Merino wool is great stuff to wear riding bikes, but not all merino is created equal. Over the years I’ve accumulated a number wool riding pieces, and while a few are so comfortable I could wear every day, some feature the scratchy feeling that comes with the lower grade stuff. Others have snagged and developed holes. (usually the same pieces) However, these days manufacturers are using the material in better ways than ever. Issues with shrinkage are less of a problem, and they snag a lot less. And of course that best part of wool is the inherent anti-microbial properties that naturally resist odor.
Smartwool is a company that specializes in making products out of merino wool for cyclists, runners, and other general lovers of the outdoors. While in Bend I came across their PhD merino vest at a local bike shop, and after trying it on couldn’t leave without taking it home with me. (it certainly helped that it was on the sale rack as well) Intended as a mid layer piece, on me the vest is slim fitting/ fitted, with a good length for cycling.
According to Smart Wool it is their semi-form fit. More importantly, it looks slim while wearing it. A merino and nylon hybrid, nylon is used as the facing material. Using the nylon is significant in that it not only makes the vest wind resistant, but it is also abrasion resistant. Wearing a pack has been the downfall of a lot of my tops, and many of my go-to jerseys have snags now that make them look pretty lousy. (so they’ve been retired for the most part, other than when the weather is crappy and they’re just going to get even more destroyed.) That said, I’m so fond of the piece I’m reserving it for urban rides around town for at least the first season I own it to avoid subjecting it to the additional abuse of mountain biking.
The only thing that keeps this vest from being a go-to piece on the road bike as well is the lack of rear jersey style pockets. It’s actually designed as a multi-sport piece for use under a hard shell, but fits me well enough to work great on the bike. That said, it does feature two pockets on the outside secured witha zipper. The mesh pocket bags are polyester and also function as pockets on the inside. In my opinion, EVERY jacket should feature inside pockets, and that fact this one does instantly makes it a fave. (along with all the other previously mentioned items of course) In use, it breathes well, wicks moisture and does all the stuff you’d expect of a performance garment. There’s a ton of attention to detail, and besides the interior pockets, the zipper features a chin guard. While this is a small detail, if you’ve ever had your chin rubbed the wrong way from a zipper, this is key and an indication that the designer was paying attention.
Like most wool pieces, the Hyfi Vest should be machine washed in cold water. They state that tumble drying under low heat is alright, but one thing I’ve learned working for an apparel company is that you if you baby some stuff, it’ll extend the life of it for years- I’ll be line drying this one and hand washing it as much as I can before subjecting it to the crappy washing machine in our apartment complex.
I currently measure in with a 38″ chest and am running the small, and am stoked on the slim fit, as I often pair it with a merino tee or long sleeve base layer. At 5’10, 160lbs. I tend to run right between small and medium with most manufacturers, so if you have similar dimensions and want a more relaxed fit you might go up a size.
Like any high-end performance piece, the PhD Hyfi Merino Wool vest ain’t cheap. It lists at $160. It’s a solid layer that should last years if taken care of, and a go-to piece when the temperature starts to dip. Combine it with some arm warmers and you’re good to go.
Check it out: Smartwool PhD Hyfi Vest
Buy the Smartwool vest on Amazon