Line Review: Northwave Winter Clipless Shoes

Northwave is a storied shoe brand based in Montebelluna, in northeastern Italy. It is an area famous for athletic shoes and well-known boot brands: Alpina, Asolo, Fila, La Sportiva, Lowa, Mammut Sports Group, Scarpa, and Tecnica Group are all based there. Northwave's history dates back to the early 70s when founder Gianni Piva began making ski boot liners under the brand's original name: Calzaturificio Piva. Shortly thereafter they moved into snow shoes, snowboard boots and MTB shoes in 1993. In '96, Paola Pezzo won Olympic gold while shod in Northwaves (she did it again in 2000), and the brand was off and running as a legitimate MTB shoe power. They had great success on the road side as well, with iconic names like Boonen, Cancellara, and Cipollini winning big races like Paris-Roubaix and the Road World Championships in shoes with NW logos on them.

There is also a bit of a personal connection here: both Cam and I owned Northwave MTB shoes back in the late 90s - before we knew each other. Mine were a pair of Northwave 3Ds* that lasted for about three years of abusive daily use and another 2-3 years of occasional call-ups after I'd switched to flats. Cam has similar memories of comfort and durability.
*That model had three velcro straps and I believe mine had two plus laces.

Sadly, Northwave no longer makes all their shoes in Italy (they do still prototype and make custom shoes for sponsored pros in their workshop) however in our recent experience, quality and durability has remained excellent.

Northwave 3D shoes 1

These are the spitting image of the Northwave SPD-compatible shoes I owned in the late 90s. They lasted me for years, back when I rode 8 days a week, in all weather, for long distances. Photos: this eBay listing (Buy Now!)

Northwave 3D shoes 2

Laces and two velcro straps meant they took a bit of time to put on, but the fit was incredible. Even the arch support was good. A neoprene tongue made them a bit warmer even when it was wet out.

Northwave 3D shoes 3

No XC race slipper here - that's a real MTB sole (late 90s edition). These were pretty good for hopping off after a ladder bridge to push back up and session it again.

So what are we doing here? It's mid March, surely most people are looking ahead to the days when winter shoes are no longer required? True, but in the comments section of Deniz's review of the 45NRTH Ragnarok BOA, there was a lively discussion about the lack of options for winter shoes that are not only waterproof but insulated - for both flats and clipless riding. We admittedly don't get a lot of true cold weather test opportunities here, but a bunch of the NSMB crew have been opting for snow rides over ski days for years, so we do what we can. In response to some of those comments, we put in some requests, and naturally it took a little while to get some of those shoes delivered: the Northwave Kingrock Multicross GTX, an insulated and waterproof flat pedal shoe which Cam reviewed on Friday, the Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX, Celsius XC GTX, and Extreme XC GTX (all three reviewed here) and the Cronoteam Winter CW1E - watch for Tim Coleman's review on those very shortly.

The other thing is that winter gear - waterproof pants, gloves, jackets, and shoes - are all on sale right now just about everywhere. If you're the type that plans ahead and buys at the end of the season to take advantage of killer deals, now's your chance.

Waterproof Flat Pedal Shoes

Once as rare as unicorn tears, options for insulated and/or waterproof flat pedal shoes are still very limited. In addition to the aforementioned Northwaves which are insulated, we've tested Five Ten's Trailcross GTX, which are waterproof and sticky, but don't provide more warmth than other non-winter shoes. Late last spring I also tested Leatt's 7.0 HydraDri Waterproof Flat pedal shoes, which are waterproof, slightly less sticky, and also not insulated. Lastly, Dave recently sharpened his elbows and managed to test Shimano's new GF800 GTX - also a waterproof flat shoe (also not intended for truly cold weather riding). Those options are plenty warm down to about -5ºC or so (depending on socks and how well your feet do in the cold) but not what folks are looking for who ride in legit cold conditions. The positive is that without insulation, they're comfortable to ride in when it's milder out but wet - so if it's still cool enough that a soaked foot could cause you discomfort or worse, there are now three flat pedal shoe options you can think of as being useful in three seasons, making their value that much better. There is one more shoe of note in this category - the fizik Terra Nano GTX Flat - and we're working on getting a set to review.

With all that out of the way, this review is dedicated to three of Northwave's Gore-Tex-equipped winter clipless shoes: the Kingrock Plus GTX, Celsius XC GTX, and Extreme XC GTX.

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX

Current trail conditions on the shore are mixed mud, snow, and ice. It's actually easier to dress for that than 2 degrees C and raining, which is worse than any other weather combination.

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX

Tester: Pete Roggeman, size 43

The last Northwave winter shoes I tested were the Raptor GTX (predecessor to the Celsius XC GTX, which Emma details below). For a coastal BC/PNW winter shoe, they're bang on: priority goes to waterproofness, and they're not all that insulated, which is fine because it's not often we get temps lower than -5ºC. Keeping your feet dry is the main point.

The Kingrock Plus GTX tested here is more of a true winter shoe; there is insulation in the shoe's upper as well as underfoot. I tested them down to about -6ºC, not particularly cold but the SPD cleat and shank didn't cause cold feet, and despite breaking through ice into freezing water and a few deliberate foot soakings on stream crossings, my feet stayed dry and warm.

Where the Raptor/Celsius GTX is like an XC shoe chassis and has minimal plastic sole lugs with a neoprene cuff and a stiff sole (8.0 on Northwave's scale, where 12.0 is the stiffest, including road shoes), the Kingrock Plus GTX is more like a skate or low-profile BMX shoe style with a flatter sole profile, less forefoot rocker and many small lugs for hiking traction. I still wear the Raptors for wet days when it's mild or even warm out, whereas the Kingrock Plus GTXs would likely get too warm if it's above about 10 degrees Celsius (I wouldn't know because our west coast winter hit late and hard this year and still has us in its grip).

It's in the name, and the Kingrock Pluses come with a Koala Gore-Tex membrane, which is the middle of the road insulated footwear membrane from Gore. The neoprene ankle collar and fleece-lined uppers make this shoe very cozy. I can only speculate but imagine they'd be warm for me down to at least 10 or 12 below freezing, maybe more.

The Kingrock Plus uses a dual closure system. Like many winter shoes, it makes use of a dial and wire as the main closure (it's not BOA but Northwave's own SLW3 dial system) which does an admirable job of cinching down the forefoot snugly without creating any hot spots. Where many brands rely on one dial alone (which I usually find leads to less than ideal fit either up at the toe box or back near the ankle, where you want it to be snug to keep your heel in place), Northwave has also added a velcro strap at the arch which I found does a great job of making my foot nice and snug. Cue the predictable complaints about dial location on the side of the foot - I know some people have had issues, but I never have, and dial fit is the easiest to tinker with when it's cold out and you want to avoid taking your gloves off too often (it also lets you make shoe adjustments while pedaling which I always appreciate).

There are tons of BOA variants, some better than others, and Northwave's SLW3 fits somewhere in the middle as compared to BOA. Unlike certain BOA options that micro-adjust in both directions, with Northwave's version you have to pull a small lever up and then use the tongue to pull on the cable to loosen it, or else dig your finger in there, which is tough at the end of a winter ride if your fingers are cold, but otherwise not a big deal (and definitely faster than laces).

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX 5

The SLW3 dial is well-positioned to avoid all but the most egregious rock smash moments.

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX 6

The neoprene cuff and Gore-Tex Koala membrane keep you dry and comfortable. Insulated uppers and midsole means you won't get chilly while out riding, or standing around on cold ground after a ride.

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX 8

You can usually get across this creek without risking a wet foot, but it depends on the season. On this day I dunked my feet accidentally on purpose, and other than feeling the cold water through the shoes, my feet stayed dry and warm.

A neoprene collar fit my ankle well and did a good job of keeping snow and mud out, even during Thursday's ride with Cam and Trevor that saw us all tromping through knee-deep snow up top, with plenty of offs and opportunities for snow to work its way into the shoe. YMMW as Cam finds the ankle cuff on his Kingrock Multicrosses to be too big for his wee ankles. Finger loops front and back (bravo, Northwave) make pulling the shoes on and off that much easier.

I'm now thoroughly spoiled by insoles, so the first thing I did after setting up my cleats was slide in my trusty wool Esker insoles for a little extra arch support and comfort. Wool is not just for winter - I'll be using those all summer in other shoes to help with sweat and odour management and comfort. Anyway, the Kingrocks were plenty warm with the stock insole, just not as supportive and comfortable, as is always the case with the insoles that come with shoes.

Finally, the Vibram Wolftrax clipless sole feels very solid when walking on packed snow and ice as well as wet rock or roots and mud. The sole's lugs aren't deep and aggressive, but that just means they make for a pretty good pedal interface if you struggle to clip in. It took me about three rides to start nailing the cleat location consistently, but on steep and hairy terrain - especially in winter - I still prefer flats for easier exits and to avoid snow and ice from clogging the pedal mechanism or cleat pocket. As far as cleat placement, the pocket is reasonably deep, but not aggressively so. Plenty for me, and I am a cleat slammer, but as always, if you like 'em really far back, you may want to check before buying.

On the bike, the Kingrock Plus GTX is a good pedaler with an impressively low profile look and feel, especially given its insulation and adequate toe armoring. The pedaling platform is stiffer both laterally and torsionally than a fizik Nanuq or Shimano MW7, but not as stiff as my old Northwave Raptor GTX. Since pedaling performance isn't a big deal to me on winter rides, I care more about comfort than a stiffness sweet spot, but the Kingrocks land within that spot for me, if up near the stiffer end of my ideal, as winter riding often sees more hiking on a given trail than in the spring, since a clean run can often be undone by snow and ice or deadfall.

The version of me that owned those Northwaves in 1998 would have been blown away by this winter shoe. As it is, my modern self is still very impressed, and can wholeheartedly recommend them for winter riding from about 6ºC down to at least -8, in any weather.

The Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX is available in Black or Green, unisex sizes 37-47.

Northwave Celsius XC GTX
Northwave Celsius XC GTX - sole

Northwave Celsius XC GTX

Tester: Emma Le Rossignol, size 38

This is the first pair of Northwave shoes I’ve ever worn and the first pair of Gore-Tex mountain bike shoes as well. The Celsius XC GTX is designed for milder fall and winter riding, with the goal of keeping your feet insulated and more importantly, dry. Made with the Pique Gore-Tex membrane, it’s the lightest among three thermal options offered at Northwave. It offers “good thermal insulation, suitable for less severe weather”. "Good insulation" can be very subjective and depend on where you live, but I found these ideal for riding between 4-12 ºC in both wet and dry conditions. I would be hesitant to wear these close to zero degrees but playing around with sock thickness and insole type would surely extend this temperature range.

The overall fit while riding was very comfortable, with no pressure points or rubbing. I have wide feet and at first I found my size 38 EUR ran slightly large, however with a medium thick merino sock they fit perfectly. The neoprene collar is nice and tight around the ankle, providing great protection against rain and muck. Coupled with merino socks and a breathable design, my feet remained at a comfortable temperature without overheating (as mine do). Putting the shoes on for the first time required some effort due to the snug collar, but this gradually eases with wear. The two large tabs are helpful and essential to getting the shoes on your feet.

DSC00877 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

Northwave Celsius XC GTX in black with reflective details.

DSC00875 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

The tread is noticeably tailored for XC riding. Cleats are as far back as they can go.

DSC00880 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

Nice and fitted, the pull tabs are necessary to pull the neoprene collar over your ankles.

It took a few attempts and fiddling to understand the dials' release mechanism and the Northwave website was surprisingly unhelpful with any information on their dial system. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough because Karin managed to find what SLW2 stands for. Turning the SLW2 dial will tighten the upper piece around your foot, making for a cozy and uniform fit but it’s an awkward move to release the dial. You have the lift the tab up with one finger and then either pull the string with another finger or turn the dial counterclockwise to gain slack. Not the most intuitive system at first glance and I can see this being challenging with thick gloves or frozen fingers. Incremental adjustments can be made by pushing down on the tab to loosen the string ever so slightly. I didn’t feel the need to use it during my rides.

With a carbon reinforced sole, these shoes are stiff and I noticed it right away when riding. With a stiffness index rating of 8, there is minimal power transfer loss, which is always appreciated for longer XC rides. The natural rubber tread heel is grippy enough on the roots and granite rock of the North Shore but nothing to write home about. I would not want to be stuck hiking in these. The two-bolt cleat system has an average range to play with, however I found myself at the very lower end of the range. This might pose an issue for riders who position their cleats farther back like me.

Overall, the Celcius XC Gore-Tex shoes have a well thought out design, are comfortable for longer rides and most importantly will keep your feet warm and dry when you want to get out in those not-so-ideal conditions. They feel well made too, ensuring your investment will last at least a couple of rainy seasons.

The Northwave Celsius XC GTX is available in unisex sizing from 37 - 49 EUR with a few neutral colour options.

DSC00892 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

The Northwave Extreme XC GTX in the cold and wet.

Northwave Extreme XC GTX

Tester: Karin Grubb, size 43

The Northwave Extreme XC GTX are just like they sound - a carbon-soled winter shoe designed for long winter rides. The shoe has a Gore-Tex membrane, a light and cozy insulation layer and a neoprene cuff. The shoe tensions using a BOA-adjacent rib and closure system developed by Northwave called “X-frame”.

The X-frame is essentially a soft skeleton system designed to add rigidity and structure to a shoe, to which the closure system attaches. Northwave uses a dial and string system that they developed themselves called a SLW2 dial (Speed Lace Winch). It is kind of like a BOA, but also not. If you are used to BOA, like Emma and I are, the SLW2 system was not intuitive. The first time I used these shoes I thought I might need to spend the day in them! The SLW2 system uses a little dial and a lever. Like the BOA, to tighten the shoe you turn the dial forward. Where this differs from BOA is that the SLW2 uses a dual-release mechanism, activated by using the little lever that sticks out at the top of the dial. Push on it to release the system one notch, and pull on the lever to release the system completely. This is intended to allow for more precise adjustments. Once I understood the SLW2 system and overcame my monkey brain that wants to automate everything it can, the adjustments worked as intended and I could do it one-handed or with gloves on.


The SLW2 System and X-frame are integrated and show as slight ribbing on the surface.

Northwave Extreme XC GTX - sole

A look at the sole of the Extreme XC GTX without cleats or mud on it.

I did find the way the shoe tightened all over my foot to be comfortable and I didn’t have any pressure points. I have fairly wide feet, however, so I like being able to adjust my forefoot a little looser than the rest of my shoe. This system adjusts tension fairly evenly over the whole foot, so I’d say it's better suited to people who have a more uniform foot shape. Northwave does have other shoe options that include two separate adjustments that would allow the type of adjustment I prefer.

The carbon sole is stiff. Northwave rates it as a 12 on a scale from jello to 15. It felt really efficient when riding, but I prefer this level of stiffness on long XC rides and I think these shoes would also be excellent for gravel. For technical descents, I like a bit more feel in my feet. The stiffness also doesn’t play as well with hike-a-bikes, but it is manageable. There are rubber grips on the forefoot and heel and I did find them quite grippy, even on wet rocks and stream crossings. I had my doubts, but they were unfounded.

DSC00887 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

The treads are a bit sparse, but they are grippy.

I received these shoes in a size 43 – this girl has large feet. I typically wear a size 42 in street shoes but I find I usually need a 43 for cycling shoes. The fit is a generous 43, and a 42 or 42.5 may have fit me better. Given the stiffness of the shoes and the closure system, I think it's important to get your size right to really get the benefit of the intended close fit and enhanced power transfer design.

The neoprene cuff was comfortable on, but it is tight enough that it makes getting the shoes on and off a bit of a work out. The tabs on the front and back of the cuff are attached well and run down the length of the cuff, which is promising for longevity – those things are key to getting the shoe on and off!

I was impressed with the breathability of these shoes while being fully waterproof. I never felt like my feet were over-heating or turning into a sweaty mess but the light insulation and waterproofness did keep my feel at a comfortable temperature. My feet are prone to being cold, for truly arctic or sustained below freezing temps I would sub in Esker's insoles to add to the warmth factor. I have some old (like 10+ years old) Shimano winter shoes in the closet that I hardly wear because I find they are too warm and don't allow my feet to breathe well - the tech on these Northwave winter boots is (predictably) better!

Overall I liked these shoes and would recommend them for XC or gravel riders. The cleat placement, while adjustable, is a bit forward for true descending-oriented shoes, and I personally prefer a medium stiffness shoe for technical riding. I did find they kept me warm and dry, but I still wanted a wool sock in the cold. The smooth outers are easy to clean, which I appreciate–winter rides often mean muddy gear so things that spray or wipe down easily are a huge bonus during post-ride clean up.

Winter shoes are an investment, so I appreciate that Northwave has built a shoe that includes a lot of features for longevity. Rubber wrapping of the bottom 1-2 inches of the shoe (and up the heel) add abrasion resistance, and heel and some toe cleats are replaceable. Northwave sells replacement parts including cleats, dials and closure systems. If you do eventually break the SLW2 dial and dyneema closure system, Northwave offers a “rotor replacement service” which is really cool. For $80, they will send you a DHL prepaid label, repair the closure system on your shoes and ship them back.

Northwave Extreme XC GTX

DSC00889 deniz merdano northwave karin emma

Northwave Availability & Pricing

Looking back over some older reviews from 2018 (Northwave X-Arctic GTX) and 2019 (Northwave Raptor GTX), I'm reminded that Northwave's availability woes are nothing new. Their find a dealer function on the website is (still) broken, and there is no distributor list, so your best bet is to hunt around online (where you'll find most available models on sale right now, at least in the northern hemisphere as winter wanes) or, if you're lucky, find a local shop that carries them so you can try them on. You can order direct from Northwave and they use DHL Worldwide* which is good and take note that Northwave does not charge a return fee for a size change, taking that risk effectively out of the equation.

Despite these availability issues, we still recommend their shoes if you can live with the above (or if you can get them from an online or local retailer to mitigate shipping costs and/or return concerns). The quality is excellent and the return on value is equally good - whether that's enough to choose them over easier to find options like Shimano's MW5 or MW702, or others from brands like fizik, FiveTen, 45NRTH, etc. is obviously up to you.
*UPS charges extortionate customs clearance fees and are to be avoided at all costs for int'l shipments.

Northwave Extreme XC GTX - 352 USD / Unisex 39-48, half sizes from 39.5 to 45.5

Northwave Kingrock Plus GTX - 297 USD / Unisex sizes 37-47, half sizes from 39.5 to 45.5

Northwave Celsius XC GTX  - 242 USD / Unisex sizes 37-49, half sizes from 39.5 to 45.5

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My experience with the Northwave SLW2 and their warranty it's been deluding.

When i was still on one pair of shoes for all the bikes, through grit and mud their system wires lasted under a year. I went to the retailer i bought them from (as per Northwave warranty) and paid 10€.

The next year, same story, another 10€.

For comparison, Sidi own lacing system wires lasted me well into 3 years of four seasons apocalypse.

And then of course there's BOA that replaced the laces on my well busted 5:10 for free, actually they just handed me a pair at a fair without those wires having even broken yet. 

Northwave shoes are not bad but i feel like i have to pay a yearly fee to wear them.


It would be interesting to hear if they have improved the system since our experience. What was the nature of the failure? The wires simply broke? That seems like a solvable problem, assuming it's a common fault. 

Fingers crossed that they have improved durability recently.



The wires i've replaced were all the same materials.

They wear and snap due to exposition to mud and sand and being tight and rubbing always on the same spot on the shoe.

Now that i remember, i replaced the ones on my Sidi with Northwave ones wich were cheaper than a whole Sidi ratchet, and i even replaced a Ks seatpost actuation wire with the leftovers!

The wires were from a previous generation ratchet and they were white and more sintethic feeling.


+1 danithemechanic

BOA has a lifetime warranty on all their products.



I've never had an issue with Celius Xc's granted I've primarily used them as a winter commuting shoe for 2.5 years. I would say this review saying they are in the range of 4C-12C isn't my experience. I would rate them to about -4-10 but that's probably just an individual thing. The one complaint I have about these shoes based on using them for commuting is that if you miss the cleat the plastic piece on the sole is extremely slipply in the wet and I've nearly castrated myself slipping off the pedal and landing on the saddle nose. The sole is perfect in dirt which it's designed for but its still something that I'm careful of clipping back in.


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