Tuesday 2 April 2013

Shoe Review: Saucony Kinvara 3

The main players in the running shoe world have now joined the “natural running” movement en masse.  Of course, “natural running” means different things to different people, but I take the general view that it means the shoe doesn’t cause me to change my gait compared to when I run barefoot on the beach.  For the past year, I have happily raced distances ranging from 1 to 41 miles in shoes with between 4mm and 9mm drop.  However, I encountered some issues with build quality with my preferred brand, so decided to try a few different manufacturers, to see what the main-stream companies now have to offer.

My local running shop, Run Stuff, typically stocks Asics, Brooks, and Saucony road shoes, so I decided to check out something from one of their ranges.  I know Asics well, having spent 2 years with my DS-Racers.  They’re good shoes, but I got tired of the weight-saving ventilation holes in the sole providing an opportunity for even the smallest puddle to give me wet feet.  I know Saucony from my control-shoe days when I was coming back from various injuries that had left me without much form or lower leg strength, and knew the fit to be comfortable.  So, I took some new Kinvara 3 shoes out for a spin.  Here’s what I’ve found so far.

The Kinvara 3 looks fast.


The shoes are light, comfortable, and fairly rigid.  At 231g per shoe in UK9.5, these are an ideal weight for endurance training on the road.  You don’t really feel them as added weight, and they have enough structure to cope with the training mileage.

The Kinvaras don’t mess about with a load of heavy materials on the upper.  The plastic support structure is heat-molded onto the fabric mesh upper “sock”, with very little extra material around the toe box.  This means that they are snug around the forefoot, so I’m not expecting to see any blisters caused by my feet slipping around.

The EVA cushion/sole is quite rigid, which is taking some getting used to.  I’m used to road shoes that allow me a lot of flexibility, so this is a bit different.  With a 4mm drop, I can quite happily vary from mid-foot to heel strike depending on the conditions, and the foot strike is generally comfortable.  The sole rigidity doesn’t seem to get in the way of me comfortably running up or down steep hills, but I’m not sure it’s a necessary property of the shoe.  I’d prefer a bit more flex.

It’s pretty hard to judge a shoe from just training runs, so I dropped my test pair straight into a hilly 10K race to see how they’d hold up.  They survived without irritating me, so I’ve been happy to take them out regularly, since.   They’re an adequate alternative to an Asics DS-Racer or an Inov-8 Road-X 233.  After a couple of miles, I’ve found them comfortable and unobtrusive, which I would say is an ideal combination in a running shoe.


Initially I found the initial fit a bit tight around the ball of my foot, but that eased off quickly after a few miles of wear and getting the lacing tension right.  The laces are simple, traditional, flat laces.  Why manufacturers have to mess about with round laces is beyond me – they untie themselves so easily.  No such problems here.   They have stayed put on all my runs so far.

The heel on the Kinvara 3 is a bit of a bone of contention.  I’ve seen/heard reviews from fans of the Kinvara 2, complaining about the heel box on the Kinvara 3.  The Achilles notch on the Kinvara 3 is a little high and narrow, so for shorter runners or those with a history of Achilles injuries that have left the tendons a bit lumpy, these may well cause you some discomfort – especially with short socks.  For me, I find the internal pads on the side of the heel and the cutout to be quite comfortable.  I’ve had plenty of shoes that have such padding all the way around, which either irritates the end of my Achilles or gets torn out in the first 100 miles by my rather bony heels.  So, having this feature seems like a winner.

Small pads fit just above the sides of the heel to hold the foot steady

Achilles notch is slightly higher than the Brooks Green Silence

Achilles notch is a bit higher than the Road-X 233 as well, but the Kinvara heel box is more comfortable
As a tall runner with a narrow Achilles, I can say these shoes fit fine and don’t cause me any irritation at all.  But, I know others have found the opposite.  So, try before you buy.


 You can see from the picture above and various of my other shoe reviews that I’m not normally a wearer of “cushioned” shoe.  Having been doing far too many miles in fell shoes this winter, I thought I would enjoy the extra comfort in the cushioned ride.  It has been nice to step on the occasional rock and not feel it, I will admit.  It’s also a nice change from the Road-X, and to a lesser degree, the DS-Racer, to have some triangular lugs on the forefoot to help when I take the odd muddy trail or encounter the ubiquitous playing-field finish line.  The outsole performs well in sticky mud, and doesn’t collect much as you go along.  When the going gets slippery, though, the Kinvara’s behave as any road shoe would and go where the mud leads them.

Strangely, the lugs under the big toe don’t have re-inforced contact pads.  I’m not sure about the design behind this, since I’ve never really pushed off from the center line of my foot (after all, the big toe is connected to the big muscles).  But, so far, I’ve not noticed any lack of power transfer as a result.

The sole is a bit higher than all of my other shoes, and that is presenting a few problems.  The first couple of times I ran in the Kinvaras with tired legs, I noted that I kept turning my ankle over.  Since I’m normally in shoes with half the height and a rigidity, I tend to take uneven pavements without any real problems.  But, with the hard, high outsole, the shoe seems to push me over a bit when I catch a rock or crack.  When the legs are fine, I don’t notice so much.  But on tired legs, it’s hard to get the offending foot off the ground quickly, so the ankle gets turned – a bit more than it would on a lower shoe.

So, while I get some cushion for tired feet from the outsole, it is requiring a bit of retraining to get used to it.


As a shoe, I’d say the Kinvara 3 is a good light-weight all-rounder.  The rigid mid-sole isn’t really my cup of tea. If you’re used to something a bit heavier, or more “controlling”, I expect you will love the feather-light freedom as you race down the road.  With the low drop, take your time easing into it if you have been in a more standard 10-13mm drop shoe.  Otherwise, your Achilles will complain pretty loudly.  If you are used to a bit more of a minimalist shoe, you might want to head for the Fastwitch instead, to get that flexible “racing flat” feel. 

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