Saturday, December 24, 2016

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 - A Highly Cushioned Race Machine

by Jeff Valliere

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3
9.5 oz. Mens (US size 9)/7.9 oz. Women's (US size 7)
29mm heel/24mm forefoot (28 mm/23 mm for women)
$130 available now

I had run in the Challenger ATR 1 (Sam's RTR review here) a few years ago when it was first introduced and really liked the shoe.  It was light, well cushioned, agile and had better traction than most Hokas up to that point.  It's primary limitation however was that I found the upper to not be quite as supportive as I would prefer, especially for technical trail running and long downhills.  My foot would slide around some and I had to be somewhat careful to keep my runs in them on the short side as to not get blisters, which was a shame, because cushion and comfort were excellent.  Another minor complaint was that I found the tongue to be a bit too thin and short.  I completely missed the opportunity to test the ATR 2, but when presented with the opportunity to test the ATR 3, I jumped at the chance, especially after learning of the overhaul to the upper, a revamp of the last and a minor alteration of the outsole lugs.  Was it a major improvement?

By far the most significant and noticeable upgrade to the ATR 3 is the 3D Puff Print upper.  The overlays are plentiful and integrated quite well into the mesh.  Between the overalays are a criss cross style micro-webbing to give added structure, support and durability.  I was not able to test these in warm temperatures, but ventilation seems to be good.

Fit is true to size, but the new last (shared with the Clifton 3) is slightly more roomy and accommodating, which I suspect will be great news for all of those who have had fit issues with Hoka in the past.  Though I have a lower volume foot, I do really appreciate the added room in the forefoot even though more room is not necessarily a requirement for me (and often a detriment).  Foothold throughout the shoe is GREATLY improved, even for my low volume foot and technical running preferences.  I have found that I can get a secure and proper snugness on the first attempt and never have to re-tie, as the laces and eyelets integrate well and snug very securely.

The tongue is well padded and just the right height/thickness, a huge leap over the paper thin tongue in the ATR 1.
The heel counter is semi solid with a slight flex to it, secures very well, yet is not overbuilt and is adequately protective.
The heel collar is plush and a real pleasure to sink into.
The ATR 3 now offers a more supportive Ortholite insole (left), a huge improvement in support and fit over the previous paper thin insole.

The toe bumper is somewhat minimal and integrates well with the upper.  Despite it's minimal stature, it is adequately protective for moderate stubs.
Hoka ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3

The EVA midsole offers an unparalleled combination/balance of plush all day, big downhill cushioning with speedy race day responsiveness.  With a stack of 29/24 mm, the amount of cushion here is enough to keep legs and joints fresh after the hardest sessions of pounding fast miles or hard downhills.  With cushioning this thick, rock protection is excellent, as I am unable to feel even the hardest hits on the sharpest rocks. 

The early stage meta rocker in this shoe is very apparent, as the ever so slight curvature of the outsole helps to pitch your position somewhat forward and inspires faster running.


The outsole seems to be a bit wider and more stable than previous versions and is noticeably more substantial on the medial side under the arch.
The 4 mm lugs that are bonded to the EVA in the heel and the forefoot are made of a durable carbon rubber that provide excellent grip on a wide range of surfaces.  The lugs are low profile enough that they are hardly noticeable when running on roads or smoother surfaces, yet provide ample grip on steep technical trails, loose dirt, snow, mild mud and rock.
Hoka has widened the spacing between the lugs for better mud shedding.
All of the orange material is the EVA foam, but holds up well given that the durable carbon rubber is strategically placed in the landing/toe off areas where the most wear normally occurs.

The Challenger ATR 3 feels nearly weightless on my feet, is responsive and just begs to go fast. Though the outsole is wide enough to provide excellent stability, it is by no means clunky or obtrusive and feels remarkably nimble and agile.  The greatly improved upper further contributes to stability, control and performs impressively under any circumstance, at any pace, even when pushed in semi-technical and rocky terrain.  
Though this shoe will make an excellent race shoe for any distance, it also performs double duty as a well cushioned, supportive all day high mileage trainer that is just as much at home at slower paces as it is going fast.  As I mentioned earlier, I was able to run in the ATR 3 on roads, dirt roads, technical trails with snow, some ice, mud and on rock.  Traction is surprisingly good considering how little rubber is on the outsole and that the lugs are only 4mm, but this shoe does indeed have it's limitations like many shoes that fall into the more trail cruiser type category.  

Even though from a performance standpoint, the ATR 3 can easily handle rougher trails, I would advise against making it a habit or dedicating this shoe to such use.  Part of this stems from the fact that there are more appropriate all mountain shoes on the market (you might want to add the upcoming Speedgoat 2 to your collection for rougher terrain), as outsole durability is a concern if you frequent rocky trails.  I have unfortunately found that the bond that secures the durable carbon rubber to the EVA foam has trouble withstanding the shear forces involved with regular use on rocky trails. This peeling is exactly the same as I have experienced with the ATR 1.  To be fair, my typical daily runs are on trails/routes than gain/drop 1,300-2,000+ feet per mile and are almost always quite rocky, so this type of terrain will quickly exacerbate wear and reveal any weakness.  If using the ATR 3 for a door to trail shoe and using on cruiser, smooth singletrack, doubletrack, fire roads or softer surfaces, one may never experience any issues.

Despite the durability concerns I have for the outsole, the Challenger ATR 3 is without a doubt, one of my favorite shoes to date and certainly the best performing Hoka I have ever used. Whether I am aiming for a PR on a moderately technical local route, run the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim or the Pikes Peak Marathon, this will for sure be my pick.

The Challenger ATR 3 was my #1 Trail Cruising shoe of 2016. See my 2016 Trail Running Shoes and Gear of the Year article here.


Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Brooks Caldera (my RTR review here)
These two shoes feel remarkably similar when I wear one on each foot.  The Challenger is just slightly lighter, has more cushion and has a 5mm offset vs. 4mm in the Caldera.  The Caldera is slightly less quick and responsive, but perhaps a better pick for longer training days and/or slower paced ultra races.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Hoka One One Speed Instinct (my RTR review here)
The Speed Instinct rides a bit lower to the ground and thus has a bit more trail feel, has better traction and most importantly, better outsole durability.  The ATR 3 however just feels like a faster shoe and the added cushion/protection makes it superior for long downhills.  If on rockier, more technical trails, the Speed Instinct would be my choice purely because of durability and slightly better trail feel, but for going fast on less technical, or moderately technical terrain, long downhills, then the ATR 3 is the way to go.

Hoka One One Challenger ATR 3 vs. Hoka One One Speedgoat (Sam's RTR review here)
The Challenger ATR 3 is much more stable and accommodating, has a more secure upper, similar weight, similar cushion and is a much better overall performer.  The Speedgoat has a more durable outsole and could be a good pick if you have a narrow foot and can keep it under control in technical terrain.  The upcoming Speedgoat 2 (see RTR preview here) however looks to have some dramatic improvements, so could give the ATR 3 a run for it.

Score 9.7 out of 10
-0.3 for outsole durability concerns. 

Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
The Challenger ATR was provided at no charge. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Jeff Valliere's Bio
Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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Buy the Hoka ONE ONE Challenger ATR 3 here!

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Unknown said...

Nice review. I am literally salivating just thinking about this shoe. I can't wait to try it on!!

Michel said...

I think the new insole is way to thick. .. Or maybe it needs some more break-in time?

Jeff Valliere said...

How many miles do you have on your ATR 3? I liked the thicker Ortholite insole right out of the box for it's added cushion and structure, finding that this shoe did not need any real break in period. It ultimately just comes down to user preferences though.