Love ’em or hate ’em, vertical baffles are here to stay in the Big Agnes lineup of down products. I’m sold on the concept for sleeping bags, but how sure are we that it works for garments? The Big Agnes Shovelhead Hooded is the perfect test piece to find out.
Big Agnes Shovelhead Down Jacket Features:
- Adjustable drawcord hood closure gives you added weather proofing
- Center front zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
- Features YKK Vislon zippers
- Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
- Thumb holes make layering easy and eliminate the gap between sleeve and glove
- Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
- Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
- Interior chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack
- 700 fill power DownTek™ water repellent down
- Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles contour to your body to provide a more comfortable fit and keep you warmer
- Flow Gates™ eliminate down shifting to keep uniform insulation coverage
- Jacket weight, size Medium – 17.5oz/ 496g
Vertical baffles for those high-vert days:
The single most endearing factor about the Shovelhead is that it’s warm. I have tested enough down jackets over the years to say, quite confidently, that they don’t all live up to the hype. Plenty of puffies from other brands tout high fill power down and exotic baffle designs, but often they fall prey to cold breezes biting through the jacket. The Shovelhead is a burlier beast, though, and its warmth comes from more than those unique vertical baffles.
Before we jump into the baffles, let’s talk about the other features. One very substantial contributor to the jacket’s warmth is the hung lining across the entire front of the jacket. This extra lining helps trap warm air in the jacket and provides an extra layer of protection from the wind. The Shovelhead is susceptible to a certain amount of wind cutting through the stitching of the baffles, but the hung lining greatly reduces this on the torso. You’ll notice some wind coming through the back and sleeves, though.
The baffles feel pleasantly well-stuffed, and I suppose that might be a function of the relatively chunky 700-fill down. This, coupled with the strong 20D shell fabric, means that the jacket isn’t as compressible as some competitors. Plus, at 17.5oz, it’s *quite* heavy compared to standard alpine fare. In fairness, they’re not trying to be ultralight – it’s advertised as a ‘midweight’ jacket.
So what’s the advantage to the Shovelhead? Well, as I see it, it’s a feature-rich jacket that’s an excellent fit for adventures where weight is not a defining concern. The jacket has many features that make it a joy to use. There are thumb holes in the sleeves so that the jacket slides easily beneath layers. There’s a sturdily-built hem drawcord. There’s an insulated zipper track and generous zipper garage. There’s also two full inner mesh pockets which are great for small objects and even things as large as water bottles. A drawcord hood will stay on your head in high winds, and to cap things off it can stow away in the chest pocket and be used as a pillow. For my money, this is a highly feature-rich jacket.
Besides that, there’s also the advantage of the vertical baffles. I was first exposed to this design on a sleeping bag, and the thing I noticed most was that warmth gets dispersed much more evenly on the bag. This is true of the Shovelhead too, although the effect is not nearly as pronounced on this small scale. I also suspect that the vertical baffles helps the trapped air to be heated up more quickly by your body heat, which is certainly a boon. A technology Big Agnes calls ‘Flow Gates’ helps keep the down from shifting or falling with gravity.
These several factors combine to create a jacket that is exceptionally warm for its weight. Yes, it is a heavier jacket, but it’s still warmer than most ‘midweight’ puffies I’ve tested. Adding to this is the security of DownTek hydrophobic down, which is a bit of insurance against wet weather. I’ve really appreciated the Shovelhead as a resort down jacket. Its extra ounces don’t matter when there’s a chairlift, and that wind resistance really counts on cold windy days when the lift rises above treeline.
For reference, I’m 5’11”, 185lbs and wore a Large. It is perfectly true to size. Also note that the hood is not roomy enough to fit over a bulky ski helmet comfortably. One last note – the MSRP is $219 and boy, that’s a nice change from all of the ~$300 pieces we see coming through.
- Very warm for its weight
- 20D fabric is strong
- Main zipper is a cool YKK design, it pulls smoothly and looks good
- Plenty of helpful features for all circumstances
- DownTek hydrophobic down is nice insurance
- Big, generous inside and outside pockets for lots of storage
- It’s heavy! Over a pound for a midweight puffy
- Does not compress down very well
The Bottom Line: Big Agnes Shovelhead Jacket
Big Agnes is doing good things with their new outerwear line. They’re renowned as the mother of comfort, and it’s neat to see that that title will likely continue to extend to things like puffies and vests, too. Want to wear a sleeping bag around? Look no farther than the Shovelhead.
Buy Now: Available from BigAgnes.com