We all know and love Big Agnes for their famously comfortable sleeping bags and pads that have delayed the start of many a long day of trekking.  They’ve taken all of their tricks and know-how from down sleeping bags and whipped that up into two very exciting new products, the Hole in the Wall hoodless and the Shovelhead hooded down jackets.  We snagged a Shovelhead and it’s been keeping us warm through the cold snap that’s hit much of the country.

Big Agnes Shovelhead DownTek Jacket Features:

  • 700 fill power DownTek™ water repellent down
  • Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles keep you warmer
  • Flow Gates™ eliminate down shifting
  • Mid-weight down jackets with contoured fit
  • Lightweight nylon rip-stop shell is wind and water resistant
  • Two exterior pockets with color contrast
  • Two large interior mesh pockets for stash space
  • One interior chest pocket
  • Fill weight size Large – 6.5oz/ 184g
  • Jacket weight, size Large – 18oz/ 510g
  • MSRP: $249.95

BA December (5 of 7)

Warm, puffy, hydrophobic – what else could you want?

The slate of highly-anticipated Big Agnes down jackets has something for everyone – both the Hole in the Wall and the Shovelhead have options for men and women and there’s a special SE version that uses 850-fill down.  My particular model is the hooded, 700-fill offering that features a slate of special amenities: there’s the DownTek hydrophobic down, special Insotect Flow vertical baffles and Flow Gates to keep the down from shifting.  The big picture idea behind the Shovelhead is to create as warm of a jacket as possible while not packing on too much weight.

The usual gamut of features have all been faithfully incorporated by the design team at Big Agnes – we see thumb holes, articulated zipper pulls, fully adjustable hem, insulated zip baffle and hood and two huge dump pockets on the inside of the jacket; there’s even a zippered security pocket to complement the two zippered hand pockets.  The front of the jacket features a hung lining for added warmth, but the baffles are exposed on the back of the jacket.

There’s all of the basics – the Shovelhead is a full-featured, box-checking jacket and it’s reassuring to see that Big Agnes got so many things right with the release of their first piece of outerwear.  All of the features worked well on my jacket and the zipper pulls and hem adjustments are still pulling and adjusting well after a fair bit of intentional abuse.  The hem adjustment pulls are simple looped shock cord, though, and I would appreciate something a little more tactile to grab with gloves on.  Otherwise, I’m happy with all of the other features.

BA December (4 of 7)

At the core of the Shovelhead…

With all of the basics out of the way it’s time to see what really makes the Shovelhead tick.  As I mentioned, it’s loaded up with 700-fill hydrophobic down from DownTek; this fill is a solid performer for the price, but it’s easy to tell that it’s more ‘massive’ than finer down fills; regardless, it lofts up quickly and its hydrophobic properties are as good as any that FeedtheHabit has tested.  DownTek has a bit of a leg up on competitors because it’s manufactured in Belgium under strict environmental requirements, so it’s advertised as a particularly ‘clean’ hydrophobic down.

What really makes the Shovelhead unique is its vertical baffle design.  Most down jackets have a traditional horizontal baffle design: this time-tested layout holds down in place well, but it isn’t very efficient at evenly distributing heat.  It makes sense when you think of hot air’s natural tendency to move in a vertical column when otherwise undisturbed.  Vertical baffles make the most of this natural property and, as in sleeping bags with vertical baffles,  follow the natural patterns of the human body.

BA December (6 of 7)

The problem with this is that down likes to shift within baffles and, without any other interference, would happily sink down to the bottom of the Shovelhead’s baffles.  The solution?  So-called FlowGates are spaced throughout the vertical baffles and they keep the down from shifting while still allowing heat to be distributed along the baffle.

What’s the upshot to all of this technology?  In testing the jacket, I was really impressed by how quickly the jacket ‘warms up’ once my body had started heating the down.  It’s funny to think of a down jacket ‘warming up,’ but that’s really what the Shovelhead does – heat from your core warm areas gets spread along the baffles to the rest of your body.  The net result is a jacket that’s exceptionally warm for its 18oz of weight – that’s definitely no ultralight classification but the Shovelhead isn’t shooting for ultralight.  With this in mind, overall performance is aided by the comparatively heavy 20D nylon weave which helps stop wind and water from stealing your warmth.  Fun fact: the black/blue Big Agnes jackets have 20D nylon while the grey/green jackets feature 30D/40D nylon.  That fact isn’t advertised but it’s something to keep in mind while purchasing.

On the mountain

The Shovelhead’s exceptional warmth makes it a fantastic resort puffy or a piece for any occasion where warmth is a higher priority than breathability or traveling light.  I sweated out the jacket on more than one occasion, but true to its colors the down stayed lofty and warm even though I could see the patches of sweat on the light blue baffles.  Due to the cold snap hitting the Northwest (and many other parts of the country, for that matter) most of my testing was done in temperatures ranging from the low 20’s to the teens and even down to single digits.  In the low 20’s the jacket is fine as a stand-alone over something as light as a tee-shirt, provided you’re still lightly active.  When temperatures dipped lower I added a light fleece vest and was comfortable all the way down to the mid teen’s.  Throw on the hood and the Shovelhead becomes an absolute hotbox.

A jacket like this doesn’t have any built-in stretch, and that’s painfully apparent when you go to reach for something with your thumb in the thumb hole.  I have comparatively long arms for my 5’11,”, 180 pound frame, but otherwise the size Medium fit me very well.  Other than this, Big Agnes was careful to make the Shovelhead especially comfortable to wear.  As they know from their experience from sleeping bags, the user experience around the whole head region is crucial – a good sleeping bag should swaddle your whole head in cushy down and eliminate cold spots or prickly fabric edges.  The Shovelhead captures this ideal perfectly: the tall collar comes up midway on the chin when zipped up and is nice and cushy, with a generous zipper garage so that the only thing your skin touches is soft nylon.  The head baffles run ear to ear and are comfortable and warm.  I do wish that the hood could accommodate a helmet, but otherwise the hood feels like a well-designed sleeping bag.  Top marks here.

BA December (7 of 7)

The Good:

  • Exceptionally warm for its weight
  • Especially comfortable head/chin/neck region
  • All of the typical features are present and correct
  • Vertical baffles and down gates greatly increase performance
  • DownTek performs well and is manufactured through a clean(ish) process

The Bad:

  • Heavy fabric is easy to overheat in warmer temps

The Bottom Line

The Shovelhead is exceptionally warm for its weight, no two ways about it.  Big Agnes’ first foray into the competitive world of outerwear has been successful and it’s encouraging to see how well their know-how from down sleeping products translated into this unique jacket.  The Shovelhead is easy to recommend for anyone who needs a bomber 20D puffy with warmth to spare.

Buy Now: Available at Campsaver.com

About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Kevin,

    Very nice review. I just received mine last week 🙂

    A correction to the no stowage option. The jacket can fold itself into the security pocket. The shape of the security pocket is not the conventional square. It has a slight contour on one edge which is perfect for a small pillow.

    -rubes :]

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