Big Agnes has a long history of making high quality sleeping bags. Now, they’re producing high quality jackets as well. I’ve been using the Big Agnes ShovelHead jacket for quite some time now, and I’m a big fan.
The Shovelhead is a lightweight insulating jacket filled with 700 fill DownTek down: a waterproof goose down that still retains its functionality after being exposed to water. The entire jacket weighs 18 oz (for the large), and is stuffed with 6.5 oz of down fill. It’s constructed primarily of lightweight rip-stop nylon, coated with DWR for added water resistance. Vertical baffles, dubbed Insotect Flow baffles, trap the down in place while molding to the the contours of the body. The jacket features two zippered outside hand pockets, large mesh interior pockets, a roomy hood, and thumb holes round off the package. The jacket retails for $219 and is available in a few different colors and sizes.
What I liked
The Shovelhead is one of the better fitting high loft down jackets I’ve tested. It hugs the natural curves of the body yet still provides enough room in the shoulders and elbows to provide a full range of motion. Unlike traditional baffles, the tubular design doesn’t bulge out at the stomach so much, retaining that athletic look for those who have it. The jacket stays in place thanks to elastic cuffs and an adjustable waist, but still allows for high dexterity while on the go or working with your hands.
The jacket is insanely warm for the weight. The Insotect baffles do an excellent job of keeping the down evenly dispersed, eliminating cold spots. They also keep the jacket close to the sin, reducing gaps of air which would otherwise require more body heat to warm up, creating a chilly sensation. Where many jackets leak air around the hips and wrists, the cuffs and adjustments seal it in tight when needed, reducing drafts and leakage. The jacket has kept me toast Well below freezing in high wind and around camp, with or without a base layer. I’ve found that the lower limit of the jacket alone seems to sit somewhere around 5 degrees F, but that’s without a base layer.
The jacket looks great. The smooth nylon and vertical baffles really make it stand out from the crowd. It oozes a sensation of high quality engineering, without looking totally out of place on the street. While there are nice bold colors for those who want something a bit flashy, it also comes in black, which blends in much better with the crowds if one so pleases.
Build quality is likewise quite excellent. I’ve been using ShovelHead jackets for years now, and they’re yet to let me me down. Tough materials, dead on stitch work, smooth sliding zippers, and a stubborn DWR finish has proved to be a substantial combination, easily handling being packed up hundreds of times, drug through brush and briers, and withstanding the vigors of urban life. The waterproofing and DownTek are both the highest quality I’ve come across on a down jacket, shedding water and staying dry after many exposures. When it comes to build, BA is on top of their game.
Large internal mesh pockets provide a lot of storage real estate, easily holding cell phones, headlamps, maps, MP3 players, and they make great places to sash your cookies when trying to hide them from your friends.
The jacket is light weight, at just 18 oz (large) and packs down quite small as well. It easily fit inside any backpack I tried to stuff it into, even slipping into water bottle pockets when needed. Dimensions come down to about that of a moderate fleece, or smaller if used with a compression sack.
What I didn’t like
My only complaint with the jacket is the fact that it seems designed for taller people. Being 5’8″, I find that the sleeves are a bit on the long side and bunch up at the elbows. Luckily, the wrist cuffs keep them from getting in the way of my hands, but aesthetically, it doesn’t look great with the vertical baffles, but I might just be getting picky. Taller users will, however, rejoice.
The shovel head lands on the bulkier end of the spectrum for high end jackets. It trades minimalist weight and packability for extra weather production, weight, added features and durability (a fair trade off). It’s still perfectly packable and well within acceptable weight, but those looking for only the lightest might be somewhat put off. It’s a trade I’ll happily take though.
The Shovelhead is a fantastic insulating jacket. It’s impressively warm, insanely comfortable, form fitting, weather resistant and compresses down small enough for use on long winter trips. Aside from some minor nit-picking, it’s an exceptional jacket that has performed in a wide range of conditions, from slushy transitionary spring days with sleet to dead cold winter ice hikes. It’s one jacket that I’m often reaching for, time and time again. Just be prepared to look like a million bucks.
For more information on Big Agnes and and their wide range of gear, check out their website, www.bigagnes.com
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I want to extend a huge thanks to Big Agnes for providing this product for review. We couldn’t do it without their help. Our full disclosure can be found here.
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