Before I started testing for this HOKA Challenger 7 review, my first question was why HOKA needed another option in its line-up of tarmac-to-trail running shoes. After all, the Speedgoat 5 and the Torrent 3 do a pretty solid multi-terrain job already.
HOKA’s answer: the big changes to the seventh generation Challenger give it a better combination of road performance with versatile trail traction, which makes for a plusher ride, compared to the more responsive Torrent and the more balanced Speedgoat. So is it true? I put it through some rigorous all-terrain miles to determine whether the Challenger 7 can earn its right to be featured in our best trail running shoe guide.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Price and availability
The Challenger slots in between the HOKA Speedgoat 5 (£140/$155) and the HOKA Torrent 3 (£120/$130). In the UK, it’s £15 cheaper than rival road-to-trail shoes, the New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7 and £35 cheaper than the nitrogen-infused inov-8 TrailFly Ultra G280. However, it’s slightly more expensive than the Nike Pegasus Trail 4.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: What’s new?
In a bid to make it lighter, plusher – and more road-focused – the HOKA Challenger 7 went through a pretty major overhaul. This all-terrain cruiser now has a higher stack of new compression moulded EVA midsole foam to beef up the cushioning and protection. Up top, there’s a new engineered mesh upper for improved breathability, security and comfort.
Flip them over, and you’ll find a brand new proprietary Durabrasion rubber outsole for better durability with 4mm lugs and a tweaked grip pattern. Inspired by gravel tires, it has smaller, tightly spaced lugs in the centre and larger, more aggressive lugs at the edges to improve traction on the lumpy, bumpy off-road. Despite those tweaks – and that bigger cushioning layer – the Challenger 7 is lighter than its predecessor, the Challenger 6. The men’s shoe has dropped 27g while the women’s has shed 22g. Both are now also lighter than the HOKA Speedgoat 5.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Fit
I ran in my regular size, and they’re generally a happy fit, with great heel hold thanks to a well-padded heel collar. However, the foot wrapping is quite snug, close and compact, particularly across the top of the midfoot. And there's also not a great deal of wiggle room in the toe box. So I’d recommend going true to size in the HOKA Challenger 7 but consider the wider sizes if you like a shoe with a roomier fit.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Running performance
In testing, I covered about 50 miles in the HOKA Challenger 7 on a mixture of road and trail, including compacted river paths that can get muddy and wet. That included one 2.5-hour easy plod. One caveat: I didn’t get to test them on anything particularly steep or technical, like rocky coastal paths or big hairy mountain descents.
Right out of the box, the Challenger 7 offers a good step-in comfort with a relatively disappearing feel on foot. Though, like many HOKA shoes, they fit slightly narrow. That higher bed of softer midsole foam makes for a comfortable ride with a decent layer of protection underfoot to soak up the road impact and any lumps and bumps on the trail. Overall, I enjoyed my miles in these shoes. They performed well on most of the terrain I encountered, and this is the kind of shoe you can easily gravitate to.
If you’re looking for punchy spring and big response, these probably aren’t it. The ride was more balanced. Not overly lively, nor troublingly dull. You’re relying a little more on the rocker here, and while they happily clipped along the road (almost as well as some road shoes I’ve tested), I found they ran at their best rolling through easier, lower-intensity miles along softer forest paths.
When it came to pushing the pace higher, they lacked oomph. I don’t subscribe to the theory that all shoes need to be punchy and propulsive – particularly trail shoes – but if that’s the ride you’re after, the Speedgoat 5 and Tecton X offer more here.
If I had to pick a sweet spot run for the HOKA Challenger 7, it’d be easy miles with a bit of road and tail for up to 2-3 hours. However, if you’re looking for a mixed terrain ultras shoe, these might swallow distances up to 50km. For anything longer, I fear the narrowness in the toe box could become claustrophobic.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Outsole grip & traction
Unlike the HOKA Speedgoat 5, there’s no Vibram Megagrip outsole here. Instead, the Challenger relies on a Durabrasion rubber with 4mm lugs and a traction pattern that mimics gravel tyres. And it works. The outsoles gripped reliably on all the surfaces we encountered, including pavement, grass, compacted forest paths and small rocks. They even held up ok through the odd patch of mud though we wouldn’t choose these for proper slippy, sloppy conditions. And we didn’t take in any steep descents. On the dry road, they weren’t too sticky either. And that road-to-trail traction balance gets a big thumbs up.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Durability
These shoes feel built to last long miles. The outsole grip offers good protection, and after 50 miles on mixed terrain, there were no worrying signs of wear on any of the main impact points or troubling compression of that EVA midsole. The upper construction also feels tough enough to take bumps, and I’d estimate this shoe will happily handle 400+ miles.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Verdict
Despite being a big improvement on the Challenger 6, I’d stick the HOKA Challenger 7 on the solid-but-not-amazing shelf. It’s a comfortable and reliable road-to-trail shoe that offers consistent performance across all terrain. A protective ride that’s nicely balanced and not too soft. Rolling rather than punchy and aggressively responsive.
Yes, it lacks a little when it comes to moving from up the gears from easy to faster paces. That means it’s not quite as versatile as the HOKA Speedgoat 5. And though it’s a touch cheaper, I'd still go for the Speedgoat 5 over this shoe, based purely on that pacing versatility. But it’s the kind of shoe that almost disappears on foot, making it a happy choice for easy miles where you get your head up and enjoy the view.
If you already own the Speedgoat 5 or the Torrent, I don't think these shoes offer that much more, and I would stick with what you've got. Unless you find the Torrent too firm, in which case they are a little bit softer.
HOKA Challenger 7 review: Also consider
If you need a shoe that can handle road-to-trail but gives you a bit more punch and energy, the HOKA Speedgoat 5 and the carbon-plated HOKA Tecton X are both worth considering. The HOKA Torrent 3 offers something a bit more direct with a ride that’s lower to the ground, too.
Outside of the HOKA stable, the New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7 offers a well-balanced, cushioned ride that’s a touch less road-focussed, but it copes well with small sections on tarmac and rides well on longer trail runs. It’s a chunk heavier than the Challenger 7, a wedge more expensive, but it also has a more forgiving 8mm drop.
The Nike Pegasus Trail 4 looks and runs much closer to a traditional road shoe than many trail options. It’s nimble, and agile, and the Nike React foam midsole gives it a springier feel than some trail shoes chunkier, clumpier alternatives.