saucony kivara 12 - toe
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Saucony Kinvara 12 Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 7.5 oz. (213 g) for a US M9.0 / 6.5 oz. (184 g) for a US W7.0
  • Slightly lighter, with a more streamlined look/feel
  • Give us some more of that sweet tongue action
  • With the smash hit of the Endorphin line, where the f*#& does the Kinvara fit in?

ADRIENNE: Let’s cut to the chase: I’ve always liked Saucony, and the Kinvara is no exception. Versatile, simple, lightweight, and usually looks pretty good. What’s not to like? Anyhow, I was excited to receive the latest version, the Kinvara 12 and immediately started putting the miles on it-or at least as best I could as I received them right at the beginning of a taper week! Right out of the box my Black Mutant colorway screamed to be put through paces from easy to flyin’ (relatively speaking!). So how did it do? Let’s break it down, but first, some specifics:

The K-Shoe has appeared to gradually acquire some of the new midsole tech while staying true(ish) to its minimalist roots. In many ways, this one looks a little less “kinvara-ish” and more like a lower-profile member of the Endorphin family. The last version of this shoe that I racked up miles on was the K10 with the EverRun topsole. With the Kinvara 12, we’ve moved onto a PWWRUN+ topsole, though it still shares the same PWRRUN midsole foam (EVA/TPU blend) as version 11. We’ll get to the other changes below.

MEAGHAN: The Kinvara is back for its 12th iteration and there are some substantial updates to this classic. Will you love them or leave them? I’ll wait to give you the answer.

THOMAS: Family is good, right? Look at the Baldwins. At one point, it seemed like every man in that family was acting. Alec always stood out as the alpha, and just like Jack Donaghy on the top floor of 30 Rock, I’d say he came out on top professionally.

I thought the Kinvara would always be the Alec in the Saucony family. The stand-out, dependable one for a strong performance. Turns out the Kinvara 12 has some sibling rivalry, especially from the young’uns. Come awards time, 2021 may not be a red carpet year for the steadfast Kinvara.

ROBBE: I hate to admit it, but I’d never run in the Kinvara, despite hearing great things about it over the last half-decade. With Saucony putting out the best lineup in running for 2020, I was stoked to finally try this perennial crowd-pleaser. When I finally got the Kinvara 12 on my feet and ran in it, I was completely and totally … underwhelmed. This is the shoe everyone was hyping for years? Maybe it’s an off-year, maybe it’s just that mama’s newest lil’ baby, the Endorphin Speed, is my favorite running shoe of 2020 and I’m still in the honeymoon stage. Who knows, but here we are, and here’s my review.

Saucony Kinvara 12 - Women's
Saucony Kinvara 12 – Women’s

The Good

ADRIENNE: The ride to me feels like a Kinvara with a muted bounce from the PWRRUN+ topsole. Those who have been all about the ZoomX or or other Pebax-based options may be disappointed, but again, sometimes all you need is a simple, flexible shoe to get your miles in. I put in runs of four to ten miles, many with strides following on grass, asphalt, and gravel. I found the shoe mildly responsive and conducive with my mid-forefoot strike. The Kinvara 12 stays true to its roots with both a 4 mm drop and lightweight cushioning that to me feels most efficient when striking at mid or forefoot for me. 

The ride is firm, however not jarring. Oh, and Saucony changed the heel, too. Apparently the K12 has flown up to the Dovetail nest and came back down with a heel designed to even out impact forces, a design that you’ll be seeing a lot in running this next year, like in both the HOKA Rocket X and Mach 4. That said, it looks decent and is tastefully done.

With a fairly pedestrian midsole and at a lower price point, it isn’t explosive as its competition-focused sibling, but is a worthy training companion to the Endorphin series.  A more streamlined midsole with a noticeably narrower waist seemed to quicken the transition a tad (my biggest complaint with previous Kinvara versions was the lag in transition). Like earlier K-Shoes, outsole rubber coverage is sparse; it’s nearly absent here. Instead, a bed of flex grooves allows your foot to move naturally.

You can basically do most anything in the Kinvara, from daily mileage for efficient runners to long runs to even half marathon racing and workouts. Cushioning is consistent, and the PWRRUN helps you pick up the pace when you want to. I can always rely on the Kinvara as being a ‘disappearing shoe’ and the 12th iteration is no exception. Minus the heel cup, there is zero stitching or overlays to be found, yet the foothold is great in this shoe. The mild bounce also keeps the ride interesting without feeling too dull and my feet felt well-protected. I would have no problem taking these on a long run and this is a great shoe for travel as it can do a lot of things and not take up much space.  

MEAGHAN: Let’s start with the upper. They’ve stripped away any excess padding and left just the basics – a breathable, lightweight mesh paired with some flat laces to keep the foot locked down. Beneath the foot is PWRRUN cushioning – a light, bouncy foam that makes this shoe so versatile. From easy miles to tempo days, the Kinvara can work for just about any run. The outsole is almost entirely exposed foam with the exception of two small rubber slivers at the heel and forefoot. This might be the lightest Kinvara yet, weighing in at 6.5 oz for my women’s 7.5. 

THOMAS: I can’t believe Meaghan didn’t mention the tongue on the Kinvara 12. It is the most incredible tongue I have ever seen in all my days reviewing running shoes. From the outside, it looks like a flimsy thin tongue, but look on the flip slide and you will see some gentle padding in just the right places to protect the arch from the laces. All this and the tongue is gusseted running down both sides of the foot to secure the foot in place comfortably. The upper’s design is a very sophisticated execution for such a simple shoe. There’s not much else to talk about, it’s a simple, lightweight, and low-drop (4 mm) trainer.

The exposed EVA may have you worried about the traction, but don’t be. The K12 grips on both dry roads and wet ones. I had secure footing on a rainy run. The exposed EVA is also more durable than Kinvaras of the past.

The Kinvara 12 fits in the line well. Kinvaras have always been the lightweight, simple midsole, lower drop running shoe that can be a versatile trainer. Before we got spoiled with lightweight cushioned plated racers, the Kinvara was the lightweight trainer that was perfect for the marathon distance. The 12 “feels” like a Kinvara, in a good way. Running in the Kinvara 12 is a throwback back to firmer faster trainers of the past. And at 8.35 oz/ 236 g for a size 10.5 US, the lower-drop shoe begs for faster turnover. 

The Kinvara 12 runs true to size.

ROBBE: I dig the upper on this shoe … kind of. I’m not sure it’s going to be great come warmer weather, and honestly, the engineered mesh seems like it may have been engineered by an intern from that technical institute in the strip mall off the highway. It’s a little scratchy/stiff, and depending on your size, has the tendency to pucker up a little bit in the toe. Despite all that, it does have a nice, streamlined, traditional “fast shoe” fit, and locks down pretty well. As Thomas said, the tongue design really is pretty great. Give us more of that, please.

The outsole, despite having only a couple rubber segments in the toe and heel, provides great grip rounding corners. I feel like its geometry plays into it as well. In any case, I really enjoyed the handling of the shoe. 

And damn if Saucony’s designers aren’t hitting some strides with these colorways.

Shop Kinvara 12 – Men Shop Kinvara 12 – Women

saucony kivara 12 - heel1

The Bad

ADRIENNE: Some Kinvara purists may not like some of the changes, as it is a touch narrower, but to me, this still feels like Kinvara – simple, cushioned, and decently-priced. Like it’s older siblings, the 12 has a lot of exposed foam, but after over 30 miles on them, I see next to no wear. Besides, less rubber usually equals less weight and this is what the shoe is all about. Speed-wise, while the weight and firmness of the shoe can get the job done, there’s better options out there to blaze it out.

MEAGHAN: I’ve become so accustomed to the HOKA-like stack height, that the Kinvara feels like it’s lacking cushioning. While I love a lightweight shoe, Saucony stripped away too much here. I want the padded collar and tongue back, more stack and that plush, comfortable ride.

THOMAS: There are a few shoes I would put in the Kinvara category, the New Balance Beacon 3, Atreyu base model, ASICS EVORide, Skechers Razor+ Hyper, and the HOKA ONE ONE Rincon 2. All of them are simple lighter running shoes without too many frills. Out of these shoes Kinvara 12 is the firmest ride. I am putting this under “The Bad” but as always this is subjective. If you like a firmer ride you may dig this well-constructed trainer. The 12 feels firmer to me than the Kinvara 11 as well.

ROBBE: I swear, I think Meaghan and Thomas are looking through rose-colored glasses regarding this shoe. Straight up, Thomas listed a shortlist of shoes in the above paragraph and all of them are better than this shoe. One shoe he left off, that this shoe most reminds me of, is the adidas SL20, which is basically a more traditional and firm tempo/race shoe. That’s what the Kinvara 12 feels like. Which is fine, sure, if that’s what you want. But for how much praise the Kinvara has had over the years, it shouldn’t be a close companion to the SL20, a shoe that … well, have you seen anyone raving about it recently?

In terms of weight, yes, this is a lightweight shoe, which is great. But for how much was trimmed off the Kinvara 11, it’s shocking that it only lost .3 ounces.

Finally, maybe it was because I was expecting something totally different, but I thought the ride was boring as hell. The PWRRUN iteration in this shoe is dense and not really enjoyable over the course of really any run. Aside from the SL20, it also felt pretty similar to the Brooks Ricochet 3, a shoe whose existence I don’t understand.

Shop Kinvara 12 – Men Shop Kinvara 12 – Women

saucony kivara 12 - outosle

Saucony Kinvara 12 Conclusion

MEAGHAN: For many, many years the Kinvara has been my favorite shoe from Saucony (and one of my favorites overall) but that podium was swept by the Endorphin line earlier this year. While it’s a lightweight, versatile shoe, the Kinvara 12 is lost in my rotation. I find myself lacing up other options (New Balance Beacon 3, HOKA Clifton 7, HOKA Mach 4). If you prefer a more minimal daily trainer, this will definitely be a good option for you.

THOMAS: Kinvara has always had a special spot in my heart. I have reviewed every model since the first one. My marathon PB was carved out in a pair of Kinvara. However, I have to agree with Meg. The shoe is a victim of sibling rivalry. For example, for daily training I would go with the Saucony Ride 13 (or 14, depending on when you’re reading this). For tempo runs, you can’t beat the Endorphin Speed. Finally, The Endorphin Pro is the shoe you want for race day. I am scratching my head to figure out where the Kinvara fits into my running rotation/family these days.

ROBBE: I think Thomas and Meaghan are being diplomatic, but I’ll be more dictatorial: There are plenty of other better shoes out there in the lightweight daily trainer or tempo category. That said, if you’re looking to buy a tempo shoe or lightweight daily trainer and don’t want to drop a ton of coin, this can work.

Maybe I’m a terribly inefficient runner (probably true). I can see how this works for someone with great form who wants a simple shoe to rip off some miles (i.e. Adrienne). But if you’re looking for anything beyond that, you should check out some other options.

My overall take? Don’t be a cheap person. Buy a shoe worth your work. Spend the extra dough and get the Endorphin Speed, or venture into the Skechers Razor+ category if you want a better version of this shoe. For all the fire that Saucony has thrown this year, this one is a big bucket of water.

The Saucony Kinvara 12 releases on 2/1/2021 for $110. You can pick up the at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.

Shop Kinvara 12 – Men Shop Kinvara 12 – Women

Thomas is the founder of Big Run Media, Believe In The Run, and the Faster Bastards. His mission is to get everyone running. Life is better when you run and running is always better when you have the right gear.

Adrienne has been a runner since the age of 12 and a sport psychology consultant for the past 10+ years. As a writer, she was a key contributor to Kara Goucher’s book “Strong”. She lives in Texas where she loves to run cross country when she gets the chance.

Meaghan is the co-founder of Big Run Media and Believe in the Run. She’s often found tearing up the promenade on Baltimore’s waterfront early in the morning.

Robbe is the Senior Editor/Review Manager for BITR. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two sons and runs with the Faster Bastards when he’s not MAF training. His favorite race distance is the marathon and his favorite beer is anything but Blue Moon.

9 Comments

  1. Robbie is bringing the heat here. What to do as an avid Kinvara follower. The shoe works great for high school cross country runners who burn through shoes quite quickly and don’t want to “drop a bucket of coin” on shoes each month (Robbie 2020).

  2. I’m a long-time Kinvara wearer but switched to the Endorphin Speed and just wow. I’m just over 200 miles, I’m wearing them as a daily trainer and I’ll easily get the same miles out them as I did any Kinvara (360ish). As an older runner, I’m more about finding what feels good and keeps me injury free. I can’t see ever going back to Kinvara. But I do have to say thank you my friend, I enjoyed the ride!

  3. I have been running in Kinvara since the first version way back when. I have always preferred the odd numbers, though the 10 and I have gotten along nicely. It seems unfair to compare the Speed or Pro to the Kinvara when the Kinvara created a category, of 4mm, light weight, cushioned trainer. To my mind, recent versions have been overbuilt, but then I tried the Shift and found that while it had 4mm, it was truly overbuilt, tight in the heel counter and neither fish nor fowl in the Kinvara vs the Endorphin collection. I will try the 12, when available and my circle back to say more, but either you found it to be a good shoe or not, but comparing to a shoe designed to do something else isn’t a helpful review.

  4. You can’t compare the kinvara and the speed. You simply can’t. I’ve got the kinvaras in my rotation (alongside the speeds) because of the firm and stable ride. If I did all my runs in the speeds I’d be both broke and messed up in the ankles because of how unstable the speeds are for me (fat guy). The kinvara also strengthens the calves and make me more efficient (IMO) for the days I need to go faster. Enter the Endorphin Speed/Pro

    1. Finally someone said it! Agreed 100. I don’t understand the continued comparison (is it just because they’re both Saucony?? That this looks a bit like the Endorphin this year???). They’re completely different shoes and, in my mind, developed for completely different preferences. I have both shoes, I love both shoes. But I’m not going to even think about comparing them.

  5. I’ll echo what some people have said. I find this review a bit confusing. Is it about the Kinvara’s role in Saucony’s lineup? Or is the 12 specifically a dud?

    While I understand that the 12 is firmer than the 11… a common complaint about the 11 was that it felt too soft to be a Kinvara (and pretty much everyone said it veered more towards daily trainer than do-it-all-including-racer). So is the 12 a swing too much in firmness to relegate it to tempo?

    I’m totally fine if you guys didn’t like the shoe. I’m just not gleaning much from the review.

  6. I accept the reviews where they have used previous iterations of the Kinvara and concluded this one is not as good. I don’t understand some of the shoes that the reviewers are comparing the Kinvara to though or suggesting as alternatives.

    The Speed has a much greater stack height and offset. The Hokas all have similar offset but again their stack heights are much greater. And the Endorphin Speed and Hoka Clifton are a lot more expensive.

    This leaves me contemplating whether to get some Kinvara 11’s potentially at a discount when the 12’s are released. Or should I consider running shoes that I think would be more comparable to the Kinvara’s like the Fuelcell Rebel or Fastwitch?

    I have to admit I do like the look of the Endorphin Speed and Hyperion Tempo and have heard good things about them but the offset is too much for me. The Carbon X 2 I really like the look of and the offset is good but it does still have a large stack height and they are extremely costly.

  7. Why would you have someone who’s never run in Kinvara’s review the shoe? And someone who looks like they have an axe to grind against Saucony. Maybe they refuse his application for test or didn’t hire him.

    He was woefully ignorant. I get having a person who’s new to the line, but geez he was so negative, and petty (insulting his fellow reviewers) that it was a turn off.

  8. Hey there, just stumbled over this review just about a month after I bought the Kinvara 12. And to all of you out there who maybe once loved the Kinvara in the days of its 8th or 9th iteration and then faded away with the 10th and 11th iteration because these shoes just didn’t offer the typical Kinvara spirit any longer… So people like me 😉 … I LOVE THE KINVARA 12!!! Yes, I run the Endorphin Speed as well, but honestly it is just to soft und I own the Pro, too. Lovely one, but not for every day. So if you are looking for a really light daily trainer and like cushioned but not too soft shoes this is really worth a try. Just my 2c.

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