The second iteration of the Hoka Zinal is intended for trail runners who want to go fast on mild terrain for short distances. It can be used for mid-week speedwork as well.
But if the mountains are calling, you would be advised to dial up another option for footwear.
Anyone who embraces gnarly trails or seeks adventures lasting multiple hours.
Hoka unleashed its new Zinal, delivering a lighter and speedier trail shoe for runners. The Hoka Zinal 2 offers a solid option for trail runners in search of a fast shoe that is made for zooming around mild trails.
The new version is also similar to the original in stack height. Its lugs have increased from 4mm to 5mm with an updated lug pattern. The new shoe has a different look to it, bringing in some aspects of Salomon (but not their unique lacing pattern).
That first Zinal was a great shoe and filled a needed niche. As mentioned, the Zinals are suited for fast runs on mild trails for no more than a couple of hours. I would consider them for a half-marathon trail race on smooth dirt or grassy trails, though I would likely choose another option like the Hoka Challenger or Nike Terra Kiger. For those who take a shot at a cross-country race on mostly grassy terrain this would be a really good options. Just make sure the field is not muddy as the 5mm lugs would not work well.
When it comes to water crossings, in my limited testing in that area, the Zinals performed well. After I submerged it in a series of creek crossings, it handled the wet surface well and dried quickly.
And props to Hoka for somehow making a light shoe even lighter. The new Zinals are 8 ounces for men’s size 10 (down from 8.5 ounces) and 6.7 ounces for women’s size 8 (down from 6.9 ounces).
The Zinal offers full coverage with its Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole and 5 mm lugs. This is a notable change from the original Zinal, which used a two-part Vibram outsole.
Another departure from typical Hoka shoes is the stretchy, knit, wrap-around upper. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the narrow entryway for the foot does away with twisting and contorting the tongue. Check out the back of the shoe where Hoka included a finger-loop that allows for pulling the shoe on.
To compensate for the midfoot sizing, the lacing system is integrated into the top of the knit, so it applies pressure and supports the midfoot. It’s not my favorite approach to shoe fitting but it appears to be a new concept Hoka is trying out.
The Hoka Zinal 2 held up reasonably well after 50 miles. There were no noticeable defects.
It is worth pointing out that my longest run was around 8 miles, and all of the accumulated miles were on very mild dirt trails, grassy sections, and some crushed gravel and aforementioned mile or so on pavement. So the shoe was not tested on particularly challenging surfaces.
If you stick to the surfaces (not literally) the shoe was designed for, it will perform well and should be able to reach the 400- to 600-mile threshold that is fairly typical for these types of shoes.
Hoka builds the Zinal for speed, pure and simple. On mild surfaces, I can crank it up to top speeds without issue. The shoes handle the turns and curves of trails with ease.
But once roots, rocks and mud appear between you and your goal, the Zinals lose their effectiveness. It’s about knowing the shoe’s intent and capability. The Zinals are great for midweek speed work for long-distance runners. And they could also be put to good use on a recovery run on the trails.
I wasn’t a big fan of the Zinals in a rails-to-trails sort of way, as my on again, off again, foot issues appeared when I took them out for a mile or son on paved surfaces before hitting the trails. However, that may have more to do with my feet and injury history than the shoes themselves.
Other runners may be able to incorporate short paved surfaces into their escapades with the Zinals without encountering a similar issue.
The fit on the Hoka Zinal 2 is weird. Picture a foot sized properly for the heel and toe additional room in the midfoot.
The Zinal’s fit is secure, bordering on becoming uncomfortable tight for some runners. That’s among the chief reasons why I don’t see this as a shoe created for long runs or races exceeding half marathon length.
Worth pointing out is the upper. There is some knit material around the top of the shoe that cushions that part of the foot, without any pinching or squeezing. My recommendation for those interested in the Zinals is to try them out at a local running shoe store and get an accurate feel for how the shoe fits for your own preferences.
First off, the second version of the Zinals makes wise improvements over the debut model. In my original review, I gave it a decent overview and rating. Not an everyday shoe for everyone. But it fits into its niche pretty well.
The changes in this version will be welcome to those who love the original Zinals and have used them. For newcomers to the Zinals, I’d recommend determining whether you really have a need for this niche of trail running shoe.
The Zinal 2 can become a reputable option for shorter trail days on flat and fast surfaces. Its lighter weight and other upgrades help give this model a boost going forward — and not just when you are hitting a higher gear on the trails.