The Saucony Kinvara was model that popularized the lightweight-flexible-cushioned neutral category eleven years ago. Each year, I always look forward to see what’s been added, deleted and changed, and how it compares to my favourite past versions.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to demo the Kinvara 11 before the Feb 1, 2020 release. I ran a 12k hilly tempo run, over a variety of paces on both flat, uphill and downhill terrain. Here is a brief overview of my experience with them.
The Kinvara retains its simple mesh upper, which is devoid of any special structural fit features like Pro-lock or ISOfit. The mesh has a large number of lateral slits which look to aid ventilation and also stretch. There are no overlays at the front, save for a small graphic on the lateral side. The gusseted tongue is surprisingly thick and covered in synthetic suede-like material. This makes the tongue rather stiff, especially near the top. Also covered in this material is the heel counter, which has a good amount of structure.
The midsole is composed of Saucony’s new PWRRUN+ foam, seen previously in the Trimuph 17. The outsole design is virtually unchanged from the Kinvara 10, with fully exposed foam, save for a bit of blown rubber at the high wear areas of the lateral heel and medial toe. The midsole is very flexible, aided by the numerous grooves in the tread pattern.
According to the spec sheet, this stack is 24.5mm forefoot and 28.5mm rearfoot, giving an offset of 4mm. This is unchanged from prior versions. I didn’t get a chance to weigh my examples, but Saucony has a history of maintaining a sub-8oz weight for the Kinvara (men’s size 9.0) and these don’t feel any heavier.
Despite the foam switch from Everun in K10 to PWRRUN+ in the K11, the midsole feels virtually the same to me. The ride is as it has always been on the Kinvara – medium firm, very smooth transition front to back. I think it’s equally suitable for a variety of gait types. Whether I was forefoot, midfoot or heel striking, the midsole gave a consistent response through the gait cycle. Similarly, it works well at a variety of speeds, though I think it’s best at uptempo paces. The flexibility and light weight lends itself to faster speeds. It is more responsive at higher impact forces. The ride has been one of the most consistent features (and strengths) between each version. The upper is what tends to be variable between generations.
The fit was true to size and the upper felt a tick narrower than the K10. The width was noticeable as I put the shoes on, but felt fine during the run, especially at faster paces. Gone are the interior heel pads of the K10. Those never worked for me, as they pushed the back of the shoe away from my foot, causing heel slip. The conventional interior heel treatment of the K11 wrapped my heel closely and there was no slip during my test. The laces are much improved over the K10, thicker, with more grip. It was easy to fine-tune their tension trough the slot-shaped eyelets. Not easy to tune was the lace tension on the final eyelet. I needed to compress the thick padding on the tongue and that added some variability to the final tension.
A friend reminded me that the Kinvara is many shoes to many runners. For some, it’s a first look at a lighter, more flexible alternative to their conventional daily mileage shoe. For others, it’a 5k race shoe. For runners more accustomed to a stiffer ride, the Kinvara can be a recovery shoe. Some can race marathon distance in the Kinvara. Thinking about this, the reason this is so, is because the Kinvara sits squarely in the middle of the shoe continuum. It strikes the balance between pure minimal shoes and racing flats on one end, and highly cushioned, high-structure shoes on the other end. Depending on the type of runner, the Kinvara can fit into a shoe rotation. It is a well-balanced shoe that combines a clean, adaptable upper with the classic flexible and lightly cushioned ride. I think will fit well for variety of foot and gait types and runners.