Hoka Zinal Review
April 6, 2021
The Goodlightweightbalance of cushion and ground feeltransitions well from trail to roadThe upper has a good, secure fit
The BadFoam doesn't feel as lively or snappy as others on the marketlacks protections for long technical outingsdurability may be an issue do to so much exposed EVA
For years Hoka uppers felt like they were not designed for my foot. They seemed very brick-shaped except for a narrow and pointy toe-box. They never cradled the mid-foot and gave me a secure, locked-down feeling. I've noticed with recent models like the Challenger ATR 6 and Mach 4, the shape and fit of the upper has changed for the better! The Zinal continues this trend with a great fitting upper. The upper feels non-constrictive, airy, and locks my foot into place. Whether picking up the pace or breaking down a technical hill, my foot didn't move around the shoe.
Purpose/Where the shoe excels
I've run a few trail ultras in a road shoe. With plenty of courses (even here in Rocksylvania) having fairly smooth trails with roads and towpaths used to connect the trails, trail shoes built likes tanks are just overkill. On faster courses where your pace might be close to a road race pace, I don't want a heavy, stiff, clunky shoe with an outsole covered in deep-lugged tread. For most races and faster training runs, I just want a road shoe that's a little less flexible to give my foot less work to do over the miles and a little extra traction and protection. I've been very pleased to see more and more shoes like I describe hitting the market and the Zinal is a great example. To me, it feels like the trail version of the Mach 4. It fits similarly, but the cushion is a little firmer. Then again, the Mach 4 felt firm for the first 100 miles then softened up a bit. Overall the Zinal is a very light hybrid trail/road shoe perfect for races and faster training runs. I did a 3-mile trail tempo and it performed like a road shoe. I also did a 21-miler on a dirt and stone gameland road where I'd normally wear a road shoe and it performed just as well.
I don't think Hokas foam performs as well as others on the market. I'm not sure what is used in this shoe (I assume PROFLY) but it's not terrible or great. It's an improvement over previous years but it still doesn't feel snappy or lively enough compared to others. However, it does balance protection and ground feel well. I also suspect that the cushion will soften a bit after a break-in period.
It's unfair to expect a shoe built for this purpose to last for 100s of miles over rocky terrain. And I did wear the shoe for a run over very rocky trails where I landed hard on jagged rocks and the shoe showed no signs of wear. But all that exposed EVA may be a concern over time.