One look around the trails or running paths and it’s no surprise that Hoka dominate the running shoe market. And, while trail running is still only a fraction of road shoe sales, Hoka has long been dedicated to those of us who enjoy running on singletrack over pavement. The Hoka Zinal 2 is built for fast and light training and racing for those who prioritize agility and traction.
Hoka Zinal 2 Features:
- Durable, breathable mesh uppers
- Heel pull tab for easier entry
- Stretch-knit collar keeps out scree
- Light, responsive EVA midsole
- Vibram® Megagrip outsole with Litebase and Traction Lug
- Aggressive 5mm lugs
- Stack: 30/25mm (5mm drop)
- Weight: 8.4 oz each (11.5, actual)
- MSRP: $160
All-new Zinal 2 remains light and fast
Two years ago, the Hoka Zinal won me over with its perfect blend of speed, comfort and stability. As a testament to how much I like them, they remain in the back of my Pathfinder to this day as my “on call” shoes for an impromptu hike or trail run. With that high bar, I stepped into the new Hoka Zinal 2’s with near-unrealistic expectations of greatness. In the end, there’s a lot to love, but it’s a toss-up if they are better than the originals.
With the updated construction, the Zinal 2 now features a knit cuff to go along with the more streamlined form-factor. The intent of the cuff is to keep scree out and provide a unified fit — since these are essentially “toungeless” in favor of an integrated upper. Instead of the uppers wrapping around a free-floating tongue, the entire uppers squish together in the middle. While this doesn’t always work in practice, it has been a great fit for me. For comparison, I recently tested the Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro 2 and it features a very similar upper design.
Compared to the traditional original Zinal, these lack the proper heel lock I would expect from a Hoka shoe. The unstructured heel cup isn’t very deep and the cuff doesn’t really suck your heel into place. Thankfully, that little extra movement was never met with friction or even hot spots, but it did result in an inability to lock down my foot into the shoe as I would have liked. So much so that on one particular run I cinched the laces down just a touch too snug and it caused bruising on the top of my foot. In short, you may not be able to lock your heel into the Zinal 2 as you would expect, but don’t over tighten the laces to compensate for that as you might cause problems elsewhere.
We have all come to expect and love that classic Hoka squish and rebound. Most recently, the Hoka Challenger 7 dazzled in that regard. While the new Zinal 2 does still hold true to that in some respects, it provides a taut and responsive ride instead of cushiony. That’s not to say it isn’t well-cushioned (because it is), the profile of that cushioning differs due to the thicker, more pronounced outsole. It’s not as chunky as the Hoka Mafate Speed 4, but definitely more aggressive than the original Zinal. And that is a good thing because the original outsole did lack traction in loose and technical terrain and exposed the midsole to much more wear.
The 5mm lugs and tread pattern of the Vibram Megagrip outsole is the star of the show here. I can step into each stride with confidence and terrain-digging power that propels me to the next step. I love that I can slice-and-dice technical terrain with confidence and matching traction. With that, trail feel is right where it should be with a good balance between trail feel and protection.
While the uppers do feature a robust feel to them, breathability is excellent. It’s nowhere near as airy as the Craft Nordlite Ultra, but it handles warm weather quite well. But, for cold temperatures you may get more chill than you’d like. One 25-degree trail run had my toes chilled to the bone. Durability is paramount with both the uppers and outsoles compared to the original Zinal. For the most part, the knit cuffs also kept trail debris out, but I did get an occasional tiny rock slip in there.
Disappointingly, I was surprised that Hoka narrowed the midsole of the Zinal 2. This does provide a narrower profile, which proves to be more nimble in technical terrain, but I have been caught off guard by the lack of stability. If you tend to roll your ankles, these might not be the best shoe for you. I had a couple of missteps that surprised me. My take is the firmer outsole and midsole put your foot more on top of the base instead of being “in it”.
As I have approached a variety of trails with these shoes, I’ve come to appreciate their speed and agility. No question, that’s where these shoes shine. Since they weigh next to nothing, each step is effortless and smooth, with just enough cushioning to remind you that they bear the Hoka name. If you must hit a road approach, these won’t suck but they also aren’t the greatest. Consider these as trail-only shoes for sure.
Fit: I wore a size 11.5 in the Hoka Zinal 2, which is my usual size for the brand. With lightweight CEP running socks, the fit was perfect.
- Vibram Megagrip outsole does provide “mega grip”
- Durable uppers and outsole for technical terrain
- Great for fast-paced trails
- Knit cuff keeps most trail debris at bay
- Great breathability
- Ribbed laces offer added security
- Excellent trail feel (balanced between protection and sensitivity)
- Lacks some stability
- Heel doesn’t feel as locked in as I’d expect
- Wished for more of a “Hoka” feel to them
The Bottom Line: Hoka Zinal 2
This update to one of my favorite Hokas is, as it turns out, a little bit of a mixed-bag. Clearly, the Hoka Zinal 2 is a capable, lightweight trail runner for fast-paced training and racing, but I would like just a little more springy cushioning and stability. The uppers are super-durable for the inevitable rock-kick or scrape. And, I do appreciate the knit cuff and unified uppers, but it wasn’t executed to perfection and results in a less-than-optimal heel lock.
Buy Now: Available from REI