KEEN Women’s Depart WP CNX, $140, KEEN.com
The Good: Great fit, excellent toe protection, pretty cool looking.
The Bad: Slight break-in period, including hotspots, but nothing too drastic.
The Awesome: A pleasant mix of minimalist groundfeel and pack boot protection.
Historically, I’ve been torn between wearing heavy, beefy backpacking boots on rocky hiking trails and lighter, more comfortable, lower profile day hiking shoes on rocky trails, whether I’m backpacking or hiking. KEEN’s Depart Waterproof CNX kicks are a blend of both, which could mean I don’t have to choose. I took these out on some of my favorite Pennsylvania trails, including beautiful French Creek State Park after a huge autumn rainstorm (giant mud puddles, anyone?), to see how they performed.
The Depart Waterproof CNX shoes are a departure (pun intended) from typical hiking shoes, mainly due to how light they are. Keen shaved an entire line of shoes down to 10oz or less each without sacrificing protection. I’m a die hard minimalist shoe fanatic for all things running and as I’m used to lightweight kicks, beefy hiking shoes make my feet sore. But I don’t want to lose a toenail if I trip or feel every sharp rock under my feet, so the fact that the Depart shoes are lightweight and still protect my feet is huge. After kicking a few rocks and walking across pointy boulders, I hardly felt a thing thanks to KEEN’s patented toe protection and the lightweight PU midsole.
The Depart Waterproof CNX shoes fit well right out of the box, providing enough support for my high arches. The size 10, my normal size, fit my feet perfectly. They’re higher profile than day hiking shoes, providing more ankle support, but not quite as sturdy or as high as hiking boots. I liked the additional support when I had some weight on my back, but for day hiking, I didn’t lace them up all the way to give my feet some breathing room. It was great to have the option to keep my ankles locked in, or let them move freely when I wasn’t concerned about the potential for injury.
The sole is stiff enough to handle Pennsylvania’s rocky trails, but were the perfect balance between sturdy support and lightweight protection. The tread looks like the tread on my car tires and I found the shoes felt stable on all terrain, wet or dry. And KEEN’s waterproof breathable membrane also kept my feet dry no matter how many mud puddles I jumped in. Of course, as the shoes are waterproof, once water’s in, it doesn’t get out. But given the shoes are higher profile, I was hard pressed to find a puddle deep enough to get them wet on the inside.
The only problem I had with the shoes was the presence of a hot spot on my right heel during the break-in period. On the first hike, the hot spot was painful walking uphill, but a different pair of socks and an adjustment to the tightness of the lacing on my next hike alleviated the problem.
The bottom line? If you’re in the market for a unique looking, lightweight waterproof hiking shoe that gives you the option of ankle support, the Depart Waterproof CNX shoes are a great option. I’d recommend them for light and fast backpacking weekends or day hikes with terrain that could cause rolled ankles.