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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Big Agnes Ws Shovelhead Hooded Jacket > Owner Review by Kathleen Waters


March 19, 2014
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NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy at backpackgeartest dot com
AGE: 63
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280,000 hectares of public land bordering my 71-acre/29-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


Manufacturer: Big Agnes
Year of Manufacture: 2013
Manufacturer's Website:
MSRP: US $249.95
Listed Weight: 12 oz (340 g) for size medium
Measured Weight: 14 oz (397 g) for size medium
Sizes Available: Extra Small to Extra Large
Size Reviewed: Medium
Colors Available: Black and Mint
Color Reviewed: Black

Construction Materials:
700 fill power DownTek™ water repellent down
Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles
Flow Gates™ Technology
Ultralight nylon rip-stop shell
Fill weight size Medium - 6 oz/162 g

* Made in China
Shovelhead jacket
Picture Courtesy of Big Agnes


Fittingly, I received the Big Agnes Shovelhead Hooded Jacket on a frigid morning that started out at -5 F (-20 C) - the high that day only rose to 14 F (-10 C)!

Since then, all of my hiking/snowshoeing experiences were day hikes plus two overnight campouts which took place in south central Colorado. All day trips were four to eight hour jaunts into the approximately 100,000 acres (40,468 hectares) of BLM land encompassing the Cooper Mountain range/Royal Gorge area near Canon City or the Wet Mountains south of the Arkansas River Valley.

The Cooper Mountain range is mostly piñon pine and juniper-covered high desert with rough primitive game and mining trails (for the most part) and is easily accessed just outside of my property fence line. So this was most often chosen for my day hikes and quick overnights. My husband and I generally pack up, grab the GPS, pick a trail and go without any planned destination in mind.

The Wet Mountains rise up from the Arkansas River Valley floor and are dense ponderosa pine and sage forests. One of my new favorite trails there is the Rainbow Trail in the Wet Mountains and during winter months I can usually count on snow in the Wets.

Elevations I tested in ranged from 5000' up to 14000' (1524 m to 4268 m) and temperatures while hiking/snowshoeing over the past four months varied from 17 F to 68 F (-9 C to 38 C).

I also had a great hike on the Mineral Fork Trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah during the recent Outdoor Retailer Winter Market. This was a moderate 4.5 mile (7.3 km) hike with an elevation gain of 3500 ft (1070 m) from 6700 ft - 10200 ft (2040 - 3100 m). It was a very chilly 27 F (15 C) though when in the sun, it felt much warmer.

In addition, I wore the Shovelhead almost daily on 3-5 mile (5-8 km) walks with or without a dog in tow as well as any other time I needed to be outside in the cold, whether on errands, visiting with friends, etc.
Snowshoeing on the Mineral Fork Trail
Snowshoeing on the Mineral Fork Trail in Utah


Stuffed Shovelhead
Bright Green Shovelhead "Pillow"
According to the women's size chart on the Big Agnes' website, a size medium is for chest, waist and hip measurements of 36-37", 28-29", and 38-39: (91-94 cm, 71-74 cm, 97-99 cm) respectively. I was pleased to find that the chart was spot-on accurate and the medium-sized Shovelhead fits me perfectly. Its contoured shape is loose enough for me to wear a base layer top with an additional lightweight mid-layer, yet not so bulky as to negate a wind/rain shell if necessary which I haven't found necessary yet as the nylon rip-stop shell is wind and water resistant.

The Shovelhead is very attractively shaped and looks as good in town shopping and running errands as well as hiking and snowshoeing in the mountains! I love the sleek black almost wet-look of the shell fabric along with the vivid contrasting bright green front zipper and the two side zippers on the front pockets.

The Shovelhead has an amazingly lightweight feel and is so very soft and fluffy to the touch. It just begs to be "squished"! The fluffiness is not at all bulky though - no Michelin Man feeling here - and when worn, it barely feels like I have a jacket on, no less an 850 fill down one. I find my range of motion to be unencumbered and there isn't any bunching of fabric in my underarm or elbows where some other jackets tend to become restrictive with thick bulges. Actually, when wearing the Shovelhead, I hardly notice I'm wearing a jacket at all - except to the warmth of it.

And speaking of warmth...

According to the Big Agnes' website, it's their Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles that help keep me warm. These are "vertical thermal channels" which can distribute heat more readily from end to end compared to side-to-side horizontal baffles. This means heat can travel the entire length of the channel alongside my body. It also allows the vertical construction of the jacket to conform more closely to my body's contours and keeps the insulation closer to me.

As I indicated above, temperatures over the last four months have ranged from 7 F to 68 F (-9 C to 38 C). Any time the readings were above 65 F (18 C), I did not wear the Shovelhead (or any other down jacket!). With our blazing Colorado sunshine, if there is no wind, I generally don't wear jackets while hiking/backpacking or snowshoeing in any temperature above even 55 F (13 C) - I just get too warm. However, I ALWAYS have a jacket handy because should the wind pick up, the temperature drop above tree line or when stopping for a snack or lunch break, I want to be warm and the Shovelhead just packs down so neatly.

The very roomy interior chest pocket can be turned inside out and used as a stuff sack by cramming the jacket bit by bit into it. This is not a super-small package by any means (approximately 12 by 8 in/30 by 20 cm). It is conveniently shaped (by design?) to be a very adequate neck pillow which I've used on numerous occasions in my sleeping bag and even in the car on a long road trip. Most recently, I employed it as a lumbar pillow on a flight to/from Florida where a down jacket was certainly not necessary on route! And even though the jacket gets very crushed when in its stuff sack, it "fluffs" out and sheds its wrinkles almost immediately so I don't look like I've slept in it (or on it) as I have done many times over. And as of yet, despite the Shovelhead getting repeatedly stuffed, the down hasn't shifted or gotten "lumpy". I suppose that is thanks to Big Agnes' Flow Gates™ construction.

Back to warmth…

Even at the lowest temperatures, I was ALWAYS warm while wearing the Shovelhead! And not just warm at my core, but also in my arms which when wearing some of my other jackets, is not the case. Most mornings, when starting out on the trail, I usually wore a light-to-mid-weight wool base layer and a very light down vest with the jacket to start out my hike and I would be zipped up tightly. This would work well for the first mile/kilometer or so until the morning chill was chased away by the rising sun. Then I would be unzipping the jacket, then shedding the vest and most often, eventually taking off the Shovelhead, too. I just really hike/snowshoe "hot" in all but well-below-freezing temperatures. "Pit zips" might be a nice add-on to this jacket, I think!

There were many times I wore the Shovelhead in very windy conditions. This winter, the winds have been exceptionally prevalent and temperatures I would normally hike jacketless became uncomfortable due to gusts chilling down my sweaty body. The Shovelhead was stellar at deflecting those nasty winds and even though the interior of the jacket became damp from wicked out body moisture, I remained warm. Aiding to the keeping-warm features of the jacket are the bottom hem cinches which can pull the jacket even closer to my body when need be.

Front of Shovelhead Side View of Shovelhead

As for moisture…

I only encountered two hikes where our famous Colorado blue skies fled the scene and left me exposed to heavy, wet snow on one occasion and a mixture of sleet/snow and rain on the other. Both times, the Shovelhead did its water-resistant thing and kept me dry. Both times, the jacket eventually got totally soaked on the outside but did not wet-out the lining even though I had to slog through the elements for over an hour on the one trip. Also, on both treks, I was glad to have the hood to pull over my wool cap for protection. I'm not a hoodie-type of gal, but wearing the Shovelhead hood keeps the icy water off my neck (and from running down my back) and the very slight but stiffened brim, kept my glasses somewhat dry. The hood can be cinched as tightly as I need at my neck via a barrel lock cord system.

There are a total of five pockets in the Shovelhead - three interior and two exterior. The exterior front bottom hem pockets are nicely-sized hand-warmer pockets which are nylon-lined, not fleece-lined which I would prefer (I'm not fond of wearing gloves and fleece is softer, more cozy). But the pockets are certainly big enough for me to carry a bar or two, my cell phone and even my small digital camera, albeit, not all at the same time in the same pocket! When I AM wearing gloves, even my bulkiest gloves will fit into the pocket, though stashing them there sure ruins the sleek contour of the jacket! These pockets with their contrasting trim open and close with a rubber-like zipper tab that has a rough-textured surface that make it easier to grasp with gloved fingers (the front zipper has the same pull). However, as weird as it may sound, that same "roughness", I found, really irritates my ungloved hands if I'm striding along with the jacket unzipped and the pulls rub against them on the "downswing". Minor issue, but a trade-off, I suppose.

The two front bottom hem interior pockets are mesh and HUGE - they cover practically the entire front of the jacket from the chest downward to the hem. That is where I usually carry my cell phone to keep it dry and safe. Even though I have to unzip the front zipper, these pockets are the most comfortable for me to have a "heavier" object stored.

The third interior pocket is chest-high and is the "stash" pocket. It, too, is generously-sized (as it needs to be able to fit the entire jacket into it!).

Surprisingly though, there isn't a media outlet in this pocket for all those who need to have "noise" in the outdoors. Since I never dance on the trails, this didn't pose a problem for me!

Despite my natural clumsiness and carelessness, and numerous encounters with piñon pines and cactus, the Shovelhead still looks like new. It seems to shed stains (like dribbled tea) easily and has resisted snags from jacket-grabbing tree branches. So far, it has not suffered from any broken baffle stitches. On one outing while rushing up trail, I thought I tore the left sleeve on a pine tree and was in a panic. Fortunately, what I thought was a puncture turned out to be only an escaping down feather. And while I've had other down products with multiple escaping feathers, this appears to have been a one-time event.

There is a tag with care instructions on the inside left side seam with the usual symbols and written instructions. I have not yet had to clean the jacket - it seems to shed stains easily, but when I inevitably make a mess of it, I will know to wash it in warm water, tumble dry on low, use a down cleaner but no bleach and no ironing (like that was ever a possibility!). Guess I'd better buy some more down cleaner, eh?

Lastly, as I expected, there IS a story behind the very odd style name of "Shovelhead". It seems a while back, one of Big Agnes' product line managers, Melissa Minter, was drafted into a shovel racing competition at the Steamboat Winter Carnival. This involves sitting on a snow shovel, holding a tow rope and being dragged by a horse down Main Street. Apparently, she was pretty good and even won a few times. Thanks to her prowess, Melissa's nickname became 'Shovelhead' and this jacket now proudly bears her name!


1.) Love the close, but not too-close fit.
2.) Provides warmth without bulk.
3.) Great wind and water resistance.
4.) Packs away small.
5.) Looks great - very stylish for all venues.


1.) A bit pricey or I'd buy one in the mint as well!
2.) I'm not a fan of the zipper pulls - scratchy!


From the minute I tried on the Shovelhead, I suspected I was going to love it and after 12 weeks of near daily wear, my suspicions have happily been confirmed! The Shovelhead fits me perfectly, keeps me toasty warm in all sorts of winter weather, is lightweight and packable, stands up to abuse and wears well, and still is stylish enough to wear on most all occasions.

I now have several other orphaned jackets in my gear closet that will probably stay in my gear closet, displaced by this versatile Shovelhead Hooded Jacket by Big Agnes. Like its namesake, it's a winner! Thanks, Big Agnes!

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

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