by John Schrup
We talk a lot about the best shoes on the wall, the best shoes for you, the best…whatever. I’m not a real big fan of talking about the best anything, since there are a gillion different opinions and twice as many other variables. When writing about shoes, I’d almost rather type “the most likely to work for the broadest spectrum of people” or something equally as cumbersome, but then it sounds too much like a Chronicle Best of issue. Even though there is no “best” shoe, most of us want to hear that there is, because we want to get our money’s worth, or feed our egos, or whatever.
As a general rule, there are some “best” shoes, ones that fit the Rogue criteria—simple, functional, biomechanically appropriate—and if you’ve wasted any amount of time reading my words, you know which ones those are. Ultimately, my decision on what makes a really good running shoe boils down to what I would put on my children’s feet if they asked me to fit them for running shoes. If I wouldn’t put it on their feet, I probably wouldn’t put it on yours. You know them: Adios, Kinvara, Launch, among others.
And as another general rule, I really don’t get super wound up about any one particular shoe. (The Adios 2 is worthy of public displays of affection, for sure, but I think the previous version was nicer.) I rotate several, without too much thought, almost randomly. There are a couple that are more specific to certain training, but even that can depend on what shoe just happens to be closest to the door. The only thing is that I prefer not to wear the same shoe on two consecutive days. Call it a superstition.
Anyway, now there is a shoe that I might consider calling the best and I’ve definitely broken my rule about wearing on consecutive days. Not only that, but I may or may not have publicly fondled them as well.
When Saucony introduced the Kinvara a couple of years ago, it was really the first of a kind. It was super lightweight, it was biomechanically appropriate—or “minimalist”, whatever–and it was substantial enough in cushioning not to feel minimalist. It was in essence a racer-weight trainer and it created a new category in trainers. The 4mm heel to toe offset has become the standard and helped to bring minimalism into the mainstream.
Sure, there were some misfires—that two layer mesh was unnecessary and a bit sloppy in fit, and the durability of the midsole/outsole was poor. That was the main thing, the durability. People were getting 200 miles out of them, tops, and even with a $90 price tag, it still wasn’t enough. The newest Kinvara, the 3, fixes those two glitches and thus now can be considered one of the very best shoes on the wall.
The new upper is single layer, with overlays made of a paper thin plastic which Saucony calls Flexfilm that is basically ironed on to provide some structure and support to the upper. If it looks familiar, perhaps you’ve seen the adidas Hagio. Same kinda thing, ‘cept different. And I have to admit that I’m not completely sold on these type of overlays because while they are functional—they hold the foot well with very little weight, almost no rubbing—they tend to cause the forefoot mesh to buckle a bit. It doesn’t look clean. (The Hagio has the same issue.) But that is forgivable because we believe in function first. And it does hold well, particularly when we compare it to the previous two Kinvaras. It isn’t socklike, which would be totally awesome, but it does fit really, really well, snug.
The biggest improvement is in the increased durability. Most of the outsole is EVA, which tends to wear out quite quickly on the roads, but it super lightweight and flexible. In high-wear areas—mostly the heel and the toe–Saucony has some hard rubber to help with durability. In response to that durability issue, Saucony removed some of the medial heel rubber and added it the lateral midfoot and toe area. Much, much better. And even though it hasn’t been noted in any of the literature, the midsole feels a bit firmer. It could be because of the change in the placement of the outsole rubber, I don’t know, it just feels firmer. And firmer is generally more durable, more responsive. It’s not adidas firm, but almost nothing is. I don’t like the feel of marshmallowy shoes, and I don’t believe it is good for the body either. The feel is so right on I’ve worn them four days consecutively now. Four days. And no, I am not high.
When a shoe company actually listens and then improves functional issues, it is both rare and welcome. Saucony did, and nailed it. They should get points for that as well. Issues? Fix ‘em. Simple. How easy is that?
And for those of you who really care, the Kinvara will be available in several colors. One for each day of the week. Except for the women. Women get only six colors to choose from. Maybe men are peacocks, I don’t know.
I’m still going to rotate shoes, but just not yet. Just one more run in the Kinvara. After today I’ll switch. Maybe.