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Keen Gallatin CNX Water Shoe

John Nestler reviews the Keen Gallatin CNX water shoe, Blister Gear Review

Keen Gallatin CNX

Shoe: Keen Gallatin CNX

Color: Black / Red Clay

Size Reviewed: 12

Features:

  • 4mm midsole drop
  • Contoured arch for added midfoot support
  • Lightweight PU midsole
  • Metatarsal ridge for natural underfoot support
  • Multi directional flex grooves for natural flexibility and improved ground contact
  • Razor siping for improved ground traction
  • Secure fit lace capture system with 2mm bungee lace
  • TPU stability shank
  • Washable polyester webbing upper

Reviewer’s Feet: Size 11.5 street shoe, relatively wide foot, low arch

Stated Weight: 9.4oz / 266g

MSRP: $110 USD (currently on sale for $60 USD)

Days Tested: 40

Test Locations: Rivers in Virginia and Colorado

I spend my summers teaching kayaking on the river, and footwear is something that I can’t afford to skimp on. In my book, a good water shoe provides solid grip, is light, drains well, and dries quickly, while still providing ample protection from sharp rocks and rebar. Finally, a shoe needs to be durable enough to last me at least the entire summer.

I’ve worn open-toed Chacos in the past, which are nice in many respects, but I have always wanted shoes with more toe protection. The Keen Gallatin CNX is still a minimalist, lightweight water shoe, but it offers much more protection around the toes than a pair of classic Chaco sandals. Liking the look of the Gallatin’s full-coverage toe, but still wondering how the shoe would perform in other areas, I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t cultivate an impressive Chaco tan this summer, and went to work in the Gallatin CNX.

Design

The Gallatin CNX is part of Keen’s new CNX “Connect” line, which features low-profile shoes lighter than those in Keen’s other series. Keen points out, though, that their CNX shoes are not super minimalist “barefoot” style shoes. Instead, they call them “lightweight feet enhancers.” The Gallatin CNX shoes weigh under 10 oz, have a more natural, low-profile midsole drop (the heel sits 4mm higher than the toes), and a bit of a contoured arch and metatarsal support.

The shoe’s upper is made from polyester webbing and a spongy mesh material. The webbing and mesh give some structure to the shoe, but still provide generous ventilation and drainage.

The Gallatin CNX’s outsole is also very flexible — I can easily fold the shoe in half over itself — with razor siping and “flex grooves” that allow it to bend freely with your foot. The front of the shoe features Keen’s signature rubber toe box, which provides plenty of protection from rocks. Finally, a bungee lacing system allows for quick, precise sizing adjustments.

Sizing, Fit, & Coverage

Keen recommends sizing up a half size in the shoe, and I would agree; I usually wear a size 11.5 and the Gallatin fits me well in a size 12. The Gallatin CNX definitely runs a bit small. The fit is also said to be narrower relative to Keen’s other designs, so that is something to consider if you have particularly wide feet.

When the Gallatin CNX is dry, it takes a little extra wiggling to get my foot into the shoe. The narrower toe box felt a little uncomfortable at first, but the upper’s webbing material is fairly stretchy and seemed to break in very quickly. Initially, the webbing chafed the skin on the inside of my right ankle, which was rather uncomfortable. But after giving my feet a break from the shoes for a few days, I had no further issues with chafing. The shoe’s fit was quite comfortable after a couple days of use.

John Nestler reviews the Keen Gallatin CNX water shoe, Blister Gear Review

John Nestler in the Keen Gallatin CNX, Gore Canyon, CO. (photo by Robert Dohrn)

The Gallatin’s heel cup fits more snugly around my heel than my bulkier older Keens or my Chaco sandals, providing a more secure fit. The shoe’s rubber toe box also accommodates my toes easily and protects them from rocks very well (a huge advantage over the open-toe style of Chaco sandals).

Grip

The 5.10 Water Tennie and Astral Rassler both have highly effective, grippy rubber soles, so I was interested to see how the Gallatin stacked up in this respect. Unfortunately, I found the rubber on the Gallatin CNX to be considerably less sticky than the Water Tennie’s or Rassler’s. I felt less sure-footed when rock hopping along riverbanks. The outsole doesn’t feature a very aggressive tread, either, which often made it tricky to navigate muddy areas.

John Nestler reviews the Keen Gallatin CNX water shoe, Blister Gear Review

Outsole of the Keen Gallatin CNX

The Gallatin’s outsoles’ “flex grooves” did perform as advertised, allowing the shoe to flex and bend naturally with my foot. This helps make the Gallatin nice and comfortable, though it still lacks traction on anything but dry, textured granite. I had to be careful when portaging through areas with lots of moss, mud, or slippery rocks, as a result.

Comfort

As mentioned above, the Gallatin CNX is quite comfortable. The shoe’s sole has a microfiber lining that feels soft against the bottom of the foot, and the upper wraps snugly around the top. At 9.4 oz, the Gallatin CNX is also quite light, which makes the shoe feel more like an extension of my foot rather than a bulky appendage.

Fitting larger shoes with stiff soles into kayaks is often uncomfortable, but since the Gallatin CNX flexes easily, it is perfectly comfortable to wear in my boats that have less footroom. This made it easy to hop in and out of the boat while instructing since the shoe never got stuck in the boat.

Drainage & Drying

The Gallatin’s porous upper easily drains water and provides decent ventilation for the feet. If anything, I thought Keen could have eliminated the extra, spongy fabric between the webbing on the upper, as it didn’t seem to play much of a role in securing the shoe’s fit.

However, while comfortable, the Gallatin CNX’s microfiber-lined insole doesn’t dry well, which is a bummer, since water shoes really need to be quick-drying. The microfiber failed to dry overnight, and retained quite a bit of water during use. Unfortunately the microfiber insole can’t be removed, either. While the Gallatin’s microfiber sole is comfortable, I found it a bit impractical given that shoe is built for immersion.

Durability

I’ve used the Gallatin for forty days so far, and the shoe has held up well. I expect the upper webbing skeleton to last for a while — it’s non-adjustable so sand and other abrasive material can’t wear away at the webbing close to the sole as easily as on a pair of Chacos. While the Gallatin’s soles are light and flexible, they have retained their form and show no concerning signs of wear yet.

Bottom Line

The Gallatin CNX is designed as a full-coverage, yet very lightweight water shoe, and I think Keen succeeded in delivering key protective design features—like their rubber toe box—in a more minimalist package. The Gallatin’s low-profile design makes it comfortable to wear in and out of my boat, and it also provides good protection and coverage. As a lightweight, summer water shoe, the Keen Gallatin CNX is certainly worth a look.

However, the Gallatin CNX’s poor drying performance may take it out of the running for those who need a highly versatile water shoe. I typically change into dry shoes after getting off the water, so this isn’t a deal breaker for me. I would, however, hesitate to wear the Gallatin CNX for winter kayaking or Class V creeking, where a burlier shoe with better traction (like the Five Ten Water Tennie or Astral Rassler) would be preferable.

 

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