HOKA Zinal - First Impressions
Posted on August 05 2021
Photo Credit: iRunFar
HOKA has pretty much defined the space for maximal shoes, so its something of a departure for them to bring out a relatively low stack height trail shoe.
The Zinal is designed as a lighter, faster, racing trail shoe, something you might consider as an alternative perhaps to Salomon. With a heel stack height of 23mm and a forefoot stack height of 18mm it is very similar to the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 3 which has 26mm and 18mm respectively.
Weighing in at 240g (men's US 10.5) its a light shoe and 66g lighter than a Speedgoat and 50g lighter than the Salomon. So its a light, fast shoe.
We have now put around 70 km into the shoe and had the opportunity to check its performance in some pretty horrendous weather on trails, catchwaters and roads.
First of all, it has Vibram Megagrip Litebase as the outsole. We all know this just works in Hong Kong and there was never any issues with grip on anything. Similar to the Salomon, the cleats are maybe 4 mm or so, but even in the wet, we rarely get a lot of mud here so that's not an issue.
With that as a starting point we already have a good shoe. Build quality is as good as you would expect from HOKA and the upper has the look of the ATR Challenger. A one piece mesh vamp with some reinforcement around the toe and some stiffening around the lace holes made from recycled material apparently. The shoe is also Vegan so its not going to eat your feet.
The tongue is thin and gusseted and there is quite a lot of padding around the ankle. Its a clean, neat upper.
Stepping in, the first thing you notice is that it is a narrow and long shoe. My usual US 10.5 was almost a half size too big at my toes but I would have been reluctant to go down because the fit around my arch and midfoot was already fairly tight.
I don't mind that tightness but people with wider feet might find these a touch narrow. The length bothered me initially and I did find a couple of times accidently catching the toe on things.
The runs I have done have been anything from 5km up to 27km on very varied terrain and given the recent weather, almost always wet. No really technical trails but I can imagine the grip would be fine on pretty much everything.
The long slim fit didn't bother me after the initial runs and the heel lock in was very good.
Drainage, given I was running in mostly wet conditions was reasonable. The cushioning around the heal obviously absorbs a lot of water and that will increase the weight of the shoe and I found my toes were wrinkled after a 27km hot, sweaty run.
Pretty much all of the time on trail the relatively limited forefoot cushioning wasn't a problem. I doesn't have a rock plate so the 18mm, is the protection you get.
On the catchwaters I did find the forefoot a bit harsh. Nothing like the energy return of the TPU cell in the Ultra 3, but this is a shoe which comes in $500 hkd cheaper so perhaps you can't have it all.
The other time I noticed it was on relative hard flat trails with occasional small sharp stones protruding. I found myself making considered foot placements after a few painful encounters at the end of a tiring 27km run.
So in conclusion, I found this a nice, light, fast, grippy trail shoe, and precise, like the Ultra 3 and good for most conditions. It will probably get a bit tiring over 30 km and on tough technical terrain. Plenty of grip but a bit lacking in forefoot protection in some circumstances.
This would be my "go-too" shoe for races up to 15km
But don't take my word for it, our resident trails speedster Jeff Campbell has also been trying a pair
"Really nice! Very good Vibram grip, light weight, surprisingly good cushioning. Strongly recommended so far from me. 40km done so far (20km on Fri, 20km on Sun)"
If you would like to buy the Zinal online --- Go HERE