HOKA Challenger 7 Review | Great All-Purpose Trail Shoe
A lightweight & capable all-terrain shoe with great cushioning and breathability
If you want maximum comfort and efficiency on your next trail run or hike, look no further than HOKA Challenger 7 (shop now). This shoe is nearly perfect for use on maintained trails, gravel roads, and any natural surface that fits the description of light-to-moderately rugged.
Quick Summary: The HOKA Challenger 7 is exceptionally lightweight and extremely comfortable for long days and massive trail mileage. We recommend it very highly as it is the most efficient trail shoe in our quiver.
The Featured Pair: The pair you’re seeing in this review is the Flame/Cherries Jubilee colorway, and it has about 30 miles of wear and tear from very jagged, rocky trails.
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HOKA Challenger 7 Overview
This shoe is a trail adaption of their popular Clifton road running shoe. It is an extremely lightweight trail shoe, which translates to increasing the efficiency of every single stride you take. It is constructed with a very breathable mesh upper to reduce sweat and decrease the likelihood of blisters. It has a ~30mm heel stack height which is cushy-but-not-too-cushy, and a 4mm drop which is universally appealing.
The fit is very much true to size, from width, to midfoot, to heel cup, it will accommodate almost any foot comfortably and securely. The outsole is only as grippy and durable as it needs to be, utilizing 4mm lugs under the forefoot an heel, and flat and efficient foam under the midfoot. Thanks to all of the above, HOKA Challenger 7 is an extremely efficient and effective trail running shoe for all but the most rugged terrain.
HOKA Challenger 7 Stats
- Price: $145
- M’s Weight: 8.9 oz | W’s Weight: 7.3 oz
- Heel-Forefoot-Drop: M’s 31-26-4 | W’s 29-24-4
- Lugs: 4 mm | Rockplate: No
- Width: Average | Overall Fit: True to size
- Wide Sizes Available: Yes
- On Trail/Off trail/Pavement? Yes/No/Yes
- Pros: Lightweight. Comfortable cushion. Perfect on-trail performance. Excellent breathability.
- Cons: Modest traction. Modest durability.
Field Testing for HOKA Challenger 7 Review
The Adventure Alan & Co crew have been testing this shoe all over North America. We’ve worn this shoe on trail runs in the mountains and local parks, and hiked in them for long stints on the PCT, AT, and Mt. Rainier Wonderland Trail. We’ve covered all types of surfaces, and have been impressed by their performance and comfort. Never once did we regret choosing the Challenger as it is extremely comfortable and efficient.
The HOKA Challenger 7s fit like a dream. We took them out of the box and straight onto the PCT for 30 miles of hiking and running. The fit could easily be described as “universal.” They are semi-wide at the toe box and seem to run standard through the mid foot and heel. Nearly anyone can comfortably fit these shoes. And they also sell a wide version for anyone who needs it. The length is true to size.
We love the fit of the heel cup, which has all the hallmarks of exceptional performance. That is, you never notice it’s there, and your foot doesn’t come out. And that’s all you can ask. From top to bottom, front to back, the Challenger is extremely comfortable.
Midsole & Drop
HOKA Challenger 7 has a 31mm stack height in the heel for men, and 29mm for women. This is a bit taller and cushier than average and the foam has a pleasant and soft feel. However, it’s not exceptionally thick and hikers and runners will still feel contact with the ground and enjoy precise footing. The midsole is constructed with CMEVA foam.
The actual insole where you foot rests sits much lower than the highest point of exposed midsole where it meets the mesh uppers. In conjunction with the elongated heel tab, which we love and is very functional, these shoes appear taller than they actually are, which is a good thing.
There is a 4mm drop between the heel stack and the forefoot stack, which we find to be a Goldilocks zone that appeals to all. Those who are used to zero drop shoes like Altra will find it easy to adjust to a 4mm drop. And those who prefer a traditional full 8-10mm drop will also find the transition easy. 4mm is our preferred drop height.
Mesh Upper, Laces, Tongue
Quick drying and breathable is how we would describe the mesh upper material of the Challenger. Take a close look at the surface and you’ll notice how the engineered outer mesh is airy and perforated to improve airflow. An interior backer fabric helps to hold the structure and prevent tears, it is simple and you likely won’t notice it.
We love the comfort of the lightly cushioned tongue, which works in conjunction with the flat laces (made of recycled polyester) to give a very secure and comfortable fit. The entire upper is as comfortable and delightful to the foot as the entire shoe is to run and walk in.
The Durabrasion rubber outsoles of the HOKA Challenger 7 are one of the most interesting and unique features, and we find they are suitable for most terrain encountered by most runners and hikers. Built to exist at the intersection of road and trail running, they mix grippy 4mm lugs at the heel and forefoot with responsive, midsole EVA foam under the midfoot. This combination works optimally on well-maintained trails and dirt or gravel roads.
By decreasing the amount of rubber and height of the lugs used on the outsole, this shoe offers a lighter weight and more efficient ride. Lugs are grippy, sure, but have an extremely low energy return and make the shoe less effective on the average, well-maintained trail. The EVA foam midfoot outsole is what makes the HOKA Challenger 7 such a unique gem and so effective on moderate terrain.
However, we say this outsole is good for most but not all terrain, because there are situations where the lack of tread in the midfoot outsole could cause a fall or error due to lack of traction. Nobody would claim these shoes have maximum traction. That’s not their intent and other shoes exist to fill that niche.
Lastly, look at the contour and you will see it is has a nice rocker – again, this increases energy return and efficiency of your stride.
Pros & Cons
- Pro: Extremely light weight, fast, efficient
- Pro: High energy return outsole and rocker
- Pro: Grippy enough for all but the most rugged trails
- Pro: Engineered Upper Mesh is very breathable
- Pro: Shoe on the whole has a universally appealing fit and drop that accommodates nearly all feet
- Pro: Immediately comfortable out of the box
- Pro: Can flex onto man made surfaces without immediately chewing up the tread
- Pro: Cool and fun colorways
- Pro: Effective laces
- Pro: Extended heel tabs give easy on/off
- Con: Outsole is not the most grippy, not suited for loose surfaces, extremely steep terrain, or off-trail travel
- Con: No toe rand exposes front of shoe to scrapes and abrasions, modest durability overall
- Con: Exposed lower sections and side of midsole will get scraped up, however, this is purely aesthetic
Compared to Speedgoats
Compared to our other favorite HOKA, the Speedgoat 5 (pictured in teal), the Challenger is lighter weight, has a superior energy return, and more breathable mesh upper at the expense of less durability and less traction.
Read our complete review of HOKA Speedgoat 5, our editor’s choice shoe
Read our side by side comparison piece to help decide if Challenger or Speedgoat is right for you
Compare this all of our favorite trail running shoes in our guide to the best trail runners for hiking.
HOKA Challenge 7 Review Conclusion
The HOKA Challenger 7 is the most lightweight and efficient trail shoe in our quiver. We use it for runs on the park and hikes on the PCT because it is simply the most effective tool for the job. It is extremely comfortable, very breathable, while being grippy enough for all but the most rugged, steep, and loose terrain. We recommend this shoe extremely highly.