Friday, February 19, 2016

Gear Closet: Big Agnes Meaden Down Jacket

When you travel to a cold weather destination you quickly learn the value of having good gear. Recently, while visiting Quebec, Canada, the temperatures dipped well below -20ºF/-28ºC, with windchills as low as -45ºF/-42ºC. That's cold, but with the right gear and a good layering system, it is surprisingly easy to not just survive in those conditions, but enjoy yourself too.

To get along in temps that cold, you need warm baselayers, a wind and waterproof shell, and of course a good insulating later in-between. Usually that insulating layer is either a fleece jacket or in colder conditions a down jacket, which provides the best weight to warmth ratio imaginable. On my recent Canadian adventure I took the new Meaden Jacket from Big Agnes, which exceeded my expectations in terms of comfort, warmth, and fit.

In terms of insulation, the Meaden Jacket features 850 fill down from Downtek, which means it is water resistant, virtually eliminating the one fault with using it in an active jacket. In the past, when down got went, it lost its loft, clumped together, and became almost useless. This issue was only exasperated when the down would freeze in cold conditions.

But with hydrophobic down produced by Downtek, this is not an issue. That means the Meaden will continue to perform well, even when it gets wet, which is something that helps to separate it from other jackets that don't bother using water resistant down, and quite frankly if you're in the market for jacket of this type, it is silly to consider anything else these days. Usually it doesn't add much to the cost of the jacket, and what you gain in performance is easily worth the extra money.

The surprising thing about this particular jacket isn't that it is warm, but just how warm it is for the weight. Big Agnes has created an article of clothing that performs incredibly well, and weighs next to nothing. The large version of the Meaden tips the scales at just 11.5 oz. (326 grams), which is incredibly lightweight for jacket that offers this level of performance.

Despite its low weight however, Big Agnes didn't compromise on a durability. The jacket is designed with the active crowd in mind, and so it is built to survive our adventures in harsh conditions. The lightweight ripstop fabrics used on the Meaden are tough, abrasion resistant, and made to last. My test model was used extensively throughout my travels in Canada, and it looks completely brand new.

One of my favorite features of this jacket is its straight, athletic cut. Clearly the designers at Big Agnes know their customers, most of whom are very active in the outdoors. The design of the Meaden is meant to not impede movement in any way, even while serving as part of a much larger layering system. When that design is paired with the lightweight of the jacket, you end up with a garment that you can pull on, feel warm, and forget that you are even wearing it. That's a powerful combination to find in any piece of performance gear.

Big Agnes didn't skimp on the pockets on Meaden either. In addition to two hand-warming pockets on the exterior of the jacket, there is a larger interior mesh pocket as well. This came in handy when trying to keep camera and smartphone batteries warm in the cold conditions, which can zap them of power very quickly. A second interior pocket, located on the chest, is great for stashing small items too, and cleverly converts into a stuff sack for packing the jacket when traveling as well.

The Meaden has a number of other nice features that seem small at first, but add up to make it an exceptional piece of gear. For instance, it has thumb holes that add warmth to the hands and wrists, but also ensure that your sleeves fully extend when donning an outer shell. The main zipper also includes a no-draft flap to help keep the cold winds out, and an adjustable drawcord on the hem helps to lock in warmth too.

With a price tag of $380, the Meaden Jacket is a bit pricier than similar jackets from the competition. But, it also comes with Big Agnes' trademark high quality. To me, that makes the cost of this jacket well worth the price. It is a great combination of thoughtful design, high quality materials, and fantastic performance. That is a rare thing to find in any product, let alone a piece of outdoor gear.

If you're in the market for a new high-performance down jacket, the Big Agnes Meaden is a fantastic choice. it is a bit on the pricer side, but what it delivers makes it well worth the cost. This is a jacket that will be with you for years, and continue provide warmth on even the coldest of adventures.

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