The Hoka Zinal is a great solution for trail runners looking for a fast shoe. It is incredibly light at 8.5 ounces for men and 6.9 ounces for women.
While the lightness plays into the shoe’s calling card of being fast, I would not recommend wearing the shoe on anything considered more than a moderate trail. In my 50-plus miles of testing, I was able to hit my highest gears on flat sections of dirt trail and grassy areas like a cross-country course.
The 4mm lugs were able to handle easy to moderate terrain like dirt, small mud patches, puddles and grass sections. They also can handle a gravel or crushed rock surface.
It was a different story, however, when I ventured out to trails with rooty, muddy and rocky sections. The Zinals did not perform as well here. And I would not recommend them for a road-to-trail combination unless the road portion was only a mile or so.
I would also not recommend them for longer races or runs. Ideally, a runner will wear them for a midweek training run, perhaps a speed workout, and races up to a half marathon.
However, there are plenty of other options for those that deliver for those types of distances and conditions. As far as shoes built for speed on easy to moderate terrain, the Zinals are among the best I’ve tried.
Despite a somewhat thin mesh, the Zinal provides good protection for the feet. The protection offered is sufficient for short and medium-distance runs without compromising the safety of the runners.
Its toe bumper does its job nicely. And in the back, there is enough padding around the heel to lock things in. Hoka used the super-thin tongue that is on the Mach 4.
This model is not waterproof. However, I took it through puddles when I could and found that its mesh dried relatively quickly.
Hoka uses Vibram’s Megagrip Litebase rubber on at least half of the Zinal’s surface. The rest consists of EVA foam rubber to reduce the weight, an excellent move to make the shoe lighter and, in turn, the runner faster.
The 4mm lugs consist of three longitudinal bands under the forefoot and a U-shape in the heel. This combination gives the midfoot a flexible feel and smoother ride.
After dozens of miles, the shoe still looks pretty good, with few signs of wear. However, I would caution Zinal owners to focus their runs on dirt and grass. I have concerns about how more challenging elements would wear down the structure of the shoe rapidly.
As mentioned, the Zinals are built for speed. They have a responsive and energetic ride, thanks to a propulsive feel when toeing off, as well as the lightness and comfortable cushioning. Also, the ride is both stable and lively.
The Zinals have a soft upper midsole layer while a firmer lower layer balances rebound, protection and stability.
At first glance, I could see something looked different about the Zinals. The shape of the shoe was different, it fits slightly long. I would recommend trying these on to ensure you get the size that’s right for you.
Another issue is the Zinals lack the typical midfoot hug of most HOKA shoes. That was not a critical issue that I got used to, but for Hoka devotees, it’s worth noting.
The Zinals offer superior cushioning, using Vibram’s Megagrip Litebase rubber outside and ProFly cushioning inside. Its mesh upper features recycled materials and a gusseted tongue.
The mesh and integrated tongue hug nicely throughout so that your foot isn’t moving around inside.
A fun fact that didn’t seem to fit elsewhere in this review: The breathable mesh in the upper is made out of 100 percent vegan materials.
Not only do I appreciate Hoka’s commitments to veganism and the environment, but I appreciate the innovative approaches they take in their line of shoes for trail runners.
Even with the Zinal’s reduced cushioning, the shoe absorbs shocks well and its mesh helps protect the feet, which is rare for such light shoes.
Make no mistake: Hoka’s Zinal is nothing like the Speedgoat. Two shoes, two totally different purposes.
The Zinals could be compared with Hoka’s Stinson, which also has a lower stack height than other Hokas. However, the Zinals are nearly half the weight of the Stinson.
If you are looking for a fast shoe for churning down mild to moderate trails, the Zinal is definitely one to consider. If your trail running focuses more on majestic mountains and rooty terrain, there are better options out there.
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