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Hands-on Gear Review
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 Review
Cons: Not very durable outsole, not very sensitive.
Bottom line: Tons of comfy cushioning at a super light weight.
The Challenger just got an update and continues to be our favorite big cushion shoe. With thick foam underfoot, but without compromising weight or performance, the Challenger ATR 3 is our obvious choice for Top Pick for Maximum Cushioning. While for many years choosing to run in HOKA's meant accepting a clownish look and treading carefully with an unstable landing platform, the Challenger ATR 3 alleviates those concerns. The shoe looks relatively normal, and it is surprisingly among the more stable shoes we tested despite its stack height. This fact we attribute to the compressible foam cushioning and low 5mm heel-toe drop.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Updated Challenger ATR 3 vs. ATR 2
The new Challenger ATR 3 has seen some updates to the fit, fabrics, and sole. It retails for the same $130 as the ATR 2 and has a similar look, including the same 5mm heel-drop. The Challenger ATR 3 we recently tested is on the right and the ATR 2 that we also tested is on the left.
The HOKA ONE ONE brand has been synonymous with outlandishly large midsoles made of super thick EVA foam since their inception. While this trait made them famous and revolutionized the trail running shoe market, there have always been some major drawbacks to their design. For one, the huge stack height meant they were very unstable and not very well suited for off-trail terrain. They have not always fit very well, have been on the heavy side, and have historically been very expensive compared to normal trail running shoes. These were among our top complaints from past reviews of the Stinson ATR, and reasons why we couldn't highly recommend it.
Enter the Challenger ATR. With this shoe, HOKA has adjusted the upper to be far snugger and hold the foot better, which makes a difference in comfort as well as performance. The stack height is a little shorter but still offers the same cushioning one would expect. Stability is remarkably improved, and they weigh among the lightest that we tested. Whether you have injury concerns, biomechanical issues, or just love to run insane distances, having a ton of cushioning can be a very beautiful thing.
The chart below gives you an idea of how the Challenger ATR measured up against the competition.
We rated this shoe as the single best shoe in the review when it came to protection — 10 out of 10. See the chart below to find out how the rest of the shoes fared in the Foot Protection category.
The 29mm thick EVA foam midsole cushions the foot from nearly any blow, while also absorbing a significant amount of the impact from a normal running stride. This shoe does not have a rock plate, like other highly protective shoes such as the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4 or The North Face Ultra Endurance. The plastic film overlays on the upper do a reasonable job of protecting the mesh material from damage, and there is also a full-width toe bumper. The stack height does a good job of minimizing blows to the sides of the feet, anyway. If reducing the impacts from running is a priority, then you can hardly do better than this shoe.
While the 4mm lugs present on part of the outsole do offer decent traction, we had to rate this shoe on the lower end of the spectrum compared to the other shoes in the review.
We found it was roughly on par with the ASICS GEL-FujiTrabuco 4 Neutral or the La Sportiva Wildcat regarding traction. What we don't like is the amount of the midsole exposed to the ground, which is a whole lot. HOKA claims that their "podular design" provides stability on uneven terrain, which happens because the sole can morph and bend around the terrain it is stepping on. In many ways this works similar to the X-pattern on the sole of the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2. We just prefer a single piece outsole design that covers the entire sole for durability reasons. 6 out of 10 points.
In the past, stability has been our principle complaint with the cushioning design of HOKA shoes. This was such a problem for us that we couldn't force ourselves to wear them very often due to the fear of rolling ankles and the need to be so much more careful and slow. But with the Challenger ATR, we have not had any of those problems. The 5mm heel-toe drop and the meta-rocker design helps the foot roll forward in a stable manner, and the 29mm of stack under the heel is a lot less than older versions, and not too much more than some other shoes we reviewed.
While we think this shoe is ideal for trail running, we still don't use it for other off-trail purposes, mostly due to stability. We awarded 8 out of 10 points for stability, roughly the same as the Montrail Caldorado.
While these shoes felt significantly different than any other shoe in the review, we did find them to be very comfortable. As such, we gave them 9 out of 10 points, at the top of the scale, along with the La Sportiva Helios 2.0 and Saucony Peregrine 7.
The extreme cushioning adds comfort, but we also felt that the upper did a great job of hugging the foot in a stable manner. The heel cup and ankle padding, as well as no seams on the inside of the upper, added to the comfort of this shoe. The moment we first put it on, we could tell that this was a comfortable shoe.
Weight might be the most surprising attribute of this shoe — it is insanely light. At only 20.4 ounces for a pair of size 11 shoes, this was the second lightest shoe in the entire review, despite quite obviously being the largest. Only the La Sportiva Helios 2.0 was lighter, and the Altra Superior 3.0, a tiny shoe in comparison, was roughly the same weight. To be able to have the benefits of so much cushioning and also be the lightest — that is indeed an impressive design accomplishment, so cheers to HOKA for that.
While not the least sensitive shoe in our review, it was pretty close. The Challenger ATR was roughly on par with the Brooks Cascadia 11, a very stiff shoe with a solid rock plate, when it came to sensitivity, but slightly better than the La Sportiva Wildcat or our other Top Pick Award winner, the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 4. With so much foam underfoot, it's hard to feel the trail, as these qualities tend to work against each other.
Due to its increased stability and low weight, this shoe is genuinely a contender for an everyday shoe. It's great for ultra races, especially 100 milers, as the impact on the legs adds up over time. But we also think that it will serve on just about any trail run of any distance. The place where we still would not recommend it is off-trail, as the stack height and few lugs still impact how it performs on terrain like grass, talus, and off camber areas.
This shoe will cost you $130. For comparison, the pair of Stinson ATR shoes that we reviewed last year cost us $160, far more than any other shoe in the review. Considering that these shoes are an improvement over the Stinson in literally every way, and could run circles around them, it is quite a steal that they are now $30 cheaper.
This is our Top Pick for Maximum Cushioning because they have attributes that no other shoe in our review has to offer. They are remarkably better than any other HOKA shoe we have ever worn. There are a significant number of people in the trail running world that appreciate the added protection and cushioning, and this can be backed up by how many pairs of HOKA's we see out at trail races. For those people, we highly recommend this shoe. For everyone else, maybe it's time to give them a try, you might be surprised!
— Andy Wellman
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