Thursday, June 29, 2017

Shoe Review: Hoka Challenger ATR 2

No hyperbole: Hokas may have saved my running career. They looked like clown shoes to me at first, but before long the appearance meant little and the comfort of the cushioning stood out as the top attribute.

At my friend Jeff Hansen’s recommendation, I bought my first pair —the Challenger ATR—one day at the Northampton Running Company (now Marathon Sports). They were essentially the same shoe as the popular Clifton model but with a slightly more aggressive tread for trails. At the time, I was recovering (as often seems to be the case) from both a metatarsal stress fracture and a persistently nagging Achilles strain. 

Since the shoe came with what seemed like several extra inches of heel cushioning, I was able to alter my stride a little bit. Just the right amount, I think. A forefoot strike fell back to midfoot (and even a heel strike on downhills) without any discomfort or joint pounding. This slight shift took stress off the balls of my feet and reduced strain on my Achilles tendon. Within a few weeks both injuries had grown less painful. I realize this is just one anecdotal episode and I’m very wary of attributing too much causality without actual proof or evidence, but it’s hard for me to dismiss the coincidence. 

So now I’m running in the follow-up model, the Hoka Challenger ATR 2. And I can’t speak highly enough about it. Little things that had bugged me about the previous version were addressed. A small amount of extra padding was added to the uppers, particularly on the tongue, making the fit considerably more comfortable right out of the box. 

Hoka Challenger ATR 2s

Others have complained that the toe box is now too narrow, but for me it fits perfectly. Up to now, I’ve always run in ASICS (which have a reputation for being narrow in the forefoot) because they fit my feet like gloves—really comfy foot gloves. So if you’re a fellow narrow-foot type, you’re in luck.

For extra support, I added a pair of blue Superfeet inserts in place of the passable but fairly flimsy default ones, and that seems to be going well. No rub spots or chafing (though I’d recommend making your first run with any inserts be on the shorter side, just to be safe). 

The shoes are versatile. I wear them on both road and trail and the grip feels good all around. I suppose time will soon tell whether they’re good in hot weather. As for overall durability, I’m still assessing that. My first pair of Hokas lasted over 400 miles. When the newer pair got to 150 miles I noticed some disappointing tearing of fabric at the bend between midfoot and the toes, both on the inside and outside of the uppers; not thrilled about that. 

Of course, I still injure myself when I over-train or don’t stretch properly (two shamefully common phenomena). The Hokas don’t make me run any faster. They can’t make me seem intelligent. They do not regrow hair in my bald spot. And the whales still need saving. So no, they’re not miracle shoes. But by golly they do seem to come pretty close. At the moment, it seems they’re just what I need.


  1. Ben - I've had a similar experience with Hokas...if you like the ATR, try the Speedgoat 2s - similar, but more 'rebound.'...

    1. I tried a pair of Speedgoat 2's tonight, on loan from a Hoka rep; I loved them!!!! Getting a pair ASAP.