In the middle of Southern California’s heat-wave, I was anxious for good news. I was hoping for the first dousing of rain to arrive, but sometimes good news comes in the form of light packages delivered to your front door.
Reaching across the threshold of my doorstep into the hot, heavy air, the box FedEx had just dropped off felt wispy, a mere pound (0.5kg) at best. There was supposed to be pair of Women’s KEEN Clearwater CNX sandals inside of the box. However, the box was surprisingly light. Had KEEN mailed me an empty container on accident?
Closing the door, I left the oppressive heat behind and ripped into the carton. It wasn’t empty inside as there were a size 7.5 sandals in a cranberry-esque shade of pink. I held one in each hand and examined every detail. Folding the shoes in half, I noted their flexibility. Then, tugging at the bungee lace, I thought of their promise of a custom fit. Finally, tossing them in the air, I noted their unbearable lightness.
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Using The KEEN Women’s Clearwater CNX Sandal As A Lifestyle Sandal
I’d read about the CNX technology – the proprietary and lightweight midsole construction, a sole that allows better connection to ground surfaces, and a contoured arch and metatarsal ridge configuration for better support. Holding a Clearwater CNX sandal in each hand, I admired their profile and color (KEEN called them Barberry/Hot Coral) and thought, “Whatever, these are cute.”
While the traditional KEEN sandal styling was recognizable – KEEN’s patented toe protection, a webbed upper, an open heel, and a bungee cord lace – the weight was not. These were feather-light. So light I grabbed my first-generation KEEN sandals – my trusty Newports – and performed a high-tech, side-by-side comparison.
I held a Newport in my left hand and a Clearwater CNX in my right. I tossed and caught the shoes, juggling them in the air. The Newports, at almost a pound (0.5 kg), were considerably heavier than my brand new KEEN delivery. According to KEEN’s product specs, the Clearwater CNX’s are a measly 7.6 ounces per shoe. Either way, they felt airy in my hand.
Now I was just anxious to move into the long Fourth of July holiday weekend and put these sandals to the test. First up: a trip to the grocery store. I needed to stock up, and I wanted to show these shoes off. They paired nicely with shorts and a t-shirt, and I felt mountain-town cool.
As a seasoned KEEN footwear owner (there are thirteen pairs of KEEN shoes in my home), I had ordered one size larger than my usual shoe size despite KEEN’s fit tip. My feet are wide, and my Newports chafe my pinky toe. Plus, many of the newer model KEEN’s tend to run narrower than my giant feet. I’d employed this successful strategy – sizing up – when I’d purchased my KEEN Commuter bike sandals.
Thankfully, my sizing up strategy worked for the Clearwater CNX too. The CNX’s felt snug but did not irritate my small toe into an angry red mass.
Furthermore, the texture of the polyester webbed uppers felt soft against my skin yet durable. Like they wouldn’t give the first time, I moved aggressively in a direction other than forward or backward, particularly as I dodged the haphazard maneuvers of frenzied shoppers.
The soles and tread also felt tough. KEEN notes their low-profile CNX’s boost the “natural flexibility of the foot” and improve “ground contact.” They even promise the shoe “provides advanced traction on slick surfaces.” This info was useful to know because I had plans for this shoe.
But for now, as a lifestyle sandal, the Clearwater CNX received high marks, meaning they looked good, were super comfortable, didn’t overheat my feet, and provided protection from wayward shopping carts piloted by children.
Using The KEEN Women’s Clearwater CNX As A Hiking Shoe
Next up was a trip into the woods to walk my energetic golden retriever. We opted to trek his favorite trail called ‘Don’t Shoot Me.’ It’s rugged, starts and finishes at a shooting range (which requires a bit of speed until you clear the perimeter), and ascends as much as it descends. In addition to the features above, the Clearwater CNX delivered in a few other areas as well.
The contoured sole of the Clearwater CNX delivered enough arch support for the three-mile, round-trip hike. Also, the low-profile sole supplied considerable traction on the slick DG (decomposed granite).
KEEN’s notable full-toe and foot protection also came in handy as I climbed over downed trees, scrambled through boulder gardens, and squeezed between overgrown sage bushes I was sure concealed rattlesnakes. Again, I was impressed with the Clearwater CNX sandals.
Using The KEEN Women’s Clearwater CNX Sandals In The Water
To escape the heat, I took to the water and brought the Clearwater CNX’s along. I decided to standup paddleboard wearing the Clearwater CNX sandals. While I usually SUP sans shoes, I was in the mood for distance. On a paddleboard, distance equals time on my feet, which is always made better with a bit of foot support.
But would the Clearwater CNX sandals be too bulky? Or, would I hate the confinement? Lastly, would I be too hot or lose connection with the board? These were all questions I had as I donned the Clearwater CNX’s, pulled the bungee cord tight, and stepped aboard.
I paddle boarded a little over 12k, and the Clearwater CNX’s minimalist sole held their own: supporting my arches while accepting the stresses of aggressive reaches and quick changes in-stance that resembled balancing drills.
The following day I showed up at the shoreline again, this time with my 17-foot touring kayak. Sliding into the cockpit, I positioned the footpegs and was pleased to use KEEN’s lace-capture feature, a plastic clasp to tuck the 2mm bungee away.
I paddled 15k, noting that kayak footwear is about performance. I’d pushed hard against the footpegs as I edged around buoys. I even dumped over to see how the sandals fared as I re-inserted myself into the boat.
The Clearwater CNX’s did well: they protected my feet and allowed me to maintain the necessary connection points between my toes and heels and the bottom and sides of the boat. Most of all, the tight-fitting sandal and lace-capture system assured me there was no danger of snagging a shoe.
Moreover, I’d carried both of my paddle-crafts to and from the car wearing the Clearwater CNX sandals, and they handled the muck of the shore well. They also eased my worries that I would stub my toe and trip due to my limited peripheral. Only a few annoying pebbles made their way between my toes, but they were easily dispensed with a quick flip of the sandals off and back on again.
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Additional Considerations of the Women’s Clearwater CNX Sandals
After the excursions, I had time to consider the sandal and a few other noteworthy features.
Another consideration of the shoe is the color. While I was initially hesitant about the Barberry/Hot Coral sandal’s KEEN sent me. However, after five days of testing, I highly recommend stepping outside your color box and reaping the benefits of their exuberance.
But if you’d rather sport riotous color well above your ankles, KEEN makes the Clearwater CNX in a refined black on black and a Gargoyle Grey nuanced by Norse Blue.
My favorite feature of these KEEN Clearwater CNXs though, is that they’re washable. Filthy from a busy weekend of non-stop use, their pink color was the mere hue of its former self. I tossed the sandals into the washer with a small amount of detergent, and in 20 minutes, the brilliance of the Barberry tone returned, and they were ready for a night at the pub.
The Clearwater CNX is incredibly versatile. From pavement to dirt to water, the Clearwater is constructed to shift with you. The sandal is comfortable and will provide you the support, protection, and performance when you need it most.
In fact, I came up with a list of other uses for my new Clearwater CNX sandals, including a lightweight camp shoe for backpacking, a transition shoe between mountain biking and lunch, and a great lifestyle shoe for my quiver of summer sandals that’s hip and cool and says “I make this outfit look easy.”
Have you used the KEEN Clearwater CNX sandals? What’s your favorite feature? What adventures do you enjoy using them most?
KEEN Clearwater CNX Sandal Specs
Weight: 7.6 oz per shoe
Shoe Construction: 4mm mid-sole drop with a non-marking rubber outsole, patented toe protection, and Aegis Microbe Shield lining to control odor-causing bacteria.
Article updated April 23, 2020, to include additional links and formatting changes