By Tom Demerly
The latest trends in running shoes are “bare” and minimal. The ultra-light upper, minimalist sole and low-riding moccasin has become de rigueur in new product introductions as designers move toward a more “natural” interaction with the ground we run on. Saucony is part of the trend with their award winning Saucony ProGrid Kinvara.
Saucony ProGrid Kinvara uses novel design to make it feel like a magic slipper. The shoe typifies the lightweight, low riding trend so well that Runner’s World Magazine named the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara “Best Debut” in June 2010, a clear acknowledgement that the ultra-light, unstructured shoe trend has arrived. Kinvara is a category killer in this new trend.
Saucony ProGrid Kinvara features a minimal outsole, bantam weight perforated internal heel pad, low riding heel/toe orientation, bikini-top upper with airy fabric and an integrated saddle area “cartilage”. There are also interesting fit ques such as internal heel counter protuberances that hold your heel in place in lieu of a traditional, more rigid heel counter.
Starting at the bottom the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara feature/benefit menu is a heavy meal for a light shoe. Staying with the minimalist theme there is very little black carbon rubber on the outsole. The carbon rubber wear pads are oriented in 15 small forefoot triangles, a toe-nub and a horse shoe shaped heel. The black parts of the outsole are the parts that actually hit the ground as you run. This reduction in carbon rubber reduces both weight and lifespan. The triangular outsole lugs are a tribute to Saucony’s original Jazz shoes. The result is fantastic overall response- it’s like wearing a second pair of socks. They should offer a quarterly subscription for these shoes because you’ll wear through this outsole quickly with regular use. These shoes are well suited as foot-candy for twice a week runs and racing but not optimized for everyday heavy mileage on 170 pounders like me.
Cushioning is from an EVA “ProGrid Light” perforated heel pad that provides good shock absorption in the heel- especially considering how low the shoe rides. The challenge for manufacturers building for the “low heel” trend is to get enough cushioning and roll control into these low-slung soles. Mizuno owns this technology with their patent protected “Wave” that synergizes stability and cushion. Saucony did a good job with cushioning in the heel of the ProGrid Kinvara and continued the midsole fabric across the arch for lip-service to stability. The result is good cushioning for such a light shoe but no real mid sole or forefoot stability.
I had a tendency to “run off” the lateral (outside) surface of the forefoot- maybe because the shoe does an effective job of transferring my footstrike slightly farther forward. The shoe weighs a gossamer 7.9 ounces according to our scale in a size 9.5., a trifle heavier than the claimed 7.7 ounces. I’d be interested to try an 8.9 ounce version with some roll control build into the midsole.
Geometry on the shoe acknowledges the trend toward midfoot/forefoot gaits. The heel is only 27 mm high by our measurement behind a forefoot of 16.5 mm for a heel to toe differential of 10.5 mm. For perspective the go-to traditional cushioned trainer from Saucony, the Saucony ProGrid Guide 2, has a 50 mm high heel and a 25 mm forefoot. The forefoot cushioning on the Saucony ProGrid Ride 2 is almost as high as the heel cushioning on the Kinvara. The differential or drop from heel to toe on the Saucony ProGrid Guides 2 is 25 mm while it is only 10.5 mm on the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara. Basically the Kinvara is half as high and twice as level as the Guide 2.
The fit trend is accurate in length and generous in the forefoot. The innovative internal heel-lumps do a perfect job of keeping the heel counter in place. Overall, fit on the shoe is great. The toe box is a trifle pointed as are several of the minimalist, bare foot running shoes.
The upper on the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara is absolutely beautiful. Form follows function and Saucony not only did a great job with styling but the lightweight theme produces a slipper like upper that feels more like something from Victoria’s Secret than a running shoe company. A sheer mesh upper belies a daringly perforated liner that breaths better than a sock. The low-cut toe box is knurled rubber that feels like a lightweight tubular racing tire. The saddle area uses small, sheer polymer reinforcement for the nylon eyelets that weigh nothing. Even the tongue is lingerie-like. The mid foot peeks out four spars of non-stretch cartilage that add some structure to the saddle area below the laces. This technology is borrowed from Saucony’s race-specific Endorphin LD2 track spikes. Small weight saving details are apparent when you notice the logo on the outside of the shoe is a polymer appliqué but the logo on the medial or inside facing side of the shoe is sublimated into the fabric to save weight. The gray decorative racing stripes are also sublimated into the upper adding no weight whatsoever.
The heel on the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara has a low rise vinyl demi-counter that is so flexible it feels like a slipper when you are donning the shoe. As you inspect the inside of the shoe you will see two lumps on either side of the inside of the heel counter. These two internal ridges act as a structured heel counter to retain the heel in the counter. The insole has drainage and ventilation holes but there are no corresponding holes in the outsole such as K-Swiss and Zoot. It’s a curious omission.
Because of the unstructured heel putting the shoe on feels like putting on a moccasin- there isn’t much shape built into the back of the shoe. An added benefit to the minimal upper is great ventilation; it’s a great hot weather shoe, as breezy as the Irish sea port that shares the same name.
Running in the Saucony ProGrid Kinvara is like putting the top down. The breeze moves over your foot and your foot comes away from the pavement with new found zeal. The fore foot is remarkably responsive and flexible. When it all comes back to the pavement again there is enough cushioning but only hope-for-the-best stability. If you need guidance this shoe and this trend isn’t for you. If you’re an old war-horse Ironman veteran north of the 45+ age category this shoe might be better suited for the Spring Break crowd. If you want race-day speed and nimble foot work the light weight response and spritely feel of this shoe will deliver.