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KEEN Clearwater CNX Review

A tester favorite despite low expectations, the Clearwater is the Top Pick for adventure travel.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $100 List | Check Price at Amazon
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Pros:  Comfortable, water performance, low bulk, versatile
Cons:  Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustment
Manufacturer:   Keen
By Shey Kiester ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 3, 2017
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#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Traction - 20% 8
  • Stability - 20% 8
  • Adjustability - 20% 6
  • Style - 10% 8
  • Adaptability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Keen Clearwater CNX combines the sturdiness and protection that KEEN is known for while breaking the company's mold with a light and bulk-free design. Even with its foot bumper (designed to protect toes but often a source of excessive bulk in KEEN shoes), the Clearwater remains light, nimble, and stylish. Our testers were pleasantly surprised by this model's versatility. It missed out on Editors' Choice largely because, as a closed-toe model, it blurs the line between shoe and sandal. If you want to be ready for whatever the backcountry throws at you with your sandals, though, this Top Pick winner is your match.

Although the Clearwater is a good choice for high-intensity water sports, consider the KEEN Newport H2 for trips where you'll be wearing a dry or wetsuit, as this model has more room for booties. And if you need a rugged sandal but require less protection than the Clearwater provides, consider the Chaco Z/Cloud 2.

Color Updates

The Clearwater sandals are out in a variety of new colors this year. But don't worry - the overall design of these favorites remain the same!

January 2019

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Clearwater was a strong performer across the board, putting up solid scores in comfort, traction, and stability. Surprisingly, despite relatively low expectations for a KEEN model (which are known for unsightly bulk), the Clearwater was also one of the favorites among our stylish testers, thanks to its bright color options and sleek profile. 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 was 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.

Performance Comparison

The Clearwater provides security  even on wet surfaces.
The Clearwater provides security, even on wet surfaces.


The Clearwater was a strong performer in the comfort metric. Sporting a PU midsole that provides a comfy squish, many of our testers noted that it was easy to forget you were wearing this model… in a good way. The polyester webbing upper conformed 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 was a successful solution.

Despite the high comfort scores, it is not perfect for users who desire an airy model. Even though it is remarkably lightweight for such a protective sandal, it still comes with the tightness often associated with a closed-toe model. If you're looking for a cozy model with a more open design, we recommend the Teva Tirra (but be sure to read our review of this model, as it has ankle strap issues of its own).


Like it's 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 with 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.

Despite this, higher-arched testers felt hung out to dry on very long days while wearing this model. If you're someone who his a soaring arch and demands comfort on long days with a heavy pack, consider checking out either of the Chaco models: the Z/Cloud 2 or the ZX/2.


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. Much like its cousin, the Newport H2, 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. However, if you don't anticipate heaps of up and down, consider a sandal like the Teva Verra, which combines adequate traction with a more open design.



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 no 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 shore for folks with narrow toes or bumpy ankles. Instead, consider a more adjustable model, like the Bedrock Cairn Adventure.

If you have a wider foot type, this might not be the model for you. Check out the KEEN Newport H2 instead.


Once again, the Clearwater received a high score, taking home an 8 out of 10 for adaptability. This model was truly one that could handle anything, and testers were excited to take it on nearly any adventure. From water sports to travel to town days, this model worked well for nearly anything. Plus, this model packs down well, making it good for slipping into a carry-on.

Specifically for water sports, the Clearwater features hydrophobic webbing, allowing for theoretically quick drying time. However, the material that the webbing connects too, retains water. This would be a bummer if your hike involves many stream crossing on a long hike. 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.


Sleek and well fitting, the Clearwater was a refreshing dose of style. Our testers enjoyed the fun, flirty color offerings, and were impressed with KEEN's reduction of their bulky toe box.

The model is an ideal water shoe  thanks to its secure fit.
The model is an ideal water shoe, thanks to its secure fit.

Best Applications

The Clearwater does best when used for adventure travel. It's a go-getter, and it can tackle long hikes, rugged terrain, and city days. 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 when walking on ground with very small pebbles that can enter the shoe.


At $100, is on the more expensive side of shoes in our review, but we think it's worth it. Not only is there more material than most of the other models, but the Clearwater also serves such a broad scope of activities, so you can really get a lot of bang for your buck.


The Clearwater's lightweight design, sleek silhouette, and flirty colors made it a favorite among our testers. This model can take on a huge swath of tasks, from SUPing to hiking to running errands. If you're looking for a protective sandal that likes adventure, this is the product for you.

Shey Kiester