I normally ride enduro in the winter, but adventure riding in the cold is a totally different game. With winter enduro you’re only exposed to the cold for a couple of consecutive hours at most. Even then you will most likely be hot with all the exertion of riding. Adventure riding is the total opposite for the most part. If, like me, you prefer to camp instead of sleeping indoors, most of the time you will be outside with brief visits to gas stations and such. Hours and hours of sitting on the bike without too much physical exertion. It gets very cold very quickly.
Good equipment makes the outdoor life more comfortable and safer. In the old days of polar expeditions, getting wet in wool base layers could well have been a death sentence. The heroes of old needed to plan their actions well ahead. Nowadays however, we have technical gear that lets us get away with being careless. Still, sweating out a down mid layer is a costly mistake even today. So in addition to good equipment, predictive action is a key issue in enjoying the ride and ultimately surviving it when things go wrong.
For summer riding, I usually prefer a modular setup, but it’s not practical for winter riding. An integrated suit has less armours, but is superior in terms of protection from the elements and comfort. I use a Klim Badlands Pro suit. The specifications and features of the suit are widely covered in online reviews, so I will not delve into that. The focus will instead be on the cold weather performance.
The Badlands Pro jacket is very adaptable. In addition to a standard poly base layer, I carry light and medium weight mid layers as well as a down vest. The Badlands jacket has ample room for various mid layer setups, while the cinch straps on the sleeves keep the jacket streamlined. The kidney belt keeps the jacket nice and snug on the body. It doesn’t flap about or twist around. The jacket is cut lower in the back with a bottom hem adjuster, so it will not ride up even when riding in an attack position. It just fits and feels solid, no matter what the mid layer combination is. For very cold conditions, I would take a down jacket instead of the vest. A very light short hoodless jacket with a low collar, that can also be used in camp. Something like a The North Face Nuptse, Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket, Peak Performace Frost Liner Jacket or similar.
There has been some debate concerning the storm cuffs on the jacket. Personally I’m very happy to have them. They’e a permanent kind of defence against cold airflow, in case mid layers ride up or glove straps loosen. I guess they would be very easy to cut off in case they prove to be an irritation.
Zippers and pocket liners are a crucial issue. You don’t notice them when they work, but if they don’t, they’ll be a constant irritation. The YKK zippers on the jacket work perfectly and the pocket liners have don’t get caught in the zipper. The tabs on the zippers are large enough to operate even with thick gloves.
In cold weather, I rarely open the vents. It’s a different case in hot conditions, but that’s another story. The hydration pocket will negate the necessity to carry CamelBak, which should in turn improve venting within the jacket. Speaking of hydration, the bladder pocket under the backplate may not be the easiest to access, but the backplate does a fine job of insulating the bladder from your body. I don’t have the Klim bladder, but use a normal CamelBak bladder with quick links, so refilling can be done without removing the hose.
I did a couple of test runs with the bladder in the rabbit pocket in the back and the hose running over my shoulder. It does work that way too with a lower center of gravity on the body. The downside with that setup is that the cold water in the bladder will be drawing heat directly from your body. So not exactly ideal for cold weather.
The fit and sizing of the pants is very good. They rise high enough to protect from airflow front and back. The waist band is adjustable with velcro straps to ensure a snug fit. However, the pants tended to sag a little when riding on the pegs. A pair of suspenders will cure that issue.
In cold conditions I wear a pair of mid weight fleece pants on my base layer. Riding in them was fine for the most part, but my knees tended to get a little chilly on long fast stretches. A thin layer of foam rubber in the pad pockets should keep the knees toasty in cold conditions.
The pant leg has a vertical zipper and three buttons for snug fit on the boot. I wear Sidi Crossfire boots and cinch the pant leg to the second button. It’s a good fit without any flapping around. There is also clearly room for even bigger boots. I’d probably go for snowmobile boots on long winter rides. They don’t offer as much protection as MX boots, but losing toes to frostbite is a worse outcome.
The 3Do armour is very comfortable and provides a little extra insulation in cold weather. I usually don’t ride extremely technical ground on winter rides. So I haven’t taken any serious tumbles with the Badlands and don’t intend to find out how they perform on impact in e.g. a rocky riverbed. That kind of stuff is better tackled with proper MX armour.
The only snag was the collar adjustment draw cord. I managed to break it loose from the stitchings. I was probably too ham-fisted while operating it with thick gloves. The bottom line is that the Klim Badlands Pro performed very well in cold conditions. It keeps the body well protected from the elements. The real issue now is figuring out the perfect boot and glove setup. Some people use heated gloves or handlebar muffs, but I’m a fan of neither. I guess that boils down to personal taste.