Hoka just never ceases to amaze me. From their humble beginnings to where they are now, Hoka has always stuck to their guns by making arguably the most comfortable trail running shoes on the market. The Challenger 7 is made as a road/trail transition shoe and can perform well in both disciplines, but I’ll call them a road-to-trail shoe because their home is on the trails.
Hoka Challenger 7 Features:
- Built for road-to-trail running
- Compression molded EVA foam midsole (new construction)
- Durabrasion outsoles with 4mm gravel-inspired lugs
- Stack height: 31/26mm
- Drop: 5mm
- Weight: 10 oz. each, 11.5 actual
- MSRP: $145
To the trail and back again
Hoka is notorious for their ultra-squishy running shoes. And, I’ve tested a wide variety of them over the years. What initially seemed clown-ish has now become a staple for runners of all disciplines and are particularly clutch for aging runners who can remain active thanks to their ultra-forgiving cushioning. After several months aboard the Hoka Challenger 7, I can confidently say if I had to choose one pair of shoes to wear all the time, it would be these. But first, let’s backtrack through time and call out just what makes the Challenger 7 so fantastic.
I can confirm that these fit true-to-size. I’m consistently an 11.5 in Hoka and the fit is spot-on. Lacing them up, I appreciate the standard lacing system. The rectangular eyelets are welded to the lower laces and the top two eyelets are routed through a plastic insert. The laces slide through smoothy, but there is enough friction to isolate an area of the laces for pinpoint fit adjustments. While I always double-knot when trail running, these laces can be single-knotted and stay tied all day long. Just a touch of lace stretch allows for some flexing with every step. Hoka has figured out the best of old and new and it just plain works.
I wouldn’t call the toebox “roomy” but there’s enough wiggle room in there for added comfort. And, stepping in is very easy thanks to the easy-entry heel. The fully-wrapped engineered mesh uppers feel cohesive and flexy, yet supportive where needed.
Road miles, then trails (finally)
The combination of record-breaking snowfall and a pulled calf muscle put a damper on any early-season trail testing. While nursing my calf back to full-strength, I broke the Challenger 7’s in around town and on 5 mile dog walks and hikes. Once I felt good enough to test the calf, I was grateful to have such a cushioned shoe on-hand. Slow strides at first, led to a faster pace by the end of the test period.
Of course, the big story here is the new EVA foam midsole, which differs from the Challenger 7. Not only has the stack height increased, this new foam is built to absorb everything the trail throws your way. For me, I have continued to be bewildered at how Hoka has mastered the balance between cushioning and trail feel. How a 31mm tall shoe can still feel in touch with the ground is beyond me, but they are. While I don’t feel as connected as the Hoka Zinal, I can still feel every nuance and react to trail variations. In spite of this fantastic trail feel, it’s still protective enough to shield my forefoot from sharp, pointy rocks. Tread wear has also been excellent as these are showing little signs of wear at this point.
Traction is excellent on pretty much all the standard terrain I face — rocky, dry, hardpack. Certainly, these treads can get overwhelmed in soft, muddy conditions, but you shouldn’t be running on trails like that. There is a natural rocker to the Challenger 7 and I quite like it. Always a fan of the rocker, I can plant and flow through each step with the perfect amount of smoothness that makes me feel like I can run forever. That forward motion is a big part of what makes these shoes so special. A solid toe-off propels to the next stride every time.
As a neutral shoe, I’m not expecting a clinical amount of instep support, still, my low arches and instep are cradled nicely for long-distance comfort and healthy joints. It’s worth noting that these shoes have the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) Seal of Acceptance, which confirms the great experience I’m having with them on long dog walks and 5-6 mile trail runs. My feet always feel refreshed and energized after I run in the Challenger 7’s.
Stability has been rock-solid without any missteps or worry. I’ve been able to ascend and descend with confidence as my heel is locked in place and the low-profile treads bite the terrain better than I had imagined. I can run at a slow or fast pace and both feel natural and smooth. (Note: At some point during the review period, Hoka dropped the ATR from the product name. Instead of Challenger ATR 7, it’s just Challenger 7 now.)
Fit: I’m wearing a size 11.5 (my normal Hoka size) and I have normal-width feet with low arches.
- Progressive midsole that supports, cushions and rebounds
- Smooth stride, thanks to a natural rocker
- Good toe-off traction
- Cushions my 48-yr-old dad bod quite well
- Runs smooth on pavement too!
- The extended heel does tend to catch on pant legs
The Bottom Line: Hoka Challenger 7
Since I wasn’t lucky enough to have tried the Challenger 6, I can’t compare the two, but the Hoka Challenger 7 by itself is a master class of how to build a versatile trail runner that can also tackle road miles. With tons of cushioning and a smooth, rockered outsole, your body will appreciate every step of along the way. I’m feeling energized after 5-6 mile trail runs and am looking forward to longer distances heading into summer.
Buy Now: Available from Backcountry.com