Saucony Kinvara Review

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.

Saucony Kinvara

The Saucony ProGrid Kinvara after some trail miles.

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!

First Impressions
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.

Outsole
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 Kinvara Outsole

Midsole
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.

Upper
Saucony Kinvara UpperSaucony 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.

Performance
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.

Overall Impression

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.]

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar’s Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 35 comments

  1. Blaine Moore

    I've just started wearing the Kinvaras and don't have much time in them yet (I rotate between quite a few different pairs) but I don't know how much I'd like to wear them on single track. Maybe on some cross country trails, but I'll probably reserve them for the roads. (After all, my other road shoes are coming up on 1200 miles.)

    They took a few runs to get used to. I'm not used to much cushioning or to feeling as tall as these put me, but I stopped noticing by run #3. Hopefully they work out as well going forward and my experiences mimic yours.

    In terms of fit, they work out really well, I think.

  2. Matt

    Thanks for the insightful review. It's clear that you know the shoe industry. The Kinvara is too narrow in the toe box for me, but it's obviously not possible for a shoe to fit every single person's feet. You might be interested to know that Saucony is putting out a trail shoe called the Peregrine that is lightweight (9 oz or so?) and is inspired by the Kinvara. Having only seen it in pictures, I hesitate to call it a trail Kinvara, but I'm guessing that someone who likes the Kinvara would also likely be happy with the Peregrine.

  3. lx150+

    I'm a longtime Saucony fan and ordered these earlier this week after reading multiple positive reviews of the shoes. I currently run in the progrid xodus 2 for trails, and am excited to hear they'll be coming out with a lighter trail shoe shortly.

    1. Anonymous

      Thanks for the review.

      I've been meaning to try the Kinvara as well and have been debating between these and the Newton Trail Runner. A friend of mine and I were just discussing the fact that they would probably be more palatable to trail runners if they had a little more subdued color to them. Seems to me that they spent all their time catering to the triathlete/color coordinated kit niche than trail runners. I'll probably wind up getting a pair because they are a relative bargain compared to Newtons but will be looking forward to a trail version.

      1. Bryon Powell

        I think there is a quite a split on coloration choices in the trail running community. Personally, I like bright colorways on running shoes, particularly trail shoes. I don't need yet another gray with tan and a hint of blue or dusty green shoe. I know lots of people who feel the same way. I'm just saying to each their own!

        Plus, this was not designed to be a trail shoe, rather, some trail runners have co-opted it for their own use.

  4. Craig R

    I wore Saucony in high school(1984-1988). Loved them. I've tried the Kinvara on and it reminds me so much of the shoes I wore in high school. Very light. Personally, I wouldn't wear this shoe on the trail, but do intend to wear it on the road soon. It will be my next purchase once the deep snow forces me off the trail.

  5. Rob H

    Over the years I have switched to much more of a minimal shoe and I have found the benefits to be very profound. As an elite triathlete for years I found Newton running shoes to be an excellent choice for minimalists but after switching to trail running I took quick notice of the Saucony Kinvara and ordered a pair. I found them to be an excellent responsive road and trail shoe especially for neutral runners. I wouldn't do an ultra in them but I have used them on dirt trail, crushed gravel, for tempo runs and a marathon. I would agree that the only downside to the Kinvara is it's toebox having to deal with a few blisters after rubbing on my pinky toe but otherwise a fantastic training and road shoe for midfoot/forefoot runners. Thanks for the review!

  6. Jerry Cagle

    This shoe got a favorable mention on a recent Runner's Round Table podcast (I think it was RRT…?). Check out Running Warehouse's shoeftr on this webpage, and click on the 3D view after you answer the questions (current shoe brand, model, and size) http://www.runningwarehouse.com/descpageMRS-SKINM… It will show you a 3D model of the shoe with color coding showing the areas of the shoe where it is tighter or looser than your current shoes. It's pretty awesome….

    I routinely wear Injinji's to keep my funky toes from eating into each other so I need extra room in the toebox.

  7. Erik

    As mentioned, the Peregrine comes out in 2011 along with a posted version of the Kinvara called the Mirage. Both are inspired by the Kinvara and have the same overall look to them. The Peregrine looks like an interesting shoe for the trails with a more durable outsole and upper. Both shoes have the same 4mm drop from heel to forefoot as the Kinvara.

    These shoes, along with the New Balance MT100/101, several new shoes from Inov8, the soon to be release Montrail Rouge Racer, and several others brings about an exciting time for shoe geeks and minimalist runners.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Erik,

      I couldn't agree more with your final paragraph. I saw the Peregrine back in August and was excited. I love the MT101s and can't wait to try the Rogue Racers. I think this 8-9 ounce range is a sweet spot. I don't need nor would I want a 6 ounce shoe for most of my trail runs…. at least until some major innovations come along.

  8. Kim Neill

    I've never been a Saucony fan, but I love the Kinvaras. I like their versatility–they run well on trails and roads. The cushioning and low heel to toe ratio is fantastic. I recommend them for less difficult, non-technical trails, fire roads and pavement. I would not recommend them for rocky, technical trails, routes with a lot of creek crossing or snowfields. They are a good shoe to rotate with other trail shoes and VFFs.

  9. Anthony

    Reading the review and looking at the specs this shoe reminds me of the Brooks Cascadia – but with a lower heel, 18mm vs 22mm. I normally run in the Inov8 295 but have moved over to the Cascadia 5 after 6 weeks off due to a Achilles overuse injury. As I am not too pleased with the Brooks shoe I would consider this as a nice dirt path/road transition shoe but not a full trail shoe (as it isn't). This type of shoe has a great place in the trail runnner's closet, those oddball 5k's on the road, just a quick run at lunch when you can't get to a nice ribbon of single track, etc.

    Running behind Matt C for a few years and watching him pass me on Pikes Peak I think he could wear anything short of a truck tire and get by just fine.

  10. Rod Bien

    I'm actually not a huge fan of the Kinvara. Mainly because I just didn't think that the upper had a very good fit on the foot. To me, it felt baggy and sloppy. The weight was just average and I thought a strange category… not what I would call minimalist and not quite a trainer. Anyway, just my view… I thought the Peregrine was a much sweeter shoe and will be excited to try that out.

    In the 8 oz category, I am much more impressed with the Adidas Adios and the completely revised Streak II by Pearl Izumi. I also am a big fan of the upcoming Rogue Racer in the trail category.

    Rod Bien

    1. Bryon Powell

      Rod, Thanks for chiming in with your extensive road shoe knowledge. I've heard great things about the Adios (I think Hal Koerner is a fan, right?), but I don't have ins with most of the road running establishment as evidence by my still running in Asics… 2100s. :-)

  11. Todd Gallagher

    I've bee running in my kinvaras for about 3 weeks now, and I absolutley love them. They fit like a glove, and seem to help with running form. Have done a few 15-20 mile road runs in them and they feel super fast!! My average pace is about 15-30 secs per mile faster in these!! They do have some wear on them, but to me that is pretty normal with running on pavement, mostly on the forefoot lugs, hence why I feel they are helping me with my running form :) my average foot turn over seems a little better with these as well, around 165 to 175. no soreness in my feet or acchilles at all with these shoes!

  12. Sean

    Anyone comment on what the life for Kinvara's might be? Of course I know it depends on what you're doing, but a lighter running, say 130lbs, doing decent paced aerobic runs with some tempos and interval work? Is 500 miles possible for Kinvara's?

  13. Tom Caughlan

    Sean,

    I'm up to 300 miles in mine and I mainly use them for long tempo runs, fartlek, i.e. any threshhold work and I do these runs on crushed gravel/ clay trails. they are holding up great and I'm pleased at how responsive the cushioning has stayed. I haven't had any more issues with the upper either after putting a small hole by the pinkie toe. These are pretty durable for how minimalist they are.

  14. Hank

    I found these shoes to be too narrow and squishy for me. I didn't like the feeling of not really being able to feel the ground beneath me nor did I not enjoy the built-up cushioning in the forefoot-really unstable on singletrack. I got about 400 miles out of mine before they started to get signifigant tears in the upper so don't think I'll get the kinvaras again, but that's just me. Personally I think the Brooks Green Silence is a much better shoe since the mid-sole is lower to the ground and has a wider mid and forefoot. I'll go to a more minimal flat for workouts and racing.

  15. jeff

    Hey Tom-

    What's the mileage update on these shoes? I'd like to get these as a road/trail shoe but they have to make 400-500 miles. Love your reviews.

  16. em

    I have owned my Saucony Kinvaras for about two months now. They are very comfortable but they look like I have had them for a year. The crease above my toes has already started to crack and they do not cleanup well at all. Love the feel but shoes already look old.

  17. Ben Luedke

    Thanks for your response to the IRunFar Kinvara review. Based on what you had to say, I'm curious what you would prefer to the Kinvara for mountain ultras. I've been running in Five Fingers, Inov-8 X-Talons, Huaraches and Trail Gloves for a year and a half. I love the aforementioned shoes for training runs, but need a more substantial shoe for running mountain races faster, as the hard and rocky sections have been killing my feet and slowing me down…thanks for any feedback! Ben

  18. Nukodyne

    I've got 436 miles on my first pair and 220 on my second. About a third of the miles on the first pair were on a treadmill during the tough days this winter. The lugs are holding up all around and they made nice snow/ice running shoes. I thought they would be cold, but with some wool running socks and their great breathability, they worked out well. The outsole was pliable in the cold and navigated icy patches quite well. I've been putting on ~50 miles per week by alternating both pairs and the feel of the high mileage ones is still great. I fully expect to get 500 miles on both. Tonight I ordered a couple more pairs at discount prices before my size is gone from all the sites. PR's in these shoes at all distances so far this year tell the tale for me. I hope the Kinvara-2's aren't too much of a change!

  19. tracktown girl

    I've had 3 PR's since wearing these exact shoes. I'm a relatively new runner (ran 12 years, but never competitively til a year ago), and struggled over the past year with trying to increase pace. My feet seem to have "changed" since last summer (after my first ultra in May), and my Nikes with lots of cushioning, felt weird this spring – and gave me blisters at the ball of my foot. I asked a Nike salesman for advice, and he said I should try something more minimal. Much to my chagrin – I am not for fads either and the minimalist movement seems to be more "emperor's new clothing" than anything else – these darn shoes were and are my savior (for now). I've been doing 8k, 10k, and marathons. And the speed just keeps rising. Never a blister, they fit like a glove, and feel like baby clouds on my feet. Absolutely in love with these shoes, the fit, and they are very nice on the eye too =). I just hope they last a year. So far, the wear & tear has been fine. Now to collect them in each color.

  20. Paul

    Hello-

    I was reading your shoe reviews and wondered if I could ask a question. I've run in Saucony Kinvaras for about a year now. I like the feel but I've been disappointed how few miles I get out of them. Do you have any recommendations for a similar shoe that is more durable?

    Thanks,

    Paul L.

  21. Tom Caughlan

    Paul,

    I would check out the Brooks Pure Connect. Same drop (4mm), responsive cushioning, and a bit more durable in my opinion. In fact, I've been impressed with all the Brooks Pure series shoes.

  22. antirabbit

    Whoa…Will, how or who did that? Did you add a plate? I ran my last pair of 1st gen Kinvaras into the ground on a trail run on Sat. They had pretty much no traction left, but something like you did would rock!

    1. Will S

      Basically we shaved off the tread from the existing shoe. Then put on the "new treads". The guys at On On Tri have been putting new soles on shoes for years, and do a great job. They have another pair of mine (perigrine) that we are putting a deeper lug version on that should be done in a few days. (more pics coming) There was no plate added or needed in my opinion as the tread is made out of a pretty tough material. We actually had to make a few cuts in the sole to loosen it up more, my preference. Hope this helps!

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