There are few brands as Marmite as Hoka, except of course Marmite. What is just as clear about these over-sized runners is that the triathlon community is starting to pick up on the buzz of the trail and ultra-runner with Hoka becoming more widely embraced.
The launch of the Hoka One One Challenger ATR sees an attempt to combine the best of off-road, the Rapa Nui for example, with the 2014-released road Hoka, the Clifton. Does the fusion work or is this latest iteration a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none?
The Hoka One One Challenger ATR features a 5mm heel-to-toe drop, the same differential as both the Clifton and the Rapa Nui 2, so fairly close to the barefoot experience and certainly one that encourages mid-forefoot strike and toe-off. The 29mm heel and 24mm forefoot is identical to the layout of the Clifton but slightly more overblown than the 26/21mm credentials of the Rapa Nui, which makes sense for the additional cushioning against pavement pounding that the Challenger ATR needs to accommodate. In terms of weight it falls between points at 256g (512g pair, UK8) compared to the Clifton’s more svelte 217g and the Rapa Nui’s more trail-resistant 290g.
Numbers aside how does the Challenger perform? Comfort levels are good although there was something of a stiffness about the mid-sole that seemed to affect responsiveness (yes, there is responsiveness to the ground in Hoka’s despite the substantial cushioning.) This was certainly more noticeable on road than trail and not something we had previously experienced with the Cliftons. The sensation diminished with time so it’s possibly a case of ‘breaking in.’
The grip on the Challenger is surprisingly robust for a shoe intended for cross-surface running but it certainly seems at home on both trail and road; there’s an admirably aggressive quality to the grip that tore up some pretty technical terrain and delivered the traction needed in both wet and quite icy conditions. In terms of stability – and this is a leap of faith when you first switch to an over-sized like an Hoka One One – the Challenger performed just as well as we had hope: perfectly.
In general and personally we’d like to see gusseted tongues on Hokas intended in part or full for trail use – it’s just a nicety they’re lacking across the board.
If we were to be slightly reductive the Challenger ATR is a Clifton with a trail sole grafted on; that’s not to suggest that’s a bad thing and, in fact, seems the absolutely logical thing to do when the expressed desire is to deliver a shoe that will take you from door to trail and back.
Of course if all you want to do is hit the pavements then the Clifton would still be your first and most obvious choice and conversely if it’s all about the trails then something from the Rapa Nui or Mafate range will hit the spot more precisely. But when it comes to mixing it up the Hoka One One Challenger ATR is far from a compromise shoe and at £100 represents good value too.
Further details on the Challenger ATR, which is available in both men’s and women’s models, and the full Hoka One One range at hokaoneone.eu
Read our review of the Hoka One One Clifton here.