My morning routine generally involves grinding of beans and a short wait while my water reaches optimal temperature for bean flavor extraction. During this wait I often find myself scrolling the social medias to see who’s resplendent lifestyle I should most envy. After all, don’t we all live the perfect life on FaceBook? Love it or hate it, Facebook helps connect our bike tribe so we can help each other out with answers to burning questions like, “Who makes the best boot for winter riding?” Scrolling through the responses makes it clear that industry leaders are Lake and 45NRTH in this category. It just so happens I have in my possession, the latest and greatest from both companies. As the lucky bastard anointed “Apparel Editor” here at Fat-Bike.com I get to add more white noise to the conversation.
Lake and 45NRTH have redesigned their premier products. Lake’s MXZ304 ($329) and 45NRTH’s Wolvhammer Boa ($325) have seen great improvements for 2020. It appears that spies from both camps invaded each other’s R & D Lab, held the staff hostage for a few hours, scrubbed the hard drives, and made off with valuable intel because both have upped their gamesmanship with suspiciously similar technology. In this climate of angry political posturing, I hope their rivalry remains friendly. It encourages market competition leading to better products for us. If you’ve been around the scene for a while you know both Lake and 45NRTH have continually pushed the boundaries to make outstanding winter footwear for cycling. I’ve tried them both over the years most recently favoring the Lake MKZ 303 over the Wolvhammer. Don’t get me wrong, they are both fantastic and offer amazing comfort, warmth, and performance. For me, it came down to pedal clearance and boot profile. Let me explain…
My first winter riding boot was the second generation Wolvhammer. They were the warmest boots I’ve ever worn. In fact, they were better for ice fishing than the Cabela pack boots I typically wear for off-bike winter endeavors. Like a pack boot, the Wolvhammer has a big footprint and wears like snowboarding boot. The Wolvhammer was also famous for the gymnastics required to get them off and on. It drove me nuts. The Lake MKZ 303, by contrast, was much easier to work with, fit well and didn’t make my toes scream for mercy when the temperatures dipped below zero. And yet, those Lake boots could not touch the Wolvhammer for warmth. To get the same temperature rating you’d have to go up to the MKZ 404 at $429. That’s a $100 price increase. No thank you. For me, it came down to weight and profile. I was doing more races back then, so I preferred the smaller profile of the Lake boot. The Lake was much easier to get in and out of employing a BOA enclosure on the side with a Velcro strap over the toes. I rode the Lake MXZ boot for two seasons only experiencing a couple of days when my toes were wondering why in the Hell I got rid of the Wolvhammers.
All New and Improved for 2020
As I mentioned, both boots are redesigned for 2020. Here’s a shakedown of what they have to offer.
45NRTH Wolvhammer BOA
- Temperatures: 0F to 25F (-18C to -4C)
- Uppers: Coated microfiber with ballistic nylon underlays and ®Techtuff toe outside of a waterproof-breathable membrane
- Insulation: 200g Primaloft quilted inside removable liner boot; 2mm aerogel blanket under the foot to thermally block metal cleats
- Closure: Single-zone BOA M3 mid-power reel and lacing system
- Lasts: XX-wide last with tall toe box for extra insulation on top of the foot
- Temperatures: 14F-45F (-10C-7C).
- Uppers: Pittards WR100 leather; Outlast temperature regulating liner
- Insulation: 3M Thinsulate lining in the toe box; Thermosol composite insulation insole
- Closure: Tongue Mounted Push/Pull Mid-Power BOA closure system with a larger dial for easy adjustment while wearing winter gloves.
- Lasts: Wider & taller toe box than traditional lasts allowing the foot to maintain proper circulation even when thicker socks are worn.
The most significant change to the Wolvhammer is the complete elimination of straps. Similar to some snowboarding boots on the market, the new Wolvhammer uses a single BOA enclosure. This makes entry and removal so much easier. In fact, the Wolvhammer is easier to get in and out of the new Lake boots. Both companies have increased space in the Last’s toe box allowing more room to wiggle the toes increasing blood circulation.
All Good, Bro…
I’ve ridden both of these boots several times over the last two weeks, but today I had an inspired idea to put a different boot on each foot to literally run them side by side. In fact, I took two rides, switching back and forth. I’ll skip to the punchline and tell you I preferred the Wolvhammer for overall comfort and warmth. It was 25F/-3C and sunny. In past years I would’ve taken the Lakes over the 45NRTH boots because they felt lighter, fit well, and provided nearly the same level of performance. However, the new Wolvhammer Boa with its removable liner, snug fit, roomy toe-box, and light-weight profile is simply amazing.
I’m sure there are riders that will still choose the Lake boots over the 45NRTH. The MXZ304 is a good choice, particularly if you don’t need, or care about a removable liner, or most of your winter riding is in warmer climates. The tension and additional Velcro closure over the top of the foot provides another layer of fit adjustment unavailable on the Wolvhammer. I ride with SPD pedals year-round, but also have a couple of bikes with flats like the Surly Krampus I chose to ride today. The recessed SPD clip wasn’t even noticeable on the flats from either boot. The Wolvhammer has a removable cleat panel for SPDs, while the Vibram sole on the Lake MXZ304 is open for business. Between the two, I found the Wolvhammer a better walking boot off the bike.
The Wolvhammer also has a proprietary sole that was grippy on soft and slippery surfaces. Again, not a game-changer, just one more item to check in the “yes” column. If I had any complaint about the 45NRTH boot is that I had to re-tighten the BOA mid-ride each time I’ve worn the Wolvhammers. Might be user error, too. Time will tell. I’ll have an extended review at the end of the season. In the meantime, get out and ride!