Article by Jeff Valliere, John Tribbia, Jeff Beck, and Canice Harte
Hoka ONE ONE Challenger ATR 6 ($130)
Jeff V: The Challenger ATR 6 has been revamped from the ground up, with a completely new Unifi Repreve yarn upper derived from post consumer waste plastic, a CMEVA midsole and slightly retooled (but essentially the same) zonal rubber outsole. A Gore-Tex version is also available (review soon).
Ultimately, the ATR 6 is very familiar in feel with a refreshed modern look and much improved upper fit.
John: After having tested the Hoka Torrent 2 earlier this year, I felt compelled to compare that shoe to the ATR 6, because they have similar comfort but completely different performance orientation. The Torrent 2 has a very comfortable fit, has great protection, and is lightweight. The ATR 6, in my opinion, is a complement to the Torrent by giving a less technically oriented, comfortably cushioned, and overall feel-good shoe to put on your foot. Without a doubt, the Torrent’s intended purpose are those ambitious days of technical trail running and the ATR 6 is best for the cruisy, mellow days, on the less technical off- or dirt road terrain. The fit is true to size. My slightly narrow foot feels secure and the cushion is extremely comfortable.
Jeff B: Hoka’s jack of all trades, the Challenger is their most vanilla, middle-of-the-road shoe, and that’s not bad. The 6 revamps a number of a little things from the 5, which was a pretty great shoe in its own right, and the result is a shoe that feels familiar and different at the same time. Does that mean it’s going to be all things to all people? Well, no, and I don’t think most runners will find it great at everything, but it is pretty good at most running terrain - and that’s worth writing home about.
Official Weight: 9.8 oz / 279g US9
Samples: US men’s size 10: 10.5 oz./ 299g US Men’s Size 10.5: 11 oz / 312 g
Stack Height: 29mm /24mm, 5mm drop
Available November 2020. $130
Jeff V / Canice: Light weight, versatility, fit/security, comfort
John: Cushion, downhill ride, lightweight
Jeff B: Upper overhaul is great, midsole and outsole are as good, if not better than last version
Jeff V / Canice: Traction, a bit unstable in technical terrain
John: Dampened midsole rebound feel, traction
Jeff B: Narrow toebox.. my old nemesis, surprisingly little flex in the forefoot for the stack height
Jeff V. runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.
Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100, Western States 100, and Leadman as well as many other ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as in traditional road races and triathlons.
Jeff B. is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39. In December he raced his first 50 mile trail ultra.
John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost everyday.
First Impressions and Fit
Jeff V: The Challenger ATR 6 looks very familiar and reminiscent of previous models, although with a completely redesigned upper, slightly re-worked outsole and a more subtle change to the midsole. From purely an aesthetic standpoint, the ATR 6 is a very good looking shoe, more refined, classy and modern.
Fit has been somewhat of an issue for me with previous iterations, being somewhat loose and lacking the proper foothold I desire for my thin, low volume foot and preference for technical terrain. While the Challenger ATR has never been aimed at technical use, it is a trail shoe. It is a shoe that is fast/responsive and has a somewhat narrow platform in relation to its stack height (when compared to the Speedgoat or Stinson), so I have always longed for a bit more security and control. With the Challenger ATR 6, my wishes have been granted. Fit is true to size in length, with a very secure heel and midfoot hold. The toe box is slim and narrow with very little additional room for splay or swell, but can be slightly modulated with strategic lacing (not snugging the lower laces quite as tight as I typically do).
Canice: When I opened the box I was struck by how sharp the shoe looked. Usually I get a pair of trail shoes and the first thing I want to do is get them dirty and put them through their paces, but with the new Challengers I really wanted to keep them for town shoes. They’re amazingly comfortable and felt light and airy on foot. Of course I put that thought aside and got to the business of testing the shoes. On cruiser trails they’re brilliant and on technical trails you will find their limits. The fit for me was accurate and I would suggest a medium width foot will find these comfortable. Wide feet, not so much but they fit as advertised.
John: I was pretty excited to receive the Challenger ATR 6 because I’ve always had interest in previous models. After hearing about fit issues and problems with the upper’s durability in earlier versions, I can say that the upper is soft, supple and seemingly durable. In addition, I find that the ATR fit is true to size on my average to slightly narrow foot, with enough room in the toe box for some end-of-day or late run swelling or for those who like a little toe splay. The foothold is secure, both in the heel and midfoot.
Jeff B: My colleagues above do a very good job breaking it down, so I won’t retread too deeply. Fit-wise it’s not ideal for my slightly wider than normal foot. As with the 5 I opted to go up a half-size to 11 to get just a little more room in the toebox, and while that has helped, they are still tighter than I’d like for any shoe I’d wear for 2+ hours at a time. I’m very impressed with the upper changes, and the foot hold is great, but the toebox is just a bit too narrow for my taste. Going up a half size, there isn’t too much length, but if you have a medium to narrow foot I would definitely recommend sticking with your true size.
Jeff V: The upper is mostly composed of Hoka’s new Unifi REPREVE recycled yarn, derived from post-consumer waste plastic. I applaud Hoka’s efforts to utilize post-consumer waste materials and they have done a superb job redesigning this upper to be both comfortable and more of a precise and secure fit.
Breathability, while not the most airy, strikes a good combination of keeping out the majority of trail dust/debris with reasonable ventilation. I have run in temps as high as the low 90’s without my feet ever feeling overly warm or clammy.
The toe bumper is of medium thickness and integrates well, going unnoticed. While not the most burly toe bumper, it is plenty enough to ward off the majority of inadvertent bumps and stubs.
The lacing system has been revamped as well, using recycled poly laces which integrate with the eyelets in such a way to achieve a very positive secure cinch, so much so, that you can snug the laces, not even tie a knot and walk around without any loosening of the laces.
The tongue is moderately thick, well padded and very protective with no lace bite whatsoever. It is also semi gusseted, with enough to hold the tongue in place and offer a little bit of added midfoot security/comfort.
The heel collar is very well padded with a somewhat inflexible heel counter, providing good comfortable lockdown, protection and security without feeling overbuilt.
John: Jeff captures everything essential with how I would rate the upper. It is close-fitting and helps hold the foot with the help of two support lace eyelets that give that extra help for a close fit. Like Jeff mentions, the REPREVE yarn used as the primary material is not only gentle on the earth by using recycled plastics but it is gentle on the skin too. I found ventilation and general breathability to be relatively good; yet, the drainage from running through a small creek at the beginning of my run was lackluster, as I ran with soggy feet for the rest of my run.
Canice: I really like the upper and the fact that it uses post consumer waste material and still feels comfortable and performs incredibly well is a testament to Hoka’s development team. They deserve kudos for their work here. I like a soft flexible upper that breathes and the Challenger delivers. I did not get mine wet as John did so I can not comment on how quickly it dries but I can say it breathes great. The heel counter is comfortable and though the toe protection is minimal, it is sufficient for non technical trails which is what this shoe is best at.
Jeff B: The upper is a massive improvement from the 5, both in material feel and performance. As Jeff alluded to above, the last version had fit issues, and for me the toebox felt a little tight while the midfoot felt a little loose - that’s a worst of both worlds situation. This year’s model has really good midfoot lockdown, though the toe box is still too narrow for my taste. The toe bumper isn’t overly obtrusive, and the tongue is locked in - not moving at all. The tongue construction is great, a Goldilocks not too thick/thin and doesn’t make its presence known at all. If its toe shape was just a couple millimeters wider I’d be raving about the whole package - it is a great step forward.
Jeff V: The new CMEVA midsole has the same stack height as the previous iterations and has a very similar feel in terms of response, plush cushioned feel, ride and protection. I would describe it as having a plush, deep cushioned feel without feeling mushy or unpredictable and is moderately responsive, aided by the late stage meta rocker for an added boost at toe off.
I find trail feel to be muted as one might expect from a well cushioned Hoka, but appreciate the protection that they offer from rocks underfoot (no rock plate necessary) and that my legs feel relatively fresh after long, fast descents.
John: I feel like the ATR 6 midsole provides a cushy and soft feel, which functions well as a road-to-trail shoe that can seemingly give your legs the ability to go forever. As Jeff points out, the deep cushioned feel is nowhere near mushy, but it definitely doesn’t yield a lively rebound. In fact, I didn’t find the shoe to be very responsive or bouncy, especially in rugged terrain where foot placement and fast feet are necessary.
Canice: The midsole is well cushioned and in truth is great on hard smother surfaces such as crushed gravel trails. As you transition to the hills,, the midsole continues to provide a dampened feel that is both protective and cushioned. The midsole falls a bit short on technical rocky trails but a skilled runner can navigate this without issue.
Jeff B: I found the midsole to be a little more protective than the Challenger 5. Not leaps and bounds more, but just a little more substantial when landing on rocks. I’ve logged a majority of my miles in the last few months in much higher stacked shoes, so the Challenger 6 didn’t feel overly cushioned or soft, and I thought of it more as a “well cushioned, but somewhat firm” feeling. Either way, it has lots of really good protection on the roads or casual trails, which is where this shoe shines.
Jeff V: The ATR 6 retains essentially the same zonal rubber outsole design, with only minor and almost imperceptible changes at first glance. Performance and durability is consistent with the previous version. I find traction to be good on dry surfaces and on moderate terrain, but the very closely spaced 4mm lugs, combined with the rather large area of exposed foam, render this outsole to be less than ideal in loose dirt, snow or off trail. I also find that the rubber compound is not well suited to slabby rock and particularly not when the rock is wet.
Outsole durability is average, with visible wear of the forefoot lugs where I toe off (about 40 miles in), but I ran them primarily in rocky terrain. Those who run flatter, more moderate terrain on softer surfaces will likely not notice nearly the level of wear. The exposed foam also looks pretty scruffy after a few runs, but does not compromise performance.
John: Like Jeff, I think the outsole performs best on dry surfaces that are smooth and firm. I ran these on rocky trail, road, gravel pack trail, and mud; and I think the traction was great on road and gravel pack, but didn’t perform well in rocky conditions or wet/mud sections. With the smaller lug size and the tread layout, I often get gravel and small rocks stuck between deeper grooves in the heel, causing that dreaded scraping noise when returning to pavement.
Jeff B: Jeff and John are 100% correct. This shoe excels in tame conditions, like dry smooth(ish) trails and roads. The exposed midsole isn’t problematic in the intended application, but once you go beyond that it doesn’t help the shoe’s cause. Overall it isn’t a narrow shoe, it is more narrow than a number of other Hoka trail shoes, and that difference is evident on more technical terrain.
Canice: Looks like we have all had the same experience here. The outsole is great on hard smoother surfaces and works well on single track trails. I am in Park City, Utah and our trails tend to be dry and dusty and/or dry and rocky, and I found good traction in both areas. I wouldn’t hesitate to take the Challenger ATR 6 on wet trails, it just wouldn't be my first choice for wet muddy or in my case snowy trails.
Jeff V: I find the ride of the ATR 6 to be one of the smoothest, most plush rides out there, with all day cushioned comfort underfoot, a light and responsive feel and quick transition. Ground feel is muted of course, but I find that to be a fair trade off for the cushion, comfort and protection. Performance is equally good on smooth, buffed out trails (and particularly when the surface is very hard packed), as it is on pavement and cement paths. The CMEVA midsole does a wonderful job absorbing impact and taking the sting out of long downhills.
Canice: I really enjoy the ride of the Challenger ATR 6. I’ve run in every version of this shoe since the first model came out and it’s amazing to see how the shoe and the ride have developed over the years. The Challenger ATR 6 has a smooth well cushioned ride that feels like it can take you as far as your legs can travel. It’s well cushioned as you would expect so you lose some ground feel, but you knew that going in. The Challenger transitions from heel to toe well and has lateral stability. On hard, smooth trails the ride is best is fantastic and on more technical trails the ride is really good too.
John: The ATR 6 transition from heel-to-toe is very smooth and very soft, though I found the rebound to feel dampened on lift-off. No doubt, this shoe is built for the longer haul and would excel at long distance cruises through mostly smooth terrain. To my surprise, by contrast, the ride is extremely stable on downhill, which allowed me to bomb the steepest of descents with some technical features (but not a ton).
Jeff B: Smooth is the name of the game, both on roads and buffed out trails, this shoe just floats along. It isn’t overly soft for me, but it’s a nice blend of cush and smooth with plenty of protection.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff V: All in all, I am very pleased with the updates of the ATR 6, most notably the improved upper which provides a much more precise fit, better foothold and security, along with a cleaner aesthetic. The midsole and outsole feel and perform the same, which is a good thing for the intended purpose of this shoe.
The Challenger ATR 6 is a versatile all arounder, excelling at door to trail use and longer training days and ultra distance events on mellow to moderate terrain where one is looking for maximal cushion and a quick, smooth ride.
For trail use, despite the improved more secure upper, I still find their ideal use to be limited to less technical to moderate terrain, as they feel a little tippy when running fast through rock gardens, talus or rooty trails, anything technical where a wider platform and/or lower ride would be preferable. The tread, while excellent for versatile door to trail use, is limiting when used in technical terrain, as the closely spaced, low profile lugs (with only zonal coverage leaving a lot of exposed foam) does not get very good grip when leaping/landing on rocks, slab, steeps or anything loose. Add moisture and traction suffers even further. If you are looking for a shoe that excels in technical terrain, consider the Speedgoat, or for faster long distance running where traction is important, then the EVO Mafate, but for a daily door to trail trainer, the ATR 6 is an excellent pick.
Jeff V Score: 9/10
Ride: 9.5 Fit: 9.5 Value: 8.5 Style: 9 Traction: 7 Rock Protection: 9
John: The ATR 6 is a great road-to-trail shoe that is technically capable on gentle off-road terrain and feels soft and is very comfortable. The shoe is ideal as a long hauler, possibly more road oriented and gravitates toward less technical trails, who puts in a lot of hours at a casual pace. The shoe rolls smoothly and accommodates the heel or forefoot striker. Admittedly, the ATR has been my go-to road/trail shoe recently for most of my easy runs on my morning loops from home on gravel, road, and bike paths. I don’t see that changing anytime soon either!
John’s Score: 9 /10
Ride: 9 (super comfortable shoe with soft, but not mushy, ride)
Fit: 10 (comfortable out of the box)
Value: 9 (great shoe for the casual trail runner needing multi-purpose use)
Traction: 7 (does well on dry, mellow terrain)
Rock Protection: 9 (basically zero ground feel, thanks to the cushion)
Jeff B: The changes from the Challenger 5 are subtle, but well executed with an upper that holds the foot much better and a slightly more protective midsole. The outsole and platform still don’t lend themselves to being ideal when it comes to technical trails, but if your go-to trail system is more dirt than rock, and/or you run to the trailhead, the Challenger 6 ATR could be what you are looking for. The upper is a fantastic update and holds the midfoot much better, but a little more space up front would make my toes happier. The shoe has plenty of cush beneath to make it a 2-4 hour run shoe, but I’d have pinch blisters from the restrictive toe box at the end.
Jeff’s Score: 8.15/10 trail score calculator
Ride: 8 (50%) Fit: 8 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 8 (5%)
Canice: The Challenger ATR 6 is a great all around shoe that you can happily run door to trail or use in your favorite Ultra. They’re comfortable and capable of taking you anywhere you would like. The Challenger is best on smoother hard packed trails but don’t let that keep you from taking the Challenger on your favorite single track or technical trail. They are a pleasure to run there too. I truly enjoyed these shoes and will happily keep them in my shoe rotation.
Canice’s Score: 9.4/10
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The ATR 5 and 6 have a very similar ride, midsole feel and tread, however the ATR 6 has a much improved upper that is more refined and secure, which for those like my thin, low volume foot is an asset.
Jeff B: Even though I have a wider foot, I completely agree with Jeff. This upper hold the foot much better, and I found the midsole just a little bit better cushioned.
Hoka One One Torrent 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The Torrent 2 is lighter, lower, more agile with a superior outsole for trail use, definitely a more dedicated fast/race shoe for more technical trails and mountain terrain, but for shorter distances with less cushioning and protection underfoot. For door to trail, longer distances and more moderate terrain, the ATR 6 is a more logical pick.
John: Both have the same fit and comfortable upper, but yield different performance characteristics. As I mentioned in the intro, “the Torrent 2 has a very comfortable fit, has great protection, and is lightweight. The ATR 6, in my opinion, is a complement to the Torrent by providing a less technically oriented, comfortably cushioned, and overall feel-good shoe to put on your foot with the Torrent’s intended purpose are those ambitious days of technical trail running and the ATR 6 is best for the cruisy, mellow days, on the less technical off- or dirt road terrain”.
Hoka One One EVO Speedgoat (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The EVO Speedgoat is a little lighter, has a wider, more stable platform, has more cushion and much better traction. The EVO also has a Matryx upper, which has a bit more stretch which may be appreciated by those who need a little extra room, however is not the most secure in technical terrain. Both are reasonably quick shoes, but the EVO feels more responsive to me, some of which may be due to the lighter weight.
Hoka One One Speedgoat 4 (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The Speedgoat 4 has more cushion, better traction, is very secure and stable, has better durability, protection and is a more appropriate choice for mountain trail use and technical trails. ATR 6 may be a better choice for door to trail, however the Speedgoat 4 works surprisingly well there too.
Jeff B: Jeff nailed it. Also, as much as the Speedgoat has been lauded as a narrow shoe, the 4 toebox is more substantial than the Challenger. For me it’s no question - Speedgoat 4 for everything but dedicated road running.
Canice: I prefer the Challenger on smoother trails and the Speedgoat on more technical trails. I would happily run either in a 100 miler. I would just pick based on the trail / course.
Hoka One One Salomon Sense Ride 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff V: The SR3 is heavier, has less cushion, and the cushioning is much firmer with the shoe not nearly as responsive as the ATR 6. The SR3 however has a more versatile upper that will accommodate a wider range of feet and is perhaps better for all around casual use with easy quick laces, and if in more technical terrain, the SR3 outsole is far more rugged and superior for varied mountain terrain.
Jeff B: No surprise the Hoka has more cushioning while the Salomon has a more dialed in fit (and surprisingly a wider toebox) and better traction. I enjoy the Hoka’s ride a little more, but appreciate the Salomon for it’s greater trail versatility. Pure road-to-trail, I lean Challenger, for more trail use, and more varied trail use, I’d lean toward the Sense Ride 3.
Hoka One One Saucony Mad River TR 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff V: Stack heights are about the same, but the ATR 6 is a bit more plush and cushioned feeling and with its Meta Rocker and lighter weight, the ATR 6 feels quicker and more responsive, better for door to trail and faster running on more buffed out terrain, but if you need more traction, stability and agility for rougher trails and off trail, the Mad River TR 2 is the way to go.
John: Agree with Jeff about the plush and cushioned feel of the ATR 6 and the superior traction in the Mad River. However, I felt like the Mad River had more snap, was more nimble, and had a more responsive and quicker ride on trail and road compared to the ATR 6. The ATR 6 seemed more muted with less snap in the transition from impact to lift-off. Both are excellent options for road-to-trail, with the ATR 6 being a solid option for long endeavors and the Mad River for more rugged trails but not as long.
Canice: I agree with Jeff and John. I’ll happily run either but will use the Challenger for longer, smoother runs and the Mad River TR 2 for wetter, nastier efforts.
Hoka One One Nike Pegasus Trail 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff B: The Nike has a wider toebox and forefoot, and a softer cushioning, while the Hoka cushioning is a little more substantial. I liked the Peg Trail 2’s upper quite a bit, but the Challenger 6 upper (except the tight toebox) is a big step up. The Hoka has better rock protection as well, but the Nike has better traction. If you’re purely road-to-smooth-trail, the Hoka is better, while the Peg Trail 2 can work on more technical trails if you have nimble feet.
Canice: I find the Pegasus Trail 2 to be insanely plush and I love the bouncy cushioned ride. I also love that it fits incredibly well and has a wide roomy toe box. Where the Pegasus falls short for me is technical trails. I found them to roll under foot in rocky technical trails while the Hoka’s remain underfoot and stable. In the door to trail category the Pegasus reins supreme and as an all round long distance trail shoe I would go with the Hoka Challenger ATR 6 over the Peg.
Hoka One One Brooks Caldera 4 (RTR Review)
Jeff B: The best Brooks trail shoe in years, the Caldera 4 gives a little more cushioning, a little more traction, and a much roomier toe box. Also not a great shoe for technical terrain, the Caldera out Challenges the Challenger. The Hoka runs smoother on the road, but otherwise, I’d favor the Brooks.
John: Jeff is spot on again! I’ll be interested to see the durability performance of the Challenger. After 300 miles on the Caldera, the midsole compacted and got very firm. I will keep running in the ATR 6 to see if I get the same type of change.
Jeff V: Agreed with Jeff and John above. Since neither are ideal for technical trails, both are great door to trail shoes or moderate terrain at most. Caldera 4 has a more accommodating fit that will please those looking for more room to stretch out, and better cushion. Traction is also comparable, but perhaps a slight edge to the Caldera 4.
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