Saucony Kinvara 11 Review
Cons: Less underfoot cushion, lower support, limited outsole protection
Our Analysis and Test Results
There are a handful of updates to the Kinvara 11 that reaffirm its position among our favorites, winning our coveted Best Buy Award. Most of the changes are minor, finessing the model just slightly. The outsole has an improved design for better response while the upper saw some shuffling around of padding and lace scaffolding. It's a fantastic shoe worth your consideration.
The midsole has been updated with new foam, Saucony's new PWRRUN+. Saucony claims that it's even more responsive, flexible, and durable than the baseline PWRRUN EVA. That's difficult for us to verify without proper access to labs, engineers, and techs. Still, out on the road, it's hard to disprove the general improved feel over earlier versions and a lot of competitors with standard EVA midsoles.
There's a balance that needs to happen for good running shoes. They need to have sufficient underfoot cushion so you can go out and run for hours at a time without suffering from percussive exhaustion. Likewise, they need to have enough firm kickback, so you don't become exhausted from running on a marshmallow road, constantly fighting to put energy back into the ground to generate a little momentum and speed.
The Kinvara 11 strikes that balance. It's bouncy enough to save you, but not so bouncy that it forces you to do extra work. We preferred it on our typical maintenance runs of 4 to 6 miles at tempo or lower. Zone 3 stuff.
The Kinvara 11 scores right in the middle of landing comfort. They have 28.5mm of fairly firm foam at the heel, tapering off just 4mm to 24.5mm at the toe. You get really good coverage, no matter your strike style.
To get their excellent performance, they use the new PWRRUN+ foam in the midsole. As we mentioned before, Saucony claims that it's significantly lighter, more responsive, and flexible than earlier EVA foams, and we can at least attest to its feeling better. Though we aren't able to precisely measure or quantify those physical properties to validate the claims, the Kinvara seems to have improved performance based on our testing.
They have a slightly squishy feel that's almost too much for something like a mile-PR attempt. You might want a shoe with a little less midsole and little less forgiveness for that. But once you get up to the 9 or 10-mile range, you'll find your joints probably need some reprieve, and a few more mm of foam might be welcome. This shoe is probably best for 5Ks, but we ended up grabbing it for a lot of the 4-6 mile runs. This is why it won our Best Buy Award: it's probably the shoe that can deliver the best performance at both the short end and long end while remaining a workhorse at the distances most runners tend to run throughout their week.
One of the things we most love about the Kinvara line is its extremely low weight. At 17.6 ounces in men's 11, it's absolutely one of the lightest out there. This is a major contributor to its awesome natural feel. It barely seems like you're wearing a shoe, much less one with almost 30mm of foam underfoot.
Part of getting to that point is the new PWRRUN+ foam, which is claimed to be lighter than earlier versions. The shoe has had a roughly constant weight across the past 4 or 5 models, so there wasn't a lot of weight-saving by subbing out that material. But generally, it gets to the low weight through a few tradeoffs.
The first is in padding. Our preference is that the padding be utilitarian at best. The Kinvara 11 has more than utilitarian, but it's enough to remain extremely light. Perhaps as a nod to that lean build, they removed the Achilles pillows from the previous version. The performance doesn't seem to have changed much. It's still a padded fit, and the heel cup catches the heel just fine without the pillows.
The next is in the outsole. You have two small patches of carbon rubber as the only protection for your sole. The rest is all exposed EVA. That keeps the weight down, but… EVA isn't the most abrasion-resistant material on the planet.
Despite its light build, the Kinvara 11 is pretty sturdy. As we mentioned in the previous section, there are concerns about the exposed EVA outsole. Sure, it's thick enough that general road abrasion shouldn't wreak too much havoc, but most of us aren't running on rubber tracks… We're out running somewhere in the real world with all sorts of gravel and rocks and sticks and the rest of it. At the very least, the soft foam is vulnerable to piercing. We certainly felt a few sharp stones under the ball of the foot on evening runs when we couldn't see road debris. Not a deal-breaker, but also not ideal.
The outsole protection that is there is fine. It's a modest layer of carbon rubber under the outside of the heel and under the big toe. It should do a decent job of preserving the highest-wear areas of the outsole.
The upper is covered by multiple layers of coarse mesh that are strongly bound to the sole. We don't see any serious concerns about durability in the upper. Its design minimizes areas that can tear or fray, and stitching appears to be robust. Apart from the outsole, we were not able to find any major weaknesses in the design, and neither were we able to find trends in complaints. You can expect to get a few good seasons out of the Kinvara 11.
Right off the bat, it's the light, natural feel that seduces us. The upper on the Kinvara 11 perfectly balances padding with fit, making the shoe more like a snug sock than a tight speedster. That's Saucony's FORMFIT design at work. It's like an integrated cage that connects the collar to the tongue and catches your foot like a holster. It's quite a nice feel, really. The idea is to conform to your foot both to conserve energy, but also to minimize the need for superfluous padding. It saves weight, improves breathability, and allows the shoe to be more flexible and comfortable over longer runs.
It's that judicious use of padding that helps the Kinvara 11 wind its way up near the top of this measure. The tongue is just barely leaner than what you'd find on a fat comfort shoe like what Brooks might put out. It feels very cushiony, but it's not overpowering or babying — it's practical. The same can be said of the padding around the heel and collar. It's enough to let you know you're riding in comfort without feeling pampered (or really, without being a PITA on longer or warmer runs).
The upper is no more than it needs to be, yet remains supple. It's ideal for short and mid-distance runs. The only consideration to keep in mind is that the FORMFIT design is slightly on the snug side, and after 60 or 75 minutes, it might not be as comfortable for all runners. Over the short distance, though, it's among the best running shoes, which is why we're emphatic about its place as our Best Bang for the Buck Award winner.
The Kinvara 11 knocks it out in most of our measures, but they're not perfect. This is an area where they could use some help. They're not the best choice for hot, muggy days, especially if you're a sweater and/or doing a lot of miles.
The thickish layers of mesh don't let a ton of air in or moisture out. The FORMFIT design feels excellent, but it's yet another layer of padding around the vascular parts of your midfoot. If anything, it's an insulating shoe. That makes it a lot nicer for fall and early spring. Or if you live in a place with a weird coastal microclimate like California, literally almost any early morning year-round (our CA-based reviewers may or may not be low-key gloating here).
The Kinvara 11 picks up our Best Buy Award for a reason. We think their current price is reasonable for the overall performance and versatility you get. There are some marks against them for sure, but if you want a lightweight, natural-feeling speedster, you should be considering this shoe.
After many hours out on the road and even more hours researching, we made the determination that the Kinvara 11 would be our new Best Bang for the Buck Award winner. We tore them down across our measures, quantified where we could, qualified everything, and examined our experience compared to that of others. In the end, we found it hard to beat the hard-hitting, fast, accessible Kinvara 11. We think most runners will dig them if they give them a spin, but especially those looking for a good shoe to take out on their mid-distance maintenance runs. It's a shoe made for 3 to 8 miles in Zone 3, and we're happy to use them for exactly that.
— Ryan Baham