Gear Institute Expert Test Menu

Smartwool PhD SmartLoft Full Zip Jacket

by Ryan Stuart - published November 2012




  • Very warm
  • Best next to skin comfort
  • More casual, less technical look
  • Good weather protection with glossy exterior and DWR treatment
  • Great Price


  • Nearly twice as heavy as other jackets in this category
  • Not very packable, too bulky
  • Slick-looking exterior will not appeal to everyone
  • Less fitted style doesn't work as well as a mid-layer


We found the Full Zip Jacket worked best around town as an outer layer in cool weather. Despite its slimish profile this jacket packs a surprising amount of warmth, but it’s not nearly as light as a down sweater, felt more “urban” than “expedition.” It's design is not as conducive to layering under an outer shell, or for packing when weight and bulk is a concern.


Smoking! One of the warmest down sweaters we tested, with a hood and a little more insulation and we'd bump this up to full down jackets. SmartLoft is Smartwool's proprietary insulation—made with 80 percent merino wool and 20 percent polyester. The polyester works as a binding agent, holding the wool strands together in sheets of insulation like synthetic fills. (SmartWool says its twice as warm as down and remains warm when wet. We didn't soak it to test and can't vouch for the twice-as-warm-as-down claim.) We did note that the jacket weighs twice as much as some down sweaters we tested, but didn't feel twice as warm.

The Full Zip is less fitted than most down sweaters. It looks and fits more like a dedicated outer layer than most down sweaters, which are essentially midlayers you can wear as an outer layer. With shoulders that peaked out (almost like padded suits), fewer baffles and a glossy nylon outer shell, the jacket felt more “urban” than “expedition.” With no stretch, we had to watch how we layered under this jacket or we started to feel restricted. The fit is true to size.

SmartWool admits SmartLoft is not as compressible or as light as synthetic or down insulation. Don't buy this for packable, lightweight warmth. It packs down to the size of a football and weighs a not-very-airy 1.2 pounds.

The Full Zip had the nicest next-to-skin comfort in our test. The soft nylon lining in the sleeves felt good when we wore a T-shirt on a frosty dog walk and the merino wool jersey lining in the body and at the wrists wicked sweat away quickly to keep us dry, warm and comfortable.

Nothing to turn your nose up at here: with a style not far off Canada Goose's Hybridge Lyte [LINK] (but almost a third of the price) you get good warmth for the price. The only drawback is in packability and weight.

The products featured in this test have been loaned to the Gear Institute. For more on our policies regarding editorial objectivity and sample returns, see here.


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