45NRTH Ragnarok Tall winter shoe review: Warmer than expected, but a sloppy fit

There’s enough insulation for most, though the high volume and wide heel cup makes for a vague feel on the bike.

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Most shoe brands offer just one — maybe two — models that are purpose-built for riding in cold weather. But for Minnesota-based 45NRTH, cold-weather footwear is the only kind of cycling footwear it does, with all four models aimed at sub-freezing conditions. The Ragnarok Tall is the newest member of the family, and though it shares a name with the company’s standard Ragnarok model, there are far more differences than similarities.

45NRTH graces the Ragnarok Tall with the same -3°C+ / 25°F+ recommended temperature rating as the regular Ragnarok, though it’s clear the new version is designed to be more protective with its tall wraparound neoprene cuff. There’s no real insulation per se like on the company’s more hardcore winter boots, but the complete lack of venting, waterproof liner, and neoprene body nevertheless promise to keep your piggies pleasantly dry and cozy as the mercury drops. That waterproof liner even seals off the cleat holes should you need to cross a stream or two.

The upper obviously does without vents, but the gusset-style construction also minimizes seams where cold air can sneak in.

Whereas 45NRTH uses a more conventional tongue configuration on the standard Ragnarok, the Ragnarok Tall gets more of a sock-like upper with three individual microfiber “fingers” that wrap around over the top of your foot to provide a more self-adjusting fit. To provide some extra durability, both the toe and heel areas of the Ragnarok Tall are reinforced with a burly-looking (and feeling) material called TecTuff. All of that is secured with a single side-mounted Boa Li2 dial with dual-direction micro-adjustment and a handy pull-to-release function.

Down below is the same fiber-reinforced nylon plate with two-bolt cleat compatibility that 45NRTH has been using for years, all of which is covered by a full-length rubber outsole with “microglass filament lugs” that are said to boost traction when walking on icy surfaces as compared to more traditional rubbers. 

The tread is fantastic on snowy ground, or any situation where the conditions are a little sketchy.

45NRTH offers the Ragnarok Tall in sizes 36-50 (whole sizes only, and there’s curiously no size 49), exclusively in black with high-visibility yellow trim and reflective detailing. As you’d expect, the Ragnarok Tall isn’t particularly light, but then again, that’s not the point. My size 44 test pair tips the scales at a substantial 1,071 g, and retail price in the United States is US$245. Retail pricing for other regions is to be confirmed.

Impressively cozy, but also a little imprecise

45NRTH may have only just announced these shoes a few days ago, but I started testing a preproduction pair in February when there was still plenty of snow on the ground here in Colorado.

True to claims, the Ragnarok Tall is impressively warm in moderately sub-freezing conditions, even with steady winds blowing or when trudging through shin-deep high alpine snow — and that was with the same medium-weight wool socks that I often wear year-round. The intentionally roomy fit leaves enough space for slightly thicker socks if you need even more insulation, too.

The fit of the 45NRTH Ragnarok Tall is definitely on the roomier side.

Truth be told, I can’t comment on how well the Ragnarok Tall protects against water as I didn’t test them much in super-wet conditions, but it’s worth noting that even if the liner is as waterproof as 45NRTH claim, the upper still has a slit at the ankle for the flap on the collar so there are practical limits to what these can handle. But for wet conditions that most riders are likely to encounter, I have no reason to believe these won’t keep your feet nice and dry.

On the bike, 45NRTH has thankfully done a pretty decent job of keeping the Ragnarok Tall comfortable in terms of pedaling. That neoprene cuff may extend up your lower leg a fair ways, but it’s also quite flexible at the ankle so as not to impinge on your range of motion. Likewise, the nylon-reinforced plate is plenty stiff with no noticeable flex under normal conditions, and as promised (and like I’ve experienced on other shoes with this tread design), the outsole is legitimately excellent in both winter and spring conditions, even without the optional toe spikes. 

Unfortunately — and as I’ve often found with dedicated winter shoes — the quality of fit leaves something to be desired, at least if you’re expecting these to fit even remotely like your regular shoes.

There’s enough friction in the textile lace guides that it’s hard to get the fit just right the first time.

First off, it’s important to note that the Ragnarok Tall is a pretty high-volume shoe in general, and that’s by design. According to 45NRTH, the extra room is there on purpose so as to allow riders a little more flexibility in terms of what sort of socks they want to use. 

Fair enough, but there are other aspects of the Ragnarok Tall’s curious fit that seem unrelated.

That three-fingered upper layout that 45NRTH describes generally holds true, but excessive friction in the textile Boa lace guides means there’s a fair bit of fiddling required just to get the tightness of each of those straps somewhat even across the entire upper, particularly if you’re trying for a snug fit. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to get the Ragnarok Tall excessively tight in one area of the shoe, only to leave other portions annoyingly loose. Things eventually settle down after a few minutes of pedaling, but almost never was I able to get the feel where I wanted it right from the get-go. 

There’s almost no arch support built into the plate of the 45NRTH Ragnarok Tall.

Even when those three straps were even, the wide and room heel cup makes for only so-so hold at best. There’s a bit of slip while riding, but a lot more when on foot. Whether it actually has a negative impact on performance I can’t say, but it does impart a generally imprecise feel that I didn’t really care for. If you prefer the ultra-snug heel hold of, say, a late-model Specialized shoe, this is pretty much the polar opposite of that. 

It’s understandable if 45NRTH wants to incorporate a little more volume for thicker socks here, but at least in my opinion, that doesn’t mean the heel cup can’t still provide a solid hold, or even just be more cup-shaped for less slip. And while 45NRTH pointed out that the Ragnarok Tall uses the same heel cup as the standard version (which “has had great fit reviews in the past”), the company also acknowledged that it’s already looking at improving the heel hold on an upcoming Ragnarok update.

Arch support is almost non-existent, too, with no curvature built into the plate and only the tiniest bit of shaping in the soft foam insole. This wasn’t necessarily a comfort issue for me, though I was prone to my ankles rolling inward until I swapped the stock footbed for an aftermarket one with more rigid support. 

Good, but could still be better

I’m admittedly in a pretty privileged position when it comes to winter cycling shoes in the sense that I’ve had the luxury of trying a whole bunch of different ones for comparison. As a result, I’ve also come to realize that while warmth is ultimately the most important goal — and an utter revelation to anyone who’s never used dedicated winter cycling shoes — that coziness doesn’t always have to come at the expense of quality of fit.

The 45NRTH Ragnarok Tall winter shoes are a bit clunky, but they do a great job of keeping your feet warm in moderately sub-freezing conditions.

45NRTH has gotten a lot right on this new Ragnarok Tall: it’s as warm as it needs to be for most users, it’s not bad to pedal in, and the outsole is one of the best I’ve used. If your biggest concern is keeping your toes from freezing, I dare say you’ll be happy in these. Without question, they’re good shoes for riding in cold weather. 

But if 45NRTH can address the lacing friction, arch support, and heel hold issues, that’d take these shoes from good to great.

More information can be found at www.45nrth.com

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