One look at the Russell 2000, the benchmark small-cap index, and most investors are apt to think 2014 has been a lost year for smaller stocks.

From the end of the last year, through Nov. 19, the S&P 500 topped the small-cap S&P 600 by over 1,100 basis points. While that clearly proves that small-caps have weaker relative to their larger peers, investors opting for more focused and refined approaches with small-cap exchange traded funds have not had to settle for gains of barely more than 1%. [A Pleasant Small-Cap Surprise]

As has been the case with small-cap dividend ETFs, funds offering low volatility avenues to smaller stocks have not only provided investors with buffers this year, but out-performance as well. Just look at the PowerShares S&P SmallCap Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: XSLV), the small-cap equivalent to the wildly popular PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio (NYSEArca: SPLV). [Smal-Cap Dividend ETFs Prove Sturdy]

XSLV is up 6.3% this year compared to an average gain of 2.2% for the Russell 2000 and the S&P 600. Though overlooked relative to some other small-cap ETFs, XSLV’s out-performance of rival funds this year is reminiscent of the PowerShares S&P MidCap Low Volatility ETF’s (NYSEArca: XMLV) outpacing of competing mid-cap ETFs.

XSLV has lived up to its low volatility reputation.

“Since its inception on Feb. 15, 2013, XSLV has generated a 0.80 beta to the S&P 600 Index and standard deviation of return of 12.40% compared to 14.78% for the S&P 600 Index, which indicates lower volatility. Moreover, between Feb. 15, 2013, and Oct. 31, 2014, it produced a return of 18.83% — just three basis points less than the S&P 600, highlighting its ability to participate in market rallies. The combination of return and risk has allowed XSLV to obtain a Sharpe Ratio of 1.39 compared to 1.16 for the S&P 600 Index,” according to a recent Invesco PowerShares research note.

At the sector level, XSLV is not excessively weighted to utilities and consumer staples stocks, two sectors often believed to be the cornerstones of low volatility ETFs. In fact, those sectors combine for just 15.5% of XSLV’s weight, or less than a third of the fund’s weight to financial services names.