I’m not a fan of the cold. When the mercury drops, I go into survival mode and can think of nothing other than when I’ll be warm again. This singular focus on my discomfort can make wintertime outdoor activities less than fun. So I was excited to field test the Big Agnes Shovelhead hooded down jacket on a cold winter day in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.
Touting 700-fill waterproof down from DownTek, the Big Agnes Shovelhead promised to keep me both warm and dry. Those are both key for the wet winter weather that’s the norm in the Pacific Northwest. I took the Shovelhead jacket on a hike over snow- and ice-covered trails that gained about 2,000 feet in elevation over six miles. The Shovelhead did not disappoint.
The Big Agnes hooded jacket kept me plenty warm for four-plus hours, even as temperatures dropped into the 20’s at higher elevations. In fact, I had to strip if off after one part of the trail gained about 800 vertical feet over a short distance. I don’t think that’s any sort of commentary on the jacket’s breathability; I was just hot after that level of exertion.
When I hit the lower elevations it started to rain. Such is winter life in the Portland area. At that point I was particularly grateful that the Big Agnes Shovelhead features DownTek waterproof technology. For those unschooled in the pros and cons of choosing down to keep you warm, outdoor enthusiasts love down for its lightness and superior insulating qualities — so long as you stay dry. Wet down will keep you about as warm as wet t-shirt. Hydrophobic down, which hit the market a few years ago, is treated with polymers so it repels water. And since the outdoor industry has recently faced the uncomfortable fact that the chemicals used in many of its engineered products are damaging to the environment, it’s worth noting that DownTek claims to be an environmentally friendly choice. It’s is perfluorocarbon-free and the down is coated using a process that that promises to minimize impacts to the environment.
The coat looks and feels great. Its 700-fill is surprisingly slim, so you won’t worry about looking like a super-puffy Michelin Man. A spate of bad weather in the Gorge left the trail in bad shape, and Shovelhead was easy to move in as I scrambled over and under downed trees. It’s often the details that transform a piece of outdoor gear from something that simply keeps you to warm into a garment you truly love.
The Big Agnes Shovelhead has some great features: thumbholes, well-designed hem drawcords, and an amazing hood that actually stayed on in the wind without making me feel claustrophobic. I’m excited to test this coat again in colder conditions before the winter ends. I also tested the claim that the inner pocked doubles as a stuff sack, and I can confirm that the Shovelhead packs down small. This means it will likely find its way into my pack on summer backtrip trips, where mountain summits require a warm but packable layer. This is the best waterproof down coat I’ve owned, and it’s not just going to see action in the stereotypical winter months.