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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, good water performance, low bulk
Cons:  Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustment
Manufacturer:   Keen
By Shey Kiester and Joanna Trieger  ⋅  May 21, 2019
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73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 12
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Stability - 20% 8
  • Traction - 20% 8
  • Adjustability - 20% 6
  • Adaptability - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 6

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 and serves a smaller niche. We appreciated that the closed toe protected our foot and made travel across rocky, uneven terrain more comfortable, but the style of this sandal leaves something to be desired.

Although the Clearwater is a good choice for high-intensity water sports, consider the KEEN Whisper for trips where you'll be wearing a dry or wetsuit, as those models have more room for booties. And if you need a rugged sandal but require less protection than the Clearwater provides (or you can't handle that KEEN look), consider the Chaco Z/Cloud 2.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
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$105.00 at REI$58.73 at REI
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$65.73 at REI
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$59.28 at Amazon
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Comfortable, good water performance, low bulkComfortable, versatile, lightweight, fits many foot typesGreat traction, stable, stylishStable and supportive, stylish, durableComfortable, lightweight, fits many foot types
Cons Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustmentNot as cushioned as other models, can't be worn with socksShort straps, difficult to adjust, can't be worn with socksAnnoying to adjust, uncomfortable for the flat-footed, heavyAnkle strap rub, lacks support for long days
Bottom Line A tester favorite despite low expectations, the Clearwater is the Top Pick for Adventure Travel.The Cairn is a minimalist workhorse that can take on nearly anything.This pared-down sandal delivers the performance wearers expect from a classic Chaco, but with less weight and bulk.A classic sandal, it's tough to go wrong with the Z/Cloud 2, no matter what you're planning.A former overall favorite, the Tirra has almost everything, but an uncomfortable ankle strap knocked it from the top spot.
Rating Categories KEEN Clearwater CNX Bedrock Cairn Adventure Chaco Z/Volv X2 - Women's Chaco Z/Cloud 2 Teva Tirra
Comfort (20%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
6
Stability (20%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Traction (20%)
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Adjustability (20%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
8
Adaptability (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
Style (10%)
10
0
6
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Specs KEEN Clearwater CNX Bedrock Cairn... Chaco Z/Volv X2 -... Chaco Z/Cloud 2 Teva Tirra
Weight (pounds) 1.18 lbs (size 11) 1.06 lbs (size 9/10) 1.23 lbs (size 10) 1.44 lbs (size 9) 1.12 lbs (size 9)
Width options Medium Medium Medium Medium, Wide Medium
Sole Material Non-marking rubber Regolith Vibram Non-marking EcoTread 25% recycled rubber compound Non-marking ChacoGrip Spider Original rubber
Upper Material Washable polyester webbing Polyester and nylon webbing Polyester jacquard webbing Polyester jacquard webbing Water-ready synthetic and polyester webbing
Footbed material Proprietary lightweight PU midsole 8mm Go Far midsole Women's specific LUVSEAT PU midsole Women's specific LUVSEAT dual-density PU Contoured EVA
Size tested 11 10 10 9 9
Available colors Lagoon, Coral, Celestial, Dark Purple, Norse Blue, Anemone, Black Copper, Black, Light Denim, River Runner, Trail Blazer, and Charcoal Many colors Trace Eclipse, Covered Eclipse, Testla Peach, Candy Gray, Jab Pine, Llama Angora, Verdure Avocado Taupe, Dark Purple, Brown, Black/Grey, Teal, and Blue

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 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.

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 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.
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.

Stability


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.
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.

Traction


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.

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 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.
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 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.
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.

Adaptability


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.
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 seven colorways, mostly a mix of greys and blues, so you can choose a shade that will work best with your personal style.

Best Applications


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.

Value


At $100, 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.
For sloshing through rivers, we felt comfortable and stable in the KEEN Clearwater CNX.

Conclusion


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.


Shey Kiester and Joanna Trieger