Winter shoes shootout: Bontrager, Northwave, Shimano, Specialized

Comparison of power transfer, traction, warmth, wind and waterproofing

Shoes Winter Guide
The best winter shoes are easy to put on and take off, are warm, wind and waterproof, and provide efficient power transfer on the bike, and reliable traction of it.

The best winter shoes are easy to put on and take off, are warm, wind and waterproof, and provide efficient power transfer on the bike, and reliable traction off it (click to enlarge).

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the Mtbr Ultimate Guide to winter mountain biking, fat bikes, gear, apparel, lights and trainers. We are taking a deep dive into all manner of cold weather mountain bike gear, with round-ups and reviews of fat bikes, tires, wheels, apparel, trainers, lights and more. To see all the articles, head over to our Winter Guide Hub Page.

Sure the start of spring was a couple days ago. But that doesn’t mean cold-weather riding is behind us. Just yesterday it snowed two feet in the cycling hotbed of Boulder, Colorado. That same storm is now carving a cold path across the rest of the country. Point being, it may be a while before many cyclists can stash their winter bike wear in the basement.

Of all those items, a good pair of cold-weather shoes are arguably your most important defense against Jack Frost. The best are easy to put on and take off, are warm, wind and waterproof, and provide efficient power transfer on the bike, and reliable traction off it. (Many cold-weather shoes are also on sale right now, meaning this could be a perfect time to get equipped for next winter.)

Spring is here, but that doesn't mean these guys are headed to the back of the closest just yet.

Spring is here, but that doesn’t mean these guys are headed to the back of the closet just yet (click to enlarge).

During the past four months, we’ve been testing offerings from Bontrager, Northwave, Shimano, and Specialized to see which does the best job at fighting off the elements. And while none were perfect — or terrible — the Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex took top honors, with the Bontrager Old Man Winter close behind. Indeed, in a perfect world, we’d own a pair of each, with the Shimanos being the go-to choice for temperatures down to about 15 degrees, and the Bontragers filling in from there. Here’s a complete shoe-by-shoe rundown, including price, per shoe weight, and what we think each is best used for.

Winter Shoes Shootout

Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex Shoes
Price: $250 | Weight: 505 grams | Best for: Most winter rides

As noted above, the Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex shoes captured our best in test award thanks to a balance of warmth, performance, waterproofing, ease of use, and light weight. Indeed, these shoes were the lightest of the four, yet still kept our feet and toes comfortable and dry during all but the coldest rides. Closure is a straightforward three-step process with a pull cord, Velcro strap, and then neoprene Velcro ankle closure. The Torbal midsole allows the shoe to flex slightly near the heel, but otherwise remain stiff, with an index number of five.

Fit is snug but not tight for our standard width foot, so size up if you prefer to wear thicker socks. Ankle seal is tight enough that post holing in deep snow didn’t result in wet socks, while heel hold is secure when walking. The rubber outsole delivers secure grip and walking comfort when trudging up slippery slopes, but it’s not so soft that it feels like pedaling energy is wasted. For more info visit www.shimano-lifestylegear.com.

Winter Shoes Shootout

Bontrager Old Man Winter Shoes
Price: $300 | Weight: 639 grams | Best for: The coldest of cold rides

While we preferred the fit, ease of use, and performance of the Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex shoes, when it came to staying warm and comfortable on truly arctic days, nothing we tested came close to Bontrager’s Old Man Winter shoes (more like boots, actually). The combination of a fleece lined bootie and the waterproof OutDry upper did the best job of the four keeping toes and feet warm and dry. The middle-of-the-road six stiffness index meant off-the-bike efforts were comfortable, while the nylon/rubber sole delivered plenty of grip when walking up slick slopes. And the removable liner makes a great walk-around slipper if you end up at a backcountry hut. Commuters will also appreciate that you can mount a small blinky taillight to the back of the ankle. Cross racers will appreciate the option to mount toe spikes.

On the downside, putting these shoes is a multi-step process that starts with pulling on and cinching the removable bootie. Next comes the shell, which has a taped and sealed zipper, then there are two hook-and-loop Velcro closures, and finally there’s a cinch cord at the ankle. The Bontrager Old Man Winter shoes were also the heaviest in the test, coming in 134 grams more per shoe than the Shimano MW7s. But on days when the mercury is so low your water bottle freezes 10 minutes into your ride, warmth, not weight is the top priority. For more info visit www.trekbikes.com.

Winter Shoes Shootout

Specialized Defroster Trail Shoes
Price: $200 | Weight: 543 grams | Best for: Cold weather racing

With a middle-of-the-scale stiffness index of six and a reasonable per shoe weight, the Specialized Defroster Trail shoes strike a balance between arctic-survival wear and lighter weight racy gear. These wouldn’t be our first choice for supremely cold rides, nor during a spring fat bike race. But if your typical rides slot somewhere in the middle, these shoes are worth trying on. They’re also the most affordable in this test, $100 cheaper than the Bontrager offering.

The Defroster Trail’s tall dual Velcro sealed collar with neoprene cuffs keeps snow out even during extended post holing sessions, and the BOA dial allows for a tidy fine tuned fit without extra cord to manage. Fit is roomy compared to the other shoes tested here, meaning you can wear thicker socks without having to size up. Thinsulate 400-gram insulation kept our feet warm in the 20 to 30-degree temperature range, and the waterproof, seam-sealed internal liner adds an additional heat trapping barrier. We also love the orange accents on the sole. Points are taken off for minimal tread and the lack of toe spike holes. For more info visit www.specialized.com.

Winter Shoes Shootout

Northwave Celsius Arctic2 GTX
Price: $270 | Weight: 517 grams | Best for: Hard charging racer types

These winter-beaters from Italy’s Northwave are very similar in look and feel to the Shimano MW7 Gore-Tex. The closure system includes a pull-cord and two Velcro straps, and they have a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, though the top of the shoe does not seal as well as the other shoes in the test. The Celcius Arctic2 GTX do have the stiffest sole of the four shoes, utilizing carbon reinforcements along with a hard rubber tread.

The rigid tread meant less ice grip than the other shoes. Points were also deducted for excess lacing, which does a nice job of securing the shoe, but is then a pain to stow. The closure mechanism is also a little bulky, and can put pressure on the top of you foot when the Velcro straps are pulled over tight. Best to cut and retie the string, and even look for a smaller cinch mechanism.

On the plus side, the Celcius Arctic2 GTX have attachments for toe spikes, which could come in handy if you were lining up at for a icy MTB or cyclocross race. Fit is very roomy compared to the other shoes tested here, meaning you can wear thicker socks without having to size up. And they are fairly light, weighing just 12 grams more than the Shimanos. Finally if the blue/black colorway is too tame, they come in bright yellow, too. For more info visit www.northwave.com.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympics, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the Mtbr staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.


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  • thub says:

    45 NRTH Wolfgar rocks. I live in Alaska and have had troubles with my feet for years while fat biking. Wolfgar solved the issue. I ride flats in the winter and haven’t tried them clipless yet but plan to next winter. The boots are expensive but worth every penny, I was able to ride at any temp this winter.

  • jchkeys says:

    I have the Northwave Gran Canion goretex, they are amazing, especially when you have to hike a bike…. all the road bike form shoes just upset me, I like a full hiking sole….

  • zuyowoxo says:

    very nice

  • rob black says:

    Sorry, but a winter comparison without 45 NRTH or Lake is fairly useless. The long time kings have to be used as a control group to make a meaningful comparison.

  • Stumpy says:

    I picked up a pair of Lake MXZ303′s, and they seem pretty nice. They are warm, and so far waterproof. They have a Boa on the bottom, and a snap buckle top.

    I did strip a screw hole in the cleat plate, which was depressing, but they are great, IMO, boots.

    Stay safe, everyone…

  • Stumpy says:

    I was curious about the Specialized Defroster shoes, but they felt ‘light’. The Lake’s had Vibram soles that grip in the snow, ice, and mud…

  • Munter says:

    If you need winter boots then you are probably damaging the tracks.

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