PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest
Test Series by Kurt Papke
|| Kurt Papke
|| 6' 4" (193 cm)
|| 230 lbs (105 kg)
|| 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
|Large, also available in Small and Medium and
|Country of manufacture
|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.
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
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
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
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!!
|April 26-29, 2018
|Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado
National Forest near Tucson, AZ
|About 8000 ft
|Hazy, 40-75 F
|May 16-17, 2018
|Huachuca Mountains in the Coronado National
Forest near Sierra Vista, AZ
|Sunny, 45-75 F
|June 10-11, 2018
||Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado
National Forest near Tucson, AZ
|Sunny, 50-76 F
|July 18-20, 2018
||San Juan Mountains near Durango, Colorado
(2-24 C) with sun, rain, hail and wind
This 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.
This 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
|September 1-8, 2018
|Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near
|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
Sunny several days, all day rain one day
This 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
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
BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product.
Read more reviews of Smartwool gear
Read more gear reviews by Kurt Papke