Keen Footwear has only been in existence since 2003. In the apparel industry, they’d typically be considered rank amateurs. But in just four years this company has grown to become a household word among those involved in active outdoor activities. Keen began with the challenge to build a better hiking sandal. They succeeded. The Newport H2 hiking sandal is the shoe that put a then small, hopeful company on the map, and it’s no accident. It’s by far the best hiking sandal I’ve tried.
Two years ago I signed on to work for the summer as a camp counselor in the Appalachian Mountains. I knew that I’d be hiking up and down a mountain on a regular basis, so I needed a shoe that would keep my feet safe. I also needed a shoe that didn’t mind jumping through creeks, mud holes, and general nastiness. So I had a problem: most hiking boots don’t “swim” well, and most sandals don’t protect your toes. The solution? The Keen Newport H2.
I knew I couldn’t wear a hiking boot, but I wasn’t sold on the idea of a sandal. Wouldn’t my feet get sliced to bits by branches, rocks, and sticks? My Newports solve this problem. These sandals are different: the sole wraps right up around the front edge of the sandal, giving your toes a nice protected home as you hike who knows where. The durable covered toe is the most obvious feature of the Keen footwear line: it’s one of the things that sets them apart from other outdoor sandal makers, and every shoe in the Keen family has it.
In addition to sporting a covered toe, these sandals have thick soles. They’re made from carbon rubber and will virtually last forever. The thickness protects the bottom of your feet from both discomfort and puncture. You’ll hardly feel the stones on the path, and you’d have a hard time puncturing your foot in an outdoor setting. This is something that cannot be said for most commercial outdoor sandals. Further, the sole is “razor sipped” in different directions in different areas of the foot, allowing for maximum traction across the most unforgiving terrain.
Comfort is another big selling point for Keens in general, especially the H2s. The H2’s polyester mesh upper has an ultra-soft lining. The thick footbed is the perfect balance between cushioned comfort and support. It’s intelligently contoured, giving you more support than you probably think a sandal can. They also boast some of the best insoles, these insoles are the reason why you get this unmatched levels of comfort and design with these excellent shoes.
During my summer as a camp counselor, I found myself wearing my Newports around the campsite even for general, non-athletic activities. They were much more comfortable than my tennis shoes.
Newports only have two cons I can think of, and one of them is here. As I hiked, from time to time small pebbles or sticks did enter the shoe through the side and back openings. True, this seems unavoidable if you want to wear a sandal, but because the Keens are so protective, once something small snuck in there, it could be a bit of an ordeal to get it out without completely removing the shoe. In my case, I valued the protection and general comfort more highly than this minor nuisance. Also, Keen makes other shoes with which this is less likely to happen-they just don’t ventilate as well or dry as quickly.
I bought my Keens in the summer of 2005 and abused them to death, or so I thought. But you just can’t kill Keens! The only visible wear on my soles, after two years, is on the outer back corner of the heels. There’s less wear on my Keens than on the dress shoes I’m currently wearing (which I’ve only owned for 9 months)! The footbed is made with GIS antimicrobial material, which means they won’t stink. After the first 3 weeks of hiking to a waterfall, my Keens smelled fresh after setting them in the sun to dry, while the smell emanating from the others’ lower quality sandals was horrendous! To this day, if my Newports ever start to get musty, I just set them in the sun, which seems to activate the GIS material, and they smell like brand new shoes. The entire shoe is the waterproof-of course your foot will get wet, and so will the shoe, but water will never seep into the interior of the mesh or the solid rubber sole. Keens are all machine washable-even the leather variants!
Newport H2’s will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $85-100. This is the other con. They may not be for the casual, once-a-year hiker, but if you spend a decent amount of time in the woods, get them. They’ll last for years, so in the long term, they’re a better investment.
Overall Score: 4.8/5