For the record, I’m not a minimalist shoe guy. I own some minimalist shoes, but I typically take my advice on what works from the runners out logging/racing huge miles on the trails. This being said, I feel like my shoe arsenal contains everything from lightweight racing flats to heavy duty GORE-TEX, rock-plate laden trail shoes for winter in the mountains. I depend on my feet to tell me what I like rather than fads.
The Saucony ProGrid Kinvara represents the leading edge of a type of minimalist, low profile shoe that most major shoe companies will release this year. While not a trail shoe per se, the Kinvara caught my eye as a great no-nonsense shoe that could be worn by trail enthusiasts for racing on gentler terrain and as a road shoe. The shoe definitely peaked my interest when I walked into my local running store and found out that mountain running God Matt Carpenter had recently purchased three pairs! So, I was very pleased to review a shoe that is both simple and versatile, something that is coming back into vogue with shoe companies again. Blame Born to Run, blame the barefoot running studies from Harvard, blame injuries…. I don’t really care. This is an exciting era for shoe construction!
When I first slid the Kinvara on I noticed its lightweight at 7.7 oz (size 9). The shoe feels very cushy and hugs the foot throughout with a slightly curved last. At first this cushiness seemed a little like overkill. I had doubts about this shoe’s ability to last even 300 miles, but they ended up proving their durability quite well. This shoe wears like a racing flat, hugging the foot and fit true to size. The shoes made me feel like I wanted to fly out the door and hit the trail that second, always a nice feeling when you slip on something new.
The sole of the Kinvara, like the rest of the shoe, is very simple. It is constructed of XT 900 rubber that Saucony uses to increase durability and traction without making the shoe too stiff. This is definitely a more flexible rubber than something like Nike’s BRS 1000 carbon outsole, and this sole did not show too much wear after being put through the paces. The traction pattern consists of simple triangles, harkening back to the early Saucony Jazz, and I did not want for extra traction in this shoe. The sole is gummy enough and flexible enough that it grabbed onto rock, mud, and clay fairly well for a non-trail shoe.
Saucony uses EVA+, one of those new fangled foams to achieve lightweight cushioning that was unattainable in years past. The cushioning reminded me of Nike’s Lunar Foam technology, but was actually more responsive than spongy. The midsole is 18mm at the heel and 14mm at the toe for a very minimal 4mm drop. I feel this shoe has ample cushioning in the forefoot and the overall transition from midfoot to toe is very smooth. The heel cushioning in the shoe is Saucony’s ProGrid Lite, and it did offer enough support throughout the midfoot for slight overpronators.
Saucony made great advances with the very minimalist upper of this shoe that you would likely find on a racing flat. It is a well ventilated, seamless upper with the Saucony logo screen-printed onto the shoe. No bells, no whistles. Just an upper that will not get in your way. The support for this very minimal outer shell consists of synthetic underlays that wrap around the midfoot and kept my foot securely in the shoe. The shoe also features a minimal and hardly noticeable sockliner and the heel of the shoe fits nice and snug which did not allow small rocks into the shoe during runs.
My first thought about this shoe was that I would blow it out very quickly by either putting a hole in the upper or wearing the soft outsole down quickly. Neither happened, and I’m happy to report 200 miles of hard running in this shoe including a trail marathon. I enjoyed this shoe particularly for faster paced running and it performed phenomenally during tempo runs, mile repeats, fartlek, and hill sessions on crushed gravel paths. I felt like the upper locked my foot in pretty good on the trails, especially for a road shoe. As you may be able to tell from the photos, I put a small hole in the upper of the shoe where my pinky toe has a very substantial callus on it. I find the Saucony toebox to be a little too tapered for my liking, but I did not notice any discomfort from the toebox during my runs.
I took these shoes on some moderately technical mountain trails and found that the cushioning is substantial enough to ward off bruising from sharp rocks, yet the shoe remains low profile and gives the wearer a feeling of light agility. I was not able to test the shoe through creeks and assess the drainage capabilities, which are likely to be excellent.
To be completely honest, I’ve tried 5 or 6 pairs of Saucony trainers and flats throughout the years and always abandoned them due to fit issues and lack of responsiveness. I was excited to see a shoe manufacturer create such a simple shoe and market it in that fashion, and I think that Saucony created a fantastic shoe that will appeal to a wide variety of runners. This shoe feels great on dirt, crushed gravel, and roads, and performs adequately on more difficult trail. If you’re the type of trail runner who enjoys the ride and transition of a lightweight performance road shoe or racing flat, this may be you all in one go-to shoe.
The best part of this shoe is that it feels fast and natural. Your gait and foot fall are not impeded, yet I don’t feel like this shoe is only for the genetically gifted neutral runner. Its minimal heel drop will inspire you to run more on your midfoot/forefoot, and as a slight overpronator I never felt like this shoe collapsed on me, even at the end of a marathon. I highly recommend this shoe for runners of all types looking for a simple shoe that performs well on a variety of different surfaces.
In brief, this is a very cool shoe, although it would be great if they made a trail version, too!
Call for Comments
Have you hit the trails in the Kinvara? If so, let us know how it went. If you’ve got questions, fire away.
[Disclosure:Saucony provided the author with a sample pair on Kinvara to review. In addition, the Amazon link in this post is part of an affiliate program that helps support iRunFar.com.]