Monday, June 20, 2011

Kinvara 2 Review

Since Todd mentioned that he's going to start looking into minimalist shoes, I figured it's about time that I blogged my experiences with the Kinvara 2, a shoe that seems to be all the rage among runners looking to go minimalist. I've been running with them for about 50 miles now, over a variety of surfaces and for a variety of distances.

I'm going to start by describing what the shoe is not, after which I'll describe what it is.

The Kinvara 2 is not:

An "almost barefoot" shoe. Sure, it is extremely light: the shoe weighs 7.3 oz. But there is still lots of cushioning underfoot -- 17 mm at the forefoot, and 21 mm at the heel.* That's more than I'm used to (my previous shoes had 10 mm and 19 mm). And that's more than fine by me -- in fact, since I've been running longer distances, it is just what I was looking for.

A shoe with less technology. Saucony could have given every part of this shoe a high-tech sounding name. The could have said it had an ultra-vector-lateral-heel system, coupled with ultra-trivarate-impact soles. Etc. Instead, they laid off the marketing, saying that the shoe has a "foam heel collar" and the sole is made of "durable foam." Smart move. Everyone has responded by believing this is the kind of shoe Christopher McDougall would approve of, and it has taken off.

Terribly durable. The super lightweight foam means the sole wears out super fast. I'm already seeing significant treadwear after only about 50 miles.

On the other hand, the Kinvara 2 is:

Very comfortable. I've run in these for over 19 miles on pavement, and my feet still feel fine. (My only complaint is that I do consistently get a blister on the outside of my right big toe. I can't figure out why, but something is rubbing there.

Built on an extremely wide platform. See below for a comparison to my prior shoes. Given
the fact that the heel is very flexible, and the soles are quite thick, the width makes sense to me. As a bonus, it means the shoe has a nice, wide toebox, which is great for long distance runs.

Relatively breathable. I say relatively, because, despite how airy the upper looks, it does have three layers of different mesh, so they are less cool than I had hoped. They are still better than most shoes in the summer, but I wouldn't call the uppers revolutionary.

Affordable. Saucony's suggested retail is $90, and it is not hard to bring the price down with discounts, either online or from your local shop. So, if it wears out faster than a more expensive shoe, that's fine by me.

In short: I've been enjoying running in this shoe. I feel comfortable running on both pavement and trails, and my feet and joints don't seem to be taking as much of a pounding. If I don't watch my form, I can feel my pronation problems kicking in, but if I pay attention to my stride, I'm fine.

I've read a lot of people claiming that this shoe has magically helped transform them from heel strikers into midfoot strikers. I am skeptical that a few millimeters less of heel buildup is going to change years of ingrained mechanics. But I'm also skeptical of the claim that midfoot running is innately "better."

A final note: the Kinvara 2 seems to run a bit small. I normally wear a size 12. For this shoe, I wear a size 13.

If you have any questions, let me know!

*Stats are from, based on the size 9 men's.


  1. I'm glad you posted this - I was curious to see what you thought because I've been reading a lot about this shoe. Plus I have a 15% off coupon for Saucony so i'm thinking i'd like to head back to that company for my next shoe.

    Overall, you make a compelling case for trying it out, but i'm concerned about two points:
    1. How long the shoe will last? I'm concerned enough about the wear that you've shown that i'm not sure I want to shell out the big bucks for something that won't last very long. In contrast, the Brooks that I bought in March are still going strong (and i've beat on them pretty good since then).

    2. Side support. Essentially, i'm thinking that my next shoe should have less padding but retain side stability (I'm a bit of a pronator). (I'd like to alternate between a "standard" shoe and a "barefoot" shoe.) Do you feel that the Kinvara has enough side support to be a good candidate? Given my recent running health i'd hate to get too far away from the side support that seems to be working.


  2. Oh, and were there any other shoes you pondered before going with the Kinvara? I'm curious to know if there were other "minimal" shoes (what is the correct term for these style shoes?) out there that I should look at. You say that the Kinvara is not "almost barefoot" but i'd hesitate to go with less of a shoe than it for my first non-standard shoe...

    FWIW, a co-worker (not a runner, BTW) sez that she knows of barefoot runners who run in Keen Sandals which seems like folly to me, but then so did barefoot running at first. Eric, you have a pair of these that you wear after hiking, correct? Would you ever run in them?

  3. the two runs we did during the hiking trip were done in keen sandals. for the most part, it felt good, but my calves wouldn't be ready for an extended (over 5 miles) run with those. my calves get too exhausted, and i can't tell whether to flex my ankles or relax them. slowly but surely... and my stride is NOT ready to run in those long term. but they felt fine for the couple miles we ran.

  4. If I was putting in the kind of times that you are, I would stick with whatever shoe I had on.

    But if you want to expirement . . . .

    The Kinvara definitely does not have any support. If I don't pay attention to form when I run, my overpronation really kicks in. (I can tell because my left foot will strike my right ankle.)

    And, it is definitely wearing out faster than other shoes I have worn. This might be because I have logged part of my miles trail running. With its soft foam soles, this shoe will probably last longer if you keep to the asphalt.

    If you want to go with Saucony, You might consider the Mirage. It is basically the same as the Kinvara, except that it has some support, and it seems to have a more durable sole.

    Both the Mirage and the Kinvara are lightweight, with very little difference between their size of their heel and their forefoot. But I'm willing to bet they have thicker soles than what you are used to (which is why I hesitate to call them minimalist.)

    If you want to cut down some of the sole thickness, try on the Saucony Fastwitch. It keeps the support, and the small heel-to-toe drop, but it has less sole, and less weight, than the Kinvara.

    I suspect that the Mirage and the Fastwitch get less attention than the Kinvara because "support" is a dirty word for a lot of minimalists. But if your running store has them, try them on.

    Aside from Sauconys, have you considered the Mizuno Wave Musha? They are very lightweight, have support, and are thought to be quite durable. They were recently updated to version 3, which means you can get some real deals on version 2 if you shop online. (If by chance you are size 12, head over to, and you can get them for $44.95). I have the Mizuno Wave Ronin, which is basically the same shoe but without support. I think they are great for short runs, although they are quite narrow, which makes them less ideal for my long runs.

    As for me, once I am done thrashing my Kinvaras, I'm likely to try out the Brooks Launch.

  5. the last time i bought sneakers after a "gait analysis" i bought my 3rd pair of addidas supernova control shoes. not least of note is the fact that the supernova control line has been renamed supernova sequence (or maybe joel's comments about "putting in the kind of times" stung a bit, considering i'm trying something new from when i was faster).

    i'm not recommending the addidas shoes, although i will say the supernovas of those days were really of the absolute top in class.

    but i will recommend you take a look at the nike free shoes. i don't run them yet, but i have tried them on multiple times, a lap or two each time i try. i run the lunar glide 1s now... a pretty amazing shoe for someone ramping down from severely motion controlled shoes. i would guess my next shoes will be the lunar glide 2s, or maybe the 3s with how fast things change... but having tried the frees on, i really can't wait to run in them. seems funny to spend so much for the "anti-technology", right? but i'm drinking the cool-aid with the cushioning they are offering. i want the flexibility without the cartilage-crushing impact. maybe that's where my legs are at... and i wish it were the five fingers or less; but the nike frees are my dream shoe.

    until something better comes along.

    i like the sounds of the kinvaras a lot... but i'm really wary of the wear joel has already shown.

    i've run mizunos before, and i will attest, they were of the utmost quality. the really ran well... and i know it's not all about fashion, but.......

    i'm sure there are plenty of shoes out there and in development that would wow us all... fact is, you never know until you try.

    see what kind of deals you can get on anything, and certainly let us know if and when you do... might be the right time to pick up a new pair of shoes!

  6. I will confess that I posted the Kinvara photo that showed the most amount of wear - they're probably not as worn as the photo looked - but I'll keep you posted on how they last.

    I'd also note that many stores are in the process of clearing out their first generations ($59.99 at foot locker, for instance). With a little more patience, you may find some great deals.

    But in the end, I don't think any shoe is going to be categorically right for everyone. Everyone's feet are different. If you shop online, do it with a place that has a great return policy, and don't be afraid to use it...

  7. Thanks for all of the great suggestions! For the record, i'm alternating between two pairs of shoes at the moment:
    > Brooks Adrenaline GTS. Recommended by my local shoe store as a relatively lightweight shoe that would also straighten out my pronation. So far, I absolutely love it - it's comfortable and stable and I'm seriously thinking of getting another one if I don't go with a barefoot model.

    > Saucony ProGrid Ride 2. Chosen simply for feel - it's extra soft! - and price (got it at a wicked discount). I've been wearing it for a while now and so have to be conscious that there's not a lot of side support, but man is it comfy.

    Unsure of my next steps as of now. I'm hesitant to move to another shoe in the middle of running season so I may wait to try another style of shoe until the late fall/winter season when i'm not as focused on time (and when, if all goes well, I may be aiming my sights on a 26 miler...) I'm sure we'll be discussing this more in the future, and i'm sure i'll be reaching out to y'all with more questions...

  8. If you like the ProGrid Ride and want to stick with it, today might be a good time to stash an extra pair in your closet. Holabird sports has them in all sizes and colors, on sale for $41.41.

    This is for the version 3, which may be slightly different from either the version 2 that you are used to or the version 4 that was recently released.

    After today, the price will probably pop back up to around $50 for the version 3, and popular sizes will begin to disappear.