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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Smartwool PhD Vest > Test Report by Kurt Papke

Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest

Test Series by Kurt Papke

Initial Report - May 1, 2018

Field Report - July 23, 2018

Long Term Report - September 18, 2018

Tester Information

Name: Kurt Papke
Age: 64
Gender: Male
Height: 6' 4" (193 cm)
Weight: 230 lbs (105 kg)
Email address: kwpapke (at) gmail (dot) com
City, State, Country: Tucson, Arizona USA

I do most of my hiking in the desert Southwest, but occasionally get up into the Pacific Northwest and my old stomping grounds in Northern Minnesota.  I am a comfort-weight guy when it comes to most gear, trying to stay as light as possible but I don't go to extremes. I like wearing vests in cooler weather due to their high warmth/weight ratio.

Initial Report

Product Facts

Product Information

Manufacturer website
Year manufactured
Size tested
Large, also available in Small and Medium and Extra-Large
Country of manufacture
$100.00 USD
Two years
Specification: 4 oz (112 g)
Measured: 3.8 oz (109 g) for size Large
Shell - 100% Nylon; Trim - 54% Merino Wool, 46% Polyester

This garment is intended to provide warmth at a low weight, with some wind and weather protection from the DWR-treated shell.  Breathability is pretty much guaranteed from the vest design, but it also includes mesh panels in strategic areas.

It is also designed to be very compact and packable, with the ability to pack into the chest pocket.

Initial Inspection

This garment weighs almost nothing.  Okay, yes it's a quarter-pound (112 g), but when I hold it in my hand it barely seems there.  Inspecting it closely I could find no manufacturing issues, no loose threads, the zippers worked easily, etc.

It fits me pretty well.  I have to wear XL-sized long-sleeved garments, but for vests I find I can downsize and get a nice snug fit which I like in a vest.  Vests tend to be drafty to begin with, so a little extra torso hug from the garment makes me feel warmer anyway.

This is a sharp-looking garment.  I'd be happy to wear this around town on cool evenings.  The shell has a nice sheen to it, and the contrast of the side panels is quite attractive.


Top left in the above photo is the vest laid out flat from the inside.  It shows how little wool actually makes up the garment (the light grey is the merino).  It's almost like a sleeveless windshirt.

Lower left in the photo is a feature not mentioned in the company's description: venting built into the backpanel.  The wool fabric is tacked down in two spots forming three flaps that allow air movement.

At right in the photo is the vest packed up into the chest pocket, with the ruler at the bottom for scale.  It won't fit into a pocket very comfortably, but certainly would take up only a small amount of space in a day pack.


Great little vest for cool evenings.  I'm looking forward to getting it into the backcountry where I can try sleeping in it and other camping activities to see just how much warmth it adds.  Generally I wear just a T-shirt while hiking, but this vest may be lightweight enough for me to be able to wear while in motion without excessive sweating.  We'll find out!!

Field Report

Test Conditions

April 26-29, 2018
Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, AZ
Showers Point
About 8000 ft
(2440 m)
Hazy, 40-75 F
(4-24 C)
May 16-17, 2018
Huachuca Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Sierra Vista, AZ
14.6 miles
(23.5 km)
6500-9000 ft
(1980-2740 m)
Sunny, 45-75 F
(7-24 C)
June 10-11, 2018 Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest near Tucson, AZ
Samaniego Ridge
6 miles
(9.7 km)
7800-9100 ft
(2380-2770 m)
Sunny, 50-76 F
(10-24 C)
July 18-20, 2018 San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado Colorado/CDT 21 miles
(34 km)
8900-12,700 ft
(2710-3870 m)
35-75 F
(2-24 C) with sun, rain, hail and wind

Showers Point

sw02This was a regional "hammock hang", a car camping trip with a group of avid hammock campers.  We did some day hiking as well, and I wore the vest on the day hikes.  The photo at left shows the vest early in the morning on the Palisades trail.  I also wore the vest at night while sleeping, which was surprisingly helpful.  The vest fabric is "slippery", so it allowed me to roll over a bit easier in the hammock.

The vest provided extra warmth on the cool mornings.  I could certainly tell the difference when I took it off when I began to overheat as the sun rose higher in the sky.  The vest packs down nicely into a ball about the size of my fist, which makes it easy to stuff into a lumbar pack pocket.

Crest Trail

sw03This was supposed to be a 2-night outing, but I ended up cutting it short due to the extreme winds.  The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to set up my hammock, and I had to constantly re-adjust my underquilt because the wind made it shift off my backside all night long.  Not a fun night, so I hiked out the next day.

The photo at right was taken around 7:15AM after I had been on the trail for well over an hour.  Right after I took the photo I stashed the vest in my pack.  The morning had been cool and (still) windy, but with the Arizona sun shining on me and hiking with a full pack I was heating up fast.

This seems to be the pattern I have adopted with the vest: wear it at night, and for the first hour or two of hiking in the morning before it comes off for the day.

Samaniego Ridge

I was looking for a break from the Tucson summer heat, and I hadn't been up to one of my favorite campsites up on Mt. Lemmon for years, so I set off in search of altitude.  The trail begins just a few steps away from the mountain peak, and descends 1300 ft over 3 miles to a bucolic spread of Ponderosa pines with a thick bed of needles beneath.  Great spot to pitch a tent, too bad I hang from the trees in a hammock!

I didn't put the vest on until I arrived at my campsite and settled in.  I put it on over my night time silk baselayer.  I sat by a tree and read a book while there was still daylight, and I appreciated how the vest protected my silk garment from snags, etc.  The vest is pretty bombproof, which is nice.

I wore it again the next morning, my predictable first hour of hiking before I had to shed it due to overheating.

One other use for the vest occurred to me on this trip - when worn over "underwear" such as a baselayer, the vest made me feel a little more presentable.  Not that I care much in camp what I look like, but it is nice to feel like I am not just walking around in my underwear.

Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail

The Tucson Backpacking Meetup group traveled to the San Juan Mountains for a week of camping and hiking.  Several of us took off and did a 3-day backpacking jaunt.  We headed East from Molas Pass on the Colorado Trail, then turned North on the Continental Divide Trail before turning Northwest to our trailhead and shuttle in the Highland Mary Lakes area.  I also wore the vest for two days of day hiking prior to the backpack trip, so I used it for five total days of hiking, and slept with it on every night.

sw04sw05sw06I used the vest over a nylon shirt and with a day pack as shown in the first photo taken along the trail to Crater Lake, a long-sleeved merino wool shirt as shown in the second photo along the Continental Divide trail above tree line, a short-sleeved merino wool shirt (not pictured), and all alone over my bare skin as shown in the last photo along the Colorado Trail during a lunch break.

I liked wearing it over the merino wool, because my shirts often get small holes in them where my backpack rubs against the shirt, and the nylon vest provided great protection.  I think my favorite use was when I got overly warm and just wore it all alone, though I did get some sunburn on the tops of my shoulders where I am a little whiter due to that skin normally being covered by short sleeves.  It was surprisingly comfortable worn all alone, and it got a lot of comments from the female hikers who were on the trip.  It seemed the least useful when worn over the sturdy nylon shirt, and the vest simply provided another layer of nylon which adds little wind protection nor warmth.

When I wore the vest over a T-shirt, I found it useful to stash my reading glasses in the chest pocket, since wool T-shirts rarely have pockets.  My nylon shirt has two chest pockets, so once again the utility of the vest was not as great with it.


The Smartwool PhD Ultralight Sport vest is indeed ultralight and a very attractive and unique garment.  It does not provide a lot of warmth, but it is one of the few things I can wear over a shirt and still hike comfortably without immediately overheating.  I've found it useful as well to wear in camp over my baselayer to protect it and to make me a little more presentable in camp.

The vest is an unusual garment, and it took me a while to figure out what it is best suited for.  In the future I will use it primarily as a protective layer over my merino wool T-shirts, which I like to wear in cooler temperatures and have no pockets.  I will also use it in very warm conditions over my bare skin to provide some sort of modesty, and to protect again abrasion of my pack straps that would result if I wore no shirt at all.

The vest does add some, but not a lot of wind protection nor warmth. I would not use it as a substitute for a windshirt.

I washed the vest after each trip, and it still looks brand new.

Long Term Report

Test Conditions


September 1-8, 2018
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Ely, Minnesota
Our base camp was about a 12 mile (19 km) paddle from the drop-off point.  We paddled several hours each day in pursuit of fish and scenery.
About 420 ft
(128 m)
45-70 F
(7-21 C),
Sunny several days, all day rain one day

sw07This was an eight day/seven night trip into one of the best wilderness canoeing areas in the United States.  I wore the vest every day, all day.  Most days I wore it over a merino wool T-shirt plus nylon long-sleeve shirt as shown in the photo at left.  On warmer days I omitted the long sleeve shirt and went just with the T-shirt and vest.

One of the features I appreciated on this trip was the chest pocket.  Most of the time it held my reading glasses which I need for consulting a map or GPS, but sometimes I tucked my sunglasses in there.  I liked the secure zipper which made sure my one and only pair of reading glasses did not get lost in the wilderness.

The vest is ideally suited for canoeing.  Since it is sleeveless, it allows the paddling arms to fully flex and move with no restrictions.  From my four months of use of this vest I have concluded that paddling is an ideal use for this garment.

I had no opportunity to clean the vest in the backcountry, and when the trip was over my wife picked me up and didn't notice any nasty odors coming off the vest (my hat was another story!)

I laundered it when I got back home and it still looks brand-new.


The Smartwool PhD Ultralight Sport Vest is an attractive and durable garment that provides a small amount of warmth and protection.  During my use of the vest, I most appreciated it when I wanted to stay cool (wear it with no shirt underneath), or when I wanted freedom of movement for my arms (paddling).

The vest has engendered several comments about its appearance from others, all very positive.

Many thanks to Smartwool and for the opportunity to test this product.

Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Smartwool PhD Vest > Test Report by Kurt Papke

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