Hoka returns with the second iteration of the Zinal, this time a fully reimagined shoe. Like the first version, the Hoka Zinal 2 is a lightweight, responsive shoe designed to move quickly over all types of terrain. Although the purpose remained the same, Hoka delivers the Zinal 2 as a completely reimagined shoe, with features like a 5mm, Vibram Megagrip outsole, stretch knit upper, and CMEVA midsole.
Hoka Zinal 2
Release Date: 2023
Weight: Men’s 8.0 oz., Women’s 6.7 oz.
Sizing: True to size
- Rundown: The Hoka Zinal 2 is an ultralight, nimble, and fast trail runner with enough support to carry you over technical terrain for double-digit miles.
Sam: The original Zinal featured a Profly midsole, but the Hoka Zinal 2 returns with an updated ultralight EVA foam. The switch to EVA provides a more cushioned ride than the predecessor, and, coupled with a lower stack, makes it a surprisingly comfortable ride for a shoe that looks like you’d feel every rock. Despite the typical cushion an EVA midsole brings, I’ve been told that Hoka made some adjustments to ensure the Zinal 2 maintains a snappy and responsive ride – and you can definitely feel it.
I enjoy running fast with this shoe as the midsole will give you a bit of a spring to your step. The first Zinal was meant for efforts in the 5k to half-marathon range, and, although the Hoka Zinal 2 is still intended for shorter, more technical efforts, the cushioned midsole should hold up even further than 13.1.
The shape of the midsole maintains the Hoka early-stage meta rocker, creating a nice propulsion of the foot to push you off your toe. I found that this shoe runs really well – the midsole is very light and doesn’t feel like a typical technical shoe. The rocker enables you to feel as confident on the flats as you do on steeper and rockier terrain. The midsole makes separation for the shoe – what could be viewed as a technical, VK shoe doubles as a legitimate option for speed days. I did find that on bigger rocks, you can feel it a bit more on the bottom of your foot. That’s to be expected, as the layer of foam is thinner to make for a lower drop.
Drew: I put on the Hoka Zinal 2 and immediately thought…this is not enough cushion for me on the trails. And surprisingly, I was wrong (Editor’s Note: not that surprising). The Zinal 2 feels built for speed but has just enough cushion for less technical terrain. If your trails are particularly rocky or rooty, you’ll want something with either a rock plate or more foam to avoid the occasional bruised foot.
I will say though, the Zinal 2 doesn’t feel bottom-heavy like many modern trail shoes. I felt light and agile because the midsole is well-balanced with the upper and just feels like an extension of your foot.
Sam: I actually found myself pleasantly surprised by the upper of this shoe. The Zinal 2 returns with a full update to the upper – a single-piece, woven mesh with a stretch knit sock collar. The woven mesh has a slight TPU overlay to help protect your foot from rocks, although it’s minimal.
I find that the mesh upper is very light and breathable. The upper’s flexibility also gives your foot some give as it stretches when you run. My favorite feature of the upper (and maybe the whole shoe), is the new sock-knit collar. Weird, right? I run in plenty of Salomons (which I typically love) but have never found the sock collar to fit quite right. The Hoka Zinal 2’s take on this design, in my opinion, is the best I’ve seen. With a pull tab on the heel for ease of entry, you’ll find that your foot slips right into the shoe. The material is soft and comfortable and also serves as the shoe’s tongue.
While I’ve found other uppers with similar construction to be stiff, the Zinal 2 closes securely, but lightly, around your ankle. The mesh is breathable and has shown good signs of durability after some significant wear. I am hoping that the mesh continues to hold its shape throughout the life of the shoe.
Despite all this, the Upper is minimalist and light, and you may find it not as protective on some higher alpine and technical days. There is certainly a tradeoff between the weight of the shoe and overall protection.
Drew: Hoka doesn’t do many sock-like uppers and this is the first one from Hoka I’ve tried. Usually, that’s a recipe for disaster. For example, Brooks does two to three per year and I always dislike them. But somebody at Hoka knows how to do a good sock-fit upper.
The collar is tight and secure when it’s on your foot but easy to slip on when it’s not. That is rarely the case. I also loved that the collar shares the same material with the tongue which both helps with ease of entry and keeps the top of the foot secure without too much material being used.
The rest of the upper is more workmanlike with its plasticky fuse…but that’s necessary on trails to prevent injuries. The upper is also very breathable throughout the forefoot and midfoot making the Hoka Zinal 2 a great option for summer trail runs.
Sam: Once again, the Hoka Zinal 2 departs from its predecessor and returns with a newly engineered outsole, made up of Vibram Megagrip Litebase and a 5mm lug pattern. It’s certainly nice and refreshing to see an ultralight shoe maintain integrity in the grip department, allowing you to bomb down steeper terrain with confidence and agility. Unlike the first Zinal, which was a two-piece pattern, the Zinal 2’s outsole is a single piece of rubber. I think Hoka made the right choice here. You can definitely feel the extra grip and security, even in multiple conditions and textures, from mud to wet rock.
I did find one piece of the outsole to be a tad confusing. The lug pattern stops slightly short of the toe of the shoe and doesn’t wrap all the way forward. I genuinely can’t determine why, other than to save weight, but I did notice that on faster efforts up steep terrain, you occasionally miss the one or two lugs right on the toe to pull you up and forward. I’d be curious to see if others also noticed this during the performance of the shoe. On the flip side, I am excited to try this shoe out on some more technical scrambles to see if the lack of lugs on the toe makes for increased grip (think an approach shoe) while scrambling up peaks.
Drew: I actually did notice the lack of lugs up to the end of the forefoot, but not because I was on technical terrain. It’s because it hit a root and felt it very clearly in my toes. So yeah, stopping short on the outsole lugs was not the best idea.
But otherwise, it’s a Vibram outsole that grips everything and doesn’t show much wear after a longer-than-usual test period. That’s standard for Vibram trail outsoles, but it’s nice to know you have an extremely durable bottom layer. Especially in a shoe that’s fairly minimal for a trail shoe.
Is the Hoka Zinal 2 wide foot friendly?
Ehhh, I wouldn’t call it friendly. The Hoka Zinal 2 has some space in the midfoot, but does taper off towards the toes. I have wider feet and the shoe does manage to shakeout with so much give in the upper, so I haven’t had many issues. However, I’d be lying if I said the shoe was friendly to wide feet.
Is the Hoka Zinal 2 worth $160?
The construction and performance of the shoe certainly justifies a $160 price tag. I expect to get 300-400 miles out of the shoe. The versatility makes it a nice option for an everyday driver, or you can save the miles and only lace up the Hoka Zinal 2 for fast, technical days.
Sam: Like any specialized shoe, the Hoka Zinal 2 isn’t for everyone. As I mentioned, you definitely trade off comfort and security for speed and precision. The footbed is minimal and I didn’t feel like my foot was cupped into the shoe. Hoka has done a good job making sure the shoe has some protection and last, but a minimal shoe may feel out of control for some looking for that next-level stability.
The other main con for me was the lack of lugs on the outsole toe. Although the shoe bombs downhill well, I have felt some slip when I’m pushing uphill on my toes. I can’t understand why the shoe would make that change – especially if it’s meant for more technical trails. I’d be curious to hear the reasoning from Hoka and if there’s some sort of performance benefit.
Drew: Most of us will wonder if we can really love the Zinal 2 long-term. It’s light on the rock protection and the upper is fairly thin. I think a wide swath of the trail going public will say that it isn’t enough shoe. And they’d be right. A lot of people will prefer more cushion, stability, and comfort.
But the Hoka Zinal 2 will be perfect for young legs or athletes looking to speed around mountainous trails. That’s this shoe’s sweet spot where the cons won’t matter as much.
Hoka Zinal 2 Summary
Sam: I have enjoyed putting miles on the Hoka Zinal 2. I was pleasantly surprised with the fit, where I felt that the shoe exceeded expectations while maintaining a minimal design. The switch to an EVA midsole makes me confident that you could take the Zinal 2 for some longer training days, despite the shoe’s intention to be for shorter distances. As mentioned, the sock knit upper really does it for me – I think this sets the new standard for shoes looking to create that feel going forward.
The Hoka Zinal 2 is speedy, agile, and fun. I would look to this shoe to be your choice for upping the tempo and cadence through terrain that necessitates grip and stability. The low profile makes it easy to navigate rocky and uncertain terrain.
Drew: The Hoka Zinal 2 is meant for young, athletic types who still have speed and agility to spare. I think most other runners will appreciate what it brings to the table but ultimately decide they’re better off with something else from our best trail running shoes list.