There is a lot to like about the Big Agnes’ Shovelhead, but looks isn’t one of them.
The vertical baffling and peaked hood give it an odd appearance: a little retro, a little space age and a little bit like an inflatable life-jacket.
But Big Agnes makes much of its ‘Vertical thermal channels’. This is a patented technology that is claimed to redistribute heat more effectively across the length of the body and to better contour the user’s body, thus minimising ‘dead’ space. ‘Flow gates’ within the baffles prevent the down from migrating south.
Although one of the boasts of vertical baffling is that it reduces the amount of fabric needed and so produces lighter gear, at 510g (w: 439g) the Shovelhead is one of the heavier jackets reviewed. But it is also stacked with features and feels like the hardest wearing jacket here.
The main zipper is chunky and runs smoothly thanks to a stiff internal baffle. It has three outside pockets and two internal mesh pockets. The pocket tally seems excessive for tramping, where downies are often more of an evening-wear item or are worn beneath a hardshell. The breast-pocket doubles as an impressively small stuff sack.
With 184g of 700 fill power hydrophobic down and a water and wind-resistant nylon outer, the Shovelhead is probably the most water resistant jacket reviewed. I was surprised to observe water still beading off after half an hour of walking in rain.
The hood comes with a stiff visor, high zip-cover and a drawcord to offer storm-tight protection.
Both the back length and the sleeves are uncommonly long. Another feature is the presence of thumb-loops. I’m ambivalent about these – they’ll probably wear out before the rest of jacket and make the sleeves drafty, but one way to avoid that is to not use them.
The Shovelhead is warm, ready for all weather and looks to be the toughest downie reviewed.