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Review: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 || Easy singletrack + mixed runs

Hoka Challenger ATR 4

My shoe-de-jour changes with the season and the training cycle. Last summer while training for 100-mile mountain ultras and undertaking high routes I was most excited about the Salomon S/Lab Sense Ultra (my review) and La Sportiva Bushido (my review). In the lead-up to the Houston Marathon in January, I put hundreds of miles on the Hoka One One Cavu (my reivew). And, most recently, while recovering from Houston and building my base for 2018, I’ve been running several times per week in the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4, in which I just surpassed the 300-mile mark.

Review: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4

The fourth-generation Challenger ATR is consistent with the vision for the previous three: a well cushioned and versatile running shoe that is designed for trails but that can also successfully take to the roads.

With a romy toebox, breathable mesh upper, and generous underfoot cushioning, the ATR 4 could be an excellent hiking/backpacking shoe, too, although I did not test it for that.

Many of the old previous ATR specs apply to the ATR 4, too: breathable mesh upper, 31/26 mm stack height with 5 mm drop, mixed rubber/foam outsole with 4 mm lugs, and $130 price point. However, Hoka is learning as it goes, and with the ATR 4 it tried to remedy known fit and durability issues.

I have found the Challenger ATR 4 to be most at home on easy rolling singletrack. For the Boulder locals, I’m thinking of Mesa Trail, Betasso Preserve, Marshall Mesa, and the Reservoir. Because of its 4 mm lugs, it’s also become my go-to for bike lanes, pea gravel trails, and dirt roads that are muddy and/or snow-covered.

The Challenger is capable on gnarly trails, but there are better shoes for that application — its center-of-gravity is too high, its midsole is too insensitive, and rubber covers only half of its outsole. Similarly, the Challenger performs well on dry pavement, but its overkill due to the luggy outsole and structured upper. In between these extremes, or on runs that span the spectrum, it excels.

Its toebox is roomy but not clown shoe-like, and its midfoot overlays keep the foot comfortably secured. The midsole foam has a better balance of cushion and responsiveness than the classic Hoka marshmallow midsole.

On easy rolling singletrack like Marshall Mesa and on runs with equal parts road and hard trails, the Challenger ATR 4 excels.

Key product specs

  • Breathable double-layer mesh upper
  • Neutral support
  • Weight: 9.0 oz (M’s 9), 10.2 oz (M’s 11.5, verified)
  • 31/26 mm EVA midsole
  • 5 mm drop
  • MSRP: $130
  • More info/Buy now

Comparisons

The ATR 4 is the first Challenger that I have worn, so I can’t comment with first-hand experience on the iterative changes from the earlier generations.

Challenger ATR 4 vs Clifton 4

A better place to start is with the Clifton 4 (my review), since Hoka describes the Challenger as, “a Clifton for the trails.” The two shoes have identical lasts; their midsoles have similar consistency; and both are rockered.

But the ATR 4 is not just a Clifton with a trail-worthy outsole. The upper is fundamentally different, with less padding in the heel cup and tongue, a more robust toe cap, and more secure midfoot overlays. It fits differently — in the Clifton I ride over the inside edge, whereas with the ATR 4 I’m perfectly centered. Finally, in my size M’s 11.5 the ATR 4 is 1.1 oz lighter.

The Challenger ATR 4 (right) and Clifton 4 (left) share the same last and a similar midsole and rocker, but are otherwise very different shoes.

Challener ATR 4 vs Speedgoat 2

Despite its high stack height, I consider the Speedgoat 2 (my review) a full-on trail shoe. The Challenger ATR 4 is for a different application, with much better performance on roads and easy trails. It has a much roomier toebox, firmer midsole, and less sticky and aggressive outsole.

Fit

In my size 11.5, the Challenger ATR 4 is true to size. I am also an 11.5 in other Hoka shoes (including Clifton 2, Clifton 4, Speedgoat 2, and Cavu) and in models from Altra, Merrell, Salewa, and Salomon. In La Sportiva, I’m 45.5.

I have a narrow and small-volume foot, and feel that I’m at the lower end of the fit range in the Challenger ATR 4. The toebox is roomy, but not scarily loose fitting. And my midfoot is mostly secure when the laces are tight, although I will slide forward slightly on extended downhills.

Midsole

The first two Hoka models that I wore were the Clifton 2 and Speedgoat 2, both of which have very soft and forgiving EVA foam midsoles. It was classic Hoka, and what originally set them apart from other brands.

The three models I have tested most recently, however — the Clifton 4, Cavu, and Challenger ATR 4 — are notably firmer and more responsive. They’re not “thin,” however — they still have 30-ish mm of foam underfoot, more than enough to swallow gravel or to reduce the pounding on long road runs.

Overall, I prefer the “new Hoka.” The firmer foam feels less energy-sapping when I’m trying to run fast and more stable when I’m on uneven terrain.

The ATR 4’s midsole is firmer than previous Hoka models, but with a stack height of 31/26 mm from heel toe toe it is still generously cushioned.

Outsole

After 300 miles of wear, the 4-mm lugs have at least half their rubber left (except for at my landing and push-off zones, where they’re more worn), and no lugs have been ripped off. Frankly, the durability has surprised me, since the cumulative lug volume is unremarkable and the rubber is not branded.

The purchase on mud, consolidated snow, wet leaves, and ball bearing sand is decent, and more than adequate on rolling or flat terrain. On paved surfaces, the rubber is not annoyingly sticky, as in the case with the Vibram Megagrip on the Speedgoats, which sound as if they have dozens of little suction cups underfoot.

This photo was taken after about 150 miles. After 300, the 4 mm lugs have at least half their rubber left.

Upper

The double-layer mesh upper is moderately breathable, and so far shows no signs of abrasion or fraying. It is reinforced with more durable TPU around the toebox, which offers some bump-resistance as well.

Hidden between the mesh layers are midfoot overlays, which help to secure the foot. Without these, the shoe would probably allow for more lateral movement.

The breathable mesh upper and thinnly padded heel cup and tongue make for an airy and quick-drying shoe.

Aestheics

What the hell is happening at Hoka? No more marshmellow midsoles or obnoxiously loud colorways?

My review pair was a plesant blue and gray, with a dull orange accent used for graphics and the laces. I don’t feel like I need to run fast to wear this shoe, which can be comforting.

Room for improvement

Overall, I have really enjoyed using the Challenger ATR 4, and think that I will exhaust its usable lifespan. But for the Challenger ATR 5, I’d like to see two small tweaks:

1. The TPU pattern on the toebox should wrap cleanly around the perimeter of the toes. The “point” that extends over the ATR 4 toebox is stiff/boardy and interferes with the natural crease line. If it has a purpose besides aesthetics, I haven’t figured it out.

2. Replace the laces. The current linguine-shaped laces more difficult to tie than conventional laces and they are very susceptible to becoming twisted.

The TPU “point” on the toebox serves no purpose (as far as I can tell) but interfees with the natural crease of the shoe.

Questions about the Challenger ATR 4? Own them and wish to share your experience? Leave a comment.


Disclosure. This website is supported mostly through affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors, at no cost to the reader. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

Additional disclosure: Hoka provided me with a review pair of ATR 4. If they sucked, I would have said so or told them privately, and would not have run 300 miles in them.

7 Responses to Review: Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 || Easy singletrack + mixed runs

  1. Joe February 28, 2018 at 3:49 pm #

    Interesting. I haven’t tried any Hokas yet, and may never, because Altras suit me so well, but I applaud your thoughts regarding colors. Your Houston shoes frankly made my eyes hurt.

    These things run in cycles, though. I’m embarrassed to see photos of myself snowboarding in the late ’80’s in pink, lavender, and turquoise bibs, but there I was.

    I like “linguine laces” too, by the way.

    To each his own.

    Thanks for what you do.

  2. Drizzy Dre April 22, 2018 at 7:36 pm #

    Great review, Andrew. I am curious what you would recommend for a flat Midwestern 50K (42 ft/mile gained) that will have a mix of single track, sand dunes, and mud. I am leaning toward the Speedgoat 2 over the other Hoka models but am open to suggestions from other brands as well.

    Thanks and keep up the great blog!

    Drizzy Dre (fellow Roche athlete)

    • Andrew Skurka April 22, 2018 at 7:54 pm #

      Let me preface my recommendations: Don’t wear it unless it’s comfortable.

      If you want to stay with Hoka, you might look at the Mach. It fits and performs very similarly to the Cavu, but it has a slightly more aggressive outsole. It’s a soft outsole so not great for long-term durability, but as a result of it being soft it gets pretty good traction. It shares the same last as the Challenger and Clifton 4; it’s wider in the forefoot than the SG2, which I find tight even for someone with narrow feet. The Mach is much more responsive than the SG2, which translates into it being faster.

      If you are willing to look beyond Hoka, you might consider the SLab Sense Ultra (first gen) if you can find them. If you are a really nimble runner, you might be able to get away with SLab Sense 6, too.

      • Drizzy Dre April 22, 2018 at 8:13 pm #

        Great, thanks! Best of luck with your training this summer.

  3. Ed Brown April 25, 2018 at 5:26 pm #

    I am planning my first walk, as a tribute to the 35 anniversary to the Beirut bombing by walking from Pensacola fl hwy 90 to Jax fo then N on Hwy 17 To the memorial in Jax nc.
    I am 57 yr old retiree and need some advice. I had thought about 20-25 mi per day with a day of rest about every 14. I’m expecting 7-8 weeks and camping overnights.

    Any advice or gear recommendations will be greatly appreciated.

    Ed Brown

  4. Mateo May 30, 2018 at 12:41 pm #

    I’ve found the opposite using the flat laces… for me they provide an improved cinch over a longer period of time. The Altras flat laces are similar. Agree, they do need twist re-setting on occasion but when double knotted, I can’t recall having to re-tighten unless the lace was grabbed by debris etc. M

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