Since the outset of the “minimalist” running shoe movement, one of the main goals has been to build a shoe that would bring minimalist elements of design and function to a shoe that would scare away “traditional” runners. Basically, many people want a shoe with a more traditional performance and feel that’s going to put them into a more natural posture (without asking them to change everything). With their natural series, Saucony has given people a way to step down to lower drops with more natural foot function and the Virrata 2 makes zero-drop in a naturally functioning shoe a reality
Truthfully, there really isn’t that much of a distinct outsole of the Virrata 2. Saucony’s XT-900 premium carbon rubber falls in only three main areas: the lateral heel, the front 1.5 or so inches of the toe box and a spot just under the proximal phalanx of the big toe (between the ball of the foot and the tip of the toe). Apart from that, the outsole is made up entirely of EVA+ which is a high-abrasion EVA foam. The lug pattern on the shoe is made up of a series of deeply cut pseudo-triangles for flexibility in all directions.
There’s a lot to be said for keeping the weight of a shoe in check but there’s also more to be said for a shoe lasting a long time. With the Kinvara, Saucony has their outsole pretty well dialed in with rubber appearing sparingly, yet in most of the right places for optimum wear. The spots where rubber is used in the Virrata are well placed, to be sure, but there are places that seem to have been overlooked. For many forefoot/midfoot runners, (especially those with a neutral of supinating foot action, there is almost always going to be more wear on the lateral side of the forefoot. In the Virrata, this area has been left completely devoid of rubber with EVA+ there to stand on its own. With the weight of this shoe being what it is (6.7 ounces, men’s size 9) it’s tough to pick on something like this but I believe this shoe is something that people are going to want to be a high-ish mileage trainer and I don’t think the durability of the outsole will last as long as they’d like. I’ve currently got about 40 miles on my Virrata 2’s and the EVA+ of the outsole is showing some wear that makes me think I’d get maybe about 250 miles out of them (and I have a very clean footfall).
Moving past the durability of the outsole, I really like the triangular lug pattern. One of the problems that shoe companies have struggled with in the past has been the flexibility in their shoes. Not just the ability of a shoe to flex across the foot but on all the angles that the foot might want to move. This triangular pattern does a nice job of accounting for that. For me it also made the shoe feel quite peppy and agile. Some people have commented that small rocks can get caught in the cuts of the outsole pattern and I guess this is true for me also but never once did it affect any part of my run nor did I really even feel it.
Probably the biggest drawing point of the Virrata 2 is that it’s a zero-drop shoe (18mm stack heigh in the heel and forefoot). It’s made from the same EVA+ as the outsole and gives a familiar firmness in feel to the very popular Kinvara series.
I’m going to defer to the RIDE section (below) of this review for most of what I have to say about the midsole. Suffice it to say that, once again, Saucony has done a great job of implementing their EVA+. Much of the time EVA foam is used the same way in shoes. In the case of the Virrata 2 however, they’ve done a great job of extending the flexibility of the outsole grooves through the midsole so that the translation of feel and performance makes its way to the foot rather than being lost to the ground.
The mesh on the upper of the Virrata 2 is primarily a single piece of Mono Mesh. Beneath the this layer, there is an internal bootie-like construction which uses a finer mesh meant to hug to foot and keep out finer debris. Support elements on the upper are a mix of stitched and heat bonded with the lateral and medial structure being stitched on and the heel support being defined by (shiny!) heat bonded pieces. The collar lining (and, from what I can tell the tongue fabric) is made from HydraMAX which accelerates moisture wicking and keeps things nice and dry. The heel counter is fairly normal in its wrap but is only about an inch high leaving the remainder of the back of the shoe to be flexible. There’s a plastic toe bumper which fully wraps the toe box and reflective elements on the front and back of the shoe.
First, this shoe is breathable and I love it. The feel of the inner bootie heightens the overall performance of the shoe for me as it gives and almost racing flat-esque feel without all the too-snug-ness. On my one barefoot test run I was very comfortable with no significant hot-spots. The toe bumper on the Virrata 2 is something that I’m very glad to see. Since the upper is such a flexible mesh and there really isn’t much in the way of structure (which I like), this does a good job of rounding out the toe box, improving feel and adding a bit of protection. The foam padding on the collar and the tongue is right on point for me. I’m not a fan of too much going on there and this has it nailed.
I’m a tad confused about the use of stitched and non-stitched structural elements on the Virrata 2. It’s not a bad thing at all, I just don’t quite understand it. I mean, the Kinvara has been essentially stitch-less since the beginning and the Kinvara 4 is completely supported by Saucony’s FlexFilm. In a shoe like the Virrata where weight is clearly something the company worked hard to keep low, why use traditional strapping elements rather than going with FlexFilm? From a comfort perspective it didn’t affect me one way or the other, I’m just curious.
As I touched on above, the inner bootie element of the upper feels awesome and makes for a wonderfully close fit of the shoe throughout. From the heel cup to the midfoot I had no issues with fit at all and the sizing, which is typically spot on in Saucony for me, remains great in this shoe as well. Then there’s the toe box. I’m not too sure why but the toe box of the Virrata 2 has been cut quite tightly on the lateral side. In the Kinvara, the toe box has a similar basic shape but it doesn’t seem to cut in quite as severely. For me, the smoothness of the interior seemed to not make the width of the toe box too much of an issue but I could see the potential for those wide wider, more splayed toes to feel more tightness. Not a deal-breaker for me but something that I’d like to see improved in version 3 (or 2.5?).
There have been people that have called the Virrata 2 a “barefoot” shoe. To me, that’s just crazy. Just because something has zero drop and is flexible does not make it a “barefoot” shoe (though to be fair, “barefoot” like “minimalist” is kind of a moving target). This shoe offers great ground feel while simultaneously not making the foot hyper-aware of every grain of sand or pebble on the road. The firmness of the midsole is outstanding for me and gave a wonderfully responsive ride. To be honest, one of the biggest “problems” I had with the ride of this shoe is that I had a hard time keeping my pace in check. This shoe wants to run and if you’re going for an easy run, it’s challenging to not just let it go.
If I had my druthers, I could see an even lower stacked version of this shoe, with more shallow outsole grooves. This would allow for the addition of more rubber where it needs to be added for durability without sacrificing the light weight.
Since I did find it important to comment on the durability, I should also comment on the price. The Virrata 2 comes in at $90. While that’s certainly not chump change, it’s also at the lower end of running shoe prices making its potential durability issues less of an issue (if they are for you at all). One quick note on design, some people may shy away from bright colors a bit but I LOVE the design of this shoe. I have the green/red version and I could totally see Santa rocking these in a 5K!
This is a great companion shoe to something like the Kinvara and I can see a lot of people who’ve tried to get their drop to zero really enjoying the ride and feel of this shoe. Speed shoe: check. Training shoe: check. Get it on your feet and check it out for yourself.
HAVE YOU TRIED THE VIRRATA 2?
Born and raised in the great state of Virginia, Brandon is a former opera singer (true story) who’s had the outdoors flowing through his veins since day one. Brandon now lives in Colorado with his daughter Sydney (AKA, Baby Gearist).