The RW Takeaway: The Zinal is for clocking fast-paced, short-distance runs on groomed trails. Trail features that add weight are omitted for a swift, speedy experience.
- Responsive dual-density Profly midsole feels firm in the forefoot, softer at the heel
- Sticky Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole with 4-mm lugs
- No rock plate or gaiter attachments
Weight: 8.5 oz (M), 6.9 oz (W)
Some trail shoes are decked out with all the beefy features needed to take on any scourge that blocks your way: rock plates to shield your soles from jabs, aggressive lugs to bite into loose ground, and gaiter attachments to keep the elements out where they belong. Not the Zinal. By eliminating these features that can weigh down a shoe, Hoka launched a lightweight, no-fuss trainer meant for speed and agility.
The Zinal’s 4-mm lugs are grippy on soft-packed dirt, but unobtrusive over stretches of road you may hit on the way to the trailhead and when linking between paved and graveled paths on your route. Dare we call this shoe a hybrid?
“On some of the downhill slopes, I was impressed with my stopping ability, considering the tread pattern is not overly aggressive,” one tester said.
Because of its less-toothy tread and slimmer profile, the Zinal performs best on groomed trails. We felt less sure-footed on rocky, uneven terrain. While navigating rougher patches of trail, testers would have preferred pointier lugs for more precise footing.
“The extra wobble due to the taller heel stack height and the squishy feeling on rocky technical trails were some downsides for me,” said a tester. “I had to go much slower when picking my way across some narrow rocky trails next to a steep drop.”
The shoe isn’t totally free of trail-specific features. The upper has a toe bumper as well as a gusseted tongue, which is designed to block out debris on loose ground. It’s not as secure as a full gaiter—I had to tolerate a few stowaway pebbles and empty them out postrun. One other small peeve was how difficult it is to put on the Zinal.
“I’ve never considered myself as having a wide foot,” said a tester, “but I felt like I was stuffing a turkey when lacing them up.”
Meant for Faster Paces
Though the Zinal wouldn’t be our top pick for technical trails (i.e., fallen trees, gnarly roots, and creek crossings), it’s a speedster on softer surfaces. Save Hoka’s Speedgoat for those more rugged routes, and lace up the Zinal when you want to hit hard tempos off-road.
I grab my pair when my road-beaten legs are still spry for speedwork. Like Topo Athletic’s minimalistic Ultraventure, the shoe is ideal for taking a break from pavement-pounding without skipping out on an intense workout.
Ben H., tester since 2012
Arch: High | Pronation: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot
Previously tested: Salomon Sense Ride 3, 361 Degrees Strata 3
“This shoe might have swayed my opinion about Hokas. This looks like it’s one of the sleekest Hokas, but it’s still much higher off the ground and more cushioned than any other shoes I run in. Despite its larger size and more midsole foam, it still runs pretty fast, feels pretty light, and is extremely comfortable. I’d recommend the shoe for anything from road to moderately rocky or technical trails. The extra foam in the midsole sort of smooths over some of the smaller rocks and roots, and made me more comfortable and feel faster.”