The Keen Clearwater CNX combines the sturdiness and protection that Keen is known for but breaks 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 compared to the best women's sandals. 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. Still, 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. A good choice for water sports and travel, this sandal is our Top Pick for Adventure Travel.Editor's Note: This sandal review received an update on March 23, 2022, with more details about our favorite options.
KEEN Clearwater CNX Review
Cons: Does not fit wider foot types well, lacks ankle adjustment
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Keen 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 open-toed models. The only metric where the Clearwater falls short is adjustability. It isn't easy to fine-tune adjustments with a single cinch strap at the top of the foot that tightens the cord in a shoelace-like pattern. The ankle also lacks adjustment, but many of our testers worked around this by simply stepping on the ankle strap when they needed to slip the shoe on and off quickly. This is a fairly narrow shoe (especially by Keen standards), so those with wide feet may want to look at other options.
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. The sole feels sturdy enough to support different arch types but maintains a nimble feel during long days.
The biggest drawback of the Clearwater comfort-wise comes from its ankle strap. Because there is no 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 move up and down.
This model is not perfect for users who desire an airy sandal despite the high comfort scores. Even though it is remarkably lightweight for such a protective shoe, it still comes with the tightness often associated with a closed-toe model, more so resembling a shoe. The Clearwater isn't as stifling as wearing a hiking boot, but it's still much hotter than most open-toed models we tested.
However, if you are looking for a waterproof sandal/shoe hybrid for river trips, this would definitely be our top pick. The snug and comfortable fit and closed-toe design ensure that you will be able to walk on rocky shorelines with ease and transition seamlessly from water to land and back again without ever having to change your footwear.
Although this model does not sport a trusted Vibram rubber sole, it's adequate when walking on slabs or pebbly inclines. The Clearwater features a versatile tread pattern that sits between aggressive and soft. With that said, some testers felt that adding a stickier rubber on this product's sole would bump its traction score up. Its soles are also slightly rounded at the edges, which contributes to a feeling of not as much surface area being in contact with steep slabs, and our testers noticed some considerable slipping in these situations.
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 slides 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 provides ok traction over slippery rocks through both the outsole and the footbed but does not perform the best of the sandal models we tested in this metric.
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 we experienced with other models. However, we don't recommend this shoe for folks with narrow toes or bumpy ankles. Consider a more adjustable model if that's your anatomy.
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. This sandal does an excellent job of performing and a shoe while remaining breathable, waterproof, and lightweight.
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.
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. This model works well from water sports to travel, but this style is tough to transition into town.
Specifically for water sports, the Clearwater features hydrophobic webbing, allowing for a 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 be 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 and errands, and yard work if you like the look.
The Clearwater is sleek and pared-down compared to most of Keen's models. 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.
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.
Should You Buy the Keen Clearwater CNX?
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. The Clearwater is on the expensive side, but we think it's worth it if you are looking for a durable and comfortable adventure sandal. Not only is there more material than most of the other models, but it also serves a broad scope of activities so that you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
What Other Sandal Should You Consider?
If you are less interested in a closed-toe box and want to let the little piggies run amok, then the Bedrock Cairn Adventure - Women's is a favorite option. This adventure thong is comfortable and offers great traction. This is a versatile sandal that offers impressive adjustability. If price is a concern, the Teva Original Universal - Women's is a dependable, lightweight sandal we love that has withstood the test of time and is wallet-friendly.
— Miya Tsudome & Shey Kiester
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More