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 offers exceptional versatility. It has the best in review mobility, features a fantastic hood design, and provides 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 notable Outdoor Research Foray, which features the best ventilation of any jacket we tested. But if we could only choose 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.
Arc'teryx Beta SL Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Top-tier storm worthiness, mobility and range of motion, awesome hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets
Cons: No ventilation options, expensive, only slightly below average in weight, no easy way to clip to a harness
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Our Analysis and Test Results
No model in our review is as well loved as the Arc'teryx Beta SL. It performed well in all metrics and was the rain jacket that our testers reached for thanks to its versatility and achievements in a number of applications. While you can buy another contender that might be better for a specific niche or in one metric, the Beta SL always offered comparable performance, with not one single model scoring as high or offering up the same performance across all metrics.
This model uses a 2.5-layer construction, with a Gore-Tex with Paclite technology membrane for its weather protection.
This membrane is remarkably similar to other versions of Gore-Tex except for the innermost half layer which is much thinner, helping this model to offer increased breathability alongside a lighter weight. The fabric on the new Beta SL is the best overall performing of any we tested, providing top-tier weather protection and a long-lasting DWR.
In our side-by-side testing, the Beta SL excelled in both our shower and garden hose tests. During our real-world testing, it made the trek on over two dozen days in the backcountry while backpacking, climbing, and ski touring in the very wet Pacific Northwest. The Beta SL experienced close competition with the Outdoor Research Foray, Marmot Minimalist, Patagonia Cloud Ridge, and the REI Drypoint GTX, which all scored similarly, outperforming the rest of the models in our review.
The Beta SL offers a host of exceptionally well-designed features that ranked highly for their functionality in keeping the wearer dry. Our review team appreciated this 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 watertight zipper and minimal internal storm flap, while small in appearance, are 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 among the best in the review.
The Beta SL featured one of the best hood designs of any jacket we tested. It was large enough to fit over the top of most biking or climbing helmets but cinched down tightly to cling closely to the user's head, offering a brim to help keep the wearer's face dry. This model cinches easily with one hand and loosened with two, accomodating whatever headwear you may have on. Most importantly, theBeta SL's hood offers incredible peripheral vision.
Breathability and Ventilation
The Beta SL uses Gore-Tex with Paclite technology. This fabric was among the most breathable of models in our fleet, with the only fabric scoring better in breathability (not breathability and ventilation combined) being the 3-Layer Gore-Tex Active used in the REI Drypoint GTX; even so, the results were close. The Beta SL provides comparable breathability to several of the air permeable models like the Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite, Outdoor Research Interstellar, or the Rab Kinetic Plus, so long as we were starting with a colder body temperature.
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, thus the 7 out of 10 that this award-winner scored.
Comfort and Mobility
The Beta SL features some of the better mobility and range of motion of any jacket in our review, with only the super stretchy Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite and Rab Kinetic Plus scoring better. 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 don'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 is a lighter weight jacket that features a Gore-Tex membrane. Despite its low weight, this award winner highlights several small nods to comfort, like a micro-fleece lining on the top of the inside of the zipper; this protected the wearer's chin. A similar fabric on the back of the neck can also be found. Our testing team loved the balance of a reasonably athletic fit, which still allows for effective layering without bunching in the armpit area.
The Beta SL provides an extraordinarily functional and slightly elevated pocket design that remained accessible with a harness or pack and didn't pinch under a waist belt while wearing a backpack. The pockets are still low enough to provide a pleasant place to keep our hands warm and tucked away.
The SL in Beta SL stands for Super Light. At 11 ounces, the Beta SL is slightly lighter than many in our review but is nearly the lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested, with only the REI Drypoint GTX being marginally lighter (10.5 oz). Of note, it is far lighter than most full-featured hardshells, yet doesn't much in the way of performance. Arc'teryx reduces the weight of this model in several ways: there's no additional ventilation, 13mm seam tape is used (which is the smallest in our review), and watertight zippers with minimally sized storm flaps complete the package. Even the Velcro wrist straps are lower-profile than most, minimizing weight.
The Beta SL uses a 40 denier outer nylon fabric, which increases the durability. This material is tough enough for most outdoor activities, from downhill skiing to ice climbing.
Besides the Beta SL's outer face fabric, several features increase the jacket's overall durability. First, there aren't any seams on the shoulders, which is typically the first place the seam tape will pull back. The seam tape 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. The bottom line is the Beta is one of the most robust jackets we tested. The Outdoor Research Foray and Marmot Minimalist just barely edged out the Beta in the durability metric; you'll want to consider if durability or weight are more important criteria for you, as both of these models are heavier.
We were impressed with how small this jacket packs 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 offers a marginally smaller packed size. It compresses smaller than the Outdoor Research Foray, The North Face Dryzzle, Marmot PreCip, or Patagonia Cloud Ridge, but wasn't nearly as small as the Patagonia Storm Racer, Black Diamond Fineline, or Outdoor Research Helium II, which all compressed to nearly half the size of this model (as well as the majority of jackets we tested).
The Beta SL is a quintessential all-around rain shell that is suited for most outdoor activities. It is as perfectly at home while mountaineering or on ski trips as it is backpacking, day hiking, or simply walking the dog on a wet Sunday morning. It's light enough to be considered by folks where weight and packed volume is of the utmost importance, though it might be just a little on the heavy side and marginally overkill as a "just-in-case jacket". This award winner offers an excellent range of motion, making it a fabulous option for ice climbing, backcountry skiing, or other activities that require additional mobility.
At $300, the Beta SL is one of the most expensive jackets in our review. However, it's arguably more versatile and lighter weight than many $400-$700 jackets, making it a super value for what you get. Pricey hardshells might be slightly more durable or heavily featured and could offer better performance for specific applications like downhill skiing, though rain jackets are not meant to serve this purpose. For those wanting a true all-around jacket that can be used for numerous summertime activities, such as day hiking or alpine climbing, most of our testers reached for the Beta SL (instead of a Gore-Tex hardshell).
From a value standpoint, it is worth noting that there are several other Gore-Tex models with Paclite technology that range from $200-$225 that are very close in ratings. In some cases, they might even offer a particular advantage, like the Outdoor Research Foray, which provides better ventilation, but is also 50 percent heavier. As a whole, you can buy less expensive models like the Arc'teryx model, though few extend the all-around performance that you'll find with the Beta SL.
The Beta SL is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice for the second year in a row, and it scores at or near the top in nearly every comparison category. Its only downside is that it is only slightly below average in weight, average in packed size, and is on the more expensive side. That said, its pros far out weighted its cons, and it will provide you with top-tier storm worthiness, exceptional breathability and mobility, and a rad hood design; every tester loved it for its exceptional versatility. That said, there are a few jackets that performed near the Beta SL in almost every category. Those jackets include the REI Drypoint GTX and the Mountain Hardwear Quasar Lite, which are solid contenders for our award, though neither could quite match the across the board performance.
— Ian Nicholson