The great thing about running is all of the different ways you can go about it. You are able to find which type of running (indoor, outdoor, trail, road, track, the list goes on) fits you best and easily tailor activity around that.
For those who want to ‘find their fit’ in trail running, this one is for you.
We share the best trail running shoes for the rugged and smooth trails of 2021.
BREAKING DOWN THE TRAIL RUNNING MYTH
Daily summits on local mountains, hitting trails to get thousands of feet of vertical gain, jumping on, off and over rocks and roots. These things are all cool, and yes are the experiences of some runners who have access and time to commit to The Trail™, however, the reality of trail running is that these experiences don’t need to be everyone’s experience nor are they a prerequisite to being considered a trail runner.
Breaking down this trail running myth is essential to entering the sport. So what is daily trail running? It’s your local trails, your local bike paths, the one-foot-long span of dirt you have in your neighborhood. It’s running up the hills in your neighborhood and conquering those local summits.
These two worlds do have one common intersection – shoes – and this is where we’ll breakdown the best trail running shoes for you.
Sunrise summits on rocky and uneven trails? Sign the Altra Lone Peak up. The Lone Peak is a trail runner’s dream using Altra EGO midsole for a responsive yet soft ride and a MaxTrac™ outsole to give you that grippy and secure feel on the trail.
Road shoes, meet trail shoes. Trail shoes, meet road shoes. The HOKA Challenger ATR combines the best of both shoes to make the doorstep to trail a smooth and seamless transition. All Terrain is in the name, afterall.
This neutral trail running shoe was designed with broad, closely spaced zonal lugs so you can stay in control on the trail and still have a soft landing while on the roads.
The right shoe can help make or break a race, but shoe selection is even more important when that race comes AFTER a swim and a bike. Triathletes have a lot of options when it comes to selecting the right gear, wheels, helmets, wetsuits, googles, gearing and of course, shoes.
With the new emergence of the carbon plated shoes, many triathletes have a dedicated training shoe and a dedicated racing shoe. We picked out some of the best running shoes for triathletes to race with.
BEST RUNNING SHOES FOR TRIATHLETES
HOKA CARBON X 2
HOKA has taken the triathlon world by storm over the last 5 years, with many of the top professionals racing in HOKA footwear.
Positioned as an endurance racer, the Carbon X2 delivers the same propulsive speed as its predecessor in an adaptable silhouette geared for training and racing alike. Engineered with a responsive, carbon fiber plate and aggressive Meta-Rocker, this performance shoe is a formidable competitor.
Saucony jumped on board with the carbon plate hype with their model, Endorphin Pro.
The Endorphin Pro has ultralight, springy PWRRUNPB cushioning and a signature s-curve carbon fiber plate for powerful transitions, running at top speed feels easier, so you get to the finish line faster.
The HOKA Mach 4 is lightweight, smooth-riding, neutral-oriented everyday training shoe that gives off a soft, lively vibe. It has enough comfort, versatility and giddy-up to handle the rigors of all types of workouts.
Based on the improvements, overall design and our wear-testing experiences, we believe this will to be one of the best models of early 2021.
There’s a new engineered mesh upper on this shoe, an updated midsole foam formulation (a new swallowtail design at the back) and a smoother, softer and more energetic ride. The updates have taken this shoe in a much better direction than the firmer and clunkier previous edition. The HOKA Mach 4 is now a stellar shoe in every regard.
Combined with the rocker geometry and the swallowtail design at the back of the heel, the Mach 4 provides easy landings and smooth transitions into an energetic boost at the toe-off point of a stride.
The midsole/outsole structure of the Mach 4 has flared design that results in a slightly wider footprint. It adds a touch of inherent stability — though not enough for overpronating runners. The swallowtail cut in the rear of the heel creates a decoupling effect to provide semi-custom foot strike force attenuation.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Mach 4 fits true to size with medium-width interior in the heel and saddle but a tiny bit more room in the forefoot. The step-in feeling is soft and secure with a very noticeable lightweight sensation the moment you start running in them.
You can feel the cushioning, but there’s a hint of proprioceptive feel for the ground in the forefoot. The relatively thin, gusseted tongue contributes to the snug, glove-like fit. The padding in the collar and a flared heel tab are creature comforts typically found in more expensive shoes.
The Mach 4 features a Meta-Rocker design geometry and a slightly beveled, swallowtail heel that create a rolling effect as the foot transitions from touch-down to toe-off.
The ride is incredibly smooth from heel to toe, but the step-in softness gives way to a slightly firmer sensation and a noticeable pop of energy in the forefoot.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
Runners who enjoy light, soft and lively shoes will really enjoy running in the Mach 4. It’s not quite a maximally cushioned shoe, but it’s not quite a lightweight performance-oriented trainer, either.
It’s versatile enough to run long, run fast, run slow and just about everything in between. It could also be a good choice for racing from 5K to the half marathon. For runners who like Hoka’s Clifton shoes, there’s a good chance you’ll like this model even more because it’s lighter and livelier.
PROS: HOKA MACH 4
The juice of this shoe is in the dual-density midsole. The top layer utilizes Hoka’s ProFly technology, which is softer in the rear and firmer in the forefoot. The bottom layer is Hoka’s rubberized EVA foam that’s provides a little bit of stability and a little bit of bounce.
The new upper does an amazing job of providing a glove-like, contoured fit for just about any foot shape. It’s a tad bit thicker than some upper materials so the breathability isn’t as optimal as some other models, but it won’t be an issue unless you’re running in very hot conditions.
The outsole is devoid any rubber at all and instead is comprised entirely of exposed midsole foam. That means it’s a lot lighter and more agile, but it also means the durability and traction isn’t on par with shoes with rubber outsole treads. It’s a trade-off you have to consider, but as a light, performance-oriented shoe we think it’s an ideal makeup.
CONS: HOKA MACH 4
There are no noticeable negative marks for this shoe. If we’re being picky, we’d suggest that the biggest detractor is that the shoelaces are excessively long.
Meet Rajpaul Pannu, a member of the HOKA Aggies running club, 2:17 road marathon runner and Olympic Trials qualifier, first generation Indian-American and full-time high school math teacher. After having his big-break-run at the 2017 California International Marathon, he’s not slowed down and is now making space for himself in the ultra-running world.
HOKA ONE ONE PROJECT CARBON X 2: RACE RECAP
HOKA set out on a bold goal to launch the Carbon X 2 – their fast, carbon plated race shoe – Project Carbon X 2 was a race against time for HOKA athletes to try and break the 100K world record.
Below is the race recap from Rajpaul Pannu, who in his second ultra run, finished second in the men’s race and set an American 100K debut record.
“I feel like there’s subtext whenever a BIPOC person toes the starting line in the endurance world. This act, for me, is an act of rebellion and against the status quo. It allows me to create a narrative that challenges any preconceived notions that people may have about me. It also allows me to bridge the gap between my community of people and something that is incredibly empowering: running really, really far.”
My full-name is Rajpaul Pannu, I was raised in Hercules, California (20 miles north of Oakland) and currently live and train in Denver, Colorado.
I am a first-generation Indian-American born to a single mother who has worked hard to give me the opportunities in which she herself did not have.
Training for this event really began in August, when I was training to run my first ultra-marathon-The JFK 50 miler, which consists of a 15 mile run through the Appalachian trail, a marathon on a subtle incline, and caps off having you run a hilly and windy road for 8 or so miles.
The methodology of my training consisted of three phases. I began phase one with general easy runs with a trail run typically performed every other day. I had no trail running background prior and running on something like gravel is considered “technical” for me. Knowing how green I was, I decided to explore it once I had (finally) understood the degree of the pandemic’s effect on large road races, how nothing was going to open up as a result of it. However, trail races, be it scarce were happening in certain parts of the country so I entertained the idea of completing one to see how I would respond to doing so.
After several falls and a few ankle sprains, I began phase two, as I had eventually backed off on running trails and started to run exclusively on roads. The punishment received from the trails really made me appreciate running on smooth, flat surfaces. I had also noticed that my easy runs were a lot easier as a result of climbing/descending some of the toughest terrain that Colorado has to offer. I was now supplementing the trails with quicker, fast-paced fartleks, intervals, and long runs eventually building upwards to 115 miles-something that I had never done before. Phase two culminated with me placing 6th at the JFK 50 miler-my first ultra marathon.
100K TRAINING FOR PROJECT CARBON X 2
I initially had in mind to take some time off from running after the JFK 50 miler, as I needed to recharge both physically and mentally. However, a day after, I had received an email from Mike McManus-global marketing director of HOKA ONE ONE. Mike was impressed with my run at the JFK 50 miler and had asked me to run Project Carbon X 2-a 100K/62.2-mile race where the best ultra-runners throughout the world have the mountainous task of breaking the 100K male and female world records.
I was initially scheduled to pace the runners anywhere between 40-50 kilometers, so the idea of doubling that may have sounded daunting, but I understood what an opportunity this was for me to showcase myself in the ultra running world in a time of uncertainty. As a result, any feeling of needing time off had diminished, as I was recharged within a day after running what I believe to be the toughest race of my life.
Phase three was perhaps the most grueling, as my body was not fully recovered from the JFK 50 miler. I had a total of eight weeks to prepare for Project Carbon X 2, which really meant that I had six as the last couple of weeks are typically dedicated to tapering and having your body recovered. My mileage was planned: 90, 100, 110, 115, 125, 110. The staple workout for the first block was long runs performed at world record (WR) pace (5:56/mile) every other week. I performed 20 and 26.2 mile long runs but felt myself a bit gassed out doing so. It wasn’t until the 5th week where I felt I had truly hit my stride: a 50K long run at a similar pace. This time around, I felt amazing and could have kept going.
Just as important as the race-specific work, were 10K-half marathon workouts that had juxtaposed the mountainous mileage that I was completing. One workout that gave me the utter confidence that I can compete with the best was 6 x mile repeats where the last one was performed at 4:43 pace.
LIFE-WORK TRAINING BALANCE
The biggest advantage of moving to Colorado was that I have been able to keep my teaching job in California, as I work remotely.
As a result, I’m able to wake up, have breakfast, and hit the roads running, perform workouts, and adhere to a stretch routine all before my first class of the day which begins at 10:30 MST. Since I’m not running around like a headless chicken making copies, corralling students, pacing around the classroom to ensure that everyone is on task, that time is invested into doing light stretches to ease my body from sitting for long periods of time.
It’s also important to note that the result of the pandemic has forced me into becoming a homebody, something that I wasn’t keen on being in my early 20’s. It’s also allowed me to take care of myself on the weekends, which has enabled me to adapt to a higher volume of work since I’m actually recovering rather than nights out on the town.
PROJECT CARBON X2 RACE DAY
The morning of the race was perfect. Almost a little too perfect. I had gotten close to six hours of sleep: which is plenty for me before a race. Woke up, immediately went to the restroom and felt a sense of relief that I had gotten “it” out of the way. I then ate breakfast two hours prior to my race: A peanut butter and agave sandwich with half an RX bar and an electrolyte drink diluted with water.
I proceeded to do my ritual of rope activation stretches and Theragun to activate the muscles. Before heading out to the lobby for the shuttle, I had to use the bathroom…again.
Unlike shorter racing events, you don’t necessarily need a grand warm-up routine for the 100k, especially if you’re gonna put your body on the line for over six hours. As a result, I was incredibly calm and ready to tackle on some initial easy miles. About 15 minutes before the race, I used the bathroom one last time. Something was off as I don’t have to go all that often typically, but had hopes that it would be the last pit stop for hours. I was wrong.
Moments before the race, I took a 100mg caffeinated Unived Gel and planned on ingesting one nutritional gel every thirty minutes vs. the traditional twenty as Unived offers 190 calories per gel pack, which I took every thirty minutes along with water and electrolytes in intervals.
Right before the gun went off, I looked out into the abyss of the sky and threw up a prayer asking my ancestors for protection and well-being. I then looked around the starting line to see who I was surrounded by. I’d already known that Fernando Cabada and Brandon Johnson were the only two other POC runners racing the event. I quickly referred back to the shifting narrative of the importance of adequate representation in the outdoors and how participating in big marquee events such as Project Carbon X 2 was the right step in the direction for me to support that notion.
I quickly diverted my attention to my watch, activated the GPS, and then: Pow! The gun went off and as we acclimated ourselves into our pace groups.
OFF TO THE RACE
There were five runners who were chasing after the world record. I had bumped into Jim (Walmsley) at the hotel a couple of nights prior and he suggested an article that summed up the history of the 100K and had prophesied at least two runners dropping out in their pursuit of the attempt.
I had headed his warning and stirred on the side of caution by leading the chase pack with my pacer Ben Robinson guiding me through 6 flat miles for a solid attempt at the American Record. The first 8-9 miles were seamless, as Ben, Joacim (Lantz), and I worked together behind the WR pack. Joacim and I had to take our first bathroom break, as we decided to pee into the bushes and away from any cameras that might have been capturing us. We got back on track running 6-minute miles.
At this time, I had come to a realization that a 6:15 100K was more of a realistic attempt given the emergency stops that I may need to take. Unfortunately, the next one was within 30 minutes. This time around, I encouraged Ben and Joacim to carry on without me as I had to use the restroom to discard “it”, ultimately tacking on additional 30-45 seconds or so off of my attempt, but I immediately got back on track.
Within the first 22 miles, I had used the bathroom three times, but felt great physiologically. Several miles had past and Ben eventually dropped out as he had performed a stellar job pacing. I hit the 50k mark just a shade under 6:20 pace. I initially thought I was going 3-4 minutes quicker, but then realized how important it was to run the tangents properly, which I hadn’t done well for the first part of the race.
I stopped at the first restroom after the 50K mark and had realized that my nightmare had come true: diarrhea. It was from the 50K mark and beyond where I was now forced to take a bathroom break every 30 minutes or so. This began to chop down my time in hopes of breaking the American Record, but I was hopeful as I still felt great and was able to hit the ground running at 6-minute pace after my restroom intervals.
Sometime around the 70K mark, three out of the five runners attempting to break the world record had dropped out. All but Jim and Craig Hunt, who had previously run the marathon project and looked strong despite a short notice to run the race. The 70K to 95K portion of the race was a huge war of attrition between my mind and my body. I really don’t remember much of it to be honest, but I kept an upbeat attitude knowing that I just had a standard weekly 18-mile long run to complete (perhaps this is where I had begun to become a bit disillusioned).
Also, by this time, I had worked my way up to second place as Craig had fallen back.
THE FINAL STRETCH
Around the 95K mark, I looked at my watch and calculated that I was right on American Record pace with not a moment to spare. My stomach, unfortunately, had other plans as I was faced with a decision I now regret: using the bathroom one last time. As I stepped out of the restroom one last time, I knew I had some work to do.
I began to pick up the pace, running sub six for the first time since the second mile of the race. By now, I was visibly in pain as the right side of my body was slowly shutting down. Regardless, it was the fastest I had been running.
I made one final turn and into the homestretch into the race track, which was about half a mile: the longest half mile of my life. From there, I was wincing, hoping that I had some miracle of breaking the previous American Record of 6:27.44. Unfortunately, the third digit of the clock had hit “8”, signaling that I was not going to dip in. Still, with the encouragement of the HOKA crew and pacers, I held on to my pace as I kicked it into the finish. 6:28.31. A debut record.
As an athlete, I really see myself running this race in the 6:0?’s, making future USA teams and representing HOKA at international events such as Comrades Marathon.
Pro triathlete Nick Chase (@race_chase) took the new HOKA Carbon X 2 through its paces from his home training base in St George, Utah.
By Nick Chase
Present day shoe technology is simply mind blowing. It’s no wonder as to why carbon shoe prices are soaring.
You’re paying for a ton of research and development as well as mega performance gains! This is likely one of the best “shoe eras” ever! The HOKA ONE ONE Carbon X 2 definitely seems to have a firm place within the carbon shoe world.
Take a look at my review as I run it through it’s paces. Learn why it’s going to be a key part of my shoe rotation on this year’s training and races season.
HOKA CARBON X 2 AT A GLANCE
The color, stance and overall design certainly visually grab the eye! They look like a top-fuel dragster, ready to toe the line for a ¼ mile PR!! However, after running in these babies heavily over the past few weeks I can tell, these are built for mileage!
Marathon to Ultra, that’s where I personally feel a sweet spot. I also did feel a bit sore after my first few runs; I’ve been running in 8mm drop shoes, non-carbon. So, although the Carbon X 2 runs softer than the previous Carbon X, I still felt it the stiffness in the foam. Also, another reason this is a great high-mileage racer…oh, and it holds the American Ultramarathon record to boot!
A bit more depth
For starters, HOKA altered the foam density towards a more cushioned ride and lowered the location of the carbon plate. This means you run on more foam, softening the ride against the rigid carbon.
With a 5mm drop, I personally felt the need to really lean into this shoe to feel the “boost”. Even with a dominant heel strike over 16 miles, I felt the meta-rocker rolling me forward. Again, this is why I’m definitely leaning towards a higher mileage race-shoe.
During hill reps I felt less of a boost in terms of performance. But let;s put that into context; only a few shoes really help launch against an 8% grade hill repeat.
Transitioning downhill, I felt like these shoes were going to run away from me; I really had to lean into the mid-foot, over-speed mechanics.
With the Carbon X 2 I felt like I was just feeling the carbon, foam and shoe…without a whole lot of road feedback. Even after 80 miles, the shoe really felt just as “new” as it did on day 1…the foam is durable and the rubber sole seems like it should hold up well enough to swallow the $180-dollar price point.
I was very impressed by how nicely my size 12, wide-flipper-foot fit snug and secure within this amazing upper! The achilles support system, gusseted tongue and dove-tail heel made for a firm, stable and un-compromised ride, especially while cornering in the wet.
Finally, with limited grip, I couldn’t call this a good trail shoe but certainly would say it did well on dirt roads!
Anyone can slap a carbon plate in a shoe these days but what defines a shoe’s greatness heavily depends on the foam. And importantly, HOW that plate interacts with the foam and your foot.
HOKA has done a great job providing everything a marathoner or ultra-marathoner might need to limit foam breakdown for a long-haul, fast run!
I really fell in love with this shoe more and more as I ran. Bonus is I received a ton of compliments on the color and overall look…which of course matters to us vain runners – jk. Our shoes need to look fast because duh, everyone will assume we are a threat on race-day!
Great work HOKA and if you’re looking for the next step and a bit more energy return for a half marathon, check out the HOKA Rocket X too.
After it’s debut, the smartly updated HOKA Carbon X 2 is ready for the running season ahead.
The Carbon X returns after the successful first edition won races and set records. It proved itself among the best of the initial crop of long-distance racing shoes built with carbon-fiber plates embedded in thick, cushy midsoles.
The Carbon X 2 is a maximally cushioned neutral-oriented speed shoe. It has a staunchly rocker profile and an energetic vibe that promotes fast-cadence running.
The smart updates HOKA Carbon X 2 to make this edition slightly lighter and cushier. It is more consistent and efficient and, ultimately, even faster than the original.
Specifically, the shape and positioning of the carbon-fiber plate have been updated slightly for smoother, more efficient transitions. The midsole is slightly thicker and slightly softer for a more plush ride. Add to that the new, extended Achilles-friendly heel tab improves comfort and fit.
A stretchy Lycra bootie finishes off the Carbon X 2. This feature creates a gusseted tongue for a locked-down feeling at the mid-foot. It’s topped off with an engineered mesh upper that delivers breathable comfort.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The Carbon X 2 has a true-to-size fit with a medium width from heel to toe. It also brings in a little bit more room in the toe box. Compared to other carbon-fiber racing shoes, it’s a bit more roomy, especially in the toe box.
It’s a unique shoe that feels soft at step-in, but it tends to feel a bit firmer the faster you run in it. That’s a good combination that allows it to be comfortable, responsive, propulsive and fast. The most unique feature about this shoe is the rolling sensation of the ride.
Unlike some other super shoes with carbon-fiber plates that are bouncy, the Carbon X serves up a smooth, rhythmic, rolling ride. This stems from the distinct rocker geometry and catapulting sensation of the carbon-fiber plate embedded in the foam midsole.
There’s not much flex in this shoe, but it’s supposed to be firm and snappy. It’s takes a short amount of time to get used to it, but once you find that rhythm you’ll feel the energetic boost in every stride. It will feel almost effortless.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
If you’re interested chasing a new personal best in the half marathon or marathon or want a proficient performance trainer for long runs and tempo runs, this is a definitely one every runner should consider.
While it’s a ideal choice for front of the pack runners, it’s an especially good shoe for committed age-group runners and middle-of-the-pack runners. This is because it accommodates a wide range of stride styles and encourages quicker and more efficient turnover for moderate paces too.
For the encore edition, HOKA made some adjustments to the placement of the carbon-fiber plate. Embedded in the midsole, this allows the rolling vibe and energetic toe-off to be more accessible to every type of running gait. The plate is split under the flared midsole forefoot platform, allowing for optimal resupination to set up the toe-off phase of the stride.
The midsole of the Carbon X 2 is 2mm thicker and slightly softer than the original. This creates a more plush feeling from touch-down to toe-off. That includes slight changes to the cushy foam above the carbon-fiber plate and the durable and responsive injected-molded, rubberized EVA foam below the plate.
The outsole is made from a durable, injected-molded rubberized EVA. This provides a secure grip on wet and dry surfaces while also contributing to the propulsive ride.
If you prefer or typically run in shoes with soft, compressible midsoles, the ride of the Carbon X might seem too rigid and rolling for you.
The Carbon X 2 much softer and more accessible than the first version. But it still a different ride than most carbon-fiber racing shoes that feature a soft, bouncy ride.
What better way to launch a new long-distance racing shoe than to stage a world-record attempt to prove how fast it is? Introducing Project Carbon X 2.
HOKA ONE ONE will launch its new, fast and efficient Carbon X 2 carbon-fiber racing shoe with a multinational assault on the 100K world record on Jan. 23 in Phoenix, Ariz. and Chiba, Japan.
TWO RUNS, TWO CONTINENTS
With 62.2 miles of race-pace running, the Project Carbon X 2 event will be no small task. HOKA-sponsored ultrarunners Jim Walmsley, Camille Herron, Elov Olsson and Caitriona Jennings will be going after the record at 7 a.m. PST in Phoenix, while Japanese runners Aiko Kanematsu and Yoshiki Otsuka will be racing the same distance at 7 a.m. JST in Japan.
The current men’s 100K world record is 6:09:14. This is a blazing 5 minutes, 56.5 seconds per mile pace – set by Japan’s Nao Kazami in 2018. The women’s mark is 6:33:11 (6:19 mile pace), set by Japan’s Tomoe Abe in 2000.
Two years ago when HOKA launched the original Carbon X carbon-fiber racing shoe, Walmsley set a new world-best for 50 miles. He clocked a 4:50:08 at a similar ultra-distance time trial in Sacramento, Calif. HOKA says the new shoe is slightly lighter and faster with a smoother, more propulsive ride.
The Carbon X 2 has updated curvy carbon-fiber plate technology, a lighter, softer and more resilient midsole foam package. The upper features a cleaner design to match the upgrade to the engine. It weighs 8.4 ounces (Men’s 9), a 5mm heel-to-toe offset and an MSRP of $180.
“At HOKA, we have grown into the brand we are today by setting lofty goals, not compromising, and taking a bold and unexpected approach to meet those ends,” says Mike McManus, Director of Global Sports Marketing at HOKA ONE ONE.
“Perhaps no shoe embodies that spirit better than the Carbon X 2 – designed without compromise to offer the very best in performance innovation to all athletes, empowering them to fly no matter their goals – and perhaps no event embodies it better than Project Carbon X 2: a chance for some of our elite athletes to try and go farther and faster than we once thought possible.”
HOW TO WATCH PROJECT CARBON X 2
Project Carbon X 2 will be live-streamed from the Phoenix, Arizona area starting at 7AM MST on January 23 at hokaoneone.com/project-carbon-x-2 ; and from Chiba, Japan at 2PM PST on January 22 (7AM local time January 23) at hokaoneone.jp/project-carbon-x-2.
The HOKA Challenger ATR 6 is a crossover road/trail hybrid shoe that tackles many types of trail surfaces with aplomb.
The Challenger ATR is a soft, comfortable and accommodating maximally cushioned, neutral-oriented shoe. It’s versatile enough to handle both smooth, semi-rugged and mildly sloppy trails, as well as roads and bike paths on the way to a trailhead.
If you ran in the previous versions of the Challenger, you’ll find the sixth edition has a similar fit, feel and ride.
The most notable change is a new, more pliable upper material made from recycled yarn . This really adds to the shoe’s smoother flexing demeanor. It also features a slightly updated lacing eyelet structure that helps keep your feet more secure on the run.
Like its predecessors, the Challenger ATR 6 is a good all-around running shoe that runs well on a lot of surfaces. It’s not exceptionally energetic for fast-paced workouts. However, it’s light and cushioned enough to offer smooth-striding consistency in most other applications.
The outsole features low-profile, 4mm lugs. These provide good traction running on dirt, gravel, over small rocks and roots and through shallow puddles. The lugs aren’t quite deep or aggressive enough for running over sloppy, muddy trails and dramatically technical terrain.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The HOKA Challenger ATR 6 accommodates a range of foot shapes and sizes, but is slightly wider in the mid-foot/arch and the toe box. (It’s available in two widths for men and women.)
Runners with narrower feel will have to snug down the laces tightly, but not to the point of being uncomfortable. The step-in feel is decidedly soft and comfortable. There’s an added plush sensation from the padded heel collar and cushy, partially gusseted tongue.
Out on a run, the Challenger feels soft and supple on all types of terrain. This allows the foot to move naturally without inhibition from foot strike to toe-off.
The rigid, internal heel counter keeps the foot securely in place. Add to this, the wider forefoot allows your toes to splay for optimal balance and toe-off on uneven terrain.
The HOKA Challenger’s low-profile lugs offer good traction on smooth dirt paths, mildly technical terrain and gravel roads. Add to that it can also feel as smooth as a road shoe on paved or concrete surfaces.
Although the soft midsole isn’t quite as energized or robust as some other shoes out there, our wear-tests suggest it should be a shoe that’s durable enough to get through about 400 miles of running.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
The Challenger ATR 6 is a great option for road runners who occasionally run on trails or trail runners who primarily run on mild or moderate terrain.
It’s versatile enough to be the only trail shoe in your quiver. Or, it can be an ideal shoe for long runs on smooth terrain or dirt roads.
PROS: CHALLENGER ATR 6
This edition of the Challenger weighs slightly less than the previous version and is lighter than many road running shoes. Combined with the “rockered” (or convex) geometry, you’ll feel a light, rolling sensation that promotes quick-cadence strides — especially on firmer surfaces.
The softness of the compression-molded EVA midsole makes running in the Challenger ATR 6 similar to running in your favorite road shoes, although slightly softer and a tad less energetic. That will be especially appreciated if some of your training runs include a variety of trail and paved surfaces.
CONS: CHALLENGER ATR 6
The Challenger ATR 6 doesn’t have a lot of inherent structure in its midsole/outsole chassis, so runners who need or want additional stability might consider a trail shoe with more support or a more rigid outsole.
Although the Challenger can suffice on some more technical trails, it’s most at home on smoother terrain and not ideal of extra gnarly mountain terrain. That’s partially because it lacks a rock plate and offers limited protection with a from a minimally reinforced toe bumper.
Brian Metzler has run races at every distance from 50 meters to 100 miles. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 pairs of shoes, is a three-time Ironman finisher. He occasionally participates in the quirky sport of pack burro racing in Colorado.
He’s the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine, is a former senior editor at Running Times. He was and editor in chief at Competitor Magazine.
As an author, he has penned “Kicksology“, “Running Colorado’s Front Range” and the co-author of “Natural Running: The Simple Path to Stronger Healthier Running” and “Run Like a Champion: An Olympian’s Approach for Every Runner.”
The HOKA Bondi 7 is in for the long haul. Endurance athlete, Lori Pacheco has taken every version of the HOKA Bondi with her over the course of her Ironman career. She shares her unique perspective on how the HOKA Bondi has evolved and what the 7th edition has to offer.
by Lori Pacheco
I am an early adopter of HOKA ONE ONE shoes; I remember purchasing the very first Bondi available. At the time it was a unisex model (I know, right?!) In that era of minimalist, zero-drop shoes, my body was feeling old(er) and battered, so was really interested in a shoe that would provide extreme cushioning but with zero or close-to-zero drop.
The Bondi fit the bill.
My first impression back then was, “Man, these shoes are ugly and make my feet look huge, but it’s like running on marshmallows!” Remember this was an era when minimal was in and HOKA stormed in with these – in comparison – enormous looking shoes!
Fast forward to 2020, I’m now on my 7th pair of Bondi’s. You could say, in the world of running shoes, we’re into a long term relationship.
I have mixed a few other shoes in the past couple of years, including HOKA Clifton 5, Saucony Ride ISO and New Balance trail shoes. But I remain a faithful Bondi user for the vast majority of training and long course triathlon miles.
I’ve worn a Bondi model for my last 7 Ironman races and a few half-marathons and 70.3 races.
WHAT’S NEW FOR THE BONDI 7
The HOKA Bondi 7 pairs the maximum cushioning you expect with a 4 mm drop. The sole on this model is still the nice cushioned ride, but the responsiveness feels like a BIG upgrade.
The sole is a little more structured, a little stiffer, and feels a little quicker off the pavement than previous models. There is less of the sense of energy loss that comes with the running on marshmallow feeling that came from those first editions. A great improvement!
The early stage meta-rocker delivers a very smooth and comfortable stride. It feels as though it makes my stride a little more efficient, and reduces my tendency to heel strike, which may also help it be easier on the hips and knees.
The rubber areas of the sole provides additional structure and firmness. For those with longer toes like me, the inflection point is behind the first metatarsal which is critical for avoiding turf toe.
This is by far the best and most supportive mid-sole design for my long toes of any shoe I’ve worn in the past decade.
The upper is very breathable. There was no sensation of overly hot feet, even running in 95 degrees days; my only option for wear-testing!
HOKA’s information states that these have a wide toe box. It may be wider than the Bondi 6. For me, the shape of the upper does appear to be a little narrower than models 5 and earlier, particularly at the ball of the foot.
Since I have a long, fairly narrow foot, it’s an almost perfect fit for me. There’s no need to tie the laces extra tight to keep the foot stable. The shape of the shoe holds the forefoot firmly and comfortably in place.
WHO’S IT BEST FOR?
Don’t let my ‘experienced’ endurance athlete age bracket fool you, the Bondi is not just for a mature athlete. Runners of any age can benefit from the cushioning and meta-rocker technology, especially at the longer training distances.
I would particularly recommend this shoe for those stepping up in distance, from a 10K to a half, or a half to a 26.2.
Given there are very few races currently, now would be the perfect time to add this shoe to the rotation for long base miles and runs in zones two and three.
It would also be a great shoe for anybody generally increasing mileage for Covid stress relief. I would even recommend it for walkers as well as the heel stability is good. For those who spend a lot of time on their feet at work, the shoe’s combination of cushion and support would be excellent.
EVOLUTION OF THE BONDI
Any discussion of the Bondi has to acknowledge that over the course of 7 model years, the fit has bounced around a bit.
The earliest models were very roomy in the toe box and I had to tie them so that the lace holes were almost touching to keep my foot from moving around.
The Bondi 6 ran quite long and I ended up not loving it and made a temporary switch to the Clifton 5, although to be fair I also ended up with a full size smaller than normal in that shoe as well. I’m normally a 10 but ran in a 9 that season!
That being said, the Bondi 7 does seem to be back to a more traditionally sized last. For this demo, I have been running in a 10. They do feel a teeny-tiny bit longer than I normally like, but it’s not detrimental and could just be because I’m a bit of a freak about how my shoes fit.
So far, these Bondi’s seem very durable. I have about 100 total miles in wear testing and there is minimal to no sole compression.
The bottom of the soles are not yet showing any of the smoothing of my normal wear patterns yet, and the uppers are still in great shape with no holes or noticeable stretching.
In the past I would have recommended the Bondi only to people looking for a maximally cushioned shoe, and willing to live with the sensation of the softer sole.
The new, more responsive sole makes this new Bondi 7 a good option for a much broader slice of the running world. This model, the Bondi 7 is by far the best and most potentially crowd-pleasing Bondi yet.
Brian Metzler reviews the HOKA Bondi 7, the top-selling max-cushioned shoe known for being the best friend of high-mileage runners.
The Bondi is HOKA’S top-tier maximally cushioned, neutral-oriented road running shoe, and it serves up a luxuriously soft ride for high-mileage training and cushy recovery running.
The Bondi is one of the highest shoes available in 2020, but it’s also relatively light for its size.
The HOKA Bondi has always been a comfy cruiser and this edition excels at that more than previous models. You’ll find there is a lot of shoe under your feet when you lace them up, but that means there’s a lot more to love.
Aside from a smartly redesigned upper, not too much has changed from the previous edition of the Bondi.
The new engineered mesh upper enhances the fit, adds some support around the ankle and also improves the shoe’s breathability in hot weather.
The new upper configuration has slightly more structure around the ankle than the previous version, but it is considerably more vented than last year’s model. Soft TPU overlays add a little bit of structure and support along the sides of the foot to round up the fit.
To keep the Bondi lightweight, HOKA developed a segmented outsole with sections of durable rubber in high-wear areas interspersed with exposed foam.
The rubber provides exceptional grip on wet and dry surfaces, and the foam is durable enough that it won’t wear down significantly after months of high-mileage running.
The men’s version of the Bondi 7 has slightly higher loft specs, about 2mm higher off the ground than it was last year.
FIT, FEEL, RIDE
The HOKA Bondi 7 fits true to size with a medium-volume interior, but with a slightly wider toe box. The step-in feel is unique and almost astonishing, given that it’s so soft, semi-stiff and very high off the ground. (You’ll be almost 2 inches taller standing in these sneakers!) Any sense of awkwardness quickly disappears when you start running.
Like all Hoka shoes, the Bondi 7 features a Meta-Rocker design geometry and a slightly beveled heel. These create a rolling effect as the foot transitions from touch-down to toe-off instead of the distinctive flexing movement common to most shoes.
The Bondi 7 features a rigid internal heel counter and soft memory foam collar. These keep heel and ankle from moving around in the shoe as it rolls forward through the gait cycle.
The midsole is soft but firm, not marshmallowly soft. It won’t compress as much as other thickly cushioned HOKA shoes like the Clifton or Rincon models.
Once you get used to that, you’ll find the Bondi 7 satisfyingly smooth.
WHO IT’S BEST FOR
Runners who enjoy soft, thickly cushioned shoes will love the Bondi 7, especially for longer runs.
The HOKA Bondi 7 is best at running slow to moderately paced long runs and recovery runs. However, it could be a good choice for mid-pack or first-time marathoners or runners venturing into ultra-distance races.
However, it’s not a shoe that will inspire speed or quick-cadence running for faster workouts.
PROS: HOKA BONDI 7
This shoe isn’t light, but it certainly runs light for its size, thanks to an airy, compression-molded EVA midsole foam that helps the shoe maintain a high cushion-to-weight ratio. One of our wear-testers described it as “a day spa for your feet,” which is good inspiration to lace them up every day.
The soft midsole chassis and durable rubber outsole are unchanged from the previous edition, but that’s great but they’re the key to the Bondi’s soft, smooth-riding demeanor. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the juiced-up racing shoes, but that’s OK too. They feel good, look good and run great.
CONS: HOKA BONDI 7
This might seem obvious, but the Bondi 7 is a high-off-the-ground shoe and not especially nimble.
If you’re a runner who likes feel-for-the-ground proprioception or likes a shoe with agility, this isn’t going to be your jam.