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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.