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Shoe Review: Hoka Challenger 7 GTX ($160)

By Brian Metzler



If you live in a northerly region of the U.S. (or anywhere in Canada!), it’s the time of the year when you have to think twice about the shoes you’ll wear on your daily runs. You might have a specific run planned, but it will behoove you to look outside to see if it’s snowing or check your weather app to see how cold it is. I have to be honest, I don’t often wear weatherproof running shoes. But I live in Colorado and there are definitely days where I’m grateful for the protection of a Gore-Tex-lined shoe. If you live in a place where you have to maneuver over snow-packed roads in sub-zero temperatures on many days between mid-December and late-February (I’m looking at you, runners in Duluth, Minnesota!), then you’ll certainly appreciate a shoe like the Hoka Challenger 7 GTX. It’s a neutral-oriented trail running shoe, but it is as comfortable as a road running shoe and the Gore-Tex liner and toothy outsole make it an ideal shoe for running on snowy conditions in the winter. 


What’s New:  The Hoka Challenger 7 GTX has a slightly higher and softer compression-molded EVA midsole, a new engineered mesh upper for improved fit and support, and a Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner for enhanced protection in inclement weather. The outsole has been enhanced with smaller, tightly spaced directional lugs under the middle of the shoe, and larger, more aggressive lugs around the perimeter. (There’s also a greater nod to sustainable materials, including the upper fabric that is made from 70% recycled polyester.)


Fit/Feel/Ride: It should be obvious, but the Hoka Challenger 7 GTX fits and feels almost identically to the non-Gore-Tex version of this all-terrain shoe, however, the ride is slightly different. The fit is true to size with a medium interior volume and ample room in the forefoot for toes to splay. It has a moderately plush step-in feel with a medium-thick tongue, sufficient padding around the heel collar and a soft sockliner under your feet. Once you start running, you’ll notice the shoe has a bit of a stiff flex pattern. That comes from the Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner and, when you’re out running in cold, snow and slush, you’re not going to notice it or care about it. However, if you take it out for a run on a dry road or trail, you'll definitely feel that it seems slightly stiffer and a tad less agile as your feet roll through the gait cycle from heel strike to toe off. For me, this shoe is only an option in wintry conditions. If it’s not excessively snowy or sloppy outside, I’d opt for a non-Gore-Tex road or trail shoe to run on dry surfaces.


Why It’s Great: The protection the Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner provides against inclement weather is exceptional. I recently took my pair of Hoka Challenger 7 GTX for a 75-minute run in 20-degree weather on snowy roads and bike paths in Boulder, Colorado, and I loved that my feet remained warm and dry – and not excessively sweaty – the entire way. These shoes can’t keep your socks from getting wet, so there have been times when moisture has seeped into my shoes from my socks. But that’s just how it goes in the winter sometimes. (The only way around that is avoiding big piles of slushy snow and large puddles or wearing an after-market gaiter around your ankles.) 


Why You’ll Love It: You’ll love it because it’s a great winter trail and road running shoe! Aside from the protection against snow and cold, the outsole tread provides really good traction on a variety of dirt trails, but it’s especially grippy in snowy and slushy conditions on paved roads, bike paths, gravel paths and dirt trails. It can be slippery on icy surfaces—what shoe isn’t? – but it’s great in newly fallen snow, wet snow, packed snow and slushy snow. (You can improve the grip with after-market traction devices like Yaktrax or by drilling eight hex-head sheet metal screws around the perimeter of the outsole as a DIY traction solution.)


Specs

Weights: 7.7 oz. (women’s 8); 8.9 oz. (men’s 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 5mm (31mm in the heel, 26mm in the forefoot) 


Pro: While $160 might seem like a steep price tag for a pair of shoes that you’ll only wear seasonally on days with bad weather, I justify it with the fact that these shoes are going to last for several winters. If you run in shoes like this 10 to 20 times this winter, they will definitely still be reliably effective next winter and perhaps the winter after that.


Con: One of the negative aspects of any running shoe with a weatherproof liner is that your feet might feel too warm while running longer runs in milder conditions. I typically find that 32 degrees is the breaking point for that, although it depends on the conditions I’m running in. The updated Gore-Tex Invisible Fit liner is much more breathable than previous versions of Gore-Tex footwear products, but it can still trap excess heat. I’ll still wear these shoes when temperatures are above freezing and the streets and trails are covered with snow and slush. But when temperatures rise into the upper-30s to low 40s – especially when it’s sunny – my feet tend to get uncomfortably hot. 

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