The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 is a highly cushioned trail shoe built for long distance training and racing. It offers a smooth ride at a weight that is simply unbelievable for this level of cushioning. The Challenger definitely requires some getting used to however when running on highly technical terrain.
The Challenger ATR is built on Hoka’s Clifton road platform, which was, at the time of its debut, the lightest shoe ever made by Hoka. Although Hoka has since released lighter models, the Challenger is still light by Hoka standards at well under 10oz. The unique feature of the Challenger is that its comfort level is on par with shoes in the 11–12 oz weight class. Heavier shoes tend to offer better protection with full-length outsoles and beefier upper materials— both of which are lacking in the Challenger—the trade off here, being weight vs. protection.
The Challenger offers a smooth and responsive ride and although the cushioning is thick, it isn’t too soft or too firm and compresses just enough to bounce back. This shoe feels amazing on cruiser–grade downhills. The major drawback with the Challenger is its overall lack of precision on technical terrain. Runners new to the Hoka platform will likely struggle at first, but the handling does become adequate (though not outstanding) with time.
The Challenger will likely appeal to two classes of runners: competitive racers who want more cushioning for longer runs; and mid-packers who are coming from the opposite end of the spectrum and need a reliable cushioned work horse but are looking for something lighter. The Challenger is not the best choice for runners who need a lot of support or will be covering rugged, highly technical terrain.
Comfort The Challenger ATR is comfortable right out of the box. The midsole foam felt just as good after twenty miles as it did after two. While the upper materials aren’t necessarily soft to the touch, they’re certainly not rough or abrasive. The only drawback is that the toe box may be just a touch too narrow for some runners, particularly on longer runs.
Speed The 5mm heel-to-toe drop strikes a good balance between handling and efficiency of turnover. Although a shoe with this large of a stack height can’t help but feel a little awkward, the overall ride is so smooth that turnover becomes nearly effortless on groomed surfaces. The Challenger also transitions to road — paved or dirt — better than most trail shoes.
Security of Fit The fit of the Challenger is slightly different than the heavier Hoka models, with a bit more girth in the midfoot. The Challenger also comes with standard laces rather than speed laces, which make getting a snug comfortable fit somewhat easier, particularly toward the front of the shoe. During testing, some occasional adjustments were needed before long downhills.
Agility The overall design of the Challenger definitely limits its overall agility. There is simply no way that a shoe with this large of a profile can handle with the nimbleness and precision of something more traditional in design. The feel of the shoe also takes getting used to given the increased height above the ground. This is countered somewhat by the large ground contact area, which improves both stability and traction.
Responsiveness Although the Challenger might appear to be a soft squishy platform, it is surprisingly responsive, particularly on firmer surfaces. The midsole provides excellent energy return, but this comes through thickness and composition rather than through stiffness. As such the Challenger has that hard-to-achieve feel of cushioned responsiveness.
Protection Obviously with a midsole this thick, the Challenger provides excellent push through protection. The upper forefoot is somewhat less protective due to the thinner material and lack of overlays. The toe bumper is sufficient to handle typical trail hazards.
A competitive road cyclist in his younger years and lifelong outdoor enthusiast, Jacob discovered his love for long distance trail running as an adult. He lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe. Follow him at Google+.