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 HOKA ONE ONE Zinal Review

By Contributors David Salas and Nathan Brown

The HOKA ONE ONE Zinal is here! In the trail running world there aren't too many low profile racing shoe with the aim of being purely quick and nimble. The HOKA ONE ONE Zinal is just that and provides good cushioning for the weight throughout. This trail racing model does not have very deep lugs compared to most trail models, but utilizes Vibram Megagrip rubber to help give the shoe more stickiness with traction. 

Specifications for the Hoka One One Zinal (per Running Warehouse)
Weight:  8.5 oz, 240 g (men's size 9), 7.7 oz, 218 g  (women's size 8)
Stack Height: 32 mm heel, 27 mm forefoot
Drop: 5mm
Classification: Lightweight trail racer


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

The HOKA ONE ONE Zinal is an incredibly lightweight and nimble trail racing shoe that should do well in a large variety of conditions. Everything about this shoe points to trail racing shoe from a performance standpoint, but also provides enough comfort for daily trail efforts as well. The shoe utilizes Vibram Megagrip rubber to help provide increased traction, especially since the lugs are not very deep. The midsole is a little softer and bouncy than its other trail counterpart the HOKA ONE ONE Torrent 2.



FIT (LENGTH / WIDTH / COMFORT)

David: 
The HOKA Zinal fits true to size in my normal 9.5. The fit is consistent with a performance shoe being that it is a little bit more snug than a normal trainer but still accommodating throughout. The toe box, midfoot, and heel are all of normal width throughout. The upper is an engineered mesh that breathes pretty well throughout while still having enough structure to not allow dirt, dust, or sand through it. The security of the foot in the shoe is pretty good throughout and I had no problems with slippage or translation. The tongue is very thin and clearly a racing tongue (still enough padding to lace the shoe down though). I do think I would like the heel security to be a tad better and the toe box to be a tad wider, but this is me being picky for the upper is quite nice. 

Nathan: The HOKA Zinal fits true to size for me in my size 9. It errs on the slightly narrow and longer side, but I would not want to purchase a half size either way. Stepping into this shoe gives a sense of immediate security and comfort. It has a dialed in, breathable, ad simple engineered mesh upper that holds the foot really well. The heel counter has moderate rigidity but is padded well for comfort so that it does not aggravate the heel. The upper is a perfect example of simple performance. There are no frills, but it works really well to hold the foot down, let air through, and avoids holding water when it gets wet. 


PERFORMANCE (RIDE / SPEED)

David: As of right now this is my trail running shoe of the year. I loved my HOKA ONE ONE Torrents but these trumped them pretty quickly. The shoe is certainly a trail shoe once you take it to the dirt or rocks. The Vibram Megagrip outsole is very sticky and you can just feel a nice sense of traction underneath you without feeling like the lugs are too big. The midsole is a little bit softer than most other low profile trail shoes and pretty forgiving throughout. The heel is beveled well and there is a good amount of forefoot flexibility up front. Because the Vibram layer is relatively thin and the lugs are not very deep, I will say that you can feel some of the smaller rocks underneath as your running but it isn't enough to be a deal breaker. It should be noted there is no rock plate in this shoe but I'm not sure there needs to be. The shoe is very lightweight, nimble, and fun to run in. The heel to midfoot transition is pretty smooth throughout thanks to the heel bevel. Since the midsole is a little softer and the outsole is thinner you can feel the flexibility of the shoe through the forefoot, so if someone likes there to be more of  a stiffer rocker feeling like in the Speedgoat this may not be the right shoe. This shoe is also pretty low profile. This is going to be a 25k and under trail racing shoe for most, but those experienced with lower profile shoes can probably take it to 50k. 

Nathan: I agree with David. This is my current trail shoe of the year, and it is oh so different from most other HOKAs that I've tried this year. It is lower stack, doesn't have as many of the HOKA sidewalls, is flexible through the forefoot, and consists of a firmer midsole with a top sole that is soft and poppy (which is thicker through the forefoot). The result is a very nimble trail runner that gives good responsiveness in the forefoot. Although lower stack, the thin topsole provides just enough soft cushioning that makes it adequate for moderate length trail runs (15-25K). Many will be able to take it longer than this if needed, but it can really move and be nimble on dirt trails. The grip is powered by Vibram lugs that aren't too deep, so this can function well as a road to trail runner (I've taken it to the nearby trails that are 1.5 miles away, and the 3 miles on road were just fine). Given that the lugs are less aggressive and there isn't a rock plate, I think this works best for dirt trails. However, due to the security on the foot and nimble nature it can handle some more technical terrain if you don't mind feeling a little rock or root pressure. This shoe has done well in easy and faster trail miles and can certainly be a nimble racer, but is also extremely approachable for new trail runners.


STABILITY

David: 
The stability of the HOKA ONE ONE Zinal is pretty good throughout. The upper does a pretty good job with security when running, though I think the heel could be narrowed slightly and the toe box widened slightly (me being picky). The material itself is reinforced well though and should handle any intensity of turns or abrasion you throw at it. The outsole is way stickier than it looks at first glance and provides great ground feel. Overall stability is pretty good for a softer low profile trail racing shoe. 

Nathan: Stability on trails is different than stability on the road. Speaking to flat surface (road) stability, the firmer foam, slightly wider base, full contact outsole, and lower stack make this a relatively stable neutral shoe. Some of these aspects carry over to the trail. The lower stack and wide base provide a nice stable platform to transition from and I not once have come close to rolling an ankle on larger rocks or roots. The midsole flexes to the rocks and roots, which prevents the whole shoe from pivoting like a lever, keeping the rest of the shoe level. Overall higher stability thanks to the lower profile.


THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

The HOKA Zinal is a unique trail racing option because it is both low profile and relatively soft. They did a good job of integration of the outsole with this type of racer I believe. When you look at most lightweight trail shoes for racing they have deep lugs and minimal midsole because they are trying to tackle technical terrain quickly without much need for longer mileage beyond that. The Zinal is almost a blend of the low profile and max stack trail shoe. It certainly leans towards low profile, but is soft enough to take impact for longer as well. Where I'm going with this is the use of such shallow lugs. This looks so much different than the Torrent upon first glance but they are actually quite similar. Because of the softer platform there will be some natural compression and deformation of the shoe underneath the foot, and because of this a little more flex to the outsole as well. By having the outsole relatively thin with shallow grooves the shoe retains a little more of this shock absorption and landing impact creating a sticky sensation to ground. This is similar to rubberized EVA outsoles on the road. What they did cool here is use the Vibram Megagrip to utilize an already really sticky rubber compound and integrate it with a shoe design that already takes advantage of what I noted above. The result is an on foot feeling of really good traction without deep lugs. It's pretty cool and fun because you can also run on the road without feeling like you are in cleats as well. The Zinal is a very versatile shoe because of this.

- David Salas, PT, DPT, CSCS



RECOMMENDATIONS

David: I really like the HOKA Zinal. My recommendations are mostly in the fit. I actually really like the outsole and midsole configuration overall. I think the heel security could be a tad better but more in width by narrowing it. I also think the forefoot could be a little wider. This is me nitpicking but I do think the fit could be slightly refined to improve the shoe. I also think it would be really interesting if they put a thin plastic plate through the forefoot to just increase the rigidity a tad and provide a little more rock protection, but the shoe still runs great as is. 

Nathan: My main recommendations come in the fit category. I think shortening the shoe just lightly and narrowing the heel would create an even more comfortable shoe to run in. HOKA has plenty of other options that protect from rocks/roots, so I'm not sure if putting protection there is needed. But if you want more rock protection in the Zinal, I agree with David.


WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

The HOKA ONE ONE Zinal is a trail racing or running shoe for those that like lightweight and nimble footwear that still provides good traction. The shoe also provides surprisingly good cushion and rebound for such a low profile shoe as well. Because the shoe is lower profile and a tad more flexible you can still feel some rocks underneath you when running but it isn't enough to be a deal breaker. The shoe handles great in all conditions and has done very well including technical terrain and rocks for me as well. 



GRADING (SHOE CATEGORY)

David
Fit: B+ (Overall really good but the forefoot could be widened slightly and the heel could be narrowed slightly)
Performance: A-
 (Lightweight, nimble, responsive, traction is great, but you can still feel some of the rocks running)
Stability: A- (Overall stability is pretty solid for this shoe. I think with upper refinement this could become an A.)
DPT/Footwear Science: A (A fun integration of outsole and midsole provide for a unique ride for a trail running shoe)
Personal: A (Very quickly one of my favorite trail shoes to put on my feet. Light, nimble, responsive.)
Overall: A- (The Zinal is a VERY fun and unique trail shoe for how unique it is. Versatility is pretty high as well.)

Nathan
Fit: A- (Very comfortable for me, just a touch long)
Performance: A-
 (So nimble and can handle some road and technical trails, sometimes feel the rocks)
Stability: A- (Lower profile and wider base help a lot, molds to the ground, heel could be synched up)
DPT/Footwear Science: A (Simplicity wins in this shoe, a very approachable trail trainer/racer)
Personal: A+ (My favorite trail shoe. I use it for everything, hiking included)
Overall: A- (Very versatile, fun, comfortable, and simple. This is a winner)

VIDEO REVIEW



David takes the Zinal out on trail to give you his thoughts. Also a bit of time spent on the Western States Trail!

SHOP | SUPPORT DOR

Find the Hoka One One Zinal at Running Warehouse here. Using the link to purchase helps support Doctors of Running. Thanks so much!

Shop Gear We Like!
The following are some of our current favorites at Running Warehouse! Some of you have asked us lately how to help us. Using these links to shop would be amazing, and importantly get you something we think is pretty great in return. Thanks so much!

Mizuno Wave Rider 25: New full length Enerzy is a simple joy. Soft, flexible forefoot is unique
New Balance Rebel V2
: Fast, fun, and surprisingly versatile
Hoka Arahi 5: One of the best stability shoes of the year, and the best walking shoe as well. Versatile.

Rabbit Running Clothes: Incredibly soft, high quality clothing for your next run
Feetures Socks: Massively grippy socks that will make you feel more one with the shoe
Trigger Point Foam Roller: Help get those knots out post-run and feel better for tomorrow
Coros Pace 2 Watch: Excellent watch for various running goals and a massive battery life
Theragun Massager: This small version is great on the go for working tired legs

FURTHER READING

Compare Nimble Trail Runners
Hoka One One Torrent 2 - A trail racing favorite among Hoka fans. Nimble, but cushioned
VJ Ultra  - Brand new cushioned trainer from the obstacle running brand VJ
Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 300 -
Powered by graphene material, the ultra g is a flexible long range trail runner
On Cloudventure Peak - Surprisingly light at 9.2 oz, a firm and first trail runner with tons of grip
Asics FujiTrabuco Lyte - Lightweight trail runner from Asics
361 Taroko 2 - A favorite war cry of the DOR team, and a fun offering in general from 361
Newton BOCO AT 5 - Contributor David Sala's trail shoe of 2020

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TESTER PROFILES FOR THE REVIEW OF THE ZINAL:


David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing,

Nathan Brown PT DPT MS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Masters in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

Dr. Brown is a 155 lb male with notable PRs of 18:18 5K, 39:25 10K, 1:29:01 half marathon, and 3:54 marathon. He typically runs between 20-40 miles per week at a variety of paces from 7:30-8:30 min/mile for recovery runs to 6-6:45 min/mile for tempo runs. He typically prefers shoes that provide some cushioning underfoot but still maintain a more firm and responsive feel. Current goals for 2020 are to break the 1.5 hour half marathon and 3:30 marathon.

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at HOKA ONE ONE  for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run run as well as a warm up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

NEXT: SAUCONY ENDORPHIN TRAIL REVIEW

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