Behind the Design: Zionic Athletic Hikers

Behind the Design: Zionic Athletic Hikers

At KEEN, we’ve always viewed hikers as athletes. Outside athletes. And, like all athletes, hikers demand gear that allows them to perform to the best of their ability on the trail. 

For many of you, it means hiking faster. Not to achieve an FKT (fastest known time) on a trail, but to bring more fitness to your hike and to go farther so you can see and experience more while you’re out there. And that’s exactly why we made the Zionic hiking collection.

What makes Zionic so athletic and agile? In this 2-minute video and follow-up Q&A, our performance product manager Will Schuh shows what went into making it our lightest, most responsive hiking shoe yet. 

What inspired the creation of the Zionic?

Will: While the Zionic is a new addition to our line, we’ve been pushing in a faster & lighter direction for quite some time, most recently with the launch of the NXIS in 2021. With Zionic, our team made the push to make a lighter and faster hiker in large part as a response to the influx of younger outside athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research from the Outdoor Industry Association found that hiking has experienced an average annual growth rate of 7 percent over the last five years. It was already a top five "most popular outdoor activity," but the pandemic spurred a boost in participation. Mintel’s 2021 Outdoor Leisure Report also cites that 16 percent of hikers started the activity during the pandemic.

Our observation was that many of these new hikers were wearing athletic sneakers that were not well-equipped for the trail. We made it our mission to serve these hikers by developing a capable hiker that was athletic, agile, and lightweight. Ultimately, the solution that came from that work was the Zionic.

What tech makes the Zionic unique?

Will: As we developed Zionic, we linked together a number of KEENovations from recent models to create a platform that we feel represents the pinnacle of innovation for KEEN. The full-length nylon plate found in the Zionic was first used in the WK400, our revolutionary walking shoe that was released earlier this year. And the lightweight, durable performance mesh was a key innovation in the NXIS hiking shoe in 2021. Also, Zionic is the first model in our trailhead line to feature 3D-printed overlays on the mesh, offering lightweight, fast, minimal-waste construction.

Like with everything we make at KEEN, we have made critical decisions about the materials and methods that we use as shoemakers and good stewards of the planet to ensure that the Zionic is best-in-class when it comes to sustainability. The Zionic includes recycled materials and an Eco Anti-Odor infused insole that does not use pesticides, and very deliberately and consciously does not feature the use of any forever chemicals (PFAS) — a commitment we made several years ago, and hold firm to today.

How does the Zionic strike a balance between cushioning and stability?

Will: The Zionic's midsole is made with high-energy foam, which is both softer than much of what's in the market AND more responsive (aka rebound). So to directly answer the question, the Zionic is designed to leverage the comfort that comes with a softer, cushioned midsole, but minimally sacrifice any stability or responsiveness. Typically, a maximal shoe is around 30-32mm or greater stack height (the amount of foam and rubber under your heel), which is what you might see in some competitor shoes. The Zionic is a 25mm stack height, which gives that nice balance of comfort and stability/responsiveness. We want it to feel cushioned and comfortable, but not like you're walking through a swamp. The midsole of the Zionic wraps up around the foot, giving a bit more protection on the trail and provides a bit more lateral stability, but the actual height underfoot is fairly balanced.