HOKA ONE ONE, that brand that I’ve seen popping up on more and more websites and runners’ feet, finally tipped the scales toward “buy me” one month ago when I was looking for a shoe that would protect my feet from rocks when running on gravel. Typically I’ve used trail shoes for these countryside runs, but a lightbulb went off in my head when I visited a local running store, Peak Performance in Sioux City, Iowa, and was directed to the HOKA Challenger ATR 2 to meet my need for protection underfoot.
“Oh, right!” Cue clouds parting and bright sunlight shining in… “That highly cushioned brand would CUSHION my foot. And it’s a trail shoe, too! I’ll try it.”
My first run in the shoes was a trail run over an uneven surface with lots of hills. The thicker sole took a little getting used to, but didn’t trip me up. And it’s so light! The shoe weighs in at 7.8 oz for US size 7. I did note, however, that my foot, while filling out the width of the shoe, still slid around quite a bit. My foot is average width, and tightening the laces to snug up the fit causes a pinched feeling on the outside of my feet. When I wear these shoes for road running, I do not notice the slippage inside nearly as much. I wear my regular shoe size in this shoe comfortably, yet I’ve read that some people size up half a size simply for the increased width, which I’ve found that I can avoid by making sure not to tighten the laces quite as much.
This “fix” wouldn’t work well if my purpose for the shoes was to run on aggressive trails, but I also don’t want the excess length and heel slippage that comes with the slightly bigger size. This shoe is a good fit if you want one shoe that can move between light trail running and road running as the 4 mm lugs and closed air mesh upper provide noticeable traction and durability without going all-out in trail shoe functionality.
Know what else I felt just walking around in these shoes? AWESOMENESS. The early-stage metarocker design of the sole has a transition zone in the shoe where your metatarsal heads meet the shoe. This encourages a quicker roll to the forefoot upon foot strike, giving the effect of feeling like a mix between stepping and springing forward! This (lower-stack-height but still) maximalist shoe also carries one of the things that I’ve appreciated about the minimalist trend—the lower drop height (5 mm in the ATR 2’s)—into the highly cushioned movement.
HOKA ONE ONE’s ability to keep the oversize EVA midsole super light, while adding moderate stability to the shoe with a slightly wider base throughout, impresses me—a lot. I’m still puzzled as to why these wider-based shoes have an upper that pinch at my feet if I’m not careful to avoid normal-tightening the laces, which I’ve never experienced in a running shoe before. Perhaps a less-than-snug feel in the forefoot will be a good change even though it’s unfamiliar to me; I’ll find out. I’m excited to explore more of what this brand has to offer!