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