Bontrager OMW Review: Old Man Winter Shoes
At the end of last season and now into the early weeks of this winter’s snow, we tested Bontrager’s vaunted OMW boots in New England’s cold and wet conditions.
I feel like I have my clothing well sorted out for a variety of frosty challenges, and quality high loft pogies have more or less ended any concerns I have about my hands on winter rides. Keeping my feet warm, on the other hand, remains a series of experiments. Last February and March and now into December, I’ve been impressed with Bontrager’s Old Man Winter boots on day long winter rides in low digits. They are well constructed, have laudable features, and are comparatively easy to get on and off. Bontrager has told us that they aren’t significantly changing the boot for this season and that makes sense. My take is that it is a very successful design.
I’m firstly a fan of the way this boot finds a balance between buttoning up your feet against the elements and achieving convenience in getting it on and off. Bontrager succeeds at this mostly thanks to an inner bootie that is separate from the outer, protective part of the boot. The bootie is laced up with a cord lock for a comfortable fit, is lined with fleece, and has a 200 gram Thinsulate insulation. The bootie wrapped foot is then placed in the outer shell, which has a rubberized ankle cuff and is lined with a waterproof four way stretch membrane. The shell is zipped up in the center front with a water resistant zipper, two velcro straps are secured across the toe area and instep, and the top of the ankle cuff can be cinched tight with another cord lock.
In all this system isn’t cumbersome or time consuming, and it provides several advantages. The bootie can be dried independently from the body of the boot, the zipper is a quick way of sealing everything up snugly, and I suspect that the slight independent movement of the bootie in the shell gives another layer of protection against hot spots or blisters, much like wearing two pairs of socks. I’ve even read reports of people bringing the booties along on Autumn and Spring bikepacking trips to wear in a sleeping bag. This strikes me as an excellent idea.
On the bike the boot has excellent ankle flexibility and it is noticeably more trim than the competitors. It’s not as dramatic as the difference between cross-country ski and alpine touring boots, but that’s in the right ballpark. Pedaling feels unrestricted and natural, a feeling I appreciated very much. The close fitting top section deserves special mention here. It’s like a thick rubberized sock. Perhaps this is why Bontrager calls the OMW a “shoe.” To be clear, though, these remarks apply wholly within the comparison class of winter footwear, so I’m not suggesting that you would wear the OMW’s on a grey day during shoulder season. For my preferences, it’s still too chunky for that, and definitely is squarely intended for winter.
I found two areas of concern in the overall design. Firstly, the zipper is stressed as it is pulled to close up the main body of the boot. Admittedly, my feet are somewhat high volume and I’ve had no real trouble so far, but I could see the zipper being a point of failure. Perhaps folks with narrower or lower volume feet would have no problem. Secondly, the zipper creeps down during pedaling if it’s not locked at the top of its travel. It requires a touch of vigilance to make sure all is in order to avoid letting a chill or snow in.
FIT AND FUNCTION
It’s normal to size up in a winter shoe with the idea that one will wear thick socks or even two pairs. I feel (even more) clumsy in very large footwear, so I don’t usually go overboard on this front. In this case, the boot is my normal size and the fit was very comfortable with a midweight synthetic sock inside the bootie. That strikes me as a decent configuration for breathability and not feeling like the shoe is constricting. My toes had plenty of room to wiggle in the toe box. I would say that the boots run true to size, and that however much you usually size up for additional room, do so here as well but don’t feel like you need to exaggerate it.
On our Thursday night Fat Bike rides we usually see temperatures in the mid-teens Fahrenheit (around -10C), and the OMWs aren’t fazed in the slightest over spans of three hours with some stopping and standing around in the snow. I can report the same toasty results for all day rides in the 20s F (-5C). Those are, of course, far from expedition conditions and I suspect these boots would be overwhelmed by sustained time spent below zero F. But those occasions probably require special preparation no matter what the boot.
The boot has an industry standard Vibram outsole, which I found great for walking and scrambling with the bike. It’s fairly stiff, which is terrific for power transfer. On a spectrum of stiff mountain bike shoe to flexible hiking shoe, the OMWs are nearer to the mountain bike side without being out of the running for the medium length hike-a-bike.
I ride VP-001 flat pedals on my fat bike, and the soles of Bontrager boots stuck tight to them. Conventional wisdom has it that clipless pedals in winter transmit cold into footwear, presumably by cooling the internal plate that the cleat secures to. I’m not persuaded that the effect is dramatic, and I’ve run clipless on other pairs of boots for years without seeing much of a difference. But I didn’t mount cleats to the Bontrager boots, so I can’t report how that may change the perceived temperature range for them.
The sole doesn’t seem especially better (or worse) than other boots I’ve worn in terms of clearing ice and snow from the lugs and the space around the cleat area. This reinforces my recent strategy of going with flat pedals: just kick the boot a couple of times against the crankarm and pedal away.
There is a handy ring behind the toes to secure a gaiter, and the loop at the achilles area offers a usable pull to get the boot on. Another feature to admire: The boots feel light on your feet.
WOULD HAVE LIKED TO SEE
I am disappointed not to see mounts for spikes. Evidently the previous version of the boot had spike mounts, but this version does not. It happens pretty often on winter rides where I am located, that we’re riding with studded tires across diamond hard ice interspersed with frosted woodsy trail. It’s not technical riding per se, but having to dab or emergency dismount isn’t unusual. If that’s on ice, spikes can make the difference between no big deal and comically landing on one’s rear.
- Warm in full on winter conditions
- Effective inner bootie + outer shell design
- Sleek and streamlined
- Zipper closure is stressed and finicky in that it needs to be zipped all the way up to keep it from unfastening on the ride
- No spikes
- Weight: 2.6 lbs./1.2kg
- Model: OMW Winter Shoe
- Price: $199
- Place of Manufacture: China
- Manufactures Details: Link
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Manufacturers face a tricky mandate in designing winter footwear. We want boots that will keep our toes warm, but we want to be able to pedal and walk naturally. Boots have to be narrow enough to fit on bike pedals. Ideally it won’t take a persistent effort to get them off once you’re headed inside, but they have to be secure in the frost and ice conditions of a day long ride. By and large Bontrager Old Man Winter boots succeed in all of these, and it’s easy to see why they have so many fans. They are absolutely contenders with their effective bootie and outer shell system with easy on/off, a sensible sole, and durable construction.
A couple of issues for me remain in that I miss the ability to wear spikes and the front zipper seems just barely up to the task of closing everything up. I would not say that this an expedition boot, but it’s not intended to be. Still, if your idea of a perfect February Saturday is 10 degrees F on your Fat Bike, these boots are likely just the ride.
Bontrager sent us the Old Man Winter Shoe for review.
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