Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Hoka Challenger 7 Multi Tester Review: 12 Comparisons

Article by Dom Layfield, Renee Krusemark, Shannon Payne, Jeff Vailiere, and Sam Winebaum

Hoka Challenger 7 ( $145. GTX Invisible Fit version $160)


Introduction

Dom: The Challenger line from Hoka used to have the full name ‘Challenger ATR’ to indicate that this was an “all-terrain” – i.e. both road and trail – shoe.  Hoka appears to have dropped the ‘ATR’ branding, but the road-to-trail character remains.

Version 7 arrives with no DNA recognizably carried over from the previous version.  Everything is new, in both construction, materials and coloring.  The headline news here is that the new version lands with a really impressive weight drop.  In my size US M10, the outgoing Challenger ATR 6, weighed 300 g per shoe.  In the same size, the Challenger 7 weighs 261 g.  That 39 g (1.4 oz) drop is all the more impressive considering that stack height has increased slightly from 29/24 mm to 31/26 mm.


Pros:

Extremely versatile shoe, living up to its ‘all-terrain’ billing: Dom

Versatile: leaning more road than trail: Sam/Renee/Shannon/Jeff

Impressively light, more than an ounce lighter than the previous version: Dom

Upper fabric feels bulletproof: Dom

Available in a wide version: Dom

Well balanced on road and easier trail, extremely smooth rocker at all paces with as a bonus some front flex with the best rocker in a Hoka to date: Sam/Jeff

Energetic, soft cushion: Sam/Shannon

Very friendly to heel striking and slow paces and can also move along faster: Sam/Renee/Shannon/Jeff

Very light at 9 oz for a big stack 31/26 and with a trail worthy outsole: Sam/Renee

Outsole not in the way at all on smooth firm hard surfaces and adds stability to the soft midsole: Sam/Jeff


Cons:

“Regular” fit is really “narrow” fit.  Dom
Heel-to-toe drop feels bigger than nominal 5mm. Not so friendly to toe-strikers: Dom

Upper leans more road than trail: Sam/Renee

Voluminous/unstructured at midfoot- needs more support there for technical trails use: Sam/Renee/Shannon

High soft midsole and upper make them tippy on off camber and more technical trails: Sam/Shannon

Traction: Jeff



Stats   

 Sample Weight: men’s  9.02 oz  / 256g (US9), 9.2 oz / 261 g (US10) 

                          women’s 7.65 oz / 217 g (US8)

Stack Heights: 

men’s 31mm heel / 26mm forefoot :: women’s  29mm heel / 24 mm forefoot

Available now. $145 (also in wide). GTX Invisible Fit version $160


First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Dom:  Pulling them out of the box, these shoes felt surprisingly light, and when I put them on the scale, I was blown away.  The new Challenger 7 drops more than an ounce per shoe compared to its predecessor and  with  2mm more cushion stack.  On the foot, my first impression was that they were disappointingly narrow.  Then I remembered that I’d had the same reaction to the Challenger 6, in which the forefoot narrowed notably compared to version 5.  However, just as with V6, this seems reasonable given that the shoe is available in ‘wide’.  My only quibble is that the ‘regular’ is not regular at all.  This shoe should be sold as ‘narrow’/‘wide’, not ‘regular’/‘wide’.


Dom: On the trail, my first thought was that the heel-to-toe drop had increased compared to V6.  According to the official stats, drop has not changed at 5 mm.  But I can tell you that the new shoe feels bigger than that, and is not so friendly to toe-strikers.  To my mind, the heel feels overbuilt, higher and wider than it needs to be.  But Hoka surely knows their consumer.  Perhaps their market research has taught them that this is what the typical buyer wants.


Dom: The Challenger 7 is completely redesigned, and the upper is entirely different, with a single piece of engineered mesh that wraps completely around from heel to heel.  Informally, the fabric feels similar to the material used in the Hoka Tecton-X, which I have found to have stellar durability.  In testing, the Challenger 7 fabric performed well in both dry and dusty and wet conditions, keeping dirt out, providing breathability and drying rapidly.

Sam: The Challenger upper follows Hoka’s recent approach of a thin but dense mesh with slightly denser woven in overlays, a stout heel counter and gusset tongue but no midfoot underlays. Ahead of the back of the shoe the foot sits down in high sidewalls of foam.

The upper is what I would call quite unstructured especially at the toe box and medial midfoot. Some 3D print overlays are added for some wear protection and a touch more stiffening to what is a quite soft toe bumper. 

My pair is a half size up from my normal US8.5 with a very solid heel hold, quite voluminous midfoot and comfortable if a bit long toe box.

I would not recommend sizing up for width here, go with the wide if you need more room. I found the mellow trails and road hold just fine.  


On more technical terrain the relative lack of mid foot hold due I think to the pliable mesh, soft flat stretchy laces, lack of underlays, no medial overlay as we have on the lateral side with the Hoka logo and broad soft platform was a bit wobbly and not as secure as I would like. I tested my half size up pair with my heaviest socks, a Darn Tough that is hiking weight and even then on more technical trails the midfoot was not quite as secure as I would.


In part this could also be due to the big heel counter and wide heel over stabilizing as Dom says with the foot then suddenly moving to the roomy not as secure midfoot.


The Challenger is also available in wide and also with an Invisible Fit Gore-Tex upper.


Renee: Like Dom, it was hard for me not to notice the stack height and ridiculously low weight. Kudos to Hoka for keeping the weight low. As someone who runs mostly gravel country roads, a hybrid or road-to-trail shoe works well in my shoe rotation. I like to use road shoes whenever possible, but having an outsole with some traction is nice. 


I ran the Challenger 5 (personal purchase) and loved the weight and cushion. Unfortunately, the midfoot felt narrow on long runs and I stopped running with them. I’m happy to say I don’t have that problem with the Challenger 7. I’ll agree with Dom that the Challenger 7 is a bit narrow, like many Hokas. The midfoot feels a tad narrow because of the rocker and stack height. The toe box isn’t wide or roomy, but my pinky toe survived long runs even when running in two pairs of wool rocks (-47℉ feels-like temps). 


For sizing, I suggest your usual Hoka size. I’m between half sizes, and while I typically wear a women’s size 8 in most brands/models, a size 7.5 in Hokas work best for me. During testing, I ran on hilly gravel/dirt roads and single track trails. Most of the runs were snow covered, with some patches of mud, ice, and slush. 

I found the upper comfortable, and with wool socks, the upper works fine in frigid and wet conditions. I’m not a fan of the elf heel in general, although because of the mass stack height, I think it helps the ride/rocker on smooth/buff surfaces. On trails, I’d much prefer a traditional heel. 


Shannon: It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. With the stack height of this shoe typical of Hoka, the first thing I noticed when taking these out of the box was the light weight. It’s been a few versions since last I tried out the Challenger ATR, but I recall them well for their versatility and ease in transitioning from the roads to the trail, being a sort do-it-all Hoka. I will say that I should have gone with my gut on sizing based on the previous recent Hoka models, as I found my typical size 8 to feel quite long. While I cannot speak to the men’s version, I would advise sizing down a half a size from what you’re used to in the women’s.


Hoka has also made this shoe easy to grab and pull on with the raised heel. While some folks may not be fans of this type of heel counter that’s becoming more common, I didn’t feel that it in any way compromised the fit or feel of the shoe in a negative way.


While this iteration of the Challenger has a narrower fit than the Hokas of yore, the inside of the shoe is pretty high-volume. If you’ve got a different insole or orthotic you need to put in there, it will accommodate it quite well without leaving you feeling crammed. But again, I will say this shoe runs long on the women’s side, so size down half a size from your typical size to avoid a sloppy feeling shoe.

Jeff V:  I was immediately struck by how light the Challenger 7 feels, then a comparison on the scale reveals that the 7 is a full ounce lighter than the 6, with more cushion and a very modernized look overall.  I really like the bold colorway as well, as they look really sporty.  

I find fit to be true to size and will say that overall they feel quite secure in the heel, with a secure midfoot lockdown and just enough room in the forefoot for my narrow, low volume foot.  

I would say width is comparable to the 6, but the new upper of the 7 wraps over the foot in a more precise and contoured manner.  While the forefoot leans on the narrow end of the spectrum, the new upper has just enough give to not feel the least bit confining.  


While the upper has just enough give to not feel confining, I am very impressed at how well this shoe performs in technical terrain compared to previous versions.  While I certainly would not categorize the 7 as a shoe made for technical trails, I found that my foot was adequately locked down to move confidently through technical terrain with no excess movement. 


I have run them several times down an exceptionally steep, rocky, technical trail that requires a fair amount of long leaps with precise landings onto elevate rocks and water bars where there is no room for error and I had little trepidation (any trepidation was more related to stack height and traction as you will see below).


Midsole

Dom:  Hoka once again asserts their leadership of trail midsoles, particularly when judged by the metric of density.  The Challenger 7 offers a sensational amount of cushion for its weight.  I’m not entirely convinced that so much foam is needed in the heel, which feels higher and wider than necessary.   On the road, the cushion feels a little firm, and not as bouncy as cutting-edge “superfoams”.  But on trail, it feels ‘just right’ on both hard and soft terrain.

Sam: The Challenger gets 2mm more stack height to 31mm heel / 26mm forefoot in the men’s while losing 0.8 oz / 23g in my US9 to come in at a remarkable 9.02 oz  / 256g. 

In part this may be due to the new compression molded EVA foam. Hoka is always very “coy” and not very descriptive about their foams. I had to drag it out of them that the Tecton X and Carbon X3 had supercritical foam as one of their midsole layers at The Running Event a year ago.


Here we have an EVA foam that is clearly “goosed” with something. It is very light, somewhat bouncy and energetic, and decently soft, and as said above there is a lot of it and more than in v6 of the Challenger.  This said it seems quite clear (but who knows) that is not a supercritical type foam which, regardless of firmness, tend to have a quicker feeling snappier return than what we have here. 


In my testing I found the midsole deeply cushioned and near ideal for moderate pace road miles with the stout outsole helping stabilize the softness and provide some light pop and response. On moderate trails, the midsole again was pleasing. The new geometry plays a significant role in the feel and flow. Landings are very well cushioned by the broad rear platform ( I tend to heel strike), transitions are easy ( on non tech trails) and this despite the wide platform. There is a welcome front flex point (something new in 2022-2023 Hoka) that allows it to climb well and pick up the pace on the flats. There are some shades of Saucony’s Speed Roll in that front toe off feel. 


All in all a very leg friendly, light and decently fast if on the soft side midsole on smoother terrain and road. Yes, I said soft but it is in no way mushy or ponderous although this is not a snappy quick rebounding midsole as say the Tecton X or the the plastic plated nitrogen infused EVA midsole of the Brooks Catamount we recently tested (RTR Review). I tend to agree with Dom that despite its deep friendly cushion the heel feels broad and a bit awkward to run off of smooth terrain or at faster paces.



Renee: Big stack, low weight. I agree with Dom that the midsole is dense and firm (not hard). On trail and gravel/dirt roads, the firmness felt perfect in terms of cushion and performance. I did not think the midsole felt soft, but I ran only one short portion of paved road between trail heads so I can’t comment much about the midsole on hard surfaces. I do think the midsole compliments the ride of the shoe very well, which will greatly depend on a runner’s foot strike. I thought the midfoot felt a bit narrow, and I think in part that’s because of the stack height under the midfoot and heel. When landing on the forefoot (and the toes), the amount of stack height works against my stride. 


Shannon: It seems that Hoka’s midsole has gotten slightly more firm year after year, for better or worse depending on the model. Despite this shoe feeling quite firm out of the gate, once running it is certainly not unpleasant. Rather, it’s a springy, energetic ride regardless of whether you’re plodding or tempo-ing. Since my pair is still relatively “young” in terms of mileage, I’ll be interested to see if it softens up further as I have seen to be the case in my Rincons and Machs.

Jeff V:  My colleagues have described the midsole well.  I have found performance to be exceptional, with a very deep, well cushioned feel, bordering on soft, yet it is firm and supportive enough to not feel mushy, performing well on a wide variety of terrain.  I find them to be very responsive and energetic on just about any terrain and any gradient, encouraging speed on the flats, downhills and have great uphill capabilities, feeling very springy and inspiring to push up the hill.  

While the stack height has increased by 2mm, I find the 7 to be more stable than the previous version, which is quite welcome in technical terrain and at higher speeds.  That said, while running quickly through rocky, technical terrain, I am aware of the height which makes me a bit more cautious.  On moderate to less technical terrain though, I feel confident enough to really let them rip.



Outsole

Dom:  More excellence here.  Keep in mind that this is a lightweight, road-to-trail shoe, and should not be expected to have stellar traction in gnarly conditions.  That said, I felt surprisingly confident in the off-road grip of the shoe: not once did the shoe slip or breakaway unexpectedly.  That’s impressive, given the amount of exposed midsole material.  On pavement the small lugs are not noticeable.


Renee: I loved the outsole pattern for the use of the shoe. The grip of the outsole under the forefoot is great and because of the high stack, the lugs are not noticeable on harder surfaces. For as much snow as I ran in, no outsole would be perfect, but I found the traction good enough, especially for a hybrid shoe. Even on some ice, the outsole did fine. 



Some mud trapped under the exposed outsole areas, but anything on the heel and forefoot (the lugs of the outsole) fell off quickly. 



Sam: Hoka called out changes to the outsole design in their preview of the Challenger 7 at The Running Event (Video). 

Challenger 6 Outsole


Compared to the Challenger 6 outsole shown above, they emphasized a flatter more road friendly lug design down the center of the forefoot with more aggressively angled lugs along the edges for grip on looser surfaces with in addition more aggressive lugs at the heel.  

The center forefoot lug design looks similar but there are more cutouts down the center and fewer small lugs with more separation there which assists flexibility.  They are very smooth flowing on road and with very decent grip on trails. In combination with the nice forward flex point the outsole contributes to a great road ride and lively climbing. 


As the others have said, the outsole grips with confidence but is never in the way on the smooth. It works!  How to do a door to trail outsole! 


Shannon: My first two runs in these was immediately following a large Colorado snowstorm, followed by a warm day, followed then by a much colder day…which means I ran them in everything from snow to slush to mud to ice to gravel to road in a single run and I will say, this is one versatile outsole. While I did pick up about five pounds of mud per shoe in a hurry on the melted off areas of muddy trail and that especially makes a Hoka less than ideal to run in, considering the surface and circumstances, I really don’t think that could have been prevented regardless of shoe choice. The surface that I felt this shoe truly excelled on was the damp dirt and gravel, where the grip felt exceptional.


Jeff V:  I have mixed feelings about the outsole.  I will say that given the intent of the Challenger 7, being more geared towards road to trail and less technical trails, the outsole performs as designed in dry, good conditions.  I found that in mixed conditions, such as a recent run where I had to negotiate snow, ice and slush covered streets on the approach, then trails that were sometimes muddy, sometimes dry, rocky, sometimes wet, then intermittent short patches of ice/snow/slush, the 7 really struggled.  For comparison, I immediately repeated the route in the Puma Fast-Trac NITRO which is also moderately treaded and they provided much better grip on those suspect surfaces.  While I do not have high expectations from the Challenger 7, I think it would not take much to tweak the compound and perhaps mimic the Speedgoat 5 “traction lugs” to increase grip, thus adding quite a bit more versatility.  As it stands now, I think the lugs on the Challenger 7 are a bit too shallow, close together and not an effective shape/design.


Ride

Dom:  On road, the Challenger 7 is well-mannered but unremarkable.  I thought the ride was a little too firm and the shoe too stiff.  The ride felt better tuned on trails, with very pleasant smooth dynamics and tons of cushion and protection.   Both on- and off-road, however, I would have liked less heel-to-toe drop.  The giant heel demanded extra effort to toe-strike.


Renee: I’m with Dom on the ride. The Challenger 7 has a comfortable ride, which is going to be great for runners who like the Hoka rocker and who strike from the heel or far-back midfoot. The shoe is somewhat stiff at first (watch Sam’s RTR video on YouTube for an example). After about 25 miles, the forefoot became less stiff. This said with the amount and width of midsole under the midfoot, the shoe is not nimble for single track landings, especially if dodging roots (or rocks).


I wish the midsole was a bit lower stack under the midfoot for some flex, but that’s really only an issue on single track as a runner who prefers ground feel and has a forefoot landing. As Dom wrote, toe-strikers might need extra effort, which I think is why the midfoot felt narrow for me because the shoe is not flexing with my natural foot flex.

On buffed surfaces (flat or rolling hills), the ride is smooth when landing from the heel. At times, I felt like the shoe was controlling my foot strike. For heel strikers or runners who like a rocker, I think maintaining tempo/even paces will seem effortless. 


Sam: The Challenger 7 runs more road than trail for me. Or at least on trails as we have here in New England where I tested and which are often rocky, rooty, off camber trails when single track. That picture likely will change when I get back to Utah where many trails, even single track are smoother, largely obstacle free and often “machine” or otherwise built. I think they will be ideal there.


The ride is on the soft side with a very smooth effective front rocker with some welcome front toe off flex for climbing. The flex takes a few runs to develop.


It runs very well on dirt roads and smooth forest paths due to its grip. While the heel is broad and maybe overbuilt leading to a sensation of a lot back there (but not weight) without a change in the midfoot upper or midsole geometry as Renee suggests to better hold the foot I will keep the heel as it is.


It is not a super fast shoe on road due to its relative softness and big broad stack, even with the trail outsole giving it a touch of response.  The Challenger is pleasant and forgiving and very easy to turn over with the light light weight for cushion really noticeable. It is a near ideal slower “recovery” paces or long slower run shoe for me as a result with its faster pace capabilities not as strong due to its softness and broad platform.


Shannon: I enjoyed this shoe on the regular roads, but it was outstanding in particular on dirt and gravel roads.. When it came to trails with any technical aspects to them, it wouldn’t be the first shoe I reach for. But when it came to the previously mentioned road surfaces as well as gravel, this version of the Challenger is a blast to run in. It’s lively, energetic, has terrific grip, and works wonderfully at a variety of paces.


Jeff V:  I am impressed with the ride and versatility of the 7.  It is smooth, quick, energetic and amazingly well cushioned.  I think it rides well on the road, not a speedster, but can easily maintain a quick training pace or even some up tempo bursts.  


Where the 7 really shines r is on buffed out trails, where it feels very quick, energetic and perfectly at home no matter the pace.  While not made for technical terrain and not my first pick for that, I find they do reasonably well there and handle it with much more stability and security than previous versions (though with traction being the limiting factor for me).


Conclusions and Recommendations

Dom:  The Challenger 7 is a winner.  This shoe gets it (almost) all right, delivering across-the-board excellence and tons of cushion at an astonishingly light weight.  Personally, I thought the shoe was too narrow in the forefoot, but that can – I hope –  be remedied simply by purchasing the ‘wide’ variant.  I also thought the heel was overbuilt and too high, but this is more subjective, and may even be a positive for obligate heel-strikers.

Dom’s Score:  As tested, 9/10.  I assume that ‘wide’ variant would improve narrow forefoot and push my score to a 9.5/10.   Deduction would be -0.5 for oversized back end.


Renee: The Challenger 7 is about as good as it gets in terms of hybrid shoes that offer stack height without the weight. The ride will cater to runners who like/need a rocker feel, especially when landing from the heel or back midfoot area. As a mid to forefoot striker, I could use more flex and less stack under the midfoot, but that’s a personal preference and not necessarily a negative for the shoe. The shoe is not for technical trail or anything that requires a nimble, ground-feel, but it can handle a mix of terrain. As a lightweight shoe, the Challenger 7 works well for easy and daily miles. The cushion is great for hours and hours, so for those who like a rocker, the Challenger 7 could be an ultra shoe for gravel or rail trails. The price is reasonable too for its usage and durability. 

Renee’s score: 9.1/10 

(-.20 elf heel, -.30 midfoot feel, -.40 best for those needing a rocker ride) 

😊😊😊


Sam:  Door to trail done right for most uses of such a shoe, for those runs mixing pavement, dirt roads and moderate trails.  I agree with Dom that it is a winner and with Renee that it is about as good as it gets for a road to mellow trails hybrid. 


The Challenger is just darn pleasant to run due to its noticeably light weight for stack and quite soft midsole and ride. Its outsole plays the grip game just right while also stabilizing the big soft foam stack enough and doesn’t get in the way on smoother terrain and road. The flow is smooth and easy at all paces.


Even as light as it is it is not an ideal tempo paces shoe for me due to the width of the platform and the softness.  Head over to Hoka’s Rincon or Mach for that kind of road work or the Zinal for trail speed sessions.


Hoka’s new rocker geometries, and here also nice very front flex, no longer has me forcing knee lift to rock along as many older Hoka did.s good for this heel striker at slower paces. 


While last year I said Tecton X was Hoka’s best road shoe for me with its dual carbon plates and supercritical ProFly construction making it a fast road and trail shoe this year, so far.. the Challenger leads but on the more mellow side of running.  It remains to be seen how the soon to come Clifton 9 measures up in the road game as it shares as far as we can tell the same higher stack height and same foam. 


The upper (in combination with the big broad softish platform especially towards the rear of the shoe) limits it to more mellow trails for me. Very comfortable and well held at the heel and toe box things get sloppier at midfoot. Just not enough structure, too much give for me there especially given the high broad stack for rougher trails. I don’t think it is a huge fix and the upper is more than adequate for easier terrain but for me more support is needed (in a rougher trail context) and this is the Challenger’s weaker point for me.


Versatility is good but could be better for me with more upper support with the price of $170 up there also affecting value. 

Sam’s Score: 9.1/10

Ride: 9.3  Fit 8.8 Value: 9  Style 9.1 Traction 9.4 Rock Protection 9.2

😊😊😊 ½ :  It’s a fun ride with notable lightness for the amount of cushion.


Shannon: I think every time there is an update to a favorite shoe, there’s always concern that something big got tweaked and no one’s happy about it. Well, that’s not the case with this version of the Challenger. This is a solid update, nothing was changed that’s going to be a deal breaker for any Challenger fan, and that’s half the battle. It’s light, it’s cushioned, and it’s an un-intimidating door-to-trail shoe that perhaps excels just a little more on the roads. I will say that it’s worth thinking twice about your size lest you end up with a too-roomy shoe that has a loose and sloppy ride. Secondly, this isn’t likely to be your favorite technical-trail shoe, or even sort-of-technical trail shoe, I felt there’s a bit too much going on underfoot to really inspire confidence over rocks, roots, and scree. Other than that, the Challenger lives on as one of Hoka’s perennial great shoes!

Shannon: 8/10


Jeff V:  The Challenger 7 for me is a hit for all the reasons mentioned above, a great door to trail and quick long distance shoe for moderate to easy trails with enough security and stability to cruise some technical terrain without feeling too nervous as I have been with previous versions.  My biggest wish for this shoe is that I would love to see a more robust outsole.

Jeff V’s Score: 9.1/10

Ride: 9.5  Fit: 9 Value: 9  Style: 9 Traction: 8 Rock Protection: 9.5

😊😊😊 ½



12 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Hoka Challenger 5 and 6 (RTR Review)

Renee: I did not run in the Challenger 6. The Challenger 5 was too narrow in the midfoot for me. While the midfoot is not perfect for me in the Challenger 7, it is much more comfortable. Version 7 offers more stack height for a lower weight. The rocker ride is more pronounced in the newest version. Sizing is similar. 


Jeff V: While I liked previous Challengers, the 7 is more secure, stable and has a much better upper which while still on the narrow side, has more give to it and some will find more accommodating.


Hoka Speedgoat 5 (RTR Review)

Renee: For technical trails or anything trail-specific, the Speedgoat is the better shoe. The rocker is less pronounced in the Speedgoat 5, making the ride more stable and useful on single track. For road or buffed surfaces, especially for those needing a rocker, the Challenger 7 is the better option. Sizing is similar. 

Dom: Despite gushing reviews from many of the RTR team, I felt tepid about the SG5.  The weight reduction over SG4 was welcome, but unimpressive.  The new last is much narrower, and moreover Hoka appear to have had quality-control issues with sizing.  I wasn’t dazzled by the new foam, nor the upper fabric.  Personally, I preferred SG4 and particularly the EVO variant, which has been my go-to ultra racing shoe for the last couple of years.  So between the SG5 and Challenger 7, I would opt for the much-lighter Challenger nine times out of ten.  SG5 has the edge only in rougher terrain.

Jeff V: The SG5 is one of my favorites, superior in all ways on the trails and especially technical trails and holds up well door to trail too.  For longer distances on less technical terrain I would still pick the Challenger 7.


Hoka Zinal (RTR Review)

Dom:  The Zinal is Hoka’s “fast and light” trail shoe, with less cushion than their other offerings, and (to my mind) a clear focus on racing.   I love this shoe, and have worn it in many shorter races. I did find my feet felt a little sore at the end of a 100 km, and personally think that ten hours is about the usable limit for the Zinal.  The outsoles of the two shoes are very similar, with shallow lugs and plenty of exposed midsole on both.  The Challenger is stiffer and has much more cushion than the Zinal.  The Zinal heel is more moderately dimensioned compared to Challenger making the shoe more stable, and more friendly to toe-strikers.  What’s really surprising is that the Challenger weight is very close to Zinal (257 g vs 261 g in size US M10).  The impressively light weight of the Challenger makes me optimistic that Hoka could use similar materials in a Zinal 2 and drop the weight even further.

Jeff V: Dom sums it up well.  My only add on is regarding traction.  While similar outsoles, I found the Zinal traction to be slightly better, which I think might be related to the more flexible nature of the shoe and its use of Vibram MegaGrip. 


Hoka Torrent 2 (RTR Review)

Renee: The least “Hoka” of Hokas, the Torrent 2 has a traditional ride with a better ground feel. For technical terrain, the Torrent 2 is more nimble and more fun. For cushion on buffed surfaces, the Challenger 7 will be a better option. Sizing is similar. 

Jeff V:  The Torrent 2 is more nimble and has better traction, but for me is somewhat limited, as it is flexible enough but not particularly protective underfoot, such that I have not worn it beyond my review testing way back when.  I will regularly wear the Challenger 7 moving forward.


Hoka Tecton X (RTR Review)

Dom:  The Tecton-X is Hoka’s cutting-edge, expensive, carbon-plated race shoe. After the regrettable demise of the Speedgoat EVO, the Tecton X has become my default shoe for long ultras.  I used them in all four 100-milers that I raced in 2022 – although after the first I bought a half-size up and inserted the stock insole with TPU-beaded ‘boomerang’ footbed from Inov-8.  I wasn’t really aware of the (apparently) super-critical foam used in the Tecton, nor did I notice much spring from the carbon plate buried in the midsole.  The latter might be measurable on a treadmill, or doing a time-trial on smooth terrain, but was too slight an effect for me to discern at my plodding 100-mile pace.  What I did notice about the Tecton was that the combination of a plate and soft foam allows for a much lighter shoe to provide similar protection to the Speedgoat.  I also discovered that the upper fabric of the Tecton is virtually bulletproof.  The Challenger 7 upper looks to be made of the same stuff, which bodes well for durability. 


Even though the Challenger doesn’t have the flashy carbon plate of the Tecton-X, the shoes are not so different in feel. In the world of 100-mile racing shoes, the Challenger 7 is a bright new contender. 


Jeff V: Dom sums this well, but I will note that the Texton X upper feels confining to me after a couple of hours and I much prefer that of the Challenger 7 which has more give, yet still provides great foothold.


Hoka Bondi 8 (RTR Review)

Sam: Much heavier (2 oz heavier), higher stack and more stable,  Hoka’s giant Bondi 8 can be thought of as a heavier duty Challenger 7. Its foam is denser, its upper more supportive and its ride far less nimble and fun.  If you need its support and stability stick with it but if you want a lighter less “boring” Hoka max cushion ride that is great on road and has the grip for winter roads and for trails choose the Challenger. 


Saucony Ride 15 TR (RTR Review)

Renee: Both shoes are high stack/cushion road-to-trail shoes. The Ride 15TR has an 8mm drop with a traditional ride. The midsole is much softer and bouncier as compared to the Challenger 7. I like both of these shoes, and preference  will depend on the runner. For a firmer midsole with a rocker ride, go with the Challenger 7. For a softer, more traditional ride, the Ride 15TR is better. I wore a size 8 in the Ride 15TR and a 7.5 in the Challenger 7. Even in the same size, the Challenger is the lighter weighted shoe. 

Jeff V: I found the Ride 15 TR to be a great shoe, but a bit narrow.  I would pick the Challenger 7 in all circumstances (though the Ride 15 TR has slightly better traction).


Shannon: Two great door-to-trail options between the Challenger and Saucony’s new Ride Trail. Both will offer substantial versatility in terms of handling roads every bit as well as trail on that are on the less technical side. I don’t know if the main difference really needs to be stated, but as any wearer of Hokas knows, the brand has a pretty distinctive feel rather unlike any other shoe, while the Ride Trail feels like what would be expected from a more traditional shoe. 


Personally I felt the fit and feel of the Ride Trail to be much more secure, and the sizing to be more on point, than I felt with the Challenger. Also the Ride felt to me much more able to do well on slightly more technical terrain where the Challenger simply felt like too much shoe to navigate well on much beyond packed dirt and gravel. For those reasons, I’m much more likely to reach for the Ride Trail for most trail runs than I would feel inclined to lace up the Challenger, but that’s a matter of personal preference.


Nike Pegasus Trail 4 (RTR Review)

Renee: Both are road-to-trail options. The Pegasus Trail 4 has a high drop, less cushion, and a traditional ride. The forefoot flex of the Pegasus Trail 4 is far better, making it a more nimble and better option on single track despite the higher drop. The Challenger 7 offers more cushion for long runs, and it weighs less. The Pegasus Trail 4 has a roomier toebox and a more secure upper. Sizing is similar. 

Sam: The Peg Trail 4 is a considerably faster and more nimble shoe on all surfaces. It is for sure less cushioned up front having about 6mm less forefoot cushion with about the same heel cushion of a similarly softish feeling foam. It weighs about 0.7 oz more than the Challenger 7 speaking to the remarkably low weight for the cushion stack of the Hoka. For shorter faster runs on all surfaces the Nike, for longer and more mellow Challenger. 

Jeff V:  Peg Trail 4 is the most comfortable shoe of all time and is more nimble, with better traction, but I think the Challenger 7 would be better for really long days on the trail with more ample cushion and protection.


Nike Zegama Trail (RTR Review)

Sam: Nike’s max cushion trail shoe has supercritical Zoom X foam in the mix. It has 6mm more heel stack and 7mm more forefoot cushion. All this adds up to a 1.5 oz heavier shoe at 10.5 oz / 298g,  Despite all the extra stack height its upper is more supportive. Zegama is a considerably more responsive riding and faster shoe on firm surfaces if a stiffer lower drop one, relying more heavily on its rocker than the more mellow Challenger. The Zegama outsole could use wet traction improvement and its ride is a bit firm if highly cushioned. Push the pace with a lot of cushion Zegama. For lighter weight and a more pleasant if not quite as dynamic ride Challenger.


Jeff V: I found the Zegama to be just OK, not nearly as comfortable as other Nikes, weight feels like it is a factor and likely because of the weight, not nearly as quick as the Challenger 7.  Both shoes are plush, but the Challenger 7 works better for my foot and feels more fun to run in.  Zegama traction however is much better than the Challenger 7.


Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G280 (RTR Review)

Sam: My “cruiser” trail shoe of 2022 the Inov-8 leans more trail than the Challenger does with a supercritical foam midsole, knit upper, and stouter outsole.  It does weigh more at 10.25 oz  / 291bg (US9) and this is felt. Both share super pleasant riding midsoles and comfortable uppers with the Inov-8 more stable and confident riding when the trail gets rougher and the Challenger just darn pleasantly light and airy on the smoother stuff. 


Craft Pro Endur (RTR Review)

Sam: With a highly energetic TPE midsole and a seemingly not trail worthy outsole the Craft holds its own and then some on the same more mellow terrain where the Challenger shines, as long as the trail is not muddy or slippery and as with the Challenger not very technical and leaves the Hoka in the dust on road. 


Satisfy x norda 001 (RTR Review)

Sam: The far more expensive norda has a totally flawless secure and comfortable upper, a somewhat denser midsole and a stouter Vibram outsole yet weighs not a huge amount more at 9.68 oz / 274g in my US M8.5 sample with more cushion at a big 34mm heel / 29mm forefoot. It leans more trail and for sure easily on more technical trails than road overall that is for sure but gets close to the Hoka there too.

Jeff V: Agreed with Sam on all points.


The Hoka Challenger 7 is available from our partners 

Running Warehouse US HERE 

REI HERE

RoadRunner Sports HERE


Watch Sam's Initial Video Review from the Trails in Maine (10:02)


Tester Profiles

Dom 51, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  In 2019, his only notable finish was at the multi-day Dragon’s Back race in the UK.  In 2022 Dom finished 4th in the Angeles Crest 100 and was 10th in his age group at UTMB.


Renee is a former U. S. Marine journalist, which is when her enjoyment of running and writing started. She isn’t that awesome of a runner, but she tries really hard. Most of her weekly 50-60 miles take place on rural country roads in Nebraska, meaning mud, gravel, dirt, hills, and the occasional field. She has PR’s of 1:30:59 for the half marathon and 3:26:45 for the marathon.


Shannon is a Colorado native currently residing in Northern California. NorCal is nice, but Colorado will always be home. Having run competitively for around 20 years, she was a 7x All American at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, was a 2x member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team, 2x winner of the Mt. Washington Road Race, and was 3rd at the 2014 World Mountain Running Long Distance Championship. While running will always have her heart, she recently segued into DEKAfit and qualified for the 2022 World Championships. Looking ahead, she has goals of doing more DEKAfit (only faster and better), more gravel bike races, the Mt. Washington double (the running race and bike race in the same year), and returning to the Pikes Peak Ascent podium.Her favorite shoes currently include the Hoka Torrent and Saucony Kinvara, and her favorite runs include anything that goes uphill.


Jeff Valliere loves to run and explore the mountains of Colorado, the steeper and more technical the better.  He has summited all of the 14ers in the state and can be found on mountain trails daily, no matter the weather, season, conditions or whether there is daylight or not.  On the side he loves to bike and hike, often with his family, as he introduces his 12 year old daughters to the outdoors.  Jeff was born and raised in New Hampshire, but has called Colorado home for over 25 years. He is 5’9” and 145 lbs.


Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he is very lucky, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.


Please Check out all our 2023 Road and Trail Run Shoe Previews HERE

15 Brands, Dozens of New Models


Find all RoadTrailRun reviews at our index page HERE 
Google "roadtrailrun Shoe Name" and you can be quite sure to find just about any run shoe over the last 10 years

RoadTrailRun may receive a commission on purchases at the stores linked in this article. 
Your purchases help support RoadTrailRun and are much appreciated. Thanks!

Samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

RUNNING WAREHOUSE US
Challenger 7 is available now!
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns

EUROPE Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Europe only: use RTR code RTR5ALL for 5% off all products, even sale products 


AUSTRALIA Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

ROADRUNNERSPORTS
Men's and Women's SHOP HERE
Join RRS VIP
  • 10% Savings Every Day*  5% Back in Rewards Cash
  • Test Run Shoes 90 Days Worry Free
  • Crazy Fast, FREE Shipping
  • NONSTOP PERKS

FLEET FEET
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

REI 
Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

BACKCOUNTRY
Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

TOP4RUNNING EUROPE
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
Use RTR code RTRTOP4 for 5% off all products, even sale products

MOOSEJAW
Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

HOLABIRD SPORTS
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE Shipping on most orders over $40

AMAZON  
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

NEW BALANCE
Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

SAUCONY
Men's and Women's SHOP HERE

WATCH OUR YOUTUBE REVIEWS ON THE ROADTRAILRUN CHANNEL


Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by Following RoadTrailRun News Feed

Please Like and Follow RoadTrailRun
Facebook: RoadTrailRun.com  Instagram: @roadtrailrun
Twitter: @RoadTrailRun You Tube: @RoadTrailRun

5 comments:

Joe said...

Thanks guys! Excellent review as ever. I ran in the original Challenger but found further iterations too narrow for my foot. Excited to see a wide version. Any chance you could do a quick comparison with the new Topo UV3? Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

I would also like the comparison with Topo UV3, please!

Dom Layfield said...

@Joe:

I have tested Topo UV3, and while I really liked some aspects of the shoe (last/fit, cushioning, bouncier foam than previous Topos), I felt that midfoot hold was lacking. On steep downhills, my foot would consistently slide forward in the shoe, banging my toes into the front of the toebox. This is an enormous shame as the shoe is otherwise stellar, and its excellence is undermined by this single flaw.

Official stack heights (UV3 35/30 mm, Ch7 31/26) don't seem to reflect character of the shoes. Overall cushioning feels similar, but Challenger drop feels way bigger than nominal 5 mm. Challenger heel is enormous. To my taste, UV3 feels much more balanced. But if you're a heel-striker like Sam, you might prefer Ch7.

Topo UV3 is *much* wider in the forefoot. That's more to my taste, but a lot of runners have narrow feet, or just enjoy a snug 'performance' fit. I expect that Ch7 in wide will be slightly roomier, but still narrower than Topo.

UV3 is more trail-focused, and doesn't push 'road-to-trail' use. It has more outsole rubber on the bottom of the shoe, and grip is better than Ch7.

In terms of weight, previous Challenger ATR 6 and Topo Ultraventure 3 were exactly equal (both 300 g per shoe in US M10) but new Challenger 7 is significantly lighter (261 g).

Joe said...

Thanks Dom. This is extremely helpful! I'm leaning towards UV3 because, as you say, even a 'wide' Challenger might not be to my liking. And as Topo improves their midsole cushioning, they become even more competitive in a packed market! I use the Specter for road runs and love it.

Thanks again for the extensive response - sincerely appreciated. Keep up the great work!

Jed said...

After having the Challenger 5 in Wide, which fit me perfectly, I was disappointed to find that that the Challenger 6 in Wide was a bit narrower. Is the Challenger 7 in Wide any wider than the Challenger 6 in Wide?