Review: Big Agnes Sunshine Packable Down Jacket
Early spring bikepacking is calling. That means cold nights and chilly mornings that can only be defrosted by a solid down layer. If you don’t already have a packable down jacket in your arsenal, check out the lightweight offerings from Big Agnes…
With a cold snap setting in, when a package from Big Agnes arrived in the mail addressed to me, I was so excited that I tore the box open before stepping in the front door. Inside, lay my new Sunshine Hooded Jacket. Crazy as it seemed, there actually was a jacket in that oh so unbelievably light box, and what a pretty jacket it was! After reading quite a number of gear reviews over the years, I know that aesthetic attributes don’t usually get much attention, but that’s too bad. When investing in high priced gear, one shouldn’t have to settle for only Okayish looks.
The Slate Blue color is great. With contrasting aqua blue cuffs, turquoise accents on its zippers, and a moderately shimmery ultralight nylon rip-stop shell, the Sunshine has more style than the typical performance jacket. The cut is also flattering. Vertical baffles not only increase the jacket’s warmth, they complement the body’s contours. I typically wear jackets in a larger than needed size, because I fear the restrictive movements that a more form fitting style may cause. No worries here. With the medium size, I have room for 2 thinner (base) layers, and I can move my arms without any restraint. Another great plus is the slightly elongated tail. I am long waisted, and the extra coverage helps hide the plumber in me. The hood design is pretty perfect. It’s big enough for my larger than average cabeza, even with a toboggan (yes, a knit cap) on for added comfort, but it stays in place, even without cinching down on the well-integrated draw cord. Lastly, the jacket’s thumbholes are awesome. Not only are they nicely designed, but they provide a sense of binky-like emotional comfort, help keep the jacket exactly where you want it to stay, and keep your hands a little toasty when your gloves aren’t “handy”.
As for performance, the most important thing for me was finding a jacket that provided a lot of warmth while being very lightweight and compressible. As far as the warmth factor goes, the Sunshine earns its name. I am a VERY cold natured person, and the 850 fill power DownTek™ water repellent down has kept me warmer than any other coat I’ve ever worn. In fact, the only warmer coat I can recall wearing is my grandfather’s down parka, which is so thick with down that, were I to wear it in a police line-up with the Michelin man and the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow guy, it would be hard to pick me out. In full disclosure, I haven’t worn the jacket in a full bore blizzard, nor have I visited the tundra since receiving it, but it’s kept me pretty toasty (with only a long sleeve T-shirt base layer) in the high 20s-30 degree temps I’ve seen this winter. I haven’t worn it in a torrential downpour either, but it’s seen more than a few rainshowers. In those instances, I’ve stayed warm, and the overall weight and shape of the jacket seemed unaffected. It also dried quickly within the confines of our little home on wheels.
As for the size, the Sunshine is great. Again, it’s not puffy, and it doesn’t restrict my movement, no matter how erratic and clumsy it may be at times. At 12oz., it weighs less than most sweaters I own, which is a plus, especially when you need to carry your jacket in arm instead of wearing it (because you are actually a little too warm).
As far as stowage goes, the Sunshine jacket packs away inside its internal zippered breast pocket. It’s pretty compact, but on the ultralight bikepacking trips Logan and I have taken recently, it’s still a little cumbersome (think small Nerf football) due to my current lack of a frame bag which will change soon. However, with a framebag or on and extended tour with panniers, I don’t think the size would pose any problems. All in all, for the warmth it provides, the package is pretty darn small. I guess someone super tight on space could go with the hoodless version, but I’m not sure how much of a difference that would really make. I haven’t tried it out, but I’m guessing a small stuff sack might also help to reduce the overall packed size.
So, I’m pretty much loving my new jacket. But, as we all know, not many things in life are perfect. The one downside to being ultralightweight, I’ve discovered, is the fragility of the shell fabric. We’ve been extremely impressed with Big Agnes products, especially their tents and sleeping bags throughout our long bike trips, hence trying their newer line of down jackets. But somehow, I’ve sustained a couple of very small abrasions in the fabric. They don’t seem significant enough at this point to compromise its performance, but I am just a little bummed. I’m not sure what I cut it on, but the southwest U.S. has a nice array of thorny things, and we have been living, riding, and bikepacking in the desert for a month or so. If you were to ask Logan, it wouldn’t matter where I was; I’m a “destroyer of things.” He suggests that I don’t wear my fancy new jacket when I’m working on projects, i.e. building out the van, gathering firewood (thorny brush), or walking in close proximity to anything pointy. Since I’m not “down” with that, I just plan to do a little patch work and keep on keepin’ on.
Specs (from bigagnes.com)
- Ultralight hooded down jacket with a contoured fit and a drop tail
- 850 fill power DownTek™ water repellent down
- Insotect Flow™ vertical baffles contour to your body to provide more comfortable fit and keep you warmer
- Flow Gates™ eliminate down shifting to keep uniform insulation coverage
- Ultralight nylon rip-stop shell is wind and water resistant
- Adjustable drawcord hood closure keeps the weather out
- Main zipper includes interior no-draft flap and a zipper garage at chin
- Adjustable drawcord at hem seals out wind
- Thumb holes make layering easy and eliminate the gap between sleeve and glove
- Two zippered hand-warmer pockets with zipper garages
- Large interior mesh pockets for extra stash space
- Interior chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack
- Textured zipper pulls are easy to use with gloves
- Fill weight size Medium – 6oz/ 162g
- Jacket weight size Medium – 12oz/ 340g
- The Sunshine Hooded Jacket retails for 449.95
In full disclosure, Big Agnes provided me with the Sunshine Hooded Jacket for this review, but I am authentically impressed with its features, performance, and fit. I do not, however, feel that this review would be complete without mentioning the ethical concerns I have regarding down, specifically the treatment of the animals from whom duck and goose feathers or down are taken. Companies are currently creating industry standards regarding ethically harvested down. When asked about the company’s practices regarding its down supply, a representative from Big Agnes replied that they abide by all EU testing standards and that: “Our down is provided by our manufacture in Asia. The ducks are all matured and used for feeding the less fortunate. We then utilize the down.”
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