The Saucony Progrid Kinvara 3 is an exceptional shoe. In fact, up to this day, it’s my favorite road running shoe. For those of you who want the condensed version of this review, here it is: priced at $100, the Kinvara 3 is a light-weight road running shoe for runners transitioning to minimalist running. And just like its predecessor, the Kinvara 3 has a 4 mm heal-to-toe differential (23mm and 19mm). In this review, I’ll be referring to last year’s Kinvara 2 for comparison. But in short, if you liked the Kinvara 2 before, you will most likely love the Kinvara 3 this year.
Upon holding the Kinvara 3 in my hand for the first time, my immediate thought was that this shoe doesn’t feel noticeably heavier than the Kinvara 2. I knew for a fact that the Kinvara 3 (7.9 oz – mens size 9) weighs 0.6 oz more than its predecessor (based on specs from Running Warehouse) only because I’ve read about it. However it does feel significantly heavier than the Skechers GOrun (6.9 oz) or the Nike Free 3.0 V4 (7.0 oz).
Kinvara 3′ most striking feature to me is the appearance of its upper material – the FlexFilm. This curiously shiny and plasticky material extends and wraps around the foot, atop of the open mesh that constitutes almost all of Kinvara 3′s upper. At first glance, I began doubting whether this new upper would hold up longer than that of Kinvara 2′s. To my recollection, I started to notice holes on my Kinvara 2′s upper at around 200 miles of moderate usage. Since durability is a huge concern of mine, my skepticism kept me from drawing a favorable conclusion initially. More on this later.
But even if this upper fails to improve on Kinvara 3′s performance, at least the color combination looks mean and deadly to me. This is personal – but I particularly like the fading of colors from the toe to the heel. Keep in mind this “fade” isn’t available in every color combination, if vanity is your thing.
There is no hard heel counter on the Kinvara 3. The entire upper of the Kinvara 3 can be squished flat onto its sole. There are reflective elements on the heel cup as well as the lateral side (outside) of the midsole.
The midsole of the Kinvara 3 looks different than that of Kinvara 2′s only in appearance, but not in height or size. To me this doesn’t seem to be a huge feature nor improvement.
Kinvara 3′s redesigned outsole makes more sense than Kinvara 2′s. Saucony relocated and redistributed the carbon rubber outsole material under the Kinvara 3. There is now carbon rubber extending from the heel all the way to the midfoot area – underneath the entire lateral area underfoot. On the contrary, carbon rubber is removed from the medial side to reduce weight. Additionally, the carbon rubber triangular lugs in the forefoot area have been reduced in number – from 15 to 13 – to shed weight further. Note that there’s a tiny bit of extra carbon material under the big toe added to help durability and traction.
I logged 319 miles on the Kinvara 3 between May 2012 and August 2012. This shoe is drastically tougher than the Kinvara 2. Wearing the Kinvara 3, I’ve run as hard as I could in blistering heat, in drenching downpour, on slippery trails, on good o’ pavement, and, of courseon, on track with one goal in mind – to break this shoe. Yet I couldn’t produce one hole in the upper from running, nor could I sand down its treads after 300 miles. As I mentioned earlier, my old Kinvara 2 began to show signs of aging around 200 miles. That is not the case for the Kinvara 3. The shoe’s upper material (FlexFilm) is noteworthy in several ways. This flimsy-looking, candy-wrapper-like sheet that appears to be the exoskeleton of the Kinvara 3 is strangely pliable yet tough. The combination of FlexFilm and the open mesh underneath it makes the resultant upper feel a bit like a thick plastic bag with one exception – it’s well ventilated and breathable.
A serious issue with the Kinvara 2 I haven’t mentioned yet is its toebox. Since the birth of Kinvara 1, many runners have been complained about its narrow width. This problem continued unaddressed in the Kinvara 2. While some people were fine with Kinvara 2′s width in the toebox, I found it to be Kinvara 2′s Achilles’ heel (nice analogy, huh?). I have wide and stubby feet (kind of like Donald Duck’s). So it’s very important to me that a running shoe is not narrow, or at least is available in widths – the Kinvara 2 was neither. The only reason I didn’t stock up on the Kinvara 2 last year was its width. The good news is that Saucony did its homework and paid attention to runners like me who begged and pleaded for a roomier toebox in the Kinvara line. Now this is entirely personal – but I think Saucony hits the spot this time as far as toebox is concerned.
The midsole of the Kinvara 3 feels relatively unchanged. It has a stack height of 23 mm in the heel and 19 mm in the forefoot – providing the same 4 mm drop that many runners prefer. For those of you who have never run in a Kinvara before, you can expect the EVA+ midsole to be thin, flexible, bouncy, and responsive. It gives a good degree of cushioning, yet doesn’t take away the ground-feel too much. To me, the Kinvara 3′s midsole is a great – if not the best – compromise between a traditional clunky running shoe and a next-to-nothing minimalist footwear. And if you’ve enjoyed running in the Kinvara 2 previously, you’ll be delighted to find out the midsole will not feel much different from last year’s model. Also note that Kinvara 3′s EVA+ midsole shows very slight deformation even after 300 miles (the is strictly subjective because I don’t have the resources to measure it quantitatively or qualitatively).
There is a slight arch post inside the shoe as part of the midsole foam. It’s not a major bump in any sense – very similar to Kinvara 2′s interior.
In addition to its excellent upper and midsole, the Kinvara 3′s outsole has received a remarkable update. As a result, the longevity of the outsole is dramatically increased by the strategically placed carbon rubber (XT-900) units. I especially like the relocation of carbon rubber in the heel area towards the lateral side (outside) of the foot. On the other hand, I wish the triangular lugs of carbon rubber were thicker and wider - like the carbon rubber unit below the big toe – for they’ve exhibited the most wear and tear underneath the ball of the foot. Other than that, the outsole of the Kinvara 3 can take a good beating – well, compared to its predecessors anyway.
The grip and traction of the Kinvara 3 are excellent in most conditions and usual terrains – I haven’t tried the shoe in snow yet. I don’t recommend using this shoe excessively on trail because there’s no rock protection on the Kinvara 3. For that reason, you may find the new Kinvara TR more suitable for trail running.
Prior to trying the Kinvara 3, I’ve been reading reviews from various sources. The Kinvara 3 has garnered many favorable reviews on the web from runners all around. That is why I chose to be more critical than ever in constructing this review. You see, I already knew the Kinvara 3 is a good shoe before putting it on – so I set a personal goal to break this shoe and find its flaws. But I wasn’t able to do either. Instead I kept piling on miles under this well-rounded running shoe that seems to have a little extra something that’s missing in its rivals. However, there are 2 minor changes I’d like to see on the next Kinvara update. First is the durability of the outsole in the forefoot area as I described earlier; the other is weight reduction. But I may be asking too much.
Like I said before, I don’t get compensated at all whether you buy the Kinvara 3 (or anything) – and Saucony isn’t necessarily the best shoe maker in my worthless opinion. Transparency and honesty are of utmost importance to me because that is the basis of any good relationship. With that said, in this review I’m merely sharing with you reasons that I’ve bought a few pairs of the Kinvara 3′s for the next few hundreds (hopefully thousands) of miles I plan to run. I also bought a pair for my father and recommended it to a dear runner friend (@AspiraSean on Twitter), who ended up buying a pair for his wife because he loves the shoe as well.
Before I conclude all this mumbo jumbo, let me point out that although the Kinvara 3 is a versatile, all-around running shoe capable for training and racing, it isn’t a shoe for everyone. For runners who have always run in heavier shoes with thicker heels or higher heel-to-toe offest, it is extremely important to allow the body to ease its way into the Kinvara’s. I certainly don’t advice you to pick up the Kinvara 3 today and run a marathon tomorrow if you aren’t used to this type of transitional minimalist footwear. For $100, there are much better ways to get hurt than buying a pair of running shoes and running hard in them.
The Kinvara 2 was my favorite shoe in 2011. As a matter of fact, I liked running in it so much that it was my choice of shoe for my first 50K run last year. I actually had to replace the insole (sockliner) of the Kinvara 2 because I still liked running in it regularly after 400 miles. I finally retired the Kinvara 2 when I put on the Kinvara 3, which is my favorite shoe in 2012 so far. Like it’s older brother, the Kinvara 3 gives me just enough cushioning to tackle long distances on the road, yet possesses ample flexibility and a low stack height for a more natural running style. It is quite possibly going to be my go-to shoe in 2012 (knocking down the impressive Skechers GOrun that I also enjoyed earlier in 2012) because – to say the very least – Saucony really listened to the feedback from running community this time. Kinvara 2′s narrow width, flimsy upper, and frail outsole have been, finally, addressed by this update. So go try out the Kinvara 3 for yourself – you don’t have to take my word for it.
What’s your go-to running shoe? Have you tried or heard of the Kinvara? What other shoes would you like to see me review in the future? Please share in the comment section below.