Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (15)

When I was really young, going out to play in the snow meant stuffing my feet into plastic bags and then into my shoes. I still love playing in the snow just as much, but fortunately my footwear is a little more, uh, comfortable.

Nothing puts a damper on a winter ride quite like wet, cold feet. At best, you tough it out through a miserable ride. At worst – the ride is over, or you risk frost bite if the conditions are right. Shoe covers work, but they’ll only take you so far. Hardly waterproof thanks to the giant openings in the bottom, they also seem to all suffer from the same fate – torn and floppy after one good season.

Yes, winter riding boots will keep your feet warm and your summer shoes in great shape, but which ones should you get? There are more options than ever, but this time we’re taking a look at the new 45NRTH Wölvhammers, Bontrager Old Man Winters, and the Northwave Celsius Arctic 2 GTX…

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (12)

Of all the boots in this roundup, the 45NRTH Wölvhammers are the most burly. They feel like they would be equally at home hiking through the woods to do your best impression of a lumberjack as they would be pedaling through the frozen tundra. Because of that, they seem to be uniquely suited towards more adventurous winter riding. Sold with plugs for flat pedal use, the soles are equally aggressive offering sure footedness in most conditions. Feeling quite durable, these would be my choice for rides with a lot of bushwhacking or other situations where the ruggedness of your footwear may be called into question.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (3)

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (7)

Likely due to that construction, the Wölvhammers were not only the warmest, but also the most waterproof boots on test. Using a bucket of water, I put on each boot and stepped into the same water level. My plan was to time it until my foot was completely wet, but after 3 minutes, only my toes were wet on the Wölvhammers. At two minutes in, my foot was still completely dry meaning you should be able to cross streams with confidence that your feet will stay dry by the time you reach the other side. For testing their warmth, all three boots were used back to back to back on two different days – one at 0°f and one at about 10ºf. Regardless of sock choice, the 45NRTH Wolvhammers were the clear winner in warmth. Not surprisingly, the Wölvhammers were also the heaviest in the group at 737g per boot (with SPD cleat). Their redesign cut down on weight, but they’re still on the heavier side.

45nrth wolvhammer winter cycling boot redesign(19) 45nrth wolvhammer winter cycling boot redesign(17)

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (1)
Both the Bontrager and 45NRTH boots include tabs for gaiter use.

On the flip side, I found that the heavy duty construction made them less ideal for fast pedaling. Personally, I struggled to find the ideal fit – first in the actual size and then in the adjustment of the boot itself. After following the instructions on 45NRTH’s site I ended up with a 41 – smaller than the usual 41.5-42 I normally wear. Eventually I ended up with a 43 which were just a touch too big, but about right for really thick socks. Ideally, I should probably be in a 42, but the toebox of the Wölvhammer is narrow enough to warrant a size up. Once settled on size, I found the speed lace system to end up too loose around my foot and too tight around the ankle. Due to how tall the Wölvhammer is, for me it would be best to have two separate lace systems, one for the lower part of the boot, and one for the upper. Ultimately, the Wölvhammer will come down to fit – if they fit you well, they are an awesome boot.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (10)

Speaking of boots for going fast – the Northwave Celsius Arctic 2 GTX would be a good choice. Northwave’s pedigree of making fast, sleek shoes shows in the GTX as it was the lowest volume boot of the three. The GTXs also offer the best pedaling efficiency with a carbon reinforced Jaws sole, something you can actually feel. However, there seems to be no replacement for loft and it shows with the GTX offering the least warmth of all three. While Northwave rates these down to -25°c (-13ºf), for my feet that’s a little generous. They were great down to 10ºf, but below that they got a little uncomfortable. However, if you’re pedaling hard and putting off a lot of heat (and have warmer feet than me) you might actually be comfortable in the GTX below zero. As the lightest boot in the test, each boot came in at 520g (with SPD cleat).

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (8)

Using a combination speed lace system with two velcro covers, the GTX boots are very quick to get on. Their biggest negative comes from how the velcro straps push the speed lace latch into your ankle. I was unable to find a position for it under the velcro tabs that was comfortable as it dug into my shin when pedaling. I ended up sticking it outside the velcro covers which isn’t how it’s intended, but it was the best answer for me.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (5) Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (4)

On the bucket test, the GTX boots performed quite well as you would expect from a pair of boots with a Gore-tex membrane. Their weak point as expected comes from the velcro closures. As soon as the water gets to the first joint in the velcro, it will start to seep in. However, it did take at least 1:24 until the top of my foot started to get wet. While the GTX boots have a lower cuff than the Wolvhammers, they do a good job of keeping water out for a short period of time.

It’s worth pointing out that the GTXs, are the only boot out of the three that do not come with bolt-on tread blocks to use with plat form pedals.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (9)
Photo by Ryan W.

The Bontragers were a surprise. When we were approached to try out their new winter boot, I sort of expected something similar to other boots with the Bontrager logo attached. What we got was a fairly unique boot in a very good way.

Specialized 686 winter fat bike clothing (2)

Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (10) Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (12)

Most winter boots suffer from the same issue – in order to be warm, they usually give up pedaling performance due to the heavier construction. Some times that means riders experience a lot of heel slip, other time it just means the fit is not very comfortable. Due to a very flexible upper and a well placed compression strap, the Bontrager Old Man Winter delivers a boot that is super warm, comfortable, and quite pedal friendly. To get there, the OMWs use a boot within a boot construction with a 200g 3M Thinsulate bootie that nests inside the outer shell. To keep the two from moving independently when pedaling, the bootie has a large area of “cat tongue” fabric that locks into the opposite wall of the outer boot and keeps your heel from moving.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (14) Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (2)

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (6)

While the OMWs stayed comfortably dry on the trail, the occasional creek crossing, and even submerged by a wave up to my ankles, they fared the worst on the bucket test, completely soaking through in just 24 seconds. The waterproof zipper is enough to shed water and snow on the trail, but when completely submerged it takes on water in a hurry. On the positive side, the OMWs came in just under the 45NRTH Wolvhammers in terms of total warmth, and take the prize for total comfort and pedaling performance. Sitting right in the middle, the OMWs came in at 617g per boot (with SPD cleat).

Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (9) Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (8)

It should be mentioned that while the Wolvhammer and GTX are fairly easy to put on (important when you’re dancing around on frozen pavement at the trailhead trying to put on your boots), the OMWs are fairly difficult. Part of what keeps the boot warm and comfy is the 200g 3M Thinsulate bootie, but it also is difficult to keep from bunching up when you put it on. It does have a pull tab on the rear, but it isn’t attached to the outer boot so it can be tricky. Once your foot is inside though, a speed lace system pulls it snug (the best of the bunch), and I found the size of the speed lace tab to be small enough with enough room inside the outer boot that it was unobtrusive. There is also a pull cord on the cuff to keep out any snow.

Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (6) Bontrager OMW old man winter boot cycling (7)

The OMWs also deserve credit for attempting to increase rider visibility in the winter. They may not be offered in the Hi Viz color way of the Northwave boots, but the OMWs have a little velcro strap on the back that is meant for a Bontrager Ember light for each foot. Granted you have to buy the lights, but those concerned about visibility on their commute may appreciate this feature.

Winter cycling boot review bikerumor 45nrth wolvhammer bontrager OMW old man winter northwave Celcius 2 gtx (16)

Perhaps proof there is no perfect boot, in spite of the few negatives for each model I would still recommend each of them depending on your intended use. If you’re into more rugged adventure riding (and assuming they are a better fit for you than me), the 45NRTHs seem like an excellent choice. For riders looking to spend more time racing during the winter and looking for a winter boot for cyclocross or just an SPD compatible road shoe (also available with an SPD-SL compatible sole), the Northwaves are the answer thanks to their light construction and sleek form. When it comes to general riding, those looking for the most comfort and flexibility when pedaling, the Bontrager OMWs are a great option, which are also probably my pick for a favorite among these three.

It’s a tough choice, but whatever you choose, you’ll be way better off than summer shoes and plastic bags.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I have the Northwave boots and replaced the stock insole with the 45 North Jaztronaut insole – this made a notable difference in how warm the boots stayed, especially below -15 Celsius. I would also highly recommend the Jaztronaut insoles to those that just use their regular cycling shoes in the winter – they really keep the cold from seeping in from the cleat bed.

  2. Zach – How long of a ride did you test these out for? My Wolvahmmers are good up to a point, then I turn on my heated insoles and I’m good for another couple hours. I have the same issue with the speed lace system and wish there were two laces too (or 2 BOAs ideally).

    I’m surprised by the OMW waterproofing. In the winter, you’ll eventually stick your foot somewhere it didn’t mean to go. I found myself ankle deep in a beaver pond while lost on a ride and the 45NRTHs were perfectly dry.

    The one thing you didn’t mention is that the OMW boots are the easiest to dry between rides witht eh inner boot coming out. 45NRTH says to not use a boot heater as it ruins the waterproofing ability of the boot so it’s difficult to keep them dry if you ride daily. Newspaper only works so well.

    • I’ve ridden each boot for 3+ hour rides. Like the photo of the waves, I briefly submerged my feet in the OMWs without getting wet, but yeah, wait too long and it comes in quick. You’d think the OMWs would be quick to dry, but I found that to be the opposite. Even when removing the inner boot, it took two days for them to dry out after the bucket test.

  3. Where are the Lake MXZ 303’s? Lake has been making true winter boots before any of these other companies hopped in. They’re pretty sweet… I’d love to hear how they match up to the Bontragers.

    • Frank, this was a round up for a few of the new boots for the 2016 season. We checked out the 303s here, but comparing them to these, the 303s are my current favorite for super cold conditions, though they let water in pretty quickly as well. The Bontragers pedal a little better than the 303s, but the 303s offer better warmth.

  4. I second on Lake MXZ. They were the first “true” winter boots introduced many years ago (as the MXZ300, if I remember well). I have been using the same pair of MXZ302 for about 7 years and they are still going strong.

  5. Angry Catfish here in Minneapolis put up a pic of the new Lake MXZ400 boots. Theyre looking pretty good.

    I consider 303s to be for warmer weather than Wolvhammers. Theyre also way more comfortable.

  6. When will shoe makers end the stupidity of tapered, rounded toe shapes? Most people’s feet are not shaped like the front of these shoes. Make fun of them, but shoes like Birkenstocks actually understand the shape of human feet…but, if the rest of the shoe industry can’t figure this out, I shouldn’t expect the bike industry to do any better.

    • Everyone has different preferences but you need to take foot dynamics into account. Your weight on your feet in Birkenstocks isn’t the same as while cycling. Also, Birkenstocks aren’t made to be efficient. You actually lose energy when your feet spread out. You’ve gotta restrict them to varying degrees.

  7. I am an industry salesperson and as much as I love Trek and Bontrager products, my purchase of the OMW boot this season left me wanting for more. I live in a northern climate and typically ride -10C to -30C conditions that are dry and powdery. While the boot is rated -3C to -18C as per their product page, I found the boot to be mostly useless below -5C. These are high intensity workouts of 2-3 hours and I am not typically a cold person. I found more luck in the past with Gore booties and regular mountain shoes. Even a few rides where I rode 2+ hours right around the freezing mark, I was left with cold toes. I have great merino socks and often layer them for extra wicking and warmth. The boot just gets moist inside and does not insulate in the toe box. The ember light straps on the back ripped quickly. As far as versatility and construction, I did enjoy the boot. They were also fine for 20-30min commutes in temperatures well below their rating. As far as long rides, I often ran up singletrack hills to stamp some life into my toes, and experienced purple digits more than once while riding within the boot’s temp range. This is pretty much going to be a fall boot for me in the future, where temps hover around freezing. The removable liner is nice for drying, but the flimsy thermal insoles are garbage and the boots do not offer much extra vertical room for thicker insulated insoles. The insoles often clump up when inserting your foot or come right out when exiting the boot. Oh well.

  8. Last years Wolvehammers are far warmer than the 2016 version. I made the upgrade, and then quickly sold them on eBay. Its too bad, they are a great boot.

  9. Bryan , I have the OMW boots and have used them for 3+ hours in 11°f and my feet were warm the whole time. I have found that if I wear thick Merino socks or layer them that my foot sweats and then get cold so I only use a thin merino wool socks and my feet stay sweat free and warm!

  10. Cool test. Thanks!
    I’ve not found the perfect boot or shoe for wet weather yet, these look cool, but I’m still looking.

    Currently I’m using waterproof socks (theres plenty of these for 30ush on amazon) in my regular mtb shoes.

    Pros:
    – 100% waterproof, no matter how long you leave it in the water
    – neoprene exterior socks up water and keep your warm, warmer than regular boots
    – lighters, even when the water soaks in the neoprene
    – feet dont sweat much even thus i doubt the socks are very breathable

    Cons:
    – shoes a mess when you remove em, obviously 😉 aaand that’s the only real con, but it is a big one if you’re going places or putting the shoes back on the next day/hours later and everything/s wet.

  11. Useless test, tells absolutely nothing about these shoes. Test done here has nothing to do with winter, please test them in REAL -25 degrees C and use those different shoes and THEN give us your opinion.

    When you need these shoes, there is no splashing water around.

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