Review: Big Agnes Shovelhead down jacket

*This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag Magazine in 2018.

Whether you’re going bikepacking or doing a long winter ride in ever-changing conditions, a packable yet very warm jacket is an invaluable piece of gear for when you reach camp for the night or the temperature suddenly drops 20 degrees high in the mountains. There are two routes to go for such jackets: synthetic or down. Synthetic puffy coats tend to be less expensive and insulate better once they get wet, while down has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio and is highly compressible.

The Big Agnes Shovelhead utilizes 700 fill DownTek insulation, which is water-repellent to help mitigate down’s uselessness when wet. Vertical baffles contour to the human body while worn, while “gates” keep insulation from shifting around inside the jacket, resulting in uniform warmth.

The Shovelhead, which comes in both men’s and women’s versions, has a few other well-thought-out features that make all the difference. For one, a hood. Hoods add a lot of warmth without adding considerable bulk. Three internal pockets provide a spot to keep items that need to be kept from freezing, like your iPhone. There’s also a media port in one of the internal pockets for headphones.

Thumb holes help eliminate the gap between your glove and sleeve, while elastic cuffs and adjustable drawcords on the hood and bottom hem seal out drafts and add to overall warmth.

This jacket packs down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle and can easily be stuffed in a frame bag or into your saddle bag. It is indeed extremely warm and if you’re doing any winter camping or rides in extra cold conditions, this jacket or something similar is a must-have.

This part wasn’t in the original review:

While I do wear this jacket in everyday life on occasion on really cold days, I generally save it for winter camping and outdoor pursuits in the cold when there will be long periods of time when I’m not moving and heating up. I’ve even taken it on longer, extra cold day rides (like when it’s in the single digits) in case of a mechanical or injury and a need to stay put for a while. A nice down jacket to cozy up at night has definitely made winter bikepacking so much better.

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