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KEEN Uneek Review 2018

  • Car Camper
  • Day Hiker
  • Urban Hiker

KEEN Uneek Overview

When KEEN decides to spell its name backwards, add a U, and create one of the strangest pieces of footwear we’ve ever seen, I can’t help but write about it. The KEEN Uneek — a name that must have been an “aha” moment — is a mix of hiking sandal, mellow shoe, heavy duty slipper, beachcomber flip flop, and around-town oddball fashion statement.

The KEEN Uneek does all this while keeping your feet well ventilated and heartily supported — not something I was expecting, and certainly not from the looks of the thing. The Uneek upper is made from a single piece of polyester braided cord and microfiber, which looks like an outdoor take on a pirate shoe, yet it’s surprisingly comfortable. The sole is 100% KEEN: wide, anti-microbial, with basic traction for a casual hiking sandal.

While we don’t award Picks for footwear (it’s just too subjective), the Uneek is an excellent shoe for Urban Hikers, Car Campers, and even Day Hikers, if the hike is casual. The shoe really is comfortable, and works in almost any environment that isn’t raining. You can wear a sock with it like a normal shoe, too. The defining issue will be style — some people hate it, some love it. If you can stand the look, or are enamored with it, definitely check out the Uneek.

Read the full KEEN Uneek review below.

KEEN Uneek Specifications

Feature Type Feature Specs What This Means
Weight 11.2 oz. (317 g) per shoe On the heavier side for a hiking sandal. On the lighter side for a shoe. Thus the hybrid category. We wish it was a little lighter.
Category Closed-Toe Casual We categorize hiking sandals in a few ways, with Closed-Toe Casual being the most mellow and protective. They are usually the most comfortable, which the Uneek certainly is.
General Fit Standard/Wide KEEN typically has a wider shoe, especially in the forefoot. This is true for the Uneek.
Strap Material Polyester braided cord and Microfiber Surprisingly durable, comfortable, and breathable, yet secure.
Strap System Polyester braids, single lace pull The strap system is what makes the Uneek unique, and the single lace pull allows you to wear it like a shoe or like a loose sandal.
Midsole Lightweight PU Polyurethane midsoles are great for support, but are pretty heavy, despite the word “lightweight”.
Sole KEEN non-marking rubber sole KEEN makes its own soles, and this one is solid. It doesn’t have gobs of traction, but feels good on basic terrain.
Sizes Available 7-14 for Men, 5-11 for Women, with half sizes Lots of sizes, and half sizes with sandals is always nice. The current fit runs half a size small though, so order up.
Manufacturer Warranty 1 Year A one year warranty is fairly standard for footwear.
Retail Price $100 A high price for a fancy sandal, but it will last. If you dig the look, it’s worth the price.

Gear Review of the KEEN Uneek

Origins: Easing You In

As the editor of Backpackers.com, I had the unique opportunity to dive head-first into the KEEN Uneek sandals at Outdoor Retailer — that bi-annual convention of all the outdoor junkies in the US and abroad. My days looked like a traffic jam of meetings, and I walked roughly 8 miles during each one, all around the giant Colorado Convention Center.

The Uneeks were handed to me the day before the show began, and I wore them for nearly the entire conference. While it wasn’t a test of environmental factors, it certainly was an immediate break-in period.

And I was surprised. The strange braided uppers felt snuggly (not snug!) against my feet — they did not press too hard and they weren’t as heavy as I thought they’d feel. The airy quality of the shoes was quite apparent as well, as my feet were rarely sweaty despite the constant movement, and the anti-microbial stuff KEEN uses in all of its sandals — Cleansport NXT — worked quite well, which was a plus in this work scenario.

KEEN-Uneek-review-hiking-2
The Keen Uneek sandals looking, well, like they do. They proved great for a conference or a simple trail.

I took a break one of the days, just to get a different feel for my feet, but the Uneek became my go-to footwear for the conference, which was just the start of testing. I have since hiked local trails, worn the Uneek around town, to the beach, to beach cleanups, and for a full, kid-fueled day at Disneyland — they excelled, despite getting a heap of curious glances.

Revelation: The Moment I Knew

I took the front spot on Splash Mountain, the famed water ride at (the one-and-only) Disneyland. I embraced the drop. I got wet. The KEEN Uneeks got soaked. I continued to walk for miles afterward, and they were comfy as can be.

KEEN-Uneek-review-relaxing
Relaxing after a long day.

The Uneeks were a conscious choice for me that day — I felt a single pair of shoes that could survive the heat of summer in Anaheim, deal with the inherent wetness of rides, not stink afterwards, and give me support was perhaps the ultimate shoe. And yes, this could be achieved with other hiking sandals — but could it be achieved in the KEEN Uneek?

Yup. The loose knitted braids let the breeze in and the sweat out. They dried rather quickly (about 15 minutes) after getting drenched on Splash Mountain, and caused zero chafing, an issue I often find with fabric-heavy hiking sandals.

KEEN-Uneek-review-braided-polyester
The braided polyester cords are what make the Uneek distinct. They dry well when wet, and are quite comfy.

My feet were sore afterward, but that’ll happen after walking for six miles and standing in lines all day no matter what shoes I’m wearing. And they weren’t terribly sore, either.

Digging Deeper

I find that I choose footwear entirely by activity at this point. Am I headed to the beach for a surf? Flip flops. Going on a hike through the local botanical garden? Trail runners. Being in a small beach town, those are the two most common scenarios, beyond heading to the grocery store or a night on the town.

The reality is that the KEEN Uneeks have become a viable choice for any of those scenarios. My thought process is usually: I want to wear sandals, but I want more support. Enter the Uneek. A bonus is that they’re covered, and a larger bonus is that they have a basic and functional lace system. With a single pull they are tight and hike-ready, with a single release they are casual and flip flop-esque.

2-KEEN-Uneek-review-hiking-1
Two ways to wear the Uneek. On the left: super casual, almost like flip flops, for easy walks and around town. On the right: tighten the single-pull laces and you can go for a hike with decreased friction.

The sole uses KEEN’s Metatomical Footbed Design, which is a shape, texture, and arch-support I am familiar with and sometimes enjoy. In other KEEN shoes I find it too “supportive” — it pushes my arch unnaturally — but the Uneek has a flatter approach (though not zero-drop by any means) that I really love. For the days where I want better posture, or days I know I’ll be out and about for a while, the Uneek has become my go-to footwear.

KEEN-Uneek-review-midsole
The midsole has arch support, a non-stink footbed, and is very solid when standing.

Comfort 

The KEEN Uneeks are some of the most comfortable closed-toe hiking sandals I’ve worn. They just work, and provide great support while not being rigid in the slightest. From Disneyland to the beach (where they let sand out admirably!) to the grocery store, the Uneeks are comfortably clutch.

KEEN-Uneek-review-heel-coverage
Typically sandals with thick fabric on top cause discomfort after a time. This hasn’t yet happened with the KEEN Uneek.

I have noticed that occasionally my feet feel like they are beginning to blister — but they never do. This feeling has lessened the longer I’ve worn them, and I think a small callous had to develop in my inner arch to stop it completely.

Durability 

For the upper being made of polyester rope, which could easily fray or be cut, I’ve found the Uneek’s durability to be outstanding.

I expected this of the KEEN sole, which is basic but very solid after months of use. But I didn’t expect it of the upper. A few pieces have started to fray in the slightest, but I have not been kind to them. I whacked weeds and heavily gardened in the Uneeks, something I don’t actually recommend (the dead grass gets stuck in the braided cords), but they held up perfectly well.

There is so much on this shoe that seems fragile, and like it could tear (and should), but nothing has yet.

Soles 

The soles have some excellent features, and some that are less than stellar. I love the support they provide, and find them to be fairly minimal in arch support compared to other KEEN models. I think this will allow more people to wear the Uneeks comfortably. They are also durable, and the insole is comfy to walk in.

My main issues are how heavy they are, and the lack of real tread. A single Uneek is 11 ounces (men’s size 9), and while that’s moderately light for all footwear, it’s not very light for sandals. Most of the weight, from my feeling, is in the sole. For them to be that heavy, I’d want better tread. While the Uneeks are comfy in casual and light-hiking scenarios, I would not take them on a real hike. The tread just doesn’t have the grip for it — not to mention the braided cord would collect dust and trail debris easily.

KEEN-Uneek-review-outsole-tread
The outsoles are PU, and provide great support, but they are heavy for not having great traction. As you can see from the lug pattern, these aren’t meant for serious hiking.

I urge KEEN to pick a lane — make the sole lighter overall and remove the light trail capability, or give it a sole that can truly grip and hike.

Strap and Webbing 

The polyester braided and microfiber enclosure of the Uneek is what makes the shoe — it defines it, and makes it unique (I waited a long time to say it!). Overall I love it. It’s comfortable, breathes well, has held up, and I quite like the look of it. Some people don’t, and that’s perfectly fine.

I docked a point because the upper is not great for clingy outdoor things, like dead grass, dust, burs, etc. You will definitely find these things if you take it on any trail. I still have bits of grass stuck in the upper from the garden overhaul I did a few weeks back, and while I could spend time to pick them out, most other hiking sandals simply would not have this issue, because their straps and webbing aren’t clingy.

1-KEEN-Uneek-review-hard-to-clean-1
On the left there’s a fresh amount of clipped grass. On the right, there’s less. I turned the shoe over and slapped it against the ground, which got off most of the grass, but certainly not all of it. This is a basic example, but the braided cord is quite clingy.

Fit

I have a fairly average foot, if wide in the forefoot. My arch is pretty neutral, but I also tend towards flatter shoes (but not zero drop). The Uneeks are offered in half sizes, which is nice, but they tend to run small. I went up half a size to accommodate, and they fit perfectly.

KEEN-Uneek-review-toe-coverage
The Keen Uneeks fit more like shoes than sandals, and your toes should definitely not touch the front, or they will rub uncomfortably.

Grievances

A few of my grievances have already been voiced. Overall I love the comfort and ingenuity of this hybrid sandal, and will continue to wear it well beyond this review. However, there are a couple points that KEEN could improve upon.

The sole is too heavy for something that doesn’t have great tread. Either make it lighter and more casual, or keep the weight and add some solid tread so I can really hike in it!

Likewise, the braided polyester cords are really cool, and very comfy, but they attract clingy things, often found on the trail. Perhaps wax them, or make them less clingy in some way.

Final Word

The KEEN Uneek is certainly unique. Stellar comfort, surprising support, and a love-it or hate-it style. If you want chill footwear for almost any occasion, slip into a pair.

Where to Buy KEEN Uneek

We tested the men’s version of the KEEN Uneek hiking sandal. There is a corresponding women’s version, which is the exact same except for fit and color.

If only things were that simple. Uneek is a movement by KEEN, and there are a lot of versions of the sandal out there, and the company just keeps making more. The Uneek O2 has a full back, making it more shoe-like; the Uneek Slide has no back, making it a full-on slipper; the Uneek Flat Cord uses wider, flatter cords instead of round, thin cords; the Uneek Leather is the same design and polyester cords, with a leather upper instead of microfiber; the Uneek HT is the same sandal but with a full liner, making it a shoe; and the Uneek EXO is a full shoe, with a combination of mesh and sneaker-like braiding.

While all of the above are interesting, we find the original Uneek to be the most unique, and the best of them all — though the leather model is great if you want a dressier shoe.

Compare KEEN Uneek hiking sandal prices below.

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Daniel Zweier

Daniel Zweier is Editor-in-Chief of Backpackers.com. Beyond orchestrating the daily flow of Backpackers.com, Daniel writes surrealistic short fiction and novels, adventures into the backcountry and abroad, surfs, reads, drinks tea, and obsesses over gear. A lot of gear. Visit his website if you want to learn more about his authorial pursuits.

Review Policy: We do not accept payments or gifts from brands and vendors, and strive to provide unbiased, independent advice. Brands typically provide review samples which we return, and in some cases we purchase the item so we can keep using it long after the review. Affiliate Policy: We support the hours that go into our reviews and testing through affiliate commissions on purchases made through links in this article. These don't effect the outcome of our reviews or selection of gear, as per our Review Policy.

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