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A Tale of Two Boas: 45NRTH Wolvehammer vs. Lake MXZ304 – by Greg Gentle

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

Lake MXZ304

  • 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.

The Test
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!

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7 Responses to A Tale of Two Boas: 45NRTH Wolvehammer vs. Lake MXZ304 – by Greg Gentle

  1. Joe November 18, 2019 at 5:28 pm #

    I have the new Wolvhammer and love it!!!

  2. A7Dave November 19, 2019 at 12:20 am #

    I recently bought the Lake 304(Wide). I’ve had the Wolverhammer (non-Boa) for three years. The Lakes are a full pound lighter. Haven’t ridden them in real winter cold yet, but they are unlikely to beat the 45Nrths for warmth. The Lakes are much closer to a race boot than the Wolverhammers. One problem I’ve encountered is that the Lake soles need to be cut away in the front of the cleat. I need my cleats all the way forward and all the way inward. The sole rubber interferes with clip engagement and I took a razor and a Dremel tool to abrade the rubber away. The Lakes will be my race boot, unless…

    I plan on using the Lakes for races above 10-15 degrees F. Below that – the Wolverhammers – they do the job, with room to spare for toe warmers if needed.

  3. Big B November 19, 2019 at 12:33 am #

    Its unfortunate 45Nrth made the switch to Boa. They work well initially, but over time become a liability as the ratchets wear out (one of the reasons I got rid of my Lakes). To Boa’s credit they are VERY good about providing replacement parts, but I’d rather not have to deal with it at all. I’ll stick with my lace-up Wolvhammers/Wolfgars thank-you.

  4. Nina Gässler November 20, 2019 at 4:51 am #

    The new Wölfhammers are very similar to the Lake MXZ400.
    I just bought the new Wölfhammers and they feel like a more rigid (very little ankle movement) and slightly warmer version of the MXZ400.
    I’m not super stoked about the new 45NRTH boots, but they feel warmer than the old modell. The Boa does not only need to be tightened mid ride, it already needs to be tightened after walking a few steps. The single Boa closure isn’t enough to properly attach the boot to your feet. One additional strap or a different Boa cable routing might have helped.

  5. Jeremy Cooksey November 21, 2019 at 9:35 am #

    Thanks for this review and write up Gregory. This will be my 1st year riding a fat bike in the snow and I am trying to do my homework. We have just recently moved back to Colorado and I am preparing to pedal year round this time. My biggest concern about pedaling in a boot is, like you discussed, the pedal clearance and boot profile. I am also concerned about flexibility around the ankles, I have just simply, never pedaled in a boot before. I ride road, gravel and mtbs and they all have SPD pedals. I have always worn standard cycling shoes and used shoe covers on the colder days. From your write up and review, it sounds like either of these would be a great choice,but wonder if either of these boots are more or less restrictive than the other as far as pedal stroke?

    • Greg November 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm #

      Thank you for the question, Jeremy. You can’t go wrong with the Lake or Wolvhammer boot. I’ve seen some folks that needed to trim a little of the Vibram sole away to accommodate their SPD clip in the Lake boot. That decision depends on how your foot alignment. Another consideration is what temperatures you’re dealing with and if you plan to race. For racing, I prefer the Lake boots. On the other hand, the 45NRTH boots are rated for deeper temperatures than the Lakes. It comes down to what your overall use will be.

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