Hoka are known for their bold and colourful running shoes with big, pillowy midsoles. Some may call it maximalist, but we’d call it comfort. If you’re after a trail running shoe with all the trimmings, but not a gram without function, then the Hoka Challenger 7 could be the pick for you.
Road to trail running shoes have been booming in recent years, and it’s no wonder with the versatility and convenience they provide for the everyday trail runner. We can’t all live in the middle of nowhere with the trails at our doorstep; it’s likely your everyday run will involve at least some pavement pounding before you read the good muddy stuff. That’s where a road to trail running shoe comes in, hitting that precise balance between comfort and impact absorption for the road, while maintaining adequate agility and grip for the trails.
The Hoka Challenger 7 is the newest road to trail running shoe in the Challenger range. Hoka says that the 7 has been completely reimagined from its previous iteration, with a redesigned midsole and outsole that’s got a higher stack and plusher feel. There’s also a Gore-Tex version for those after a plush winter trail running shoe.
- Cushioned and comfy
- Thick midsole for impact absorption
- Tack both road and non-technical trail
- Not grippy in thick mud
- Heavier than some
Design and features
One of the most striking features of the Challenger 7 is the large midsole chunk, which immediately is a good sign when it comes to a road to trail shoe since cushioning is a key component. The midsole is where impact is absorbed from hard ground surfaces and the Challenger 7 has a soft new compression moulded EVA foam at an increased stack height of 2mm, with 31mm at the heel and 26mm in the forefoot.
With a Durabrasion rubber outsole inspired by gravel tyres, the Challenger 7’s 4mm lugs are spaced more tightly in the centre of the shoe and become larger towards the perimeter. The idea behind this design is that the spacing should improve traction and dispel any mud and debris you pick up as you run.
What stands out when looking at the Challenger 7 is the exaggerated heel tab, which makes for swift removal of the shoes. The heel collar is also fairly padded, with the in-built cushioning locking the foot in place so there’s no stubbed toes or rubbing when running across varied terrain.
The plush theme continues in the padded tongue, which nevertheless fits gently over the foot and connects to the sides of the shoe via thin and breathable wings (called half gussets), helping to prevent too much trail debris from getting in the shoe while running.
The striking engineered mesh upper has had an injection of recycled content and aims to be more breathable than the previous model. Where the feet get the sweatiest at the midfoot are additional ventilation points to boost airflow, helping to counteract the additional bulk of the tongue.
That all sounds pretty sweet in theory, but does the Challenger 7 actually perform? We tested the shoe across several months and all the different terrains imaginable. The conditions it performed best in were those runs where you’re taking on both road and non-technical trails. The Challenger 7 can handle shallow mud, but any deep and soft muddy sections you’re better off reaching for a waterproof trail running shoe made to protect the feet from all that spray.
Despite there only a slither of a toe bumper to protect from rocks, we were impressed with how confident we took on rocky and gravel paths. The stack raises the feet off the ground and the thickness of the sole mean no sharp rocks are able to penetrate. Another comfort tick.
The Challenger 7 is a shoe that you can rely on to be comfy over medium distances of around 10km and no more than a half marathon, specifically because the plushness reduces likelihood of rubbing and we found our legs felt less sore the next day, perhaps down to the midsole absorbing the brunt of the ground impact.
Though the 7 is a cut down version of the previous model, they’re not the lightest trail running shoe out there. For this reason, the Challenger 7 fit the bill perfectly for training runs. When it comes to race day, we’d be more likely to reach for some carbon-plated kicks with a little more propulsion like the Saucony Endorphin Edge.
Though Hoka pin the Challenger 7 as a neutral shoe with it’s 5mm drop, the Royal College of Podiatry endorse the shoe as aiding rehab and reducing injury risk, which supports our experience of it feeling like a good stability shoe for those needing a touch of extra support. The footbed has symmetrical cushioning, so it won’t correct a pronation issue, but it will provide support and comfort to the feet while running. Read – this shoe is not for the minimalist trail running shoe lovers among us. The Challenger 7 is also available in a wide version for those needing a little extra width in the fit.
Hoka are increasingly becoming a giant in the running and trail running sphere. As such, they have a responsibility to follow sustainable production and fabrication practices. Hoka says that 97% of their footwear contain at least one recycled or naturally sourced element.
In the Challenger 7, this evident in the laces, which are made from 100% recycled nylon and polyester and the upper, which they say has some recycled content.
Hoka have also got various pledges on their website to reduce waste, water consumption, and petrol use by 2030. As for today, it seems like more could be done in making their trail running products more eco conscious, like using more naturally sourced materials. It’s easier said than done, but if we don’t look after the trails, there will be no running on them.
Price and competition
The Hoka Challenger 7 has an RRP of £130, which seems fairly reasonable for a hard-wearing pair of versatile and good-quality trail running shoes (we’ve been testing these for six months and still going strong). At the time of writing, the Challenger 7 can be found for £90.99 on Sportsshoes.com.
Comparable road to trail running shoes would have to include our best in test favourite, the Asics Trabuco Max 2 (143.99), which just pips the Challenger 7 when it comes to having a more responsive and efficient ride. Other top picks include the Salomon Sense Ride 5 (£103.99) for best traction in wet weather, and the budget-friendly Altra Outroad (£74.99) for the zero drop fans.
Overall, the Hoka Challenger 7 are a pleasure to run in and can handle a good variety of running terrain. Jack of all trades, the Challenger 7 is best suited for medium-distance training runs and for those after a bit of extra support and comfort in a trail running shoe.
How we test
We tested the Hoka Challenger 7 across a period of numerous months, where we were able to see how they fared on both hard-packed trail and tarmac, uneven terrain, and muddy trails. This extended testing period allowed us to test the shoe across a range of seasons and see how they fared with extended distances.
Our tester Kate Milsom is a Digital Writer and trail running expert for Live For The Outdoors, having completed several marathons and delved into the world of ultra trail racing. Kate takes our trail running kit with her across the world, testing it in a range of climates and conditions in order to recommend the best gear for the job.