Our verdict

The KEEN CNX is a great shoe for me because I enjoy activities like beach walking, kayaking, and investigating tidepools. It is also decent for light hiking. However, I would not recommend buying the KEEN Clearwater CNX as a day hiker unless you prefer a minimal shoe without a lot of support.


  • True to size
  • Lightweight
  • Durable, waterproof upper
  • Excellent fit
  • Good arch support
  • Grips well on wet rocks


  • Too thin for hiking
  • Expensive

Audience verdict



KEEN Clearwater CNX review

I am fortunate to live in a part of the United States where the coast is right nearby, and beach-access trails abound. Since I spend a lot of time by the water, I wanted to get a shoe that could handle being submerged but could also get me across the trails that lead me to the shore.

Overall, if you are looking for a general water-friendly all-rounder for beach activities, the KEEN CNX is a good option.

I also wanted to feel sure-footed when exploring tidepools with my children. This is why I purchased a pair of KEEN Clearwater CNX sandals.

I tested the KEEN CNX across some undeveloped terrain and lots of seashore walking throughout the warmer months in San Diego, CA. Throughout this article, you will see pictures of the type of terrain on which these shoes were tested.

My experience with the KEEN CNX was overall fairly positive. While I enjoyed the fit and durable nature of the shoes after many soakings, I found the support a bit lacking and the tread a little underwhelming.

Below explains why I give this shoe model a qualified recommendation for beachgoers but not for any serious outdoor activity.



What should you look for in a water-friendly hiking sandal?

I am one of those who enjoy outdoor activities that take me in and out of the water as well as hiking-friendly terrain.

Thus, there are some particular features that I look for in a water-friendly hiking sandal to ensure that I am as safe as possible from injuries.

  1. A rugged outsole. The outsole must offer some grip on the terrain to minimise slips and falls. I also like to make sure that the outsole works on wet rocks. This requires some kind of lugging or raised bumps that offer traction across multiple surfaces.
  2. A supportive footbed. A sandal doesn’t need to be as rigid as a hiking boot since I am not going to use it as my regular day-hiker, but some support around the midsole is helpful. I always buy water-friendly hiking sandals that have some contoured footbed with a cupped heel and raised arch. The ones that are completely flat (and that’s many of them!) tend to hurt my feet after only minimal wear.
  3. A protective, adjustable, waterproof upper. It’s easy to scrape a foot when crossing wet rocks or hiking on loose dirt or gravel. The sandal upper should be made of a rugged material that will offer proper protection from the elementsI like to pick a model with a toe bumper to minimise the all-too-frequent toe injuries that come from trekking near the water. I also like to make sure that the upper is waterproof to keep the shoe from becoming too waterlogged throughout a day by the shore. Finally, the upper must be adjustable for a proper fit.
  4. A sufficiently roomy toebox. Pinched toes are no good! I always make sure that my outdoor footwear (of any kind) offers ample room for my toes to flex and bend. Now that you know what to look for when choosing a water-friendly hiking sandal, it’s time to see how the KEEN CNX measures up.

Rugged and practical aesthetics

The KEEN CNX is a traditional fisherman’s sandal with a rubber toe bumper and an upper that is comprised of straps connected by an adjustable bungee-style lacing system.

The shoes look rugged and practical, which they are. Wearing these probably won’t win you any style awards, but that’s not the point of these anyways.

Excellent fit

The KEEN CNX fits my average width feet excellently in my normal athletic shoe size of 9.5. These sandals don’t pinch my toes, nor do my toes bump against the rubber bumper.

I have tried other KEEN models, such as the Newport H2, and found some of them to be too bulky and roomy in my size for a secure fit. These have a sleeker profile, which I appreciate.

The KEEN Clearwater CNX is very lightweight

One of the best features of KEEN CNX is that it is very lightweight. In the past, I have found other types of fisherman’s sandals to be too heavy. The KEEN CNX feels very light and won’t weigh you down at all while exploring the shore.

Well-ventilated upper

The upper is made of synthetic, waterproof material with a little bit of suede around the heel area and right above the toe bumper.

The shoes are well-ventilated with strategically-placed openings right near the rubber bumpers. This keeps my toes from getting too hot.

I also like the heel strap and adjustable entry, although I do find that putting them on at first can be a bit of a tight squeeze. However, once these are on my feet, they do not feel too tight. The upper material also dries very quickly when wet.

A bit thin and minimalistic

The KEEN CNX does include a somewhat contoured footbed, but support in this shoe is lacking compared to other similarly-styled sandals I have tried in the past.

The soles are a bit thin and minimalistic. This allows the shoes to be very lightweight, but for me, it’s not enough support for any serious hiking.

Light outsole lugs

The outsole is where the rubber hits the road for any adventure shoe. I have a mixed opinion about the outsole of the KEEN CNX, which I would describe as decent, but not outstanding.

There is some light lugging, as you can see from the picture above. However, I did not feel like I had a sure grip on rougher terrain when I tried hiking in these (see pictured below).

These outsoles are ok for wet rocks, and will perform adequately on loose terrain, but if you are planning to go any further than a few miles on rocks or dirt you’d do better sticking with a true hiking shoe.