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KEEN Clearwater CNX Review

This sandal blew away our testers as a well-rounded option for adventure travel
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $110 List | Check Price at Amazon
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Pros:  Comfortable, good water performance, low bulk
Cons:  Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustment
Manufacturer:   Keen
By Joanna Trieger & Shey Kiester  ⋅  Jun 16, 2020
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72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 14
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Traction - 20% 8
  • Adjustability - 20% 6
  • Stability - 15% 8
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Style - 10% 5

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. As a closed-toe model, it blurs the line between shoe and sandal and serves a smaller niche, but we appreciate that the closed-toe protects the foot and makes travel across rocky, uneven terrain more comfortable. That said, the style of this sandal leaves something to be desired and isn't for everyone. Good choice for high-intensity water sports, this kick is our Top Pick for Adventure Travel.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Clearwater is a relatively strong performer across the board, putting up solid scores in comfort, traction, and stability. This is also one of the most attractive of the KEEN models, though we still find them less stylish than the open-toed models. The only metric where the Clearwater falls short is adjustability. With a single cinch strap at the top of the foot that tightens the 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.

Performance Comparison


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

Comfort


The Clearwater performs well in the comfort metric. Sporting a PU midsole that provides a comfy squish, many of our testers noted that it's possible to forget you were wearing this sandal…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 feels sturdy enough to support different arch types but maintains a nimble feel.


The biggest drawback of the Clearwater comfort-wise comes from its ankle strap. Because there is not an adjustment point on the ankle, it can be hard to get the shoe on and off. Additionally, varying heel shapes might find discomfort in the ankle strap, as it cannot easily be moved up and down.

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.
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. The Clearwater isn't as stifling as wearing a hiking boot, but it's still much hotter than most of the open-toed models we tested.

Traction


Although this model does not sport a trusted Vibram rubber sole, it's 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 sole pattern of the Clearwater is its overall design. Because it cradles the wearer's foot, it does a good job of eliminating foot slide within the shoe while descending steep slopes.

Off-roading.
Off-roading.

The Clearwater shines in water crossings, where its protective toe bump eliminates the worry about mashing your toes against rocks. This model provides decent traction over slippery rocks, through both the outsole and the footbed.

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.
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.

Adjustability


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 earns it an okay-but-not-great adjustability score.


Despite the low score, testers feel that the design of the webbing straps works well to conform to the foot. There's not much you can adjust, which saves some of the time and frustration that we experienced with other models. We don't, however, recommend this shoe for folks with narrow toes or bumpy ankles. Consider a more adjustable model, if that's your anatomy.

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.
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.

Stability


Like its performance in our comfort category, the Clearwater performs well in the stability metric.


With a TPU stability shank and 4mm of midsole drop, users feel this model offers 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.
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 have a soaring arch and demand comfort on long days with a heavy pack, consider checking out one of the Chaco models.

Versatility


The Clearwater receives 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 works well, but this style is 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.

We wore the Clearwater a ton around the backcountry, but we also took it out in town. 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.
This model is comfortable for biking around town, but it's tough to pull off with city clothes.

Style


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.
Some testers liked the style of the Clearwater, while others hated it.

The Clearwater currently comes in quite a few colorways, mostly pretty neutral, so you can choose a shade that will work best with your personal style.

Value


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 it 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.
For sloshing through rivers, we felt comfortable and stable in the KEEN Clearwater CNX.

Conclusion


The lightweight yet protective design of the KEEN Clearwater CNX made it a favorite among our testers and won it a Top Pick Award. 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.

Joanna Trieger & Shey Kiester