HOKA Challenger 7 Trail Running Shoe Review

REI senior sales manager Alan Ortega reviews the HOKA Challenger 7 Trail-Running Shoe on YouTube.

REI Staff|Published January 2, 2023

9 reviews with an average rating of 3.9 out of 5 stars
The HOKA Challenger 7

Watch the video

Below is a transcript of Alan's video review, edited and formatted for clarity.


HOKA Challenger 7: It's like the SUV you can commute in. 

Do you ever have those days when you picture yourself only driving Corvettes? Or the top's down on that nice Porsche? But then, you're driving to work and it's really rainy and you're like, "I'm really glad I'm in my comfortable, stable sedan." That's the HOKA Challenger 7.

HOKA's been working on their a ATR (all terrain) line for seven years. Is this the version that you can really use as a daily runner and take anywhere, from road to trail and back again?

Disclaimer: I work for REI, and these shoes were provided for review. But the opinions I'm sharing are all based on my personal experience in the shoe.


A HOKA Design Informed by REI

The Challenger is really cool, because the design was informed by input from Green Vests at REI. We really pride ourselves in understanding what the customer is looking for, and we have lots of ideas. In response, HOKA said, "Those ideas seem really valuable. You're saying that people want to run out their door but still have a little bit of grip on the trail?" And we said, "Yes, we would love that; our customers would love that." And they said, "We think we can make that." And they did.

HOKA makes an all-terrain Stinson as well as the all-terrain Challenger. In both shoes, they really give you that signature HOKA ride, as well as a bit of that road traction combined with security on trails. It's a shoe that's done really, really well for us at REI. And it's a shoe that our customers are really excited about training in. Most of their runs start from straight out their door, but they still like getting a little bit of dirt on their feet.

First Impressions

If we take a look from the top to bottom of the Challenger 7, we notice some interesting things: namely, the bright colors. This shoe is is really vibrant. It's really cool. People notice it; you'll notice it. I think it's worth mentioning—when you're excited about the colors of your shoes, you wanna put them on more.

There's a dual-layer upper for extra protection on trails: If I put my hand in the toe box of the shoe, you'll notice that you can't see my hand through there; I can't see my socks. That means that it's got a couple of different layers on there. That layer extends to the rest of the upper. So, it gives you a little bit more of that protection and adds a little bit of warmth. And that same feeling goes throughout the tongue. This tongue is really plush and cushioned; it's got a little bit of breathability, but it's still pretty thick. It's not one of those single layer, really thin tongues that some of the HOKA road shoes have. So this shoe, on the upper, is really going in the direction of more of their trail line, which is kind of exciting.

Flat, medium-length laces: There's three reinforced eyelets on the side, so you get lots of options for heel lock ties. If you use all of them, then they laces are probably going to come up short.

HOKA's signature heel: It's flipped up a little bit more; it's not super high, but it's giving you more of that trail feel, like on the upper. There's a lot of reinforcement here, and a lot more shoe than you would find in a road shoe. There's also a stiff heel cup to keep you secure on the trail.

A thick midsole: The shoe looks like there might be two different layers of midsole, but it really feels like the same density throughout. We get that signature HOKA ride with the rocker that transitions you from heel to toe.

Versatile outsole: Flipping it over down to the bottom, you have a little bit more of that EVA exposed midsole to give you a more comfortable ride on the road. This is a nice addition, since sometimes, if you where trail runners on the road, you can feel a little bit less comfortable. However, if you do get into some dirt with these shoes, there's enough traction here on the outsole. It's not super sticky; it's not super rubbery. And if you land on your forefeet like I do, you can kind of get more secure, closer-knit traction up here at the top with the green outsole.


How will the Challenger 7 fare on both road and trail?

All seven generaitons that the HOKA Challenger's been around, it's been at REI. And, for those same seven years, I've been at REI. So I've grown at REI with the Challenger. Every time we've had a new Challenger come in, I've been really excited. My coworkers and I, we'd pull the Challenger out and really try to decipher, "How did they really get that balance with the all terrain?" "How is it comfortable on the road and on the trail?"

I've always viewed this shoe as it's a road shoe that can get you on some lighter trails. And when I pulled this version out, I thought, "Whoa, this feels like a trail shoe that isn't uncomfortable on the road." This assumption was due to a couple different features and specific design elements: The upper doesn't feel like a road upper. It feels more protective. It's got that longer, gusseted part of the tongue. It's got more structure in the heel, and it just feels more reinforced. The same goes for the bottom: It looks more like a trail shoe.

Out and about

Still, the first thing I was really excited to do was run out my door and hit my local trails. And it was comfortable! I live in a situation where I would have to run about three miles to get to my local park. Usually, I wear road shoes to get to my local trail, which is fine. But when it gets more technical, then I find myself thinking like, "An all-terrain shoe would be really cool." The shoe has been a really fun shoe to run in and it gives me that reality check of, "Well most of your runs are mixed-terrain, right? Do you want a shoe exactly for that?" I didn't know if I did for a long time, and now that I have it I'm stoked that I do, because I think I'll reach for it a lot more often.

Comfortable to slow paces: I've been able to put about 45 miles in this shoe and I think I've been able to exhaust all different types of runs in just that short amount of time. On my first run, I did a recovery hike where I tried to answer the question, "How slow can I go?" Pretty slow is the answer. This shoe was super comfortable both in my zone 1 run that was on a little bit more of a technical trail system. And then on my recovery hike, I think they did great.

Varied traction on technical terrain: I did get into some slippery, wetter terrain. If I wasn't paying too much attention, and it got on that more road-conditioned part of the outsole, I had to watch out. So now, I know I tend to do most of my landing on my forefoot. But as I hike, I tend to do a full heel to toe off. And if I go heel to toe in the Challenger 7, I notice a difference in traction in different places.

Watch your speed: Some might say the trails I took the shoe on were a little bit above they're pay grade. On those trails, I was really intentional about how I ran and where I ran was really important. At times, if I wanted to take off or go blistering fast, I could feel the limits of the shoe on that terrain. But when I was moving a little bit slower, the shoe was really comfortable and I thought it held up surprisingly well.


Who is the Challenger 7 for?

I want to feel secure on the trail. If you're a really big midfoot striker, and you're on really technical terrain, the HOKA Challenger 7 may not be the shoe for you. But if you're a midfoot striker and you're going on gravel trails and you're not moving very fast—maybe you're training for ultra-marathon, you're moving in a way where the speed is diminished a bit but you're still having a little bit of fun—then this shoe makes a lot of sense for you. If you do most of your runs on the road and only a handful on the trails, you may want to consider just getting a road shoe. And HOKA makes great road options for you. And if you're a person that's training for a trail event and most of your runs are on the trail, then HOKA makes lots of great trail-specific options for you. But again, if you like to do both road and trail regularly and often, then HOKA's all-terrain options, including the Challenger 7, are worthy of your consideration.

Since I moved up to Seattle, I was really looking for something that provided me with an all-terrain experience. I have since gotten lots of shoes that do lots of different things, and I like having a variety of shoes. I can be very specific about like, "Well today, I want to work on speed; today I wanna work on going really slow; today, I just want to see what my cadence is." When I put a shoe like this on, it's for a very specific experience. Maybe you're the type of person that doesn't want to worry or think about your run and wants to run on some lighter trails, gravel roads, paved roads and just enjoy your run. You don't want to think about pace or even about about distance—you're just exploring on any kind of terrain. If that's you, then this shoe would be a great option.

Tell us what you think: We know that the HOKA Challenger is really popular with REI customers. What have been some of your favorite experiences in previous all-terrain models? What are you most looking forward to in this new version? Are you excited that it's getting a little bit more trail-specific? Leave a comment on the YouTube page

The Tech Specs

HOKA Challenger 7 Trail-Running Shoes

Trail-Running Shoe Type Light-Trail

Cushioning Maximum Cushion

Heel-to-Toe Drop (mm) 4

Heel Stack Height (mm) 31 (men's), 29 (women's)

Forefoot Stack Height (mm) 26 (men's), 24 (women's)

Upper Engineered Mesh

Midsole CMEVA

Weight (Pair) 1lb 1.8 oz. (men's), 14.6 ounces (women's)