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Saucony Kinvara 12 Multiple Tester Review

The original Kinvara was a major standout in the industry. A lightweight trainer with a lower drop that had enough cushion to train with but was light enough to race with. This was incredible for a high 7 ounce shoe at the time, given that most lightweight trainers still sat in the low 9 oz range. This shoe has evolved over time and edges slightly back and forth between more trainer and more racer. These were subtle shifts until this version. The Kinvara 12 takes a far faster and more aggressive turn than previous versions, but still has the essence of a shoe that can handle both training, racing and everything in between.



Specifications for the Saucony Kinvara 12 (per Running Warehouse)
Weight: 7.5 oz (men), 6.5 oz (women)
Stack Height: 28.5 mm / 24.5 mm
Drop: 4mm
Classification: Lightweight Trainer
 
RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

Matt: The Saucony Kinvara 12 is a lightweight trainer with a racing feel to it. With enough cushion for long fast runs but with a great toe off that makes fast repeats feel amazing, this shoe wants to go fast but will still protect you. A different shoe from many maximalist inspired footwear seen today, but adding a few lessons from that camp, the Saucony Kinvara 12 is a great fast, lightweight evolution of the Kinvara line.

David:
The Saucony Kinvara 12 is a genuine lightweight performance trainer. The shoe has enough protection on it to get you through your long runs and enough responsiveness in it to meet nearly all of your training needs. It is do-it-all trainer that can fit nicely into anyone's rotation. 

Nathan: The K12 is a very natural running performance trainer that still has protection for some training and longer runs. A stripped down and locked-in upper, sleek design, and a smooth midsole design create a versatile, quick, and smooth running shoe.





FIT

Matt: The Saucony Kinvara 12 fits slightly long in my normal men's 10 but felt true to size while running. The slightly extra room has been very helpful during the long steady states and runs I have using this shoe for. The upper does fit slightly snug throughout, but stretches very easily to accommodate the foot. "Dialed in" as David mentions below is a great way to describe this shoe width wise. I did not have to lace lock the heel at all despite using this shoe primarily for workouts and faster efforts. The FORMFIT aspect of the upper matches all the contours of the foot very well and locks the foot in nicely. There is a mildly flexible heel counter in the rear that I almost didn't notice due to the extra padding between that and the calcaneus. The upper is a little thinner than many shoes, yet breathes extremely well and as mentioned is quite secure. The tongue is very thin, but is very secure (connected on both sides) and stretches nicely across the foot (I would like to see this design more Saucony!!). The width does have a "performance fit." The heel, midfoot and forefoot are slightly snug upon step in, but then the upper breaks in nicely. This is one of the best Kinvara uppers I have had in terms of lockdown and stability as I have had zero issues with stability while corning at fast speeds.

David:
The Saucony Kinvara 12's fit is pretty dialed in. It is true to size for my normal 9.5 with just enough space for swelling while not allowing any translation or excessive friction. The Kinvara 12 features a dove tail design in the achilles region and does a great job of securing the heel. The tongue is very thin but padded enough to lace down tightly. The upper has minimal overlays but secured nicely along the medial and lateral sides of the shoe. The upper is thin, but still holds its shape well with enough substance to it to take hard turns comfortably. Saucony has been making some of the best uppers this last year and the Kinvara is no exception. The FORMFIT system seems to do a really good job of matching the foots contours and creating a very pleasant hold on the shoe. The heel counter is lightly padded just enough to be cushioned while still being really lightweight. Overall a very impressive upper that I just like to have around my foot.

Nathan:
The Saucony Kivara 12 sports a simple but effective upper and overall the shoe fits true to side, but on the narrow/snug side. The mesh is of mild stretch and runs narrow from the heel up through the toe box. That said, the slight stretch of the upper and well-constructed toe guard does give some accommodation for different foot types. People with normal to narrow feet will likely have the most luck in this shoe, especially if wanting to use it for longer runs and races. I especially appreciate the tongue. It is thin, but has the perfect amount of padding to protect the foot from the laces. It is also gusseted, which hugs the foot well, and the top of the tongue is suede, which keeps the tongue from slipping in any fashion under the laces. A true performance trainer fit.



 RIDE

Matt: The Kinvara series has always had a fairly smooth ride, but some tweaks have taken this to another level. The addition of a beveled heel, a split heel and some guidance lines in the outsole provide a smooth ride from heel strike to toe off. The Kinvara 12 has a good amount of flexibility, with most of it centered from the midfoot forward. The forefoot is very flexible (more so than the K11) and features a smooth toe off due to the flexibility and toe spring. The heel is very smooth with the new bevel and split heel design, making for a fast transition forward. The PWRRUN midsole is slightly firm and protective, but does have more give and rebound than the previous version. Despite the lightweight ride, there feels like there is more protection than what the relatively thinner sole would provide (compared to many maximalist models). The biggest changes from previous are the new rockered components at the heel and forefoot. These smooth out the ride a great deal while still maintaining a quick transition. There is a 4mm drop, although like many kinvaras it does feel like it is slightly higher than that (5-6mm). This is a good thing and those interested in lower drop shoes may find this more comfortable to transition into, particularly with the mild rockered.

David:
The Kinvara 12 produces a very smooth and delightful ride from heel to toe. The shoe has protective yet firm and responsive ride to it with smooth transition points. The shoe also has a flexible forefoot that seems to help with easier paces as well. The shoe has a smooth gradual bevel integrated in the heel along with a flex point down the midline of the rearfoot. It feels like the design creates a little bit of a guiding sensation while also softening the heel landing. The midfoot rolls through nicely into the flexible forefoot. The shoe feels smooth and collected with a little bit of bounce and responsiveness, though not explosive or overly bouncy by any means. 

Nathan: The best word I can use to describe how this shoe feels is "natural". The low drop, flexible midsole, lighter weight, and lack of rubber outsole really allow your foot to transition through the gait cycle unhindered and unaltered by the shoe itself. The PWRUN midsole, which is adequately soft, still feels protective for longer efforts yet is firm enough for pushing the pace. I really appreciated the bevel in the heel for a smooth landing, and despite it being a 4mm drop it was quite comfortable for heel striking (for my heel striking friends out there). All transitions were very smooth, and the flex grooves and "guidance lines" in the shoe provide flexibility in the right places. This isn't necessarily a bouncy ride, but more of a mild cushion. So if you are looking for, again, a more "natural" feel where you are connected to the road, this would be a great option. If you're wanting a more bouncy experience, you'll want to look elsewhere.


 

STABILITY

Matt: The Kinvara 12 is listed as a neutral shoe. Yet is has always felt like there is some very mild stability components. The Kinvara 12 continues with this. The arch is a bit higher in the midfoot, which does feel a bit supportive. The flexible forefoot helps  keep forward momentum, while the slightly firmer and closer to the ground ride provide natural stability through improved proprioception. The upper (FORMFIT) locks the foot in extremely well and the heel counter does a great job of stabilizing the forefoot. The newer guidelines in the outsole seem to also help with forward transitions. Overall, this is a very naturally stable neutral shoe that those with mild  stability needs may be able to do faster efforts and workouts in. For those with neutral mechanics, this shoe will keep in you on tract when you fatigue during longer efforts.

David:
Being a neutral shoe, the Kinvara 12 does not have any specific stability components built in. However, the shoe does a pretty good job of integrating some stability with its geometry and construction. The platform underneath is wide and creates a larger surface area to land on facilitating intrinsic stability. The shoe also rides pretty low to the ground with good ground feel that also helps. The upper is built well and also locks the foot into the platform. The shoe also has some sidewalls and sole flaring built into the shoe that increase the stability. Overall the shoe runs really stable on roads and does decently well through other surfaces. 

Nathan: Certainly a neutral shoe, and those who need higher amounts of stability should probably look elsewhere for something in the performance training category. That said, someone with only mild stability needs may do fine in this shoe if used for workouts and racing. This is due to the really well secured upper, the mild side walls, and the smooth geometric design that help provide some stability elements. 



 

SPEED

Matt: This is one of the fastest versions of the Kinvara I have tried. I have successfully used this shoe for uptempo long runs, steady states, tempo runs and intervals. The Kinvara 12 has eaten all of these up. Where it struggles a bit is with very easy runs and with all out speeds. This is also partly due to me as I have gotten used to more maximal shoes during easy runs and plated shoes during sprint workouts. The midsole does have plenty of consistent responsiveness that feels like you can keep going for miles. The mild rockers also make this shoe great for consistent uptempo efforts. For those who do not do well with carbon plates, the Kinvara 12 is an excellent choice for long distance racing, particularly for the marathon.

David:
The Saucony Kinvara 12 can do a little bit of everything. I have taken this from everywhere between 8:00 mile pace down to 5:30 pace. The shoe can switch gears pretty well too with how light it is. I took this through an 18 mile long run with the first 8 miles at 7:00 and the last 10 at 5:40 and the shoe did quite well. I do notice though the shoe seems to lose some responsiveness at faster paces that approach more half marathon or faster pacing. It could be a racing shoe some, but those looking for an explosive and snappy racing shoe they might want to look at the Endorphin Pro or Speed. 

Nathan: This shoe is light enough and is locked in well enough that it can handle tempo runs, long run workouts, and even could truly be a racer for many people for anything from the 5K to the marathon (depending on the runner). For marathoning, a runner who is biomehcanically efficient and has good intrinsic foot strength would probably do best. For people looking for a workout shoe that doesn't have a plate in it, this is a great option. For me, I also had a lot of success doing daily miles in this Kinvara due to how natural it felt. Still, it was best for tempo runs and some workouts. 




DURABILITY

Matt: Most Kinvaras only last about 200 miles for me. Outsole wear is usually very apparent early on in this series. The outsole is fairly exposed except for the posterior lateral heel and under the 1st MTP. While I am seeing some wear, it is far less than expect for this series. The Kinvara 12 has some very mild wear at the posterior lateral heel and central forefoot, but overall is doing very well. The upper is particularly durable and looks brand new (common for the Kinvara series). The PWRRUN cushioning has remained snappy and responsive. So like most lightweight trainers, 

David:
The outsole is exposed PWRUN with some rubber at high contact areas along the posterior lateral heel and medial/central forefoot. There is some wear noted but the shoe should still last the normal industry standard or just shy. For me this is a long run shoe I reach for and daily train in another option. The foam is still riding just as good as it did out of the box and I have no doubt the midsole will hold up over normal mileage. The durability is decent, but not the component of the shoe to rave about.

Nathan: Despite having exposed EVA on the outsole, this shoe is holding up really well. The advancements in creating durable exposed EVA is improving. For those who don't typically beat up their outsoles, you'll likely get typical (300+ miles) out of this shoe. The other piece that may give out is the upper of the toe box. I have friends (my sister being one of them) who love to poke holes in the upper above their big toe. Given the thinner upper without a lot of stretch, this is one area I could see giving out. This is obviously "projected durability". 

THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE


Matt: The Kinvara 12 introduces a few new components that I want to briefly discuss. The new heel bevel and split heel design are two areas I want to go over. We have been trying to figure out why more companies are adding this and we have a few hypotheses. The first is that this is a new take on the decoupled heels seen several years ago. Essentially, this acts like an independent suspension system in a car to act almost like individual shocks to attenuate forces before transitioning further. The second idea is that the slight posterior flare combined with a beveled heel acts to prolong ground contact time, which spreads out impact loading over a longer period of time and may theoretically decrease impact peaks.

   The beveled heel is something I always ask for as it smooths out transitions at the heel. As I have discussed many times, the calcaneus is beveled for a reason as it provides the first of the three rockers of the foot that helps us be more efficient. A heel bevel imitates the heel rocker mechanism of the foot and in my mind is almost essential in footwear design. Kudos to Saucony to adding this in even in a lower to the ground model. Even non-maximalist shoes can benefit from some of these designs.
   

    Finally, some people have asked why Saucony has so many shoes in their line up. Several people have mentioned whether the Kinvara series has a place with the recent debut of the Endorphin Speed. The answer is that it most certainly does. Maximalist, plated shoes DO NOT work for everyone. Many individuals struggle with them due to the impaired proprioception, increased stiffness and occasional instability. Others do EXTREMELY well with them due to foot/ankle mobility deficits, ability to utilize the plate correctly and many other reasons. Humans are incredibly versatile creatures and have very different needs. Even the original Vaporfly research showed that some people improved their efficiency with that shoe type while others had significantly DECREASED efficiency. The Kinvara 12 is certainly a racier version of the series and will do VERY well for those who want to do long distance racing in a fast package without a plate or maximalist design. Variety and options are key, which Saucony is doing very well at. There is something for everyone and the Kinvara series continues to be a favorite among many.




RECOMMENDATIONS 

Matt: The Kinvara 12 is a different shoe from the Kinvara 11. While the Kinvara 11 was a little more traditional Kinvara (a balance between a trainer and racer), the Kinvara 12 is on the racier edge. The beveled and split heel, increased toe spring, streamlined and performance upper make it a faster overall shoe. For those who want a more traditional Kinvara, the 11 may fit better. For those who want something new age and a bit faster, the Kinvara 12 is where it is at. I really have enjoyed this shoe and think it has a very important place as an uptempo/workout/long distance race shoe for those who do not do well with plates or maximalist designs. However, I would like to see Saucony integrate some of the PWRRUN PB as a topsole just to provide a bit more cushioning for those who want it (coming from maximalist designs) and to make this shoe just a bit more responsive for all out paces.

David:
My recommendations for the Kinvara 12 are pretty minimal, for I really enjoyed this shoe. I think the ride is really enjoyable as it is, but I would like to see the forefoot stiffness increased slightly just to allow for a little more responsiveness in the shoe for faster workouts or potential races for some. The current outsole has some flex grooves integrated in that could be made a little more shallow or the thin rubber outsole along the central aspect of the forefoot could even be lengthened. Overall though Saucony did a phenomenal job with this performance trainer.  

Nathan: I really appreciate the K12. Thing 1: keep the tongue and upper construction. The simple, light weight, and locked in upper works great. If Saucony wants to transition to an even more aggressive or more bouncy feel in this shoe, they could consider integrating PWRUN PB into the shoe, possibly like how Adidas integrated boost and lightstrike into the Adizero Pro (obviously without a plate, though).

WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

Matt: The Saucony Kinvara 12 is a faster evolution of the series, best for those who want a versatile uptempo lightweight trainer. Best for uptempo efforts, workouts and long distance racing, this shoe will do extremely well for those who want a lower to the ground, stable, faster but still smooth and protective ride. This shoe will do very well for those not wanting maximalist or plated shoes and again is a wonderful example of Saucony reaching every unique running population very well.

David:
The Saucony Kinvara 12 is for someone that is looking for a highly versatile training shoe that they plan on primarily using for road training. The outsole is exposed PWRUN with rubber in high abrasion areas for additional durability. For me, this is one of the best long run shoes out there, but for some others it could lean daily training or even workouts/racing. The shoe is incredibly fun and worth a look for any shoe rotation.

Nathan: The K12 is for those who want a very natural feel with a locked in and simple upper that can function as a performance trainer and possibly a racer for anything from the 5K (for people like me) to the marathon. If you're wanting a lower stack and flexible shoe, this is a great option to check out.


GRADING

Matt
Fit                    10 /10 (Favorite Kinvara upper to data. Simple, performance fit, very breathable and awesome lockdown without being compressive or irritating. Slightly long fit accommodates long run swelling.
Ride                 9.5 /10 (Super smooth ride with new mild rockers)
Stability           9.5 /10 (Very stable for a neutral shoe)
Speed               9.5 /10 (Fast ride. Best for uptempo to workout paces. Struggles a little with easy paces and all out speed).
Durability         9 /10 (most durable Kinvara yet. Minimal wear at 35 miles along outsole)

David
Fit                     10/10 (This is an upper that I want to keep putting on my feet, lightweight, breathable, holds nicely, no nonsense)
Ride                  9.5/10 (Flexible forefoot increasing ground contact time at faster paces)
Stability            9.25/10 (Stable for a neutral shoe, minimal outsole, flexibility in the midsole)
Speed                9.25/10 (Great at daily paces and uptempo paces, just difficult at faster paces)
Durability         8.5/10 (Visual wear pretty early with outsole, midsole is great though)

Nathan
Fit                     9.5/10 (Love the upper and tongue, -0.5 for snug forefoot)
Ride                  9.5/10 (Natural ride, yet protective and slightly cushioned, smooth transitions, -0.5 for lack of responsiveness)
Stability            8.5/10 (Lower stack helps, but quite flexible for those needing stability)
Speed                9.5/10 (Great versatility)
Durability         8.5/10 (Midsole feels good and PWRUN is durable, thinner upper may wear though at the big toe and lack of rubber outsole may affect durability)

Total Score: 94% (M: 9.5/10  D: 9.3/10 N: IP/10 )

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TESTER PROFILES:
Dr. Matthew Klein is a 140 lb male with notable PRs of 14:45 for 5k and 2:32:44 for the full marathon.  He typically runs 70-100 miles per week and trains at a variety of paces from 8min per mile recovery runs to 4:40 per mile 1k repeats.  He prefers firmer and responsive shoes with snug heels and medium to wide toe boxes.  He is particular to less cushioned shoes and close to the ground shoes, but can handle a little cushion when he gets beat up.

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing, IG handle: @docsofrundavid

Dr. Brown is a 155 lb male with notable PRs of 18:18 5K, 39:25 10K, 1:29:01 half marathon, and 3:54 marathon. He typically runs between 20-40 miles per week at a variety of paces from 7:30-8:30 min/mile for recovery runs to 6-6:45 min/mile for tempo runs. He typically prefers shoes that provide some cushioning underfoot but still maintain a more firm and responsive feel. Current goals for 2020 are to break the 1.5 hour half marathon and 3:30 marathon. IG handle: @nate.docsofrunning

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

Nathan Brown PT DPT MS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Masters in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at Saucony for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We put at least 35-50 miles on trainers and 10-25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. Currently we have 35 miles (Matt), (in progress) miles (Nathan) and 37 miles (David) on our pairs. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

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