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Trail Running Shoes • June 12, 2023

Hoka Zinal 2 Review: Speedy, Specialized Sequel

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What You Need To Know

Weight

8.0 oz. (227 g) for a US M10

6.7 oz. (189 g) for a US W8

Stack Height / Drop

Men: 30 mm in heel, 25 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)

Women: 29 mm in heel, 24 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)

Best For

Short, speedy trail sessions

Key Features

Revamped ProFly outsole, fitted sock-like upper, 5 mm Vibram Megagrip lugs

On The Run
High-speed cushion Durable mesh upper Hit-or-miss fit
Price

$159

The Intro

JOHN: This summer, from the makers of the Hoka Zinal, comes Zinal 2, Zinal Kills. This is the Kill Bill-like revenge movie where the hero is left for dead but has to overcome hardship, reinvent themself, use ancient and beloved techniques, and become the ultimate badass that can get the bad guys that wronged them.

The Hoka Zinal 2 is very similar in weight and stack to the original. The lugs have increased to 5mm, and the lug pattern has been updated, but what jumped out to me was the look of the shoe. When I first saw it I got very strange vibes, like an EVO Jawz had a kid with a Brooks Levitate, but there are also some Salomon aspects to it, too. The Levitate-like upper on this shoe initially really scared me. This is a much different-looking shoe than the original version of the Zinal.

That first Zinal was a great shoe and was highly reviewed, but now has been given a new look and technology. Much like Robocop, it’s here to serve the public trust, protect the innocent, and uphold the law. It’s not messing around; Hoka is going all in on the brand-new look.

Did Hoka do the right thing by changing up a beloved shoe so much? Let’s find out if the sequel holds up or is a disappointing bomb.

SAM: What if I told you running in the Hoka Zinal 2 was like running in a pair of Toms? You know Toms — the original one-for-one shoe company. The people who made it cool for college dudes to wear flats. Who, with a magic wand of marketing, caused those same dudes and all their private college classmates to rethink their material consumption, first with the knowledge that their everyday dollars could have the potential for outsized charitable global impact, and again to rethink it all over again years later when they realized that global impact was mostly just disrupting local economies with the sudden influx of thousands of free shoes; and, in truth, not actually doing much good at all.

What if I told you the Hoka Zinal 2, a very light trail racer with a knit cuff, engineered mesh upper, lightweight EVA midsole, and Vibram Litebase outsole, felt a little like running in a pair of Toms Cordones with grip for days? I can hear the scoffs already. Then, on top of that, what would you do if I told you that it was good?

Would you close out this review with an eye roll for the ages? Swear off all my future reviews? Send concerned emails to Robbe about my mental state? Those would all be warranted, I suppose, but hear me out, ok? I like this shoe despite its issues, and I have a whole review to tell you why.

MICHAEL: Since the rest of the crew has covered pretty much everything, I’ll start off my comments on the Zinal 2 just by saying that I was extremely excited when I was seeded for this shoe. With its uber-light weight and generously aggressive outsole, I knew these things were about to ‘fly human fly’ uphill. And also, at first glance, the colorway reminded me of Buzz Lightyear until I, upon further investigation, realized the colorway doesn’t really jive with Buzz Lightyear at all. That being said, Buzz is awesome, so do with that what you will.

EMILY: Still new to the review game; this was my first time hitting the trails in a Hoka. I’ve run for hours with friends whose enthusiasm for Hoka could be best expressed with a song or joyful interpretive dance. I intentionally didn’t look at the specs before sliding into the featherlight Zinal 2, which allowed me to remain as objective as possible, even though the outlook was sunny based on osmosis alone.

After a technical 4-mile VO2 Max workout with a moose dog who repeatedly side-swiped me on my root and rock-studded downhills (think silt, grit, and gravel hitting ankles), I think I get it. Like the petite, mountainous village in Switzerland with which it shares a name, the Zinal 2 is bound to make you feel connected to both the splendor and the terrain of the trail. Just maybe not for anything more than a marathon.

The Good

JOHN: The Zinal 2 still seems long (as the BITR review of the last version pointed out), but the fit of this shoe is all-around different. During my first 8.5-mile run in it, I questioned the fit big time. It felt long, tight in some places, then loose in others. My heel was secure, and the top of my foot was very snug, but the inside of the arch had extra space that you could see. I tripped a lot in this shoe on my first run. Luckily, I didn’t fall but I had several close calls. Also, there is no toe protection at all, so you’re going to feel it if you kick something. Certain foot shapes are going to have problems in this one. It’s pretty narrow and just fits strangely.

The 2nd run I did in the Zinal 2 was about 2.5 miles. I wanted to see how I felt using it on a shorter run and it did feel better. For my 3rd run, I did 9.5 miles at a pretty well-groomed park that has a combination of well-maintained horse trail, pavement, and gravel. The Zinal 2 did much better. The fit was still weird. For the first couple of miles, my foot hurt around the tongue area of the shoe, but as I ran, it started feeling better, and I ended up having a great run.

I really enjoyed running in the Zinal 2 on a more groomed trail. The Zinal 2 is a solid rotation shoe and on that specific trail race, that’s a shorter distance, you could bust it out. I totally got it fully submerged in a water crossing, and it did great. This upper is breathable yet does an impressive job of keeping trail debris out, which translates perfectly to muddy adventures, too.

SAM: The Hoka Zinal 2 has an interesting upper that is built with a one-piece knit cuff and tongue but a study engineered mesh everywhere else. This is the first big departure from the build of the first edition, and it’s not the only one. This knit cuff up top is very slightly reminiscent of the build of Speedland’s shoes and the Salomon Pulsar Trail Pro 2, but the Zinal 2 has a larger weave. The mesh of the body is solid enough to audibly crinkle when you bend it with your hands, a little like the upper on the Atreyu Base Trail or the Naked Tr, although the Zinal 2’s mesh is much softer than the crunchy TPU of the latter of those.

Mark me down as a fan of this combo. The mesh is firm enough to add a little protection and some support but not stiff enough that it’s audible or tactile when running. The knit top is comfortable and very breathable. Any heat buildup in the shoe escapes easily through the knit on the tongue. The mesh is plenty durable after my test miles and feels like it disappears on the trail.

John is on the money when he says the fit on the Hoka Zinal 2 is a little odd. It’s fitted in the heel and toe, with a little room in the forefoot that can be difficult to take in the right way. This is where the Zinal 2 is so much like a pair of Toms Cordones. That shoe, too, was fitted in the toe and heel with extra room in the midfoot that the laces didn’t seem to take in very well. In the Zinal, this fit allows for security while not feeling particularly crunched or claustrophobic. I’m not adamantly opposed, especially since the knit around the top of the shoe conforms the upper to your foot for a sleek, nimble fit that doesn’t pinch or bind anywhere. However, I have a wide toe splay and I was never uncomfortable in the toebox on this.

Below that upper is an EVA midsole, another departure from the Profly midsole in the original Zinal. The men’s Hoka Zinal 2 has 30mm of stack in the heel and 25m in the forefoot for a 5mm drop. The women’s has 29mm and 24mm, respectively, for the same drop. We see enough shoes with advanced foams that seeing EVA on a spec sheet can be downright boring, but in the Zinal 2, the durometer is tuned just right. This is by no means a minimal shoe, but this midsole is so quick and nimble that it feels minimal underfoot while still offering enough protection for double-digit miles. This midsole, combined with the eye-popping, rock-hopping low weight of the shoe (8 oz / 227 g for a US M9) and the comfortable upper, causes the Zinal 2 to just disappear on stretches of trail, and it’s wonderful fun.

Under all of this is a full coverage Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole with 5 mm lugs that absolutely rips. This is the final departure from the Zinal and its minimal two-part Vibram outsole. The single-piece outsole on the Zinal 2 is so aggressively grippy, even in slop, that I never doubted my footing once. The full rubber gives some structure to the midsole, and the lug configuration is close enough that I don’t hate running in the Zinal 2 on roads.

MICHAEL: I’m in total agreement with everything said above, so I’ll just touch on a few aspects of the Zinal 2 that really stood out to me. First, like I said in the intro, this shoe absolutely RIPS uphill. And while I haven’t run in the previous version of the Zinal, I can definitely tell the updates to the original really help in this regard, especially when climbs run a little more on the technical side. A taller lug pattern (including Vibram’s traction lug), a lighter overall weight, and a flexible, adaptable feel really shine when things get steep.

Simply put, if you are looking for a shoe to get you to the top of the mountain (any mountain) first, the Zinal 2 should absolutely be on your radar. Comparable models here include the Solomon Pulsar SG and the MTL Skyfire 2, two of our favorite shoes that are almost exclusively specialized for sub-ultra racing and KOM chasing.

Outside of a few issues with the upper, I’m going to echo Emily’s sentiment. This fit and choice of materials really worked for me. The mono-mesh is light, airy, and really felt snug through the midfoot while leaving my toes with just enough wiggle room to keep things comfortable. While it took a few runs and re-ties to get the lacing right (more on that later), overall this proved to be a form fitting upper that actually reminded me of my old xc spikes in all the best nostalgic ways. Plush comfort is no priority in the Zinal 2, and that’s fine. This shoe is made to push the red line at fast paces, and overall I think this upper gets the job done here.

Lastly, I can’t help but mention that I just really enjoyed the feel of this shoe. Climbing felt effortless in the Zinal 2, and I just couldn’t help but love feeling like I was on the cutting edge of exhilarating speed on the most technical lines and climbs I could find. As I revisited trails I’ve run countless times in many other shoes, some just took on a different light in the Zinal 2, and I can honestly say running in this shoe put a smile on my face. This is the kind of shoe that makes you want to run technical climbs as fast as you can just for the thrill of it. The sub-ultra racing space is heating up this year, and the Zinal 2 absolutely deserves some consideration as a top contender.

EMILY: John and Sam provided an expert comprehensive look at the streamlined and thoughtful attributes Hoka elected to weave into the Zinal 2 for better or for worse. I had a better sizing experience than the guys — surprising due to my Frodo feet, which measure an aggressive US W9.5 wide. In fact, I was pretty smitten with the sizing throughout and was able to dial in the laces at the mid-foot for support when going kamikaze down dirt dunes.

After about two miles in the Zinal 2, it became a real challenge to hold back the dance moves while running, because with Vibram soles and a surprisingly capacious toebox, I could cavort with confidence. Fairy-like dexterity felt almost achievable with a low stack and targeted cushioning that makes you feel fast without the fuss. Well, almost…

Really, “Like a glove” could be the secondary tagline for Zinal 2. I really want to gush and gab about what, in my opinion, is the most significant and interesting display of function and style here. Yes, I’m talking about the super stretchy, knit, wrap-around upper that eliminates tongue scrunching and allows you to literally slip the shoe on. Hoka thought this through and included a lovely finger-loop at the rear which you need only give a little tug and zoom — on the foot it goes. Not a nano-second lost. And ladies, juicy plum, periwinkle, and indigo colorways help keep you cool cuz you might as well be on fire.

Much appreciated is the lacing system, which is integrated into the top of the extended knit, so when you tie your shoe, pressure and support are felt throughout the midfoot. The knit is not overly affectionate where it meets the ankle, but it still provides legit protection from any kind of trail debris trying to invade.

The Bad

JOHN: The majority of issues I have stem from the question of who is this shoe for. I believe the Zinal 2 is a very specific shoe. The fit is not for every foot shape, and it does better on less technical trails. It’s not a workhorse, but I’m not sure I’d call it a race shoe either; it’s just kind of its own thing. Now with all that said, this is a $160 shoe. That’s kind of expensive for a shoe that’s so specific. Personally, I will use it as a rotation training shoe once a week for faster trail runs between 6-10 miles. If I have a trail race shorter than 50k, I may consider wearing the Zinal 2 but more than likely, I would just wear carbon-plated road shoes if I really was in the hunt for a PR.

This shoe fits strangely, to the point I’ve flipped and flopped a few times on if I like it or not. If you have a wide foot, definitely try this one on in a store, or be mindful when ordering that the fit is a little different. As I mentioned earlier, it felt narrow, long, and tight in some places and loose in others.

I wouldn’t use this shoe on technical trails. But I’d also be picky about the places to run in it. The trail I tripped a lot on isn’t technical at all, and I was super familiar with it.

SAM: I’ve compared the Hoka Zinal 2 to a pair of Toms twice now and then gave a lot of reasons why this is a pretty great shoe for sub-50k efforts. There simply has to be something bad here. I review trail shoes, not cheap of-the-moment casual flats, and those sins won’t stand.

So to start with, I have no idea what’s going on with the sizing between the pair that John got (ran long) and the pair that I got, a US M10.5 that definitely runs short and fits my size 10 foot just fine. I’m not complaining — I love the fit of this shoe. If I have to wear a US M10.5, that’s fine by me.

And while we’re on the topic of Toms, earlier I compared the midfoot security in the Zinal 2 to a pair of Toms Cordones. Sure, it’s absolutely wild that I think this is ultimately a good thing for the fit of the shoe, and feel free to go off on me in the comments. To the credit of those who wonder about how ridiculous that comparison is, the fit similarities also have a drawback. Between the knit top, the cordelette loops for the laces, and the stiffness of the mesh, it’s difficult to dial in that midfoot security. If it’s not dialed in, any horizontal torsion (say, from tearing down winding switchbacks or hopping across uneven rocks) caused my forefoot to slide all over inside the shoe.

Although I love that there is so little to the upper, there is almost no toe protection in the Hoka Zinal 2, and catching rocks or roots can really hurt.

MICHAEL: While I found the ZInal 2 extremely fun to run in, there are a few issues in my experience that make this shoe a really difficult one to place in the categories of either “yes, you should buy this shoe for your next trail half” or “this is an extremely niche shoe that’s fun to run some miles in, but a bad recommendation for race day.” Ultimately, these are the make or break points for the Zinal 2, in my opinion, because, as I mentioned earlier, there are some pretty great competitor shoes in this space right now. In the good section, I remarked on how this shoe isn’t exactly built for comfort, and while that results in an ultra-light package, there are a few things that Hoka may have paired down a bit too much.

Most notably, I found the heel collar to fit a little bit sloppy, resulting in some occasional slippage. Second, the tongue is a bit too thin. Lacing up the Zinal 2 proved to be an extremely delicate balance of keeping things secure without cutting off circulation. At the end of the day (and after a few re-ties to dial things in), I still enjoyed the upper on the Zinal 2 (and certainly the midsole and outsole), but I would recommend buyers who are Achilles sensitive or have wider feet to proceed with caution.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that there’s another shoe out there that may be the most direct competitor to the Zinal 2, the Solomon Pulsar 2 SG. Talk about a shoe with some racing pedigree. I’m not sure if it’s fair to drop another shoe’s name like that in the bad section, but it’s hard to not call out the undoubted similarity between these two models. Hoka is clearly going after the sky-running, sub-ultra distance market here, and while the Zinal 2 is a legit competitor, it’s hard work going up such an established brand in the sub-ultra scene.

EMILY: I completely agree with John that Zinal 2 is a niche shoe that is most at home on shorter trail runs but may not be a reliable long-term companion for adventures longer than a marathon. While it can be a plus while training to have a few options in the rotation, if more miles and hours need to be amassed during endurance runs and races, the Zinal 2 just can’t hang. For $160, there are too many other stellar options that can. That doesn’t mean pumping the breaks, though. Especially if you are earlier on in the training season and haven’t built up to those longer miles.

I also noticed that my penchant for low or invisible ankle socks (usually combined with calf compression socks for longer runs) resulted in some chaffing at the Achilles. That’s because the knit collar with the stitched loop, while both functionally and stylistically my favorite feature, does sit high. Different socks eliminate this minor issue.

Hoka Zinal 2 Conclusion

JOHN: I enjoyed running in the Zinal 2, and I feel like it’s a great rotation shoe for shorter, speedier trail runs.

To me, this shoe is, in many ways, the anti-Hoka. It’s a shoe for if you like to run trails fast, you need something slightly tougher than a road shoe in terms of grip, etc. If you don’t find yourself in this category (like me — check my ultra signup rank), it’s still a pretty cool trail rotation shoe for specific runs. Make no mistake, I do like elements of the shoe: it’s very interesting in terms of weight, design, and feel, but for a shoe that’s so specific, I think the $160 price point is a bit much. Especially with so many shoes that have more versatility out there around the same price.

I don’t think this sequel is a disappointing bust; however, I do feel like it’s one of those types of sequels like Alien 3 or, in terms of video games, Bioshock Infinite. Is Hoka just trying hard to create new needs? Should I be running faster on trails with shorter distances? I don’t know, but this shoe is fun for running my local non-technical trails. My only big issues are the price for something so specific and the fit because I think it may exclude a lot of runners because of the foot shape of the shoe.

I would check out the review here at Believe in the Run on the latest Altra Superior and the Nike Terra Kiger. Both are less expensive, light, and fast trail shoes that fit a wider range of foot shapes.

Something tells me this shoe is going to have a cult following of hardcore fans, but I question if it will be a mainstream success.

SAM: With its light weight, low stack, and trim fit, the Hoka Zinal 2 feels like a racing flat for fast trails, and it delivers speed and fun in spades. John has something when he calls this shoe the “Anti-Hoka.” The Zinal 2 pulls more inspiration from technical European trail shoes made by companies like Salomon and Inov-8 (and from casual flats like Toms Cordones) than it does the thick midsoles and friendly uppers of Hoka.

In some ways, this shoe feels like Hoka’s final flourish on several years of trail domination. They conquered distance with the Speedgoat 5 and the Mafate Speed 4. They perfected the trail racer (and shoe naming) with the Tecton X and then enhanced their perfection in the Tecton X 2. Now, with the Zinal 2, they use a creative combination of some comparatively standard materials to make a super light, super grippy trail flat that reminds you why you loved trail running in the first place. Like John, I’m not really sure where exactly this fits in the scope of the trail shoe market — short races? Ultralight trainer? A 50k shoe for people who like speed but dislike their feet?

But just because I don’t know where it fits in the horde of other shoes on the market doesn’t mean I don’t know where the Hoka Zinal 2 belongs — it belongs on my feet while I rip down singletrack with a monster of a grin that won’t go away.

Just, maybe, try them on first, and spend the extra time to get your lockdown right.

MICHAEL: Like Emily said, the Zinal 2 is not for every run, but man did I enjoy the thrill of running fast in it. Without a doubt, this will be my shoe of choice for some fall FKT business. That being said, my fellow reviewers have had no shortage of disclaimers, and I want to echo that sentiment. $160 is a lot of dough to spend on a shoe if you’re just going to be using it for a specific type of short, quick training run. That being said, we see lots of runners quickly justifying dropping $250 on Vaporflys, which kind of makes sense since they’re for race day.

So, if you have any sort of goal of crushing your time on the local summit, setting an FKT, or nailing that fast trail half marathon, the Zinal 2 may be the perfect shoe for you. So while that colorway doesn’t exactly remind me of buzz light year anymore, as it turns out, the fast feeling of the shoe totally does. To infinity and beyond, folks, to infinity and beyond. Or maybe just to the top of that next climb really, really fast.

EMILY: Beyond the stipulation that, in theory, the Zinal 2 has its distance limitations, I can’t help but feel impressed by the targeted cushioning in all the right places, semi-breathable mesh material that performs like a second skin, and luscious lugs embedded in Vibram soles for topographic finesse. I agree with John’s outlook on the cult following of the Zinal 2. I’m contemplating a weekend warrior membership myself.

You can pick up the Hoka Zinal 2 for $159 from Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

Shop Hoka Zinal Men
Shop Hoka Zinal Women

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Comments

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  1. Chris says:

    Just when I thought they couldn’t make an uglier shoe…. Zinal 2.

  2. Dave G. says:

    This is a massive miss for Hoka (in my opinion). It’s not as light as a Slab Pulsar, looks terrible (again, my opinion), is only $20 less, and seems to serve the same purpose. And people have complained forever about how narrow Salomons are, but a lot of Hoka’s have been painfully narrow too and the squishy midsoles have resulted in some real issues (check out the old reviews of the Rincon 1 on Running Warehouse, lateral foot pain, and I got it too because it was narrow, had their “bucket seat” and when that midsole collapsed because I supinate a bit my foot was jammed into that unnecessary forefoot sidewall). Hoka has some real power in the running market, but aside from launching the max cush era, they have not proved to be practical innovators when it comes to shoe design. They’re gonna remain a player because they are good enough and because a ton of people buy them for day to day wear, but come on, do better. All anyone really needs to do today is make a decently light trail shoe that has a 5-6mm drop, decent toe box (but not foot shaped), decent mid foot and heel hold, with some super-ish foam, and they could crush souls. The Saucony Rift might be a player but Saucony’s are so damn narrow or their midsoles are meh or their heels are sloppy that I’m gonna reserve judgement on that till it is widely available. I think the Nike Ultrafly Trail might also be the jam, but what do I know.

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Authors

photo of man in yellow shirt
John Calabrese
Habitual Ultrarunner
  • Instagram
  • Strava

An obsessed runner, John has run in most ultra races in the Mid-Atlantic area. Since he’s an ultra runner, it’s no surprise he’s also a lover of food. He’s also a dedicated father, caregiver, and veteran.

More from John
Shoe Size

11.5

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 23:25:23

    100 Mile
  • 9:13:41

    50 Mile
  • 4:23:38

    50K
Sam Edgin
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
  • Instagram
  • Strava

Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.

All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone Peak

More from Sam
Shoe Size

10

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 6:15

    50K
  • 1:40:39

    Half Marathon
  • 21:30

    5K
michael bio photo
Michael Loutzenheiser
Southern Trail Reviewer

An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.

More from Michael
Shoe Size

9.5

Fav. Distance

Half Marathon (Trail)

PRs
  • 4:48

    50K
  • 1:16

    Half Marathon
  • 16:45

    5K
girl running in a red tanktop wearing a hat
Emily Hanson
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer

Born and raised in Smaltimore (Baltimore), Emily relishes running for hours in the woods. It’s where she works out the kinks in her approach to being a mother, partner, writer, and a better human being.

More from Emily
Shoe Size

9.5

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 15:02

    100K
  • 5:11

    50K
  • 3:14:28

    26.2
  • 2:23:36

    25k
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