45NRTH Wolvhammer Boots: (re)designed with purpose
The latest 45NRTH Wölvhammer boot was reworked to fill the gap between performance-oriented design and cozy comfort. So how’d they fare in the frigid and snowy environs of British Columbia?
If you liked the 2015 Wölvhammer from 45NRTH, you’ll love the updated iteration. The latest model maintains the mid-weight construction and features we expect to see in a winter cycling boot, but welcomes new user-friendly alterations that are designed specifically with winter riding in mind. Not surprising, coming from the brand that continues to position themselves at the forefront of winter riding gear and apparel.
This year’s model offers more by providing (just a smidge) less. 45NRTH scrapped the zippered outer and simplified the main closure with a sleek drawstring lace system, with the thought of winter gloves in mind. Another notable change is the removal of the d-ring style upper strap, replaced with a single velcro closure; a modification that makes loosening and tightening the boot easier with gloves on. A welcome sight is the continuation of the heavily lugged Vibram sole and an overall look and feel that resembles a mountaineering boot with 200g of Primaloft insulation.
All of those features packed into a clipless ready boot makes for a definite contender for those on the hunt for winter bikepacking footwear designed with just that in mind.
How they performed.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I try to push my un-insulated shoes as far as I can into the fall… and then the winter. I pack extra socks when things get wet, layer more socks when things get cold, and cringe when the wind picks up. An unfortunate previous experience with shoe covers was proof that even local day rides can quickly turn into suffer-fests. Our extremities are the first to feel the effects of riding in the cold, and with a desire to maintain the performance of riding clipless, I knew it would require a purposefully designed cycling boot to satisfy my winter cravings.
Conveniently, I received this pair of Wölvhammers in the mail just after we got our first major snow in the Okanagan Valley of BC. For testing purposes — and my enjoyment — I used the boots on plenty of technical snowy singletrack, a couple of winter fat-packing trips, a number of longer day rides, and my daily commute. Temperatures ranged from 0°C / 32°F to -30°C / -22°F, and involved more hiking than biking on more occasions than I’d like to admit. Fitting for the test period, the boots were used in some pretty harsh conditions beyond their recommended comfort zone, which should be a good barometer for the kinds of situations found during a lot of long winter bikepacking trips.
All that said, I can now thank the Wölvhammer’s super-durable ballistic nylon Cordura shell and strategically placed synthetic Primaloft insulation for an uninterrupted riding season. The wind is often the main culprit for my freezing toes, especially when wearing well-ventilated cycling shoes that sport plenty of mesh. The Wölvhammer’s not only stop any intruding breezes, but they provide a waterproof barrier that protects your feet from snow, slush, water, and whatever other gunk you find yourself in.
In addition, the Wölvhammer’s fixed fleece liner helps wick moisture buildup away from your feet, ensuring you ride warm and dry all day long. My only complaint is the lack of removable liner, which would make for a truly multi-day friendly boot, but this can be overcome with proper sock layering. To be fair, 45NRTH’s WØLFGAR boot includes a removable wool liner, but offers a little too much insulation and warmth for my needs.
As my feet sweat easily, even in winter, I found myself overheating too quickly and was wetting out the fleece liner of the boot from the inside. Not everyone will have this problem, but I quickly started using a vapor barrier liner in between my thin liner sock and my thick wool sock. This method keeps the boot’s insulation and my thick wool sock dry, which is more important than keeping my feet dry on multi-day trips. Pro tip: I’ve been using bread bags as my vapor barrier liner sock – it’s the cheapest method available and works like a charm.
It took a bit of getting used to riding with big burly boots. After all, they’re a stiff boot, not a shoe. Case in point I stand about an inch taller when I’m wearing them; their sturdy and thick sole helps insulate your feet from the ground – this meant a few adjustments were in order on the bike. First was raising the saddle, and then to accommodate for the stiff upper on the boot I ended up playing with the fore and aft of the saddle as well.
I followed 45NRTH’s sizing chart which landed me at a size 47 (13 US), and I was immediately skeptical, as I’m usually closer to a US size 11.5 or 12. I figured I’d go with their recommendation and hoped that any extra room would be taken up with thick socks. I’m very glad I trusted the sizing chart, as the 47’s keep my heel locked in place, but give plenty of room around my toes and on top of my foot. I fill in excessive space with my three-piece sock layering system, and if I expect significantly colder temps I have room to add a foam footbed under the included one for increased insulation from the ground. I’ve tried wearing a standard weight cycling sock, and it works, but the fit is much better with thick wool socks.
The extra wide fit of the Wölvhammers means a bit less clearance around the drivetrain, especially on the outside edge of the chainstays. Thankfully I have had no issues with unexpected contact while running Shimano’s M8020 or M520 pedals on both my Surly Krampus and Rocky Mountain’s Blizzard -30, so finding a pedal with a longer spindle length wasn’t a priority at all.
- Incredibly weather resistant, windproof, and waterproof.
- Mountaineering boot design offers great support and traction for pushing heavy bikes in snow.
- Simple drawstring closure and velcro tab are great for multi-day winter adventures.
- Super durable ballistic nylon outer holds up to abuse.
- Pretty expensive.
- Sock layering is required for proper fit in cold weather.
- It’s a big boot – which requires some getting used to.
- Not very breathable – vapour barrier sock is a must for multi-day rides.
- Weight: 1430g with shimano cleats
- Sizes: Available in men’s extra wide 36-50 in whole sizes (no size 49)
- Suggested Temperature Rating: 0°F / -18°C to 25°F / -3°C
- Price: $325 US / $431 CAD
- Place of manufacture: Thailand
- Contact: 45NRTH.com
Priced at $479 CAD ($360 USD), the 45NRTH Wölvhammer isn’t the cheapest winter cycling boot available, but it’s one of the only true winter boots available that offers the support, insulation, and durability needed for multi-day sub-zero rides. Lake’s MXZ400 and Bontrager’s OMW are potentially the most comparable winter-specific shoes out there, priced at $429 and $299 US respectively. However, these options sport multiple Boa closures and zippers — I have a feeling the Wölvhammer’s might be better suited for those looking to tackle some truly adventurous winter bikepacking trips. During my testing period the boots exceeded the lower temperature rating of 0°F / -18°C, especially when wearing a good sock layering system and gaiter — but you’ll want to make sure you keep the boot’s insulation dry or they will be rendered useless. Simplicity always wins when you’re dealing with cold weather, and 45NRTH nailed it with the Wölvhammers.