The Hoka Zinal 2 ($160) was released in summer 2023, and although it received less fanfare than its predecessor, my hunch is that this is primarily due to a very crowded lightweight trail running shoe marketplace.
The original Hoka Zinal — see also our Hoka Zinal review — launched in summer 2021 as a light-and-fast racing shoe for “short” distances (up to 50 kilometers), as well as speedy runs where nimble footing and responsiveness is paramount. The shoe was well-received and iRunFar placed it in our Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes guide.
But as more and more trail shoes with carbon plates have appeared at specialty running stores over the past year, I’ve wondered whether lightweight shoes like the Zinal line, which doesn’t have a carbon plate, still have a place in a trail runner’s shoe rotation. After putting more than 100 miles on the Hoka Zinal 2, my short answer is yes, this shoe still has a place.
My long answer, however, is more complicated. Although the Zinal 2 is a great trail shoe for a specific category of runners, it’s a niche style in a space that’s only gotten more crowded over the past two years, since the original Zinal was released. As a result, it’s easy for this trail running shoe to get lost in the noise — especially when that noise includes buzz about carbon plates.
At the same time, not everyone wants a plated shoe — or to invest $250 in their racing shoe. For these runners, the Hoka Zinal 2 provides an appealing alternative with its relatively reasonable $160 price tag.
The Zinal 2 maintains a fairly similar weight, drop, stack height, fit, and feel to its predecessor. The Zinal 2 clocks in with an actual weight of 8.0 ounces (227 grams) for a U.S. men’s 9, which shaves a half ounce off the first edition. It has the same 5-millimeter drop, and a reported a stack height of 30 millimeters at the heel and 25 millimeters at the toe, which is 2 millimeters less than the original.
While the general specifications are similar, the Hoka Zinal 2 has evolved in many of its details. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Hoka Zinal 2 Upper
The Hoka Zinal 2 has a very similar fit to its predecessor, though the upper material is quite different. Looking back at the original Hoka Zinal, it had a simple and smooth thin mesh upper with few TPU overlays — and it fit like a glove. The upper was fairly minimalist without feeling flimsy, and it provided enough support to securely lock down the foot without feeling too constraining.
The mesh on the Hoka Zinal 2 feels ever-so-slightly thinner and noticeably stiffer — almost crunchy, like thick paper. I had some initial apprehension about this new upper’s comfort and durability, but it softened after the first couple runs. It still has a papery feel, but it feels more supple and is proving to be plenty durable without any signs of wear.
Hoka also replaced the original Zinal’s partially gusseted tongue with a single-piece stretchy knit cuff. When I first examined these shoes, I liked the aesthetic of this new design but doubted the cuff’s effectiveness at keeping any debris out. Once again, the Zinal 2 proved me mostly wrong — while it’s not going to perform like a gaiter, the knit cuff keeps out more pebbles and trail dust than I initially expected.
Additionally, Hoka replaced the traditional flat laces of the former design with tubular laces. With very little material between the laces and the top of the foot, I suspected that this new design would compromise comfort. While I had no issues with the laces or the shoe’s comfort, someone with a higher arch or more sensitive instep may feel too much pressure and not enough padding between the laces and the top of their foot.
The Zinal 2’s upper feels light and breathable, yet sturdy enough to lock down the foot and withstand rugged trails. In spite of the changes, it has a very similar fit and feel to the original — hugging the heel and midfoot and giving the toes some wiggle room.
I love this fit, and Hokas in general tend to fit my feet very well, but not everyone will agree. Runners with wide feet or a high instep may find the fit too constricting. However, for those who loved the first Zinal, the Zinal 2 feels similar.
Hoka Zinal 2 Midsole
With the Hoka Zinal 2 midsole, Hoka again departed from the original design by dropping the ProFly midsole and replacing it with a light and responsive EVA foam. The ProFly midsole, which is shared with the Hoka Torrent 3 — read our Hoka Torrent 3 review — provided a slightly softer cushioning than the current EVA midsole, though the difference is almost imperceptible.
Hoka also shaved 2 millimeters off the stack height, but again, few if any runners would be able to detect such a small change.
What I’ve noticed is that the Hoka Zinal 2 has more ground feel than its predecessor — or any other Hoka I’ve worn. Not only does my foot feel closer to the ground, I can feel more of the trail’s surface, including rocks. This can be a good thing for runners who are moving fast and want to feel every bit of ground under their feet.
On the other hand, it’s not an ideal shoe for plodding through a long easy run, and it’s not my first choice for bombing down a gravel road. Nonetheless, the midsole contributes to the Zinal 2’s overall light, nimble, and responsive feel. This is a shoe that likes to fly.
Finally, comparing the Zinal and Zinal 2 side by side, I can see that the newer shoe has less sole flare than the original. When a shoe’s midsole gets slightly wider between the platform directly under the foot and the outsole, it can help offer some light stability. While the Zinal 2’s design moved away from this flare with a more straight up and down midsole design, I couldn’t detect any compromises in stability while running in this shoe. My hunch is that this is because my foot feels closer to the ground in the newer model.
Hoka Zinal 2 Outsole
The Hoka Zinal 2 keeps the same outsole material — Vibram Megagrip with Litebase — which is a lightweight, high-performing compound that grips well on a variety of slick surfaces, from wet rocks to loose scree. This outsole compound has for years been the industry standard for its combination of super grip and ridiculous durability.
The most notable update to the Zinal’s outsole is a deeper lug design. While the lugs on the previous model were fairly shallow, the new outsole has 5-millimeter lugs. Additionally, the outsole now covers the entire shoe bottom, whereas in the previous version it only covered about half.
The slight boost to the lug depth and full outsole coverage gives the Zinal 2 reliable grip without feeling like overkill on non-technical or hard-packed trails.
The shoe also maintains a slight rocker profile that helps propel the foot forward.
I was happy with the original Zinal’s outsole, and the Zinal 2 builds on a good thing with enhanced grip and durability while maintaining the shoe’s smooth feel on everyday trails.
Hoka Zinal 2: Overall Impressions
While Hoka overhauled the design, the updated Hoka Zinal 2 carries forward the fit and feel of the original. The Zinal 2 securely hugs the midfoot and heel, while giving the toes room to splay. Deeper outsole lugs add some grip, and a new knit cuff helps keep trail debris from getting inside the shoe. While I initially doubted the durability of the stiff upper material, it’s holding up well after more than 100 trail miles.
The Hoka Zinal 2 is a shoe that’s going to let you feel the ground. For light and fast running on rolling, moderately technical trails, this shoe is a blast. It’s also great for powering up steep hills during an uphill race or a workout.
However, its lack of cushion becomes apparent on long descents, especially on rocky terrain. Here, a plated shoe with more cushioning like the Hoka Tecton X 2 — read our Hoka Tecton X 2 review — outperforms the Zinal 2.
Finally, the Zinal 2 has a snug, glove-like fit that feels great if you have a long, standard-width foot, narrow heel, and medium arch. It may feel too snug on wide feet and high insteps.
With all of this, the Zinal 2 is a specialized shoe that has a fairly narrow application. For runners who keep a quiver of shoes in rotation, the Zinal 2 definitely has a place.
However, it’s not an ideal daily trainer for most runners — there are less expensive and more versatile options available. Additionally, it’s not the type of racing shoe that can compete with the likes of the Hoka Tecton X 2 and Nike Ultrafly — see our Nike Ultrafly review — especially for races that are 50k or longer.
Nonetheless, runners who want a light and fast shoe that’s not plated will save some cash while having a lot of fun in this shoe. To see how the iRunFar team ranks the Hoka Zinal 2 amongst the other top lightweight trail shoes, check out our our Best Lightweight Trail Running Shoes guide.
Call for Comments
- Do you have experience with the Hoka Zinal or Zinal 2? What do you think?
- Are there specific details that you like or don’t like about the Hoka Zinal 2?
- Do you think light and fast shoes like the Zinal 2 are still relevant in the age of carbon plated shoes?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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