I spent several months last year training and racing in the original Challenger ATR and my eventual opinion was quite mixed. On one hand I enjoyed the plush cushioning and lightweight airy-ness of the mesh upper.
On the other, I found that the EVA compressed far too much after 150 miles resulting in a dead feeling underfoot, and the upper wore quickly and didn’t stabilize my foot on such a high platform.
I also really struggled with foot swelling in this shoe during ultra marathons, and after a spring 50k on very technical trails I essentially wrote the shoe off as too narrow for my forefoot.
Upon receiving the Challenger ATR 2 from Hoka, my initial impression after unboxing was disappointment. The forefoot appeared to be the even narrower, and my first run in the shoe seemed to confirm this.
However, shoes have a tendency to change shape after they’re broken in, and the Challenger ATR 2 become an entirely different shoe after about 30 miles.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 General Info
The Challenger ATR 2 replaces the original Challenger ATR which Hoka released in early 2015 to a great deal of fanfare.
The combination of near-maximalist cushioning in such a lightweight package hadn’t really been attempted by any shoe company and the initial feedback was very positive.
However, durability issues surfaced on the upper with welded overlays coming unglued and holes forming in the relatively thin mesh.
This second version is a more reinforced version of the original, and unfortunately over an ounce is added to the overall weight of the shoe.
While some of these changes are welcomed (a more padded tongue and reinforced heel) other needed changes were ignored (wider toe box).
Hoka continues to seemingly cater to runners with narrow feet, and the Challenger ATR 2 maintains a scalloped feel throughout the midfoot due to the cradling effect of the midsole.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 Sole Unit
As stated before I found the midsole of the original Challenger to wear out at about 150 miles, far before anyone would expect midsole foam to compress for $130.
However, those first 150 miles were absolutely sublime and the thick pillow of EVA underfoot is one of the best rides in the shoe industry.
With 31mm of stack height in the heel and a 5mm heel drop the Challenger ATR 2 also has a very quick transition. This is aided by early stage Metarocker technology which creates a shoe shaped for quick toe-off.
Hoka also utilizes an improved Ortholite midsole which increases the sensation of cushioning and doesn’t move around in the shoe like it did in the first version.
For those of you who haven’t tried a Hoka One One shoe, the midsole material is 30% softer than most midsoles yielding a very forgiving ride.
With such a large amount of midsole foam one can imagine the issues with possible ankle rolling on cambered terrain, however the Challenger ATR 2 feels fairly stable due to the improved upper.
While this isn’t a trail shoe I’d take on mountain courses, for most trail runs this shoe will suffice.
The Challenger ATR 2 also feels surprisingly agile for a shoe with so much stack height and cushioning, and this shoe handles faster paced tempo runs on the road quite well.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 Upper Info
Hoka adds beefier welded overlays across most of the upper of the Challenger ATR 2 which, while adding to a more locked down feel in the upper, also reduces volume creating a claustrophobic feeling for runners with full volume or wide feet.
In fact, if toe splay is something you crave in a trail shoe, the Challenger ATR 2 is not going to be for you. While I naturally gravitate towards shoes with a wider toe box, this was not a deal breaker for the Challenger ATR 2.
While I wasn’t able to have the freeing feeling of toe splay, the extra cushioning in the forefoot is an added feature of comfort. I also found that I was able to wear thicker wool socks on cold winter mornings without too much discomfort.
Again, the fit of the Challenger ATR 2 is not something you can anticipate necessarily by trying it on for five minutes and jogging around. If it feels okay in the store the fit will improve quite a bit.
Hoka also reinforces the heel cup which seems to be an unnecessary addition of weight in a shoe that is already way past the welter weight boundary.
While I have yet to see any signs of durability issues, such as welded overlays coming unglued, or holes forming in mesh, other runner have complained of these issues.
One possible cause is the amount of stress place on the upper for any runners with wider-than-narrow forefeet. While this mesh stretches a bit, I can certainly see stressed areas in the mesh that could lead to holes.
Another aspect of the Challenger ATR 2 of note is the sizing. I wore a 9.5US comfortably in the first version of this shoe, while I sized to a 10 US in this second iteration for added room in the toe box. I would recommend that everyone order a half size up.
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 Conclusions
First of all, understand that this is a great trail running shoe. In fact, it also works great as a crossover shoe and rides well on the roads. If you haven’t ever worn a Hoka shoe, the Challenger or the Clifton (road version) is your entry point.
The combination of so much responsive cushioning in a relatively lightweight package makes my tired muscles happy when I feel beat up and sore.
However, the Hoka Challenger ATR 2 is not a fully realized update to the original, but rather a simple fix to some problems with the upper of the shoe.
Frankly, I’m disappointed, as the Challenger ATR could be one of the best trail shoes on the market.
This is not to say that some of these updates were welcomed, however the bottom line still dictates that this update is not worth the $130 price tag.
The biggest disappointments of course is the significant added weight and continuation of the narrow last.
What the Challenger ATR 2 delivers on is an incredibly soft ride, and despite the tech specs being identical for version two, I feel that the midsole didn’t compress nearly as much after 100 miles.
That being said, this update will work very well for a large number of runners, and if you’re a trail runner looking for additional cushioning in a stripped down package, I think the Challenger ATR 2 is a must try.
We thank the nice people at Hoka One One for sending us a pair of Challenger ATR 2 to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.