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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Smartwool PhD Vest > Test Report by Gail Staisil

PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest
    Author on Lake Superior
Test series by: Gail Staisil, Marquette, Michigan

Initial Report - April 26, 2018
Field Report - July 12, 2018
Long Term Report - Sept 5, 2018

Initial Report

April 26, 2018

Tester Information

Name: Gail Staisil
Age: 65
Gender: Female
Height: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
Weight: 160 lb (73 kg)
Location: Marquette, Michigan USA
Email: woodswoman 2001 AT yahoo DOT com

For the last 20 years, backpacking has become a passion. I am a four-season backpacker and an off-trail navigator. Although I do take yearly trips to the American West or Southwest, the majority of my trips are in Michigan. My pack weight varies considerably but my base weight is below 18 lb (8 kg). I am primarily a tarp camper who averages more than 50 nights a year backpacking in a huge variety of weather conditions including relentless rain, wet snow and sub-zero temps.

Product Information

Model PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest
Nylon, Merino Wool and Polyester
Tested Weight  4.5 oz (128 g)
Manufacturer's Weight
4.7 oz (132 g)
$100. USD 

Initial Impressions and Product Description 

Author cross country skiing on the Noquemanon Trail
The Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest arrived in the requested size of XL and the color of Lochness (teal blue). I like to wear clothing that is not too tight, so the size is perfect as it can accommodate more than one layer underneath or a thicker fleece if desired. The vest has a regular fit. The vest is also available in the color of bright coral and sizes XS-XL. The vest couldn't have come at a better time as it is now transitioning to spring-like weather (at least in these northern climes; most all nights are still below freezing). I have been wearing a vest daily as my outer layer while cross country skiing. I should be able to ski a few weeks longer before I start my spring activities.

Vest Features

The first thing that was apparent when I received the vest are the wool mesh areas on the vest. The majority of the vest is fabricated with DWR nylon but in certain areas that are "body-mapped", stretchy wool mesh is used for breathability or temperature regulation. These areas include a triangular piece underneath each armpit, the upper back of the vest and the lining of the sides of the hood. The outer surface of the latter is fabricated with nylon. The three-section hood is pieced and lined with a mesh panel underneath the side sections (no lining in middle section). There is not a cinch/toggle on the front of the hood but when the zipper is pulled to the top of the vest, the hood stays nicely in place. The back of the hood has a sewn elastic piece which allows the hood to lay flatter against the back of my head. A colorful stripe stretchy ribbon trim separates the hood area from the rest of the vest. A loop is incorporated into this stretch ribbon so that the vest could be hung from a peg.

As previously stated, the upper back of the vest has a mesh panel. This panel is partially seen from the outside but the inner surface is all mesh. The outer surface has cape like nylon extensions that lie over the mesh panel on each shoulder. This cape is tacked down at various intervals. There is also a stitched port or vent on each side of the upper panel. The upper panel on the front of the vest is also tacked in a few places rather than being sewn through. This leaves vent holes underneath.

The front of the vest features a full-length nylon zipper that has been stitched with zigzag stitching over the straight stitching. The DWR finished nylon should fend off light winds and moisture. The vest features a tapered hem in the back with a neck to hem measBack of vest features wool-mesh panelsurement of 26.5 in (67 cm). The armpit to hem measurement is 14 in (36 cm). Adorning the lower front of the vest are both a printed Smartwool logo and a color-striped bar.Stuffed pocket

The vest features an interesting pocket for sure. It is like a 2 for 1 pocket in that the zipped outer pocket lies over an inner pocket. The latter has a small port for electronics and an open top. The entire vest can be stored in the outer pocket by just stuffing it inside. It has informational data printed on it and features a striped stretchy loop to attach it to a pack or other object. It measures about 4.5 in by 7 in (11 cm by 18 cm) when stuffed.

Adorning the lower front of the vest are both a printed Smartwool man logo and a color-striped bar.


Care instructions are found on the inside of the side seam. They are to machine wash cold on gentle cycle, do not bleach, tumble dry on low, iron on low, and not to dry clean.


The Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest appears to be a versatile clothing choice with some interesting characteristics. Being that the weather is changing rapidly I will experience a wide variety of conditions in the next few months. I have already worn it the last few days for skiing.

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Field Report:
July 12, 2018

USA Locations and Conditions

During the field test period I have taken four Michigan backpacking trips totaling eighteen days, one car camping trip in Minnesota totally six days, and many other outings in Michigan and Wisconsin (May 17-21). The forests included boreal and deciduous settings and lakeshore. Elevation ranged from above 600 ft (183 m) to almost 2,000 ft (610 m).
Location of Trip #1: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore   
Length of Trip: 4 days, 3 nights (May 10-13)
Pack Weight: 28 lb (12.7 kg)
Distance: 40 mi (64 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy 
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 29 F to 46 F (-2 C to 8 C)  

Location of Trip #2 Grand Island National Recreation Area   Tester at Isle Royale National Park
Length of Trip: 2 days, 1 night (June 14-15) 
Pack Weight: 19 lb (8.6 kg)
Distance: 12 mi (19 km)  
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy 
Precipitation: Light rain
Temperature Range: 46 F to 68 F (8 F to 20 F)  

Location of Trip #3: Isle Royale National Park
Length of Trip 8 days/8 nights (June 19-26)
Pack Weight: 32 lb (14.5 kg)  
Distance: 62 mi (100 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy and sunny
Precipitation: Just a trace of rain!
Temperature Range: 34 F to 78 F/1 C to 26 C 

Location of Trip #4: Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park 
Length of Backpacking Trip (backpacking into and out from rustic cabin): 4 days, 3 nights (July 1-4)
Distance: 5 mi (8 km) 
Pack Weight: 30 lb (13.6 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, rainstorms, sunny, humid
Precipitation: Lots of rain
Temperature Range: 54 F to 89 F (12 C to 32 C)

Trip TalkTester backpacking at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Over the last two and one-half months, I have worn the vest in all sorts of conditions. It was still ski season at the beginning of the field report, so my first two weeks were all in snow conditions. It was absolutely the right time to test this vest as the temps always started around freezing but went up as much as 20 degrees warmer during a couple hours of skiing. I was out there every day getting the most out of the snow. Although I wear a waistpack while skiing, I didn't have anything against my upper back so the vest vented well. When I could ski no longer, I started to wear it on trails dayhiking and backpacking. The vest has been worn a ton during this time period.

Lately there has been unseasonable hot weather but most nights cool down dramatically so a little extra coverage is desired. Even when the temps were high on my last trip; I found it to be just the right layer while canoeing in the evening. The vest has also been worn casually as it is very attractive, functions well and I love the color!

During my first three backpacking trips, I wore the vest almost all the time. This included wearing it while hiking, at camp, and even to sleep in. I sleep with a backpacking quilt so if I get too hot I just lower it a bit. The vest has layered well over a variety of clothing. Sometimes it is a long-sleeve button-down hiking shirt or a lightweight wool top or both, medium or heavyweight tops and I have even worn it with both an underlayer and a wind jacket. Oftentimes at camp I have several layers on with the vest topped by a light down jacket.

When I wear it during backpacking, my back does get too warm from the vest resulting in a chilled surface when it is removed especially on the lower half. I think if the whole back of the vest was the wool mesh, it likely would work better to prevent this. That said, I wore it anyway with the pack because it provides protection from the wind in the front. As the vest stands now it performs better when I am not wearing a backpack. This holds true for most jackets or vests that have a nylon component. Just saying it is not unusual.

I have worn the hood on many occasions when the winds picked up or I felt cold. It lays nicely in place and I love the wool mesh on the sides. The chest pocket is invaluable. I always find something to put in it, either my cellphone if I am out on a local trail or a place to stuff a bandana, sunscreen or keys. During backpacking, it has contained my map, lip balm, gloves or hat.

I have already washed the vest three times. It didn't seem to hold any odor that I could detect; I just always feel that if I am sweating on a garment many times over that it should be washed! I just washed it with my regular outdoor clothing with cold water and line dried. It can be tumble dried but I had good results just putting it on my drying rack.

I will continue to wear the vest on more backpacking trips during the long term period including an extended trip.
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Long Term Report:
September 5, 2018

USA Locations and Conditions

During long term testing I have taken three Michigan backpacking trips totaling sixteen days, and did many other day outings in Michigan. The forests included boreal and deciduous settings and lakeshore. Elevation ranged from above 600 ft (183 m) to almost 2,000 ft (610 m).
Location of Trip #5: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Length of Backpacking Trip: 2 days, 1 night (July 17-18) 
Distance: 15 mi (24 km)
Pack Weight: 21 lb (9.5 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Sunny
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 43 F to 69 F (6 C to 21 C)

Location of Trip #6: Grand Island National Recreation AreaGreenstone Ridge on Isle Royale National Park
Length of Backpacking Trip: 2 days, 1 night (July 23-24) 
Distance: 22 mi (35 km)
Pack Weight: 21 lb (9.5 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Sunny
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 56 F to 69 F (13 C to 21 C)

Location of Trip #7: Isle Royale National Park
Length of Trip 12 days/12 nights (August 17-29)
Pack Weight: 28 lb (12.7 kg)
Distance: 91 mi (147 km)
Sky and Air Conditions: Cloudy, rain and some sun
Precipitation: Heavy rain twice (many hours each time) 
Temperature Range: 46 F to 82 F (8 C to 28 C)

Trip Talk

The Ultra Light Sport Vest has been an integral part of my wardrobe during the entire test period. On the backpacking trips in the long term period, I have changed out of my hiking shirt into a lightweight wool top and then layered the vest over it soon after I got to camp. I wore the combination throughout the night even sleeping in it (all but one night). It just added a bit of extra warmth so that I didn't have to completely be buried under my quilt. Sometimes I even wore the hood if my head was cold during the night. On even colder nights, I just wore a light head cover under the hood (Buff).

One morning I did wear the vest three hours while backpacking but most days were too warm to do that (higher than normal humidity this summer). That said I have started many day hikes wearing the vest and then have taken if off as I got too warm. I really like the vest when there is nothing layered over it (like a backpack) during activity as it can vent better that way. Of course I have often layered a down jacket over it with no problem if I am inactive.
The vest doesn't seem to be any worse for all the wear. I have only machine washed it after every backpacking trip (seven) and then kept wearing it between trips for other activities. Although this vest is water repellent in most areas, I haven't totally seen the benefit of that. Arms still get wet! Regardless, the repellency still works as water beads up on the surface even after many washings. I have continued to use the pocket almost every time I wear the vest. Love the size and placement of it. 

I certainly will keep wearing the vest for a long time. It has proven to be versatile, performs well when not wearing a backpack and I love the color (minor detail I suppose). The beginning of the test period had me wearing it while skiing and then while backpacking in the field test period, and finally mostly as a warm layer at camp during the long term test period.


  • Regular fit
  • Wool mesh stretch areas
  • Breathable
  • Easy care
  • 2 for 1 pocket


  • None

Tester Remarks 

Thanks to Smartwool and for this opportunity to test the Ultra Light Sport Vest. This concludes my Long Term Report and the test series.

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Read more gear reviews by Gail Staisil

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