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Hands-on Gear Review
Arc'teryx Beta SL Review
Cons: No ventilation options, expensive for a Gore-Tex Paclite jacket
Bottom line: A top-notch all-around rain shell that is lighter-than-avererage but gives up nothing for storm worthiness. Its hood is our favorite overall and was more durable than we originally anticipated
Waterproof Fabric Material: 2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite technology
Face Fabric and Layer Construction: N40r w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane
The Arc'teryx Beta SL is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice. It scored the highest, or near the highest, in all of our comparison categories and offered exceptional versatility. It had the best in review mobility, featured a fantastic hood design, and provided outstanding storm worthiness at a below-average weight, all while maintaining a high-level of durability. There are some jackets in this review that might offer specific advantages for specific situations. One would be our Top Pick, the Outdoor Research Foray, which features the best ventilation of any jacket we tested. But if we could only have one model for a wide range of activities, from rainy around town walks to backpacking, to alpine climbing, this rough weather does everything rain jacket would be it.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Beta SL is a fantastic all-around shell. Our testers loved its articulated arms and shoulders that gave it a review-best rating in mobility, allowing its user to take part in nearly any activity they choose. The Beta's weather resistance is among the very best in the review.
The Arc'teryx Beta SL is the top scoring rain jacket in our review, narrowly edging out the Outdoor Research Foray for first place. Check out the chart below to see where the rest of the jackets fall in line behind our Editors' Choice winner.
This Editors' Choice award winner uses Gore-Tex Paclite, one of the lighter and more breathable fabrics in Gore's line of waterproof materials. The Beta SL's hood cinched around heads fantastically, regardless of headwear and the stiffened brim helped keep the rain off our face. We liked the jacket's sleek, low profile Velcro wrist closures that minimized how much water was able to run down our sleeves (if working with our hands above our head).
The Beta SL performed the best in both our shower and garden hose tests, as well as in our real-world testing (which took place over two dozen days while backpacking and climbing in the very rainy Pacific Northwest). The jacket's watertight zipper and minimal internal storm flap, while small in appearance, was more than adequate to keep the water out, even during the wettest of storms. The Durable Water Repellency (DWR) held up very well on this jacket and was easily among the best in the review.
The Beta SL featured one of the best hood designs of any jacket we tested. With cinch-toggles on either side of the front of the hood and a second piece of shock-cord (elastic) wrapping horizontally, the Beta SL's hood fit snugly over a baseball cap, beanie, or a bare head. This was one of the best hoods to be worn over a climbing or bike helmet. Lastly, the Beta SL's hood likely maintained the best peripheral vision of any of the models we tested.
Breathability and Ventilation
As we mentioned, the Beta SL uses Gore-Tex with Paclite technology. This fabric was among the most breathable in the review. The only fabric scoring better in breathability was the eVent used in the REI Rhyolite; even so, the results were close.
The only small drawback of the Beta SL is that it doesn't feature any additional ventilation. If that is what you're looking for, the Outdoor Research Foray and the Marmot Minimalist both feature pit-zips (much bigger ones in the case of the Foray). This isn't a deal breaker, but for higher exertion activities, we couldn't dump heat and internal moisture as well as we could with other models.
Comfort and Mobility
The Beta SL featured the best mobility and range of motion of any jacket in our review. Check out the chart below to see how the other jackets in our fleet performed compared to the Beta SL.
We loved this jacket's slightly longer arm length and exceptionally well-designed and articulated sleeves. Even folks who didn't have longer arms found this combination of features could keep the ends of the sleeves from pulling back from their wrists. They never felt bulky or TOO long, and most folks commented that this design just felt more comfortable.
The Beta SL was the lightest jacket we tested that featured a Gore-Tex membrane. Despite its low weight, this award winner still featured several small nods to comfort, like a micro-fleece lining on the top of the inside of the zipper. This extra worked to protect the wearer's chin and a similar fabric on the back of the neck. Our testing team loved the balance of a reasonably athletic fit that still allowed for effective layering without bunching in the arm-pit area.
The Beta SL offers an extremely functional pocket design that didn't pinch under a waist-belt while wearing a pack. The pockets are still low enough to provide a nice place to keep our hands warm and tucked away. When necessary, they offer storage for small items; most importantly the pockets didn't pinch zippers into our hips while wearing a pack, a common occurrence with pockets that are too low.
The SL in Beta SL stands for Super Light. At 11 ounces, the Beta SL is the lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested and among the lightest rain jackets overall. Arc'teryx reduced weight in several ways: no additional ventilation, using 13mm seam tape that is the smallest in our review, and watertight zippers with minimally sized storm flaps. Even the Velcro wrist straps are lower-profile than most, minimizing weight wherever possible.
The Beta SL uses a 40 denier outer nylon fabric that our testing team found slightly more durable than average among jackets we tested. It's tough enough for most outdoor activities, from downhill skiing to ice climbing. Besides the Beta SL's external face fabric, several features increase the jacket's overall durability. First, there aren't any seams on the shoulders of the jacket, which is typically the first place the seam tape will pull back.
The seam tape on this jacket is the thinnest in the review, which not only saves weight but is also less prone to peeling after extended use. The inside of the chin area has an additional layer of nylon to combat the wearer's sweat from clogging the pores of the membrane, which can cause it to break down or delaminate prematurely. Bottom line is the Beta is among the most robust jackets we tested; the Outdoor Research Foray and Marmot Minimalist just barely edged out the Beta.
We were impressed with how small this jacket packed down. It's roughly 25 percent more compressible than most three-layer Gore-Tex jackets. Compared with other jackets in our review (that tended to be on the lighter and more packable end of the spectrum), the Beta SL offered a marginally smaller packed size than average. It compressed smaller than the Outdoor Research Foray, The North Face Dryzzle, or Patagonia Torrentshell, but wasn't quite as small as our Best Buy, the Marmot PreCip, or the Outdoor Research Helium II, which was half the compressed size as most jackets we tested.
The Beta SL is a quintessential all-around rain shell. It is perfectly at home while used on mountaineering trips, long-range backpacking, backcountry skiing or simply walking the dog on a wet Sunday morning. It's light enough for long range thru-hikers, alpine climbing, or for folks who want a "just-in-case jacket" at the bottom of their pack. This award winner offered the best range of motion of any jacket we tested, making it a great option for ice climbing or other activities that require this kind of mobility.
At $300, the Beta SL is the most expensive jacket in our review; because it's arguably more versatile and lighter weight than many $400-$700 jackets, we think it remains a good value. Those $400+ hard shells might be slightly more durable and could perform better for specific applications like downhill skiing; however, for a true all-around jacket good that can be used for day hiking or alpine climbing, we would prefer the Beta SL. Compared to other Gore-Tex Paclite jackets, the Beta SL is roughly $80-$100 more than most models.
We like the mobility, low weight, exceptional hood design, and incredible storm-worthiness of this jacket. However, there are several other Gore-Tex Paclite models that range from $200-$225 that are very close in rating. In some cases, they might even offer a particular advantage, like the Outdoor Research Foray, which offers far better ventilation, but is also 50 percent heavier.
Conclusion and the Bottom Line
The Beta SL is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice because it scored at or near the top in nearly every comparison category. Its only downside was that it is not as well ventilated and is on the more expensive side. Our testers loved this extremely versatile jacket with its mobility, hood design, top-notch storm-resistance and overall functionality. That said, there are a few jackets that performed very near the Beta SL in almost every category. In addition to the Outdoor Research Foray, the Marmot Minimalist and REI Rhyolite were also exceptionally close to the Beta SL; they give up very very little and offer a $100 savings.
— Ian Nicholson
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