The Hoka Challenger ATR 4 is the flagship of Hoka's trail running line, providing runners with a characteristically unique cushioned ride. Compared to the average trail running shoe, these shoes are impressively lightweight due to a simple upper and airy EVA foam midsole, while offering average traction. They are very well padded and protective underfoot, a trait which many runners find makes them exceedingly comfortable. The downside to these super fat midsoles is that they are less stable on rough, rocky terrain and especially off trail, while also dampening any sense of trail feel.
They rightfully deserve their cult level following, but their unique features also make them polarizing, and many folks refuse to wear them as swear by their awesomeness. While we enjoy this shoe for all that it offers, we feel that the Hoka Speedgoat 2 is even more comfortable and fits better, and thus we have named it our newest Top Pick for Maximum Cushioning.
Changes and Updates for the Challenger ATR 4
In November of 2017, Hoka released the newest Challenger ATR 4
. As can be expected, small and large tweaks were made, which we will describe below:
- The upper is redesigned using entirely durable mesh and eliminates any overlays or puff-print.
- The plastic heel counter was redesigned and made quite a bit larger, ideally offering better heel support.
- The toe bumper material was enlarged, changed to a rubber overlay, and is a bit stiffer than the previous toe bumper.
- Padding was eliminated from the tongue, and it is now gusseted with light, breathable mesh on the inside of the upper.
- The amount and thickness of padding in the upper was reduced.
- The advertised stack height is now 2mm thicker, maxing out at 31mm in the heel, but retains the same 5mm heel-toe drop.
- The ATR 4 is slightly lighter than the ATR 3, weighing 1.2 ounces less per pair on our independent scale.
Our Opinions about the Changes
The new Hoka Challenger ATR 4 on the left, compared to the ATR 3 on the right. Most of the changes where to the upper, including eliminating the use of patterned overlays, using entirely breathable mesh, and adding a more protective toe bumper.
In general, the changes made to the Challenger ATR 4 only serve to make it a better overall shoe. It is lighter, and the redesigned upper is more breathable. The 4 also features a more comfortable tongue design, as well as better toe bumper protection. We didn't notice any difference in the feel of the new heel counter. The shoe feels virtually the same performance wise, but when out on a run with the four on one foot and the old three on the other, very noticeable to us was the fit of the new upper. The ATR 4 has a higher volume fit, meaning there is a lot more space in the shoe. The thick padding inside the ATR 3 hugged our foot more snuggly, and for the same size shoe, the ATR 4 fit looser, especially in the mid-foot and heel. For runners with high volume or wide feet, the fit of the new shoe will surely feel better, but we had to crank the laces down to feel secure. Runners with very narrow or low volume feet may struggle to get a performance fit out of this shoe.
Running in the Challenger ATR 4 shoes on the steep and rocky trails around Ouray, Colorado, is a blast!
As a maximally cushioned Hoka shoe, one would certainly expect a lot of underfoot protection from this shoe, and it doesn't disappoint. With its huge midsole of EVA foam, the runner will feel only the sharpest and most jagged underfoot protrusions. It does not have a rock plate and retains its soft, squishy feel. Our only concern is that while previously testing models of this shoe and other Hokas we have found that this foam tends to compress over time, lessening the dampening effect as well as the underfoot protection as the shoe ages and collects more miles. Regarding the upper, the new entirely mesh design does an adequate job of protecting the sides of the shoes from wear, while the rubberized toe bumper is a slight improvement over previous models.
Compared to the competition, there is no doubt that this shoe is right up there with the best when it comes to foot protection. We awarded it 9 out of 10 points, a tie for the highest score with the Hoka Speedgoat 2 as well as the Salomon S/Lab Ultra. It retains a significantly different feel underfoot than the S/Lab Ultra, however, as they combine an ample amount of cushioning foam with another layer of harder foam. They offer "hard feeling" protection, whereas the Challenger ATR 4 provides sufficient "soft feel" protection that feels more absorptive and bouncy.
With 31mm of underfoot cushioning, the Challenger ATR 4 offer the most protection of any shoe in this review, ensuring that your feet will not feel the abuse of rocks underfoot.
The rubber outsole on the Challenger ATR 4 remains completely unchanged from the previous version. It covers a relatively small portion of the bottom of the shoe and is made up of patterns of moderately spaced out 4mm deep lugs of different shapes. We were once again surprised with how good the traction was on this shoe, despite its relatively benign appearance compared to the very aggressive tread pattern on many of the other shoes.
The 4mm lug pattern, seen here as the panels of darker blue, grip surprisingly well considering they are not as aggressive as some competitors. On the other hand, so many different pieces of glued on rubber means there are more opportunities for the lugs to rip off over time.
In our comparative testing, we found this shoe to be slightly below average when it comes to traction. It gripped pretty well on grass and dirt, but suffered on dry talus and especially on wet rock. In that regard, it performed very similarly to our best overall trail running shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4, but was not as good as the more aggressively lugged Speedgoat 2.
Testing these shoes in winter gave us a chance to try them out on some slippery hard packed snow. We found that they gripped the snow excellently, and also did a good job sticking to the slippery mud in the spots without snow.
The days of ridiculous clown shoe-like stack heights on Hokas are thankfully long gone, and there is no doubt that they no longer retain their reputation for ankle-breaking instability. That said, there is no arguing the fact that they ride pretty high off the ground, and still offer an array of stability concerns when comparing them to the many low to the ground minimalist shoes available today.
In our targeted stability testing, we found that while side-hilling across a steep grassy slope, the high stack height was still a significant liability, inducing considerable ankle instability. The upper is relatively spacious, and we struggled a bit to lock down our foot so that it is held firmly in place. Thus, it still felt like one of the least stable shoes in our test, up there with the Salomon Speedcross 4, which features a massive amount of heel cushioning and a sizeable heel-toe drop. By comparison, the most stable shoes, such as the Altra Superior 3.5, offered a very broad platform low to the ground. 3 out of 10 points.
This photo shows the mesh gusseting for the tongue on the inside of the shoe. This mesh helps hug the foot in place, which improves stability by keeping the foot from slipping side to side. It also aids in keeping debris from slipping in around the tongue.
Few would argue that the Challenger ATR 4 is a very comfortable shoe. Regarding fit, we found it to be pretty true to size when considering length but also noticed that it retains its narrowness in the forefoot compared to a wider toe box that allows greater amounts of foot-splaying upon landing, like the Altra Lone Peak 3.5. We also noticed that the heel and mid-foot seem to be a bit wide for our feet, as our heel was somewhat prone to slipping when traveling uphill. With its recently redesigned upper, we thought this was one of the highest volume shoes in this review.
Worth pointing out is that in our bucket test we found that this shoe absorbs a roughly average amount of water when dunked, and was able to shed that water pretty easily after our short five-minute test run. These findings suggest that this shoe is well suited to running in wet climates or the rain, and inspired us to bump up the comfort rating. The upper is also now much thinner and more breathable than in the past, helping one keep their feet dry on long, wet runs. We gave it 6 out of 10 points, a lower score than the comparable Speedgoat 2.
In this photo you can see the redesigned tongue of the Challenger ATR 4, on the right, compared to the old tongue. You can also see the reduced amount of heel and ankle padding, all of which leads to a shoe that fits looser and more spaciously than it did in the past.
Our pair of men's size 11 shoes weighed in at 20.4 ounces, which is impressively light considering the quantity of material. This moderate weight was enough to award them 8 out of 10 points, on par with the low profile New Balance Summit Unknown and quite a bit lighter than another high-scoring high mileage shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4. When running, these shoes don't feel heavy or clunky, backing up the numbers.
When describing the level of sensitivity while running in these shoes, the word that comes to our mind is "disassociation". In this case, the maximal cushioning directly translates into minimal sensitivity. While some trail running shoes, such as the Saucony Peregrine 8, manage to strike a balance and do an equally good job of protecting the foot and offering a pleasing level of trail sensitivity, this is not one of those shoes. That said, due to the soft nature of the cushioning, one does still feel a small amount of trail texture.
The Challenger ATR 4 is a great trail running shoe for runners of all abilities. Those with a desire for the most impact absorption they can find will probably love them even more. Due to said impact absorption, they have become extremely popular as ultra running shoes, and are a great choice for loooong races. Because of stability concerns, we stick to the trails when we use them, and opt for something else when we venture cross-country.
The Challenger ATR 4 on a winter run with the snow covered Sneffels range of the San Juan Mountains in the background.
These shoes retail for $130, making them one of the more expensive options in this review, but only by a hair. Thankfully, the days of $160 price tags for Hokas are gone! While those who love these shoes and their maximum cushioning will surely find sufficient value, we must point out that durability concerns in both the midsole foam and the outsole abound in online user reviews, potentially calling into question their value. We also feel that for people not attached to the maximum cushioning there are higher performing shoes available for less money.
The Challenger ATR 4 stay true to their roots of offering optimal foot protection and cushioning, which we appreciated while bombing down the steep old Horsethief Trail back to the town of Ouray.
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR 4 is a unique shoe due to its copious amounts of underfoot cushioning. This design feature has single-handedly revolutionized the trail running shoe landscape. Those who have run in previous versions of these shoes will find a different fit to this year's model, although the overall performance of the shoe remains the same, or even slightly improved due to a lower weight. Runners looking to try them out for the first time will discover a comfortable, super cushioned and springy ride in a surprisingly light package.