual comfort on most any terrain. In my opinion, the best applications for this “package” would be for a winter runner (both road and trail) in regions where snow and ice stick around awhile (i.e Nebraska, or anywhere farther north). Many customer reviews are also saying that this is a great winter walker or hiker too. I’m sure it is. 

You can pick up this specific model for $150 on HOKA’s website by using the shop link below (we do not get any affiliate sales or sponsorship payments for this).


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