Hoka Zinal Review Analysis (2021)
Last update: July 2022
The Hoka Zinal is a lightweight trail shoe that combines comfort, protection, and responsiveness for your fast sessions.
The Zinal is the brand new trail running shoe from Hoka One One. It excels on short and medium distances and moderately technical terrains, such as the famous Sierre-Zinal race.
This lightweight shoe (less than 250 g) uses Vibram Megagrip Litebase rubber on the inside for grip and ProFly cushioning on the inside for cushioning. The 4-mm lugs of the Zinal provide good grip on most surfaces, except perhaps muddy and slippery ground. The mesh upper features recycled materials and a gusseted tongue. The heel-to-toe drop of the shoe is 4 mm. Testers note that the lockdown is effective while leaving enough room around the toes not to feel too tight.
The Hoka One One Zinal is a shoe that offers good stability. The low profile allows for a good ground feel and optimal energy return but is comfortable enough to protect the foot. As such, the Zinal is especially suitable for speed workouts on easy to medium difficulty trails. It’s ideal for short to medium distances (30km to 50km), but experienced athletes can also leverage it occasionally for ultramarathon running.
Read our full review of the Hoka Zinal for more information.
- Light and fast shoe
- Great comfort
- Effective cushioning
- Good foot protection
- Good balance between weight, responsiveness, stability, and versatility
- Some concerns about the sturdiness of the upper
- Not suitable for very technical terrains (e.g. snow, mud)
- Not the best option for ultramarathon races
Hoka Zinal Complete Review Analysis
Sierre-Zinal: the name of this small Swiss mountain village evokes, for all trail running lovers, one of the most challenging races in the world. Despite its relatively short distance (31 km/19 mi), it’s very demanding with its 2200 m/7000 ft of elevation gain and 1100 m/3500 ft loss. It’s also one of the most competitive runs on the circuit as the greatest athletes in the sport come together. A certain Kilian Jornet, a several times winner in Switzerland, is the record holder of the race.
Hoka decided to name its new pair of trail shoes Zinal. With such a name, the promise is a pair of responsive shoes, which allows running fast on short distances, following the footsteps of other iconic Hoka shoes like Torrent and Speed Instinct.
What are the features of this shoe? Cushioning, grip, technologies, lockdown, ride: we’ll break it down for you.
The ProFly midsole comes with a slightly firmer rubberized foam. The whole offers a combination of shock absorption, good underfoot protection, and a rebound.
The stack height of this new Hoka model is much lower than what we are used to from the brand. At the heel, it’s 22 mm for men and 21 mm for women. The drop is 4 mm.
Compared to the other trail models from the brand, testers note that it’s very lightweight, and its profile is close to a road shoe. Despite the lower stack, the configuration is very similar to the Mach 4’s.
The testers noted that the Hoka One One Zinal’s cushioning is very well balanced. One might have expected something much less stable given its lightweight build, but that’s not the case. It also offers good rock protection (even though it doesn’t have a specific rock plate) and good stability.
Also noteworthy is the signature rocker technology that comes with almost every trail shoe in the Hoka series. Its goal is to deliver smooth transitions, even if it’s less notable because of the reduced stack that naturally promotes a responsive ride.
Beware, despite good overall shock absorption compared to its cushioning, the Zinal isn’t necessarily suitable for long runs such as ultramarathon races. Its optimal use is for shorter distances of 30 km/19 mi to 50 km/31 mi on surfaces that are not too technical, with dry weather conditions.
Foot lockdown (upper)
The thin mesh upper of the Zinal features threads coming from recycled materials. It’s flexible, lightweight, and very well designed. Overall, users find it very light on their feet, comfortable, and streamlined.
It has good breathability and excellent flexibility. The integrated tongue hugs the top of the foot for a comfortable fit. While offering a precise fit, the upper is spacious, especially in the toe box, and runners with wide feet should not experience any discomfort. If you like a very snug fit and have narrow feet, it may be necessary to size down. Overall, the shoe runs true to size, nonetheless.
Runners are still quite concerned about the robustness and durability of the mesh. Indeed, the materials used seem a bit fragile and prone to early tears. Unfortunately, a thin upper often leads to this type of disadvantage. Note that this model is not waterproof, but its mesh dries relatively quickly.
Despite its relatively thin mesh, the Zinal seems to provide adequate protection for the feet on the trail. The protection offered is sufficient for short, and medium-distance runs without compromising the safety of the runners (the toe bumper does help a lot with that!).
Finally, the average weight of the Zinal is 244 g/8.5 oz (men’s model), which the testers appreciated very much.
Grip and durability
The Hoka Zinal’s outsole uses the Vibram Megagrip Litebase rubber on 50% to 60% of its surface. The rest consists of rubberized EVA foam rubber to shave off some weight. This trail shoe has 4-mm lugs: three longitudinal bands under the forefoot and a U in the heel. As a result, the midfoot is especially flexible for a smoother ride.
The Hoka Zinal offers a decent grip on rugged terrain with rocks or sand. However, the combination of small lugs makes it challenging to use in wet, muddy, or snowy conditions. As a result, it’s best to avoid very technical trails or bad weather conditions.
Testers note that the Hoka Zinal is durable enough to handle most impacts despite the lower stack height. It doesn’t seem to deteriorate quickly, which is a very good point.
The forefoot of the Hoka One One Zinal is quite stiff, and the flex point is in the midfoot. On the other hand, it’s very flexible laterally, making it perfect for smoothly getting around rocks and roots.
When testing this shoe, testers raved about the responsive and energetic ride of the Hoka One One Zinal. They noted a propulsive feel at toe-off, a smooth ride, good ground feel, and comfortable cushioning. Also, the ride is both stable and lively.
Combining a soft upper midsole layer with a firmer lower layer balances rebound, protection, and stability. So, it’s a very versatile model that can tackle most trails. Even though Hoka presents the Zinal as a short-distance shoe, you can easily go further.
As we will see in the next section, one limitation is the fragile mesh that could prevent you from running worry-free on rocky terrains for fear of damaging it prematurely.
In terms of distance, it’s preferable to use it on relatively short or medium runs (20-50 km). It’s possible to run with the Zinal over longer distances, but it’s not its primary intended use.
To summarize, the Hoka One One Zinal is a lightweight trail running shoe that offers a good grip on most surfaces.
The reduced cushioning absorbs shocks well and optimally protects the foot, which is rare for shoes as lightweight as these.
The upper is thin but offers a good lockdown: the foot does not move inside the shoe.
Finally, in terms of ride, the testers appreciated the responsiveness, cushioning, and stability. It’s a versatile model that’s ideal for short to medium runs on moderately difficult terrains. Testers noted that it was the sweet spot to fully enjoy these shoes.
However, nothing prevents you from taking it occasionally for long-distance. It’s a truly versatile shoe that can suit many a runner.
|Heel stack height||32 mm|
|Forefoot stack height||27 mm|
|Weight (men)||244 g/8.6 oz|
|Weight (women)||218 g/7.7 oz|
|Softness (1-5)||3 – Moderate|
|Bounce (1-5)||4 – Bouncy|
|Midsole||Early Stage Meta-Rocker Geometry, PROFLY|
|Workout||Competition, daily runs|
Reference: Hoka One One
Comparisons – Hoka Zinal vs.:
Salomon S/Lab Pulsar
How does the Zinal compare to Kilian Jornet’s Formula 1? Please read the detailed side-by-side comparison with our comments to find out which of these two models to choose.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The Hoka Zinal runs true to size but may feel a little loose depending on the size and shape of your feet. In some cases, a half-size smaller may be more appropriate.
It’s not the shoe’s primary purpose, but seasoned runners should be able to use it without too much trouble for such races.
Kevin is the founder and editor of Runner’s Lab. He started running in 2015 and completed his first marathon in Rotterdam in 2016. He’s also worked for Under Armour from 2016 to 2018 and helped launch their running collection in Europe (in particular the HOVR shoes). In addition, Kevin is a 300-hour certified yoga teacher (Sivananda) and uses this experience to run more mindfully with a focus on well-being over performance.