I love flying out of small airports like my home airport in Steamboat Springs, CO. The Yampa Valley Regional Airport is warm, comfortable, familiar, and the ticket checkers never weigh my bags. It also always offers the chance to see old friends or meet other locals headed out on an adventure. Last season while heading overseas I met two locals I had heard lore of but never actually met: Tony Roina (Big Agnes sourcing manager) and Bill Gamber (one of the owners of Big Agnes and founder of the company). They were headed to Asia for some meetings, and I was headed to Japan to hunt down some hot springs and powder.
Seasoned travelers always seem to walk a fine line of scrutiny and awe when observing other frequent travelers. “We” always seem to be judging and learning from how the seasoned veteran in front of us quickly moves through the line at security, or how the rookie causes a backup similar to what you see on Highway 5 in Southern California because they over-packed their liquids and double knotted their–while fashionable–hugely inconvenient lace-up boots. It was this shared observation that caused Tony and I to strike up conversation. We were both wearing our Big Agnes apparel and cruised through the security line. Our head nod and respect for efficiency and shared interest in clothing sparked a conversation in which I learned Tony helped design the jacket I was wearing, and Tony learned that I wear it everywhere and take pictures of it and try and get other people to buy more Big Agnes.
Most ski/snowboard bums would probably have talked about the fantastic places each of them were going to ski or ride, but the three of us talked about materials, patterns, zipper placements, and durability of goods. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had while boarding a plane, and certainly one of the most educational. It changed my perspective on the outerwear Big Agnes offers, enlightened me to the huge research and development efforts, and enhanced my relationship with the company through understanding. Since joining the Big Agnes Team in 2014 I’ve gotten to wear quite a few coats. Below are my top three and current quiver from heaviest to lightest.
The big daddy: the Fire Tower jacket.
Currently, I am a has-been athlete that is now a coach for some pretty awesome athletes. The Fire Tower is my go-to jacket. In a stuff sack it operates as a pillow while flying all over the world. It’s always in my on-hill bag to keep me warm after I sweat my ass off carrying gear all over hill-and-dale, and then proceed to freeze my ass off while standing in one place coaching for two hours. The one problem with the jacket is that all too often it sneaks out of my bag and ends up at the top of the mountain as a warm-up layer for my athletes. While this little move by them may cause me to feel uncomfortable and shiver a bit, there is a truly comforting feeling in being able to shelter your athletes. I think all coaches want to not only empower their athletes, but we also they feel a parental role in protecting them as well. When I’m in the backcountry away from my job enjoying nature and have skinned up to the top of a peak, I crawl inside my Fire Tower jacket and, I too, feel comforted, warm and protected. Whether the threat is the elements or competition stress I love seeing my athletes find comfort and warmth in a piece of gear that’s dear to me. So, while I may be cold without it, I prefer that it keeps sneaking out of my bag.
Number two in the lineup – but tied for number one in our hearts – is the hooded Shovelhead jacket. This jacket, with its vertical insulation tubing, DownTek™ insulation, and stylish silhouette makes it unique in this category. It can be worn as an outer layer or an under layer based on its construction. It took a little bit for me to implement it into my fall backpacking gear due to its extra grams when compared to my old Patagonia down sweater. But my first trip with it into the San Juan‘s made me a fan for life. During a project with Yeti Cycles and some good friends in the high country of southern Colorado, I foolishly elected to bring a 45° bag to 13,000 feet. To put it simply that jacket saved the trip. Halfway through the first night I woke up completely freezing and unable to get warm no matter what position I took. Thankfully I had the Shovelhead I normally use as an additional layer with the sleeping bag, but this time I eventually ended up just sleeping with my jacket on inside of the bag. This extra layer of down inside my bag made it so that I went from freezing to snug as a bug in a rug. From that trip forward my Shovelhead has been my cold-weather camping medium layer: perfect for climbing straight out of the tent to the coffee maker. It’s also great for chilly summits and cool descents, and it’s stylish enough to wear to your favorite mountain restaurant for après.
The newest and latest addition to the quiver is the Porcupine pullover. This jacket draws on Big Agnes’s understanding of warmth through ingenuity of insulation and incorporates a new level of breathability. I’ve been using this jacket for the past four months in more cardio-based activities. The design’s ability to regulate body temperature is extremely impressive allowing for it to be a true car-to-car peace. Meaning on chilly endeavors you can put the jacket on, do your run or your bike or your hike, and not constantly have to be shedding and adjusting layers. I’m excited to see what this piece can do as the winter progresses. I really enjoy the idea of keeping my core in my front body warm to help prevent injury and aid in digestion, among other obtuse things that as athletes we don’t really think about, all the while allowing the heat and perspiration to escape out of the soft shell on the back. I think it’s a great jacket for all the Type 2 Fun.
It’s a funny thing living in Steamboat, being a very small part of the Big Agnes family, and seeing year after year more pieces of Big Agnes apparel on the slopes, in the backcountry, and even in the airports. Whenever I see a Big Agnes jacket in Steamboat or elsewhere in the world I’m always drawn to that person, as it feels like home. Ironically, that’s exactly how each of the jackets that I’ve used from Big Agnes feel–with the added benefit of excellent performance. It’s also great to realize that the people behind the jackets are just as warm as the jackets themselves. So cheers to small airports, fast security lines, no overweight bags and Big Agnes!
-Justin Reiter is a Big Agnes Ambassador, friend, and member of our family. He travels the world coaching world-class snowboard racers, and calls Steamboat home while unpacking to repack. Follow his adventures HERE!