The Clearwater is a relatively strong performer across the board, putting up solid scores in comfort, traction, and stability. This is also the most attractive of the KEEN models, though we still found them to be less stylish than the open-toed models like the Bedrock Cairn Adventure or the Chaco Z/Cloud 2. The only metric where the Clearwater fell short was adjustability. With a single cinch strap at the top of the foot that tightens cord in a shoelace-like pattern, it's difficult to fine-tune adjustments. The ankle also lacks adjustment, but many of our testers worked around this by simply stepping on the ankle strap when they needed to quickly slip the shoe on and off. Note that this is a fairly narrow shoe (especially by KEEN standards), so those with wide feet may want to look at the KEEN Whisper instead.
The Clearwater provides security, even on wet surfaces.
The Clearwater performs well in the comfort metric. Sporting a PU midsole that provides a comfy squish, many of our testers noted that it was possible to forget you were wearing this model…in a good way. The polyester webbing upper conforms to many different foot shapes, and testers remarked on the lack of pressure points. During long days, the sole felt sturdy enough to support different arch types, but the Clearwater maintains a nimble feel that we appreciated.
The Clearwater's biggest drawback comfort-wise comes from its ankle strap. Because there is not an adjustment point on the ankle, some testers had difficulty quickly getting the shoe on and off. Additionally, varying heel shapes might find discomfort in the ankle strap, as the strap cannot easily be moved up and down.
Many of our testers found it helpful to step on the ankle strap for easy on and off. Since the polyester material is pliable and soft, this is a successful solution.
The Clearwater sports a supportive sole and materials that feel good against the skin. However, its ankle and heel straps aren't adjustable, so if they don't hit you in the right place, you're out of luck.
Despite the high comfort scores, this model is not perfect for users who desire an airy sandal. Even though it is remarkably lightweight for such a protective shoe, it still comes with the tightness often associated with a closed-toe model. We didn't find the Clearwater as stifling as wearing a hiking boot, but it was still much hotter than most of the open-toed models we tested. If you're looking for comfort cushioning combined with an airy, open feel, check out the Chaco Z/Cloud 2. We also found our Editors' Choice, the Bedrock Cairn Adventure, to be extremely comfortable, even though it's not as cushioned.
Like its performance in our comfort category, the Clearwater performed well in the stability metric.
With a TPU stability shank and 4mm of midsole drop, users felt that this model offered adequate comfort while giving a good feel of the ground beneath their feet. This is aided by KEEN's addition of multi-directional "flex grooves," which work to give natural contact with the ground while allowing for improved interaction between your foot and the ground. Our testers were worried that this would result in painful moments when walking across sharp rocks, but this did not prove to be the case.
The Clearwater's grooved outsole provides flexibility while the footbed cradles the foot. This make us feel stable, even on uneven terrain.
Despite this, higher-arched testers felt hung out to dry on very long days while wearing this model. If you're someone who has a soaring arch and demands comfort on long days with a heavy pack, consider checking out one of the Chaco models, like the Z/Cloud 2, the ZX/2, or — for those with slightly less high arches — the Z/Volv X2.
Although this model does not sport a trusted Vibram rubber sole, our testers found it to be more than adequate when walking on steep slabs or pebbly inclines. The Clearwater features a versatile tread pattern that sits somewhere in between aggressive and soft. With that said, some testers felt that the addition of a stickier rubber on this product's sole would bump its traction score up.
Working in chorus with the Clearwater's sole pattern is its overall design. Because the Clearwater cradles the wearer's foot, it does a good job of eliminating foot slide within the shoe while descending steep slopes.
The Clearwater shines in water crossings, where its protective toe bump eliminates the worry about mashing your toes against rocks. This model provided decent traction over slippery rocks, both through both the outsole and the footbed. We found the Clearwater to perform slightly better than the KEEN Whisper in water.
Testing the KEEN Clearwater CNX (front foot) and the KEEN Whisper (back foot) side-by-side to determine which has better traction over slippery rocks. The Clearwater performed better here.
Although KEEN claims that their bungee lacing will work to cradle your foot, our testers did not find this to be the case. The bungee secures the upper and midfoot but not the toes and ankle. This gave it an ok but not great adjustability score.
Despite the low score, testers felt that the design of the sandal's body webbing straps worked well to conform to the foot. There's not much you can adjust, which saves time and frustration that we experienced with some models. We don't recommend this shoe for folks with narrow toes or bumpy ankles. Instead, consider a more adjustable model, like the Bedrock Cairn Adventure.
The elastic cord shown here is the only adjustment mechanism on the Clearwater. While this is one of the simplest models we tested, it makes it difficult to get a dialed-in, perfect fit.
If you have a wider foot type, this might not be the model for you. Check out the KEEN Whisper instead.
The Clearwater received a moderate score here. This model can handle just about anything you throw at it in the backcountry, and testers were excited to take it on nearly any adventure. From water sports to travel, this model worked well. However, we found this style tough to transition into town.
Specifically for water sports, the Clearwater features hydrophobic webbing, allowing for theoretically quick drying time. However, the material that the webbing connects to retains water. This can be a bummer if your hike involves many stream crossings. Also, because of the Clearwater's closed-toe design, when small pebbles find their way inside the shoe, they can more difficult to remove than from an open-toe model. For a faster drying model, check out the Teva Tirra.
We wore the Clearwater a ton around the backcountry, but we also took it out in town, too. This sandal is fine for biking, as well as errands and yard work if you like the look.
This model is comfortable for biking around town, but it's tough to pull off with city clothes.
Compared to most of KEEN's models, the Clearwater is sleek and pared-down. However, compared to most of the other sandals we tested, this style is tough to pull off.
You are the best judge of your style, so take a look at the photos in this review and ask yourself if you'd be happy to wear these sandals around town as well as on the trail. Our testers were somewhat mixed on this sandal, but our lead tester found it hard to pair the Clearwater with anything other than hiking pants. The friends and family we surveyed were also less than enthusiastic about the look of this shoe.
Some testers liked the style of the Clearwater, while others hated it.
The Clearwater currently comes in seven colorways, mostly a mix of greys and blues, so you can choose a shade that will work best with your personal style.
The Clearwater does best when used for adventure travel. It's a go-getter, and it can tackle long hikes and rugged terrain. With that said, the Clearwater does not do well in situations that require a lot of on and off (like cragging), and it leaves room for improvement in the style department.
The Clearwater is on the expensive side, but if this is the sandal for you, we think it's worth it. Not only is there more material than most of the other models, but the Clearwater also serves a broad scope of activities, so you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
For sloshing through rivers, we felt comfortable and stable in the KEEN Clearwater CNX.
The Clearwater's lightweight yet protective design made it a favorite among our testers. This model can take on a huge swath of tasks, from SUPing to hiking to running errands, as long as you can handle the style. If you're looking for a more protective sandal that likes adventure, this is the product for you.