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Fast, Fly, and Speedy for Short Distances: HOKA Zinal Trail Runner Review

The HOKA Zinal is a trail shoe with 'gecko-like' grip, made for shorter distance trail runs. Here's why we love the shoe so far.

Hoka Zinal Trail Running Shoe(Photo/Mattie Schuler)
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Over the past decade, I’ve tried a variety of trail shoes from extremely minimal to amped up and cushioned. Even over this summer, I’ve worn a handful of different trail runners and so far, the Zinal has created a pretty seamless run. HOKA slates them as a go-to shoe for shorter runs or races where you really need that speed and agility.

Now, I’m not exactly fast when I run (I live in Boulder, Colo., and most of my runs go straight up in elevation toward the Flatirons). But these shoes did feel lightweight and kept me feeling nimble on the rocky, uphill routes.

In short: Even though the HOKA Zinals are extremely lightweight and intended for shorter distances (half marathon or less), they still provide ample protection on rocky, gravel, and dirt trails. It’s no wonder it received a nod in our roundup of the Best Running Shoes of 2023.

HOKA Zinal Trail Running Shoe Review

Hoka Zinal Trail Running Shoe - models

I’ve been testing a few different shoes out this summer, as I’m training for the Imogene Pass Run, a 17.2-mile race that climbs more than 5,000 feet.

The Zinals have accompanied me on many 4- to 6-mile runs, like Lion’s Lair in Boulder that takes you up to the iconic Mt. Sanitas summit, and on longer 10-mile runs, all of which were rocky, trail terrain, and mostly uphill.

I’ve used the HOKAs for a few weeks now, so I can’t comment much on their long-term durability, but so far, they’ve held up on all kinds of terrain.

Testing the HOKA Zinal

I’m someone who’s prone to getting blisters fairly easily from running or hiking. With the Zinals, though, I had no hot spots or pain, and my toes felt like they had enough room to spread out in the toebox. And, unlike some HOKA shoes, the Zinals looked like just the right balance between too cushy and not enough.

Hoka Zinal Trail Running Shoe - upper -
(Photo/Mattie Schuler)

At first touch, the upper on the Zinals felt very thin, as if the tiniest branch or rock could poke a hole through. However, once I explored them more, I could feel that the mesh upper was thin and breathable, but still appeared pretty durable.

The upper is recycled yarn with a lightweight, stripped-back design to keep the weight low. My feet never felt too hot while testing, even in the mid-80s and sunny weather.

You still get a gusseted tongue, and it didn’t shift or move during my runs. The tongue rested nicely against the top of my ankle and the top is contoured, so there’s no rubbing against your socks or feet.

The shoe also has a toe bumper. Again, the toe bumper seemed really ineffective to me at first glance, but once I was running, it definitely offered protection.

My local Heil Valley Ranch trail has some great sandy sections, but most of the trail is rocky; I stubbed my toes a few times and thankfully, the toe guard did its job.

Unrelated to function, the Zinals also come in some pretty sweet colors. There’s fuchsia and blue, yellow and teal, a bright turquoise with pink details, and a ruby pink with orange and blue.

HOKA Zinal Specs

  • Weight: 8.5 oz. (men), 6.9 oz. (women)
  • Drop: 5 mm
  • Lugs: 4mm
  • Stack height: 22 mm (men), 21 mm (women)
  • Price: $160

HOKA Zinal Outsole and Midsole

Hoka Zinal Trail Running Shoe - mid
(Photo/Mattie Schuler)

HOKAs are usually known for their stacked cushioning, but the Zinals had a perfect balance between classic HOKA cushioning and a streamlined, sleek shoe.

HOKA shoes come in a range of stability levels — neutral, moderate, and stable. The Zinals have a neutral design in mind with no extra cushion for overpronators.

For cushioning, HOKAs offer three designs of responsive, balanced, or plush. The Zinals are on the low end of cushioning for HOKA; the low-profile cushion aims to keep your foot closer to the ground and uses a firmer material designed to provide an efficient push-off.

Overall, my strides felt solid, probably due to the cushioning and HOKA’s low-level meta-rocker. This technology is in the outsole. Starting in the heel, there is a slight curve to the sole of the shoe so that it helps propel you in the right direction and works to avoid landing flat.

Hoka Zinal Trail Running Shoe - outsole
(Photo/Mattie Schuler)

The outsole is a Vibram Megagrip Outsole with Litebase Construction. On this shoe, you get decent-sized lugs (4 mm) that still provide plenty of grip, but without added weight. The lugs do seem small, but I had no issue gripping my way over rock gardens or down flat slab.

HOKA Zinal Conclusion

Don’t underestimate these shoes from the first look, because so far, they have tackled many trails with serious support. They are sleek, lightweight, and seemingly simple, but they stand up to not just road but trail too.

Even though they appear pretty minimal for a HOKA shoe, the Zinals still provide the responsive cushion and support that serious runners need. Lace these up for your next race, or try them on the trails!

Check Women’s Price at REICheck Men’s Price at REI

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