If you are a winter rider, you know it can be hard to keep your toes warm when temps get below freezing. Over the years, I've mostly relied on my traditional leather riding shoes with wool socks, and covering the whole package with insulated "overshoes" or "booties." As a commuter, I still think there's something to be said for that approach - particularly on those days when the morning is cold, but the afternoon warms up to the point where the extra warmth and bulk aren't needed. In November, for example, it isn't unusual to have a morning around 30°, with afternoon temperatures rising to 50° - in which case, it's an easy thing to stow the booties into a pannier or seatpack for the ride home. But when it's really cold, and expected to stay that way throughout the day, having some serious dedicated winter footwear can be a welcome luxury.
For my birthday this year, the retro-wife really came through, and I got a pair of Lake MXZ303 winter riding boots. I've had the chance to wear them on some awfully cold commutes in the past month, and so far have found them to live up to the billing. My coldest morning in this time was 20°, with a wind chill making it feel closer to 10° and my feet never felt a chill, even after an hour of riding. I feel pretty confident they'd be good for even a little colder, though to be honest, I don't see myself riding below 10 - 15°, so they'll definitely meet my needs.
For sizing, I've seen a number of reviews that recommend going up a size from your normal cycling shoe size, and I agree with that. In most cycling shoes I wear a 44, and in these I got a 45. Don't ask me what that is in US sizes, because the conversion charts seem out of whack to me. Most charts I've seen say that Euro 44 is equivalent to a US 11, and yet I've never been able to wear anything larger than a US 10 in my life. Go figure. Anyhow, with a 45, I can wear these with extra thick wool socks without feeling constricted in any way. For those who have wider feet, or who maybe want to double up on socks, Lake also makes these in a "Wide" version, that I understand adds quite a bit of room in the toe-box. Mine are the "regular" and fit me fine.
The sole is thick with large lugs for sure footing when it's slick. I have found them to be decent for walking at least for short distances.
You'll notice that the Lakes have a very modern non-retrogrouchy "BOA" closure system. That seems to be the latest thing in cycling footwear. I've found that it works well, though I've yet to see any problem with traditional laces. Seriously - what's the hangup with normal laces on cycling shoes today? I suppose one doesn't need to worry about laces getting caught in the chain. OK, score one for BOA. But I do wonder what happens if that BOA thing eventually breaks. Can it be replaced easily? I don't know the answer. If any readers have some experience with that, leave a comment.
Regular readers know that I still have a preference for traditional toe-clip and strap pedals. One thing about the Lake boots is that they don't really lend themselves to use with a traditional pedal. The thickness of the toe-box and the lugged sole make getting into a toe-clip pedal difficult and awkward. I tried (briefly) switching my pedals to a pair of flat/platform pedals for winter riding, but I find that I don't really like using those on my commute. I don't mind flat pedals when riding around the neighborhood, shopping, or with my kids when the pace is kept casual. But on longer rides, especially if there are some hills, I just really prefer to have a better "connection" to the pedals. I don't need to be "locked in," but even with toe straps, I generally keep them just tight enough to keep my feet from coming off the pedals inadvertently, without being so tight that I can't get a foot out quickly if need be.
The Lake boots are designed for an SPD-type 2-bolt cleat. I know there are lots of choices in compatible cleats and pedals out there, but I found these Crank Brothers pedals on clearance for only $29 from Nashbar that seemed like they'd be a worthwhile choice as a winter pedal - and cheap enough that it would be hard to go too wrong. They have the easy-to-engage "egg beater" system on one side, and a basic flat platform on the other. I've found that in traffic, if for some reason I have trouble "clicking in" on the first try, the full platform still makes it easy enough to get pedaling from a stoplight. They seem to be working out well with the winter boots, and come spring, I can easily switch pedals if I wish.
In case anyone's wondering about what socks I'm using this winter, I'll mention that I'm a big fan of the socks from SmartWool. Though not actually marketed for cycling, SmartWool's Slopestyle PhD skiing socks are awfully nice on those extra-cold mornings. Being extra tall (they come up almost to the knee) they keep the lower legs warm and keep the cold winds out even if one's tights or riding pants leave a gap above the ankles. And they are extra thick, including at the toe and on the bottom of the sole. That last detail is good because I frequently hear people say that cold sometimes seeps in through the soles of some winter cycling shoes/boots (the cleat interface is often cited as a trouble spot). As thick as they are, they still fit into my boots comfortably (remember - up one size). Like a lot of SmartWool socks, these come in some pretty outrageous colors and patterns - but I believe they also come in plain black. I don't mind the patterns. Shop around, but the going rate seems to be in the $15 - 17 range, which I think is quite reasonable.
Back to the boots - of course there are plenty of options out there today. I've also heard good things about the boots from 45NRTH. I couldn't possibly give a functional comparison between them (unless they'd like to send me a pair to try out). The 45NRTH Japanther boots, which seem to have a slightly milder mission to these Lakes, have a listed temperature range of 25 - 45° with online prices ranging from about $195 - $225. The 45NRTH Wolvhammers, which seem a bit bigger and bulkier, have a listed range of 0 - 25° and sell for $325 or more. I cannot find a claimed temperature range for the Lake MXZ303 boots, but as I've already pointed out, they have worked well for me at 20° and I suspect they'd be good safely down to 15°. Prices online seem to range between $175 - $250.
I don't know if expensive 1-season boots are the thing for everyone out there - but for my needs, I'm feeling good about them.