Saucony Kinvara 4 Review and Q&A

I go through running shoes like most people go through underwear. And to top it off, I fully admit to an unhealthy obsession with new shoes.

My Running Shoes

When you run 75+ miles every week, a shoe can be past its prime after only a month. I rotate two pairs of running shoes so they last double that time, but it’s an expensive habit.

The benefit of feeling like a kid on Christmas with every UPS delivery is that I can test a lot of models. The Saucony Kinvara 4 is my latest experiment in finding the perfect pair of shoes (this mission is a failure so far).

I’ve worn an earlier Kinvara model – this ain’t my first rodeo. But I stayed away from the Kinvara for two years because I didn’t love them.

The toebox was wide at the end of my toes and I felt like my foot slid around in the shoe. Yet I also thought the toebox was too narrow at the base of my toes – and I got my first (and only) black toenail ever from the Kinvara.

Time heals all things so a few months ago I gave them another chance and bought the Saucony Kinvara 4 model:

Saucony Kinvara 4

It’s better than the second iteration of the shoe in my opinion – but far from my ideal shoe.

Saucony Kinvara 4 Specs

The Kinvara 4 is labeled a “performance neutral” running shoe which means that it’s sold to folks who fit a particular profile: efficient runners who are light, favor faster running, and are able to train in a minimalist running shoe.

Unfortunately, these runner profiles are largely bogus. One of the lessons in Peter Larson’s excellent book Tread Lightly is that you can’t buy shoes based on arch height and body frame (even though that’s what most manufacturers and retailers try to do).

A better way to determine what shoe to wear is to make sure the fit feels good and that you’re ready to run in the type of shoe you’re about to purchase.

Never run in a minimalist pair of shoes? The Merrell Trail Gloves are probably too aggressive for you.

Here’s how the Saucony Kinvara 4 measures:

  • 7.7 ounces for a men’s size 8
  • 4mm heel-toe drop
  • New “PowerGrid” sole (updated from “ProGrid”)
  • Thin, lightweight upper made from “FlexFilm” material

The new sole is coined PowerGrid from the previous ProGrid iteration, though I didn’t notice at all. It’s a relatively soft, cushioned sole so if you’re expecting a more responsive, firm ride then the Saucony Kinvara probably isn’t for you.

I do about 75% of my running on trails so the combination of a soft sole and a dirt path gave a very cushioned ride. Normally I prefer a shoe with a very firm sole so that my trail runs are more responsive. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, though!

The lightweight upper is made from very thin material and durability is unfortunately compromised. Even with only about 350 miles on my pair, the upper ripped on the medial side of the shoe near my arch. It seems there’s a trade-off with performance materials and durability (which is expected) so keep that in mind.

My Personal Opinion on the Kinvara 4

The most surprising aspect of this shoe is that the foot bed felt uneven or not quite level. I pronate significantly but still felt like my foot was supinating as the sole veered to the outer side of the shoe. I didn’t notice this while running, but during my warm-up routine it felt uncomfortable.

Not only did the foot bed feel uneven, but the sole was also too wide for my average sized foot (size 10). To compensate, I tied the shoes very tight but the roomy toebox, light upper material, and wide sole made it feel like there was too much room inside the shoe.

Would these drawbacks stop me from buying another pair? No. But next time I won’t run as much in the Kinvaras and instead choose a more stable shoe for the bulk of my mileage.

Next is the upper. It was fine – nothing I absolutely loved or disliked. It was light but otherwise seemed average with no extraordinary characteristics. Like I mentioned, performance fabric and other materials typically have a shorter lifespan.

And the Saucony Kinvara 4’s lightweight upper is no exception. Within 200 miles, the inside of the arch on the right foot ripped slightly and the hole is only getting bigger. Even though I have about 350 miles on them, the hole didn’t get too large or compromise the ride of the shoe. So at the end of the day it’s not a deal breaker for me.

Saucony Kinvara Rip

“I’m a new runner – are the Kinvaras a good shoe for me?”

Good question! It depends on how comfortable you are in low heel-toe drop shoes and whether you like a softer, more cushioned running shoe.

The Kinvaras are a good option for many runners who want to gradually run in a more minimalist shoe but don’t want to dive head first into doing 100% of their training barefoot (which is an excellent idea). Consider it an introductory minimalist shoe.

If you have no problems in other low heel-toe drop shoes and prefer cushioned, light trainers then the Kinvara could be a great option for you.

“I like the Kinvara but want something with more cushioning. Suggestions?”

First take a look at the Strength Running Running Shoe Reviews area to get to know similar models.

I recommend testing the K-Swiss Kwicky Blade Light and the ASICS Gel-Blur 33. But in general, I don’t like recommending shoes because every runner has individual needs, biomechanics, inefficiencies, and training patterns so it’s up to you to find something that works.

And note that I used the word “testing” above. Shoes come in all different shapes, weights, heel-toe drops, widths, and other variations. Only you will know exactly what feels right when you’re out running!

“If I wear the Saucony Kinvara 4’s, what shoe should I rotate them with?”

It depends on what type of runner you are. Since the Kinvaras have a 4mm heel-toe drop, that should be a big influence on your other shoe.

Very comfortable in low heel-toe drop shoes? Get a similar pair of shoes like the Newton Gravity or Minimus Road.

Need a more supportive shoe? Try something like the Adidas AdiZero Boston.

Your running shoes should reflect a variety in heel-toe drop, cushioning, and weight. But above all, make sure they just feel good when you’re running. And if you find a shoe that you absolutely love, stick with it!

My question for you: if you’ve run in the Saucony Kinvara, what’s your biggest compliment and most negative criticism?

Leave your answer in the comments below. And if you want to test the Kinvara 4, the best deal seem to be on Amazon here.

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  1. Jon Niehof says:

    The Kinvara 3’s are my second pair of shoes (main pair is the NB Minimus Zero, although that’s really too little shoe for any run over about ten miles. And they’re way too little for a marathon with substantial downhill; ouch.) They feel pretty “gooshy” to me, too; also a bit like cement overshoes. Just not responsive.

    I got a rip in a similar place around 100 miles in; it hasn’t really grown and I’m pushing 350 on these. I won’t replace them with the same. That 4mm drop comes from a (huge) 22mm stack in the heel and 18 in the forefoot; the Minimus is 12 and 12. I’m tempted by Saucony’s Virrata: 17 and 17, so a bit more shoe than the Minimus but still fairly light and zero-drop. (I’m very comfortable with zero-drop; my calves don’t complain.)

  2. “if you’ve run in the Saucony Kinvara, what’s your biggest compliment and most negative criticism?” I first misread this as “biggest complain and most negative criticism” and thought you might need another cup of coffee before blogging today 😉

    I’ve run in every Kinvara since model 1, and loved them all. I’d been in big fluffy shoes up to then, & after the initial “holy crap, THERE’S the road” shock, the switch has been great. The small-ish heel-toe drop, super light upper & blaring color schemes have always been great in my book. I have wide, paddle-y feet, too, so all that width in the sole & box are actually good things, in my book.

    Main criticism is same as one of yours – that light upper tears really easy. I’ve put a toe through the upper in every pair I’ve owned (see: wide, paddle-y feet above). And as someone running in the frigid Northeast, I’d love a little more wind & water protection from that upper. In the snowy months, I have to either forgo the Kinvaras or ensconce my feet in thicker socks (which ruins the whole point of a minimalist, thin-sole shoe).

    This all reminds me to check my shoes’ mileages – may be time for a new pair of 4s!

  3. I go back and forth between these and Nike Lunaracers (I’m one of the few people who loved the lunaracer 2’s). I wear a size 15, so these are pretty much the only racers/semi minimilist shoes that are made in my size. I find them a little heavy compared to the Lunaracers (which I use for shorter races), but like them for longer runs because of the width up front. They have held up for me (6’4″, 240lbs). I like them better the Kinvara 2. Planning on wearing them to run the Steamtown Marathon this weekend. I do find it frustrating that most of the minimilist shoes stop at size 13/14 (though it stops me spending money on shoes).

  4. I have been wearing Kinvara’s for the past couple of years, with an interlude in the Mizuno Cursoris and the Virrata in between for about 6 months.

    I liked the Kinvara 3 (would last about 350 miles) and when time came to replace it earlier this year, I thought that I would go zero drop. I tried a few different shoes and settled on the Cursoris, which worked well for a while and then did not after about 200 miles. I then shifted to the Virrata and found a similar experience. Mizuno seems to have withdrawn the Cursoris (and Levitas) from what I can tell (my LRS returned their inventory and RW has had them on clearance).

    Ultimately, I recently came back to the Kinvara 4. I think that in hindsight, zero drop is probably too much for me and coming back to the 4mm offset of the Kinvara 4 seems to confirm that. My calves are much better for it, despite getting twice a month deep tissue massages and foam rolling the heck out of them. I am already feeling the difference after about 3 weeks in the Kinvara 4.

    I am enjoying the Kinvara 4 and look forward to the next few months with it.

    BTW, I have never had a tear problem in the upper of the Kinvara 4 (or 3), then again, I am 5′ 8″ and 155 lbs. I do wear a size 10, which is a full size larger than my normal shoe size, albeit, I wore 10’s in the Cursoris and Virrata also.

    To ” Kat @ Eating The Week”, you might want to keep track of the Gore-Tex (GTX) version of the Kinvara 4. The men’s appears to be on delayed production at present, but the women’s is available on the Saucony web site. I would love to see them combine the GTX variant with the new ViziGlo versions. That would combine a highly reflective low-light shoe with the additional insulation and protection of the Gore-Tex, which would work well here in the Minnesota winters. 🙂

    • !!!! Had no idea the GTX version existed; thanks for the heads up! Now, if only they’d make them in colors besides pink…

  5. Totally off-topic, but what do you think of the Skora Phase (I see some in the picture there at the top)?

  6. I’m on my second pair of Kinvara 3s. The first pair has about 580 miles on them. A hole developed on the top front after about 300 miles, but it made no difference in performance, so I kept wearing them. I ran my second marathon in them as well. I wear an 11-wide and this is about the only, non-huge shoe that has a toe box wide enough for my big, fat feet.

    The shoe profile is laughable: “efficient runners who are light, favor faster running, and are able to train in a minimalist running shoe.” I’m heavy, favor slower running and have failed in my only attempt at a minimalist shoe (NB Minimus). These shoes are by far the best I’ve ever worn. Keep in mind, however, that I started with the Brooks Beast, the bulkiest, biggest shoe on the market, went to a Saucony TR-something, a New Balance neutral shoe and then the Kinvara.

    If you have wide feet and don’t want cement blocks on your feet, the Kinvaras are good, even if they aren’t exactly durable.

    • I ran in Beasts in high school (back when my size 11.5’s were literally 1lb apiece), so I totally get where you’re coming from.

  7. No real complaints with mine, but when running on the road I feel they are a little louder on touch down, than any of my other trainers. A friend said they look like tennis balls for the neon yellow color. Mine have about 100 miles on them and so far the upper is in good shape.

  8. I switch to the Kinvara as my go-to road shoe last year and have never looked back. I started with the Kinvara 3 and am now on my second pair of 4s.

    The 4mm drop and lightweight nature of the shoe gives me the minimalist feel I prefer, but protection I need when on the road. I simply need a nice thick sole that Saucony delivers with this shoe when I’m putting in larger miles on the road.

    I will say that I had to go a half size bigger after my first pair. I had some rubbing on the outside of by big toes when wearing my typical size. When I moved to the 4s, I went a half size bigger and that resolved the issue.

    Great review, Jason!

  9. I´m using the Kinvara 3 as my main distance running/long run shoe and I really like it. For speed workouts and competitions I prefer a shoe with a bit more responsive ride!

    I have just retired my pair of Kinvara 2 that surprisingly lasted 700 miles (1100km’s) although they showed early signs of wear much earlier that that. Kinvara 3 seems to have lost somewhat of feel, feels a bit more cushioned and not quite as fast, I think but the differences are not major.

    I appreciate the combo of light weight and generous cushioning. The 4 mm drop I got accustomed to right away, only during the first couple of runs the calfs noticed any difference and I am as happy in a pair of shoes with 4 mm as I am in a pair with 10 mm drop. I appreciated the quite wide toebox and the flexible and soft upper of the shoe.

    Initially I thought durability of the outsole would be a problem but it turned out it wasn’t since my Kinvara 2 lasted so long.

  10. anyone else have any thoughts on the nike hyperfeels? i really like them so far. i’ve taken them on two 20mile runs, plus a few shorter runs. feel very comfortable throughout. caution though, they tell you that you can go barefoot in these, but there are still seams inside that, after 15+ miles, will do some damage to your foot. overall though, big fan.

  11. Sarah Bland says:

    I have had 5 pairs of kinvaras, absolutely adored the 1’s though they wore out in the top. The 2’s are just too wide, the toe box is too roomy though i swear my first pair were fine! The 3’s blistered my heel and are still too wide so I’m stuck now as to what to get! I love the fit of my inov8 flites but they don’t have enough cushioning for more than 7 or 8 miles. I loathe heavy shoes, don’t need support or much heel drop. Any suggestions?

  12. Sarah, so you are looking for a trainer shoe with a weight similar to the Kinvara? I tink there are quite a few models around that meet your criteria. Mizuno Sayonara could be one. Others might be; Puma Faas 350, Asics Gel Lyte 33 or the new model which I think is called Super J33 or something like that, Adidas Adizero Boston, similar in weight but a much firmer ride and more narrow toe box.