"It never gets easier, you just go faster." - Greg Lemond

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Saucony Kinvara TR Review

The original Kinvara was somewhat of a break through shoe.  The first cushioned model to sport a 4mm heel to toe drop, the stack height and soft midsole allowed for a dramatic number of people to begin a foray into minimalistic shoes.

Me, personally, I went through a pair of Kinvara 1 and Kinvara 2's, and found them to be a good shoe when doing casual running, but experienced a little trouble getting them up to top speed.
Kinvara TR (left) vs. Peregrine 2 (right)

Looking for a trail version of the Kinvara, I tried out the Peregrine 1 and Peregrine 2.  While the Peregrines fit my feet nearly perfectly, something about the lack of flexibility, combined with a thick midsole, really left me feeling like there was NO energy return in the Peregrine.  I still run in them occasionally, but never fell in love with them.

So when the Kinvara TR was announced, I was very excited, could this be a great semi-minimalistic option for those of us who like lightweight shoes with a low-profile midsole?

The stats:  Stack height 18 mm (heel) down to 15 mm (forefoot).  My size 11 weigh just under 10oz (9.96oz), which is comparable to a pair of Rogue Racers.
Flat and simple midsole with plenty of flex (Kinvara TR left and Peregrine 2 right)

When I first put it on my foot, I was surprised by a couple feelings.  First, they felt a touch firmer than I expected, which I attribute to a lower stack height than the actual Kinvara, as well as a fairly substantial outsole/rockplate.  Overall, I liked the feeling, it makes them feel very racey, and you want to run fast.  Second, they are a touch more narrow in the toe box than the Peregrine or Kinvara, in fact, they are almost pointy, more similar to my Adios 2s or Speedcross 3s.  The tongue is gusseted, but only towards the bottom, and they use a different lacing design/system than the Peregrine 2.  I bought a size 11, which is the same size I wear in the Peregrine 2 as well as the Kinvara 2.  They use Saucony's flex film technology in the upper, which works, I guess, to me, it was nothing too unique or special.

Kinvara TR (left) more narrow than Peregrine 2 (right)

Running in them, I really notice the minimal heel to toe drop.  More than I have noticed in other 4mm drop shoes like the Peregrine, MT110 and MT10s.  Turns out the Kinvara TR are a 3mm drop, but does 1mm really make a big difference?  Either way, it has taken a little bit of re-adjusting to let my calves and achilles stretch out.

Now that I am more or less used to them, I have really enjoyed running in the Kinvara TR.  Total, since they arrived on July 23rd, I have a little over 200 miles on them (wow really?).  I guess I must like them, as they have been my go to shoe for several 5 hour long runs, on the Mohican 100 mile course, and in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (more to come on that epic trip).  They fit (and feel) more like a racing flat than the road Kinvara or Peregrines. 

The lugging on the outsole is somewhat unique with multidirectional lugs facing both forwards and backwards.  While the lugs look like something found on the Speedcross, they are very shallow, maybe 3mm in height at the most.  Secondly, although they are described as "soft lugs" I found them to be a fairly hard rubber.  So much so, that they make a clicking sound on wood bridges, rocks, and pavement.  I do wish they were a touch softer, and it would make the ride of the shoe a little more forgiving, but with such shallow lugs, they would wear out very quickly.  Maybe there will be a Kinvara Mud with a more aggressive outsole??  (Wishful thinking I suspect).

The outsole also has a few black numbs, that I assume are supposed to function as traction devices, although I doubt they provide much in the way of grip.  Compared to the Peregrines outsole, it is a much lower profile, and does a great job shedding mud.  Similar to the Peregrine, Saucony advertises a bedrock outsole on the Kinvara TR, which does a great job in providing protection, from what I have experienced thus far.  To me, it also appears that there is an exposed rock plate in the forefoot, viewable as the red/yellow sections towards the middle of the above picture.  Overall, the outsole provides decent traction and decent protection, perfectly acceptable for this catagory of shoe.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the Kinvara TR is the responsiveness and flexibility.  To me, they feel very race ready.  Wearing them, my cadence picks up, and I don't notice a bulky heel at all.  They have a tightly fitting upper, which may bother some people with high volume feet.  While my feet are wide, they are not very tall, so I am accommodated nicely in the Kinvara TR.   Compared to the Peregrine, they are lighter, more flexible, and almost feel softer once broken in (I have always found the Peregrine to feel very firm underfoot), but are not quite as protective.

 Despite the fact that I have read several less than stellar reviews of the Kinvara TR, I personally am a huge fan.  I think I do like the upper from the Peregrine better than the Kinvara, but the midsole + ride easily won me over.  Maybe Saucony can mate the upper/last from the Peregrine to this midsole/outsole and have a truely outstanding shoe. 

I hope this review was helpful.  I will keep updating as I continue to run in these.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.


  1. Nice wright up. I have run in the Kinvara 2 and 3 for road and track and have adapted to them very well so I am excited for a trail version. I have ordered the Peregrin in the past and just wore them around the house and returned them because they just didn't feel right. Probably too stiff or something like you noticed. I am currently running on long distance dirt trail in the Asics Fuji Racer. I love this shoe, it just seems to work well with me and always feels good. Do you think I will get a similar feel with the Kinvara TR as the Asics Fuji? I know the heal drop is a little more which will probably take some getting used to. I know you have extensive experience with both shoes so just wandered what you opinion is. Thanks John, your friend Tom from Fort Wayne.

    1. Hey Tom, good to hear from you! The Kinvara TR feels lower to the ground, with a little less cushion, but still comparable to the Gel Fuji as far as comfort and flexability. I also think the Kinvara TR is MUCH more protective than the Gel Fuji.

  2. Thanks for the review. I run in the Kinvara 2 on roads and Peregrine on trails and am so curious about the TR and dying to try it out. I think I'll go ahead and order some and try them out.

  3. Thanks for the review. I run the Kinvara 3 on the roads and wonder if these TR would be good on sand and mud and muddy fields. What do you think? Is it also possible to run on the roads with these?
    Thanks for your input

    1. Hi Max, glad you like the review. I run quite a bit on sandy trails and found the TR to be pretty good in sand, as long as its not too deep. In mud they perform as expected for a shoe with medium lugs, no where near something like the Fellcross or Speedcross, but with the low profile they do feel like they have a nice bite. They also shed mud much better than the Peregrine does. Roads... I don't really like to run roads in the TR. They feel almost too firm and the outsole takes a beating, much firmer than the Kinvara 3.

  4. Thanks for this post, it was exactly what I was looking for.
    I was wondering if you might be able to comment on the arch in this shoe. I am currently looking for a replacement to my NB 1010s which are completely flat. Although I really like the 1010, the build quality is severely lacking. The 'welds' are ripping the upper material after just 2 months of running (and I rotate my shoes regularly -- so it's not as though I'm thrashing in these every day).
    Is there an arch to speak of? (I hope not), and is the insole removable? If so, is the sole underneath smooth enough to run in without socks, and not blister inducing?
    I'd really appreciate your feedback, and again, thanks for this informative post.

    1. Hi Jack, I've known several friends who have had complaints about the build quality of the mt1010, so you are definitely not alone. While the road Kinvara and even the Peregrine had an built up arch that seemed to poke me in the wrong spot, the Kinvara TR does not have nearly the built up arch found on the road Kinvara. The insole is removable, but not particularly comfortable, although I rarely run without socks or the insole in.

    2. On a whim and a mouse click, I decided to go with the Merrell Mix Master 2 instead of the Kinvara TR. I guess the reviews seemed just slightly more favorable, and my recent experience with the Trail Glove has changed my opinion and image of the company of late. Haven't put any serious miles on the MM2 yet, but they are super comfortable, and the built quality seems to be first rate. I'd recommend these to you if you haven't tried them. I think they'll fit the road-to-trail-and-back niche I was originally considering the TRs for.
      Happy New Year.