By Charles Werb

Yup, I’m a convert. And you wouldn’t necessarily have expected me to be. You see, if HOKA’s footwear is known for anything, it’s radical cushioning. True, it’s not like that’s all that sets the company apart, or even that their entire lineup is super-cushioned. That said, there’s no doubt that the moment you slip into HOKA’s Challenger Mid GTX boots, you’ll know you’re in for a different ride.

Me especially. I’ve been using minimalist shoes for the last few years; if there’s anyone likely to sceptical of HOKA’s cushioning, that’d be me. But actually, that wasn’t the only reason for me to be sceptical. These things are light. Well, at 353g, they’re heavier than running shoes. But for robust trail boots, that’s a different story. If truth be told, when I first pulled them out of the box, I almost thought, ‘This can’t be right. They’re too light! Boots like this aren’t going to stand up to a 95kg bloke treating them like dirt.’

Still, they look like they mean business—they’re solid black, with some reflective panelling. That said, looks-schmooks; I just care about how they perform on the trail. Before I get to that though, I should mention the fit. I went for the wide option; they were still snug. Not tight, by any means, but I wasn’t swimming in them either.

Out on the trail, they gripped tenaciously. I have a route coming off Mt Coot-tha that I usually slip and slide down, almost as if I’m telemarking. With these, I didn’t slip once. Perhaps it’s because the wedge soles, as opposed to heeled soles, give much greater ground contact. And while the lugs aren’t extravagantly deep, they’re not shallow either; they’re still grippy. As for waterproofness, I haven’t had the chance to truly test it yet. Come on rain, where are you? But given the boots’ Gore-tex membrane, I have no concerns on this front.

They broke in quickly, too. Actually, from the get-go, they felt good. Of course, with footwear, the issue is not how they first feel but how they feel many hours into a long walk. For me, with most boots, that’s when the hot spots appear; it’s part of the reason I went minimalist. With the Challengers, though, that just didn’t happen. After 20km walks, they still felt great. And, perhaps it was because of the lightness, but I didn’t feel overly fatigued either. What I did, feel, though, was won over. The Challenger Mid GTXs are light, reasonably-priced, but best of all, super comfortable. As I said, I’m a convert.

Need to Know
Intended use: Day or overnight walking
Waterproof membrane: Gore-tex
Upper: Nubuck leather
Weight (as tested): 353g
RRP: $349.95

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