≪ Go to our review of Trail Running Shoes - Women's
Hands-on Gear Review
HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 - Women's Review
Cons: Not the best for cold weather, tippy
Bottom line: This Top Pick for comfort boasts ample cushion and comfort for many-a miles.
Weight (oz): 8.9 oz
Water held (oz): 2.57 oz
Manufacturer: HOKA ONE ONE
With stacks on stacks of cushioning, the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 4 is our Top Pick for Comfort. Featuring a new wider forefoot and better stability, this shoe is a new favorite for many of our testers. The dual-layer mesh is light and breathable, absorbing little water and drying quickly during wet weather and river crossings. Also, the outsole provides decent traction across most terrain but excelling in dry conditions. While it's not the best for slippery surfaces, like the Salomon Speedcross 4, the smooth bottom provides a nice transition from heel to toe that will have you rocking on for miles on both technical and flat surfaces.
While the Challenger 4 is perfect for those in search of a super cushioned and comfortable trail shoe, it's not the most stable or sensitive. Unlike the Salming Elements (one of the least protective and most sensitive in this review), it has stacks of cushioning that doesn't give you a 'close-to-the Earth' feel. Also, because of the loads of cushioning in the heel, it's more tippy than other contenders. All that said, the new wider forefoot makes it more stable than any prior Challenger model — giving it two huge thumbs up.
RELATED REVIEW: Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2018
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 4 is our Top Pick for Comfort because it's literally stacked with EVA foam. Running feels like running through a cloud forest, bouncing to and fro through the wilderness.
With an oversized EVA midsole and awesome protective features, it's no wonder we gave the HOKA One One Challenger 4 a rating of eight out of ten. The most embellished and perhaps awesome feature of this shoe is the EVA midsole that absorbs shock every step of the way.
We also enjoyed the new extended toe cap that helps to prevent unsuspecting stubs on the trail. Also, our testers appreciated the new breathable upper that is thin and porous, doing its job to protect against loose sand and particulates of soil. That said, if you plan on running a long distance in the sandy environments, be sure to strap on a pair of running gaiters to prevent particulates from getting inside the shoe. Additionally, it provides some water resistant but is certainly not waterproof. It became saturated on a wet, snowy day but dries quickly.
While the HOKA's do well in most terrain such as flat roads, desert conditions, and mountainous terrain, it's not the most technical option out there. While its protective features do a great job keeping out pebbles and breathing well on hot days, it doesn't have a rock plate as we found with the uber protective inov-8 Roclite 305 GTX, our Editors' Choice award winner, or the La Sportiva Bushido.
Though, it doesn't need it as the sole is so thick. Also, the upper is more flexible and breathable than the inov-8 and doesn't protect as well from rain and snowy because the upper isn't very waterproof. All said and done, if you plan on a river crossing or getting wet, the inov-8 is a better option. Though the HOKA Challenger 4 can still perform in those conditions and dry out quickly.
As a trail runner, the traction is about average performing well on snow, dry, and hard surfaces alike. The outsole features multi-directional lugs that grab loose surfaces while the air pockets (that ultimately cushion as well) almost suction the Earth. The lugs are concentrated to the front of the foot grabbing the Earth with every cycle of the leg. Each lug features a high surface area that helps on flat surfaces, providing a smooth transition between contact and lift-off. It scores a six out of ten in this metric, similar to the Nike Terra Kiger 4 and Altra Lone Peak 3.5.
While we felt confident wearing the Challenger 4 on most terrain, it didn't perform as well on steep soft surfaces like sand and wet mud. Shoes with longer lugs like the Salomon Speedcross 4, our Top Pick for Sloppy Surfaces crush the nasty stuff including winter weather and icy surfaces. While it did well on these sloppier surfaces, the Challenger performed better on harder surfaces extending to hard packed snow, dirt, rocky terrain, hard-packed sand, and more.
In addition, because this shoe doesn't have a super technical outsole, it's not our top recommendation for rocked out or unstable surfaces. In this case, we'd recommend a shoe that is lower profile with an integrated lug system and multidirectional lugs. An excellent recommendation is the Saucony Peregrine 7, our Best Buy award winner.
Increasing its score in stability, the new Challenger 4 feels like the most stable shoe developed in this line. The new fit features a wider platform and feels more stable on technical terrain. Ultimately this decreases the height to width ratio in the midfoot. In addition, the uber thin upper wraps the footwell. As a result, it earns an additional stability point in this metric, scoring a seven out of ten (in comparison to six in the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger 3).
While this new version of the Challenger is more stable than it has been in the past, it's important to note that there are more stable competitors in this review. Those that did best featured a low profile design with a near to the ground feel like the Salming Elements, scoring a perfect ten for stability. This shoe is pretty minimalistic, with very few protective features. So if you're looking for a nice balance of stability and protection, the Nike Terra Kiger 4 and the La Sportiva Bushido are our top recommendations. While none of these are as cushioned as the Challenger 4, they are far more stable.
Comfort & Fit
With a maximalist design and a five mm heel-to-toe drop, this uber cushioned shoe scored perfect points for comfort features. With the oversized sole, we felt like we were flying over rocks and roots on the trail. The extra squish provides cushion for miles on miles and this was our go-to shoe for long days in the mountains.
This year, the newly engineered Challenger ATR 4 provides a broader forefoot, accommodating better toe splay and stability. Some of our testers like it while others didn't. Those that loved it thought the fit was even more comfortable, offering more room for feet to spread. However, lovers of the Challenger 3 liked the more precise design and more narrow forefoot. As a result, there are different opinions on the new, wider fit.
If you're in the market for a shoe that can accommodate a narrow foot better, we like the Salming Elements, a minimalist shoe option. If you prefer a little extra cushion in the heel (with the narrow forefoot), the Salomon Speedcross 4 is always a good choice. It features a more traditional fit with a 10 mm heel to toe drop.
We are super psyched about how lightweight and quick to dry this maximalist contender performs. Scoring a nine out of ten in this category, we think it's a great option for wet weather or river crossings. Not because it has a water-resistant upper, but because it holds soooo little water when wet and dries the fastest of all shoes tested! With a dry weight of just 8.90 oz, this shoe is a touch heavier than the Challenger 3. That said, it holds way less water (2.57 oz). This is the least absorbent shoe in this review and the fastest to dry.
If you're more interested in a light quick to dry shoe that does not have ample cushioning, be sure to look at the Nike Terra Kiger 4, the lightest overall shoe in this review. It is the second fastest to dry and hold very little water when wet, making it a great water crosser as well. If you want a shoe that is incredibly water resistant, we suggest the Inov-8 for its waterproof upper.
While the Challenger 4 provides decent sensitivity for a maximalist shoe, its one of the least comparably sensitive shoes in this review. While the forefoot doesn't have as much EVA foam cushioning as the heel, it still has enough that you can't feel every rock or root. As a result, the Challenger 4 scores a five out of ten, similar to the Saucony Xodus ISO.
The Salming Elements are the lightest and most sensitive shoe tested in this review. With no rock plate, it hasn't any cushioning either, giving you a truly intimate experience with the trail. The Challenger ATR 4 also doesn't have a rock plate, but its made up for in the additional cushioning. If you want a shoe that offers a great balance of sensitivity with a rock plate for added protection, be sure to scope out the Saucony Peregrine 5 our Best Buy award winner. The inov-8 roclite 305 GTX also provides a close-to-the-ground feel but has more protective features than the Peregrine 5. Overall, if you're looking for a sensitive shoe, the Challenger 4 is not your best option out there - but it's still sensitive enough to give you confidence on rocky or uneven terrain.
Take the Challenger 4 to the tops of mountains or through the desert. Functioning best for a runner looking for long-term comfort in the form of a maximalist sole, this shoe fits both wide and narrow feet (less precise for narrow). The outer provides some water resistance, making it an option for river crossings as it dries quickly and doesn't hold a lot of water. In addition, it performs best on dry trails made of sand, dirt, gravel, or asphalt. Avoid it for super sloppy conditions. Love it for any distance be it a training run or race.
As one of the least expensive HOKA models and with a comparative price to other shoes out there, we are not deterred by the price. While we can't speak to the longevity of the shoe, we certainly did not observe any wear and tear after 50 miles of use in mountainous terrain. The $130 price tag isn't bad, and this Top Pick is a high-value performer for those in search of a fantastic maximalist shoe. If you're in the market for something a little less expensive, we'd recommend the Saucony Peregrine 5, going for as little as $70 with online sales (but retailing for $120), and winner of our Best Buy Award.
The HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 4 is a maximalist shoe featuring stacks of cushioning and comfort for miles on miles. This is our Top Pick for Comfort.
— Amber King
You Might Also Like
Best Trail Running Shoes for Women of 2018Choosing your next women's trail runner is tough, but our experts found and tested the best 13 models among a sea of...
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 1, 2018
Where's the Best Price?
*You help support OutdoorGearLab's product testing and reviews by purchasing from our retail partners.
Table of Contents
Other Gear by HOKA ONE ONE