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Arc'teryx Zeta SL Review

This stormworthy and function focused model is exceptionally versatile and offers some of the best performance in our review
arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review
Credit: Arc'teryx
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | Check Price at REI
Pros:  Top-tier stormworthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pockets
Cons:  No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harness
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 24, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9.0
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8.0
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 8.0
  • Weight - 15% 7.0
  • Durability - 5% 8.0
  • Packed Size - 7% 7.0

Our Verdict

The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is the top scorer in our fleet. It scores the best, or very near the best, in all of our comparison categories and provides the greatest overall blend of performance and versatility. It is light and compact enough that it practically disappears in the bottom of your pack yet is durable and stormworthy enough for a soggy week-long backpacking trip. If we could only choose one model for anything from rainy trips to the farmers market to stormy alpine climbing or backpacking trips, this piece of rough weather protection would be it.

Our Analysis and Test Results

Striking an unmatched balance of storm protection, breathability, and weight; no model can match it for its high level of across-the-board performance. No model in our fleet performs as well overall or does as many things as well as the Zeta SL, which is what makes it stand out as the cream of the crop and our overall recommendation.

Performance Comparison


arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl is the best all-around model. while others excel at a...
The Zeta SL is the best all-around model. While others excel at a specific application, no other contender could match the Zeta's across-the-board performance or overall versatility.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Water Resistance


The Zeta uses Gore's newest lightweight waterproof material, Paclite Plus, which improves and replaces the previous Gore-Tex with Paclite technology material.


This newest Gore-Tex Paclite Plus is built with a true 2-layer design, which isn't like older 2-layer garments that required a loose hanging mesh liner. This model's two-layer construction features an exterior face fabric that is physically bonded to the waterproof membrane and an innermost chemical coating; this protect the membrane from the sweat and oil of your skin. It should be noted that this is different than the physical (still commonly sprayed on) coatings of many 2.5-layer products. This true 2-layer design makes the garment more breathable, as the moisture has to travel through less fabric and is lighter in weight due to the decrease in the material.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl uses gore-tex paclite plus fabric and an excellent...
The Zeta SL uses Gore-Tex Paclite Plus fabric and an excellent design that proved among the best at keeping its wearer dry in both our shower and garden hose tests, as well as in real-world use.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

After extensive testing, the new Zeta SL is one of the most stormworthy models we tested. It provides top-tier weather protection and a long-lasting DWR that holds up longer than any other model in our review. In our direct side-by-side comparisons, it excels in our shower and garden hose tests, keeping us comfortable and dry. During real-world testing, including two dozen days of backpacking, climbing, and ski touring over a very damp Fall in the Pacific Northwest, the Zeta SL exceeded our expectations and is one of the most weather-resistant products we tested.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - this model provides the best overall weather protection. the...
This model provides the best overall weather protection. The longevity impressed several of our testers, especially when you consider its low weight.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Zeta SL offers an array of well-designed features, which rank highly for their functionality in keeping our reviewers dry. We appreciated its sleek, low-profile Velcro wrist closures, which minimized the amount of water that ran down our arms if we were using our hands were above our head. The main front zipper is watertight and sports a minimal but effective internal storm flap that keeps the water out in even the wettest of storms. The Durable Water Repellency (DWR) holds up incredibly well and is one of the best in our fleet.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - all of our testers appreciate the low-profile velcro wrist cuffs...
All of our testers appreciate the low-profile Velcro wrist cuffs, which help keep the rain out of our sleeves while we used our hands above our heads.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Hood Design

The Zeta SL features one of the best overall hood designs with a nearly unmatched level of peripheral vision; it does function with a helmet, but the fit is right. Our testers loved its deep hood (which provides more protection), and an extremely functional brim that actually keeps the rain off the front of your face. Our review team found the hood design is easy and functional when cinching down. Unlike some options that feature three cinch points (one in the back and two in the front) that need to all be tightened independently, this model cinches all three places simultaneously from the same rear cinch.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl's hood effectively cinches down over a wide range of...
The Zeta SL's hood effectively cinches down over a wide range of headwear while sealing out the elements and maintaining very good peripheral vision.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

This basic but incredibly effective hood design performed exceptionally well and was easy to tighten with one hand or two to loosen. The Zeta's Hood easily accommodates most headwear and head sizes hugging our heads from beanies to baseball caps — or nothing at all.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta's top-tier peripheral vision in action; there aren't that...
The Zeta's top-tier peripheral vision in action; there aren't that many hoods that would move with us as far as we could look in either direction.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The hood is a little tight to fit over most climbing or bike helmets. It can fit but depending on the model, it doesn't lend itself to a high level of comfort. If you have a more voluminous helmet, consider wearing this model's low-profile design underneath the helmet — instead of outside.

Breathability and Venting


The Zeta SL's Paclite Plus material is one of the more breathable in the fleet. Gore markets their 3-layer Gore-Tex Active to be slightly more breathable. In our tests, we didn't find otherwise but found Gore-Tex PacLite to be comparable. As a result, a slight edge could be given to Gore-Active pieces; for our testers — and for most people — it is pretty difficult to distinguish any differences.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta doesn't feature any venting features like pit zips or...
The Zeta doesn't feature any venting features like pit zips or mesh-lined pockets; this made it slightly harder to dump moisture and heat. While the inability to vent was occasionally an issue, most of our testers didn't find it significant, thanks in part to Gore-Tex Paclite, which was a highly breathable fabric. Instead, our testing team made more of an effort to layer appropriately for the activity.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Directly comparing the Zeta with its Gore Paclite Plus fabric to air-permeable models isn't as cut and dry as it sounds. Air-permeable models have a lower but more static level of breathability. In contrast, this model, as well as other models that feature any variety of Gore-Tex, can have higher and lower levels of breathability depending on the level of activity of the user and environmental factors (like the temperature outside). This level fluctuates more depending on how much internal heat build-up there is relative to the air temperature and to a lesser extent relative humidity (which for most people means generally higher when you are wearing a rain jacket). When we were working hard (such as hiking), both Gore Paclite Plus and Gore Active breathe better than any model featuring an air-permeable fabric, such as the Outdoor Research Microgravity and the Rab Kinetic Plus (the two best). However, these models performed better if it was exceptionally hot and humid out, or once we had cooled off (say, while setting up camp).


One potential drawback for some users is the Zeta SL doesn't feature any additional ventilation to dump heat and sweat. Ventilation isn't as crucial as breathability; for example, if it's pouring rain, but you happen to find yourself on an overgrown trail, you won't be able to open your vents up much (if at all) because water will start coming in through the vents. All jackets have breathability maximums that can easily be exceeded if you are overdressed.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the sleeves on this model are a bit longer than average, which we...
The sleeves on this model are a bit longer than average, which we found to be an advantage, even for testers with average length arms. As a result, our sleeves didn't pull back from our wrists, making this model one our favorites for performing tasks with our hands above our heads. Despite the extra length, we didn't feel like there was any extra bagginess in the sleeves.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Comfort and Mobility


Our testers loved the feel of the internal fabric of the Zeta even more so than the REI XeroDry, which is also constructed with Gore-tex Paclite Plus. It was a significantly less clammy and sticky feeling than the majority of competitors and felt great directly against our skin, and feels nice even when we only had a t-shirt on under it.


arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl features an awesome cut alongside well-articulated...
The Zeta SL features an awesome cut alongside well-articulated shoulders and sleeves, boosting its score in mobility and range of motion. Whether climbing, skiing, or just plain doing something with your hands above your head, the Zeta SL did an excellent job of minimizing bunching, keeping the hem from being pulled up, and moving with your body.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Zeta SL boasts some of the better overall mobility and range of motion of any model we tested. All of our testers loved this jacket's slightly longer arm length and nicely designed, articulated sleeves. Even folks who don't have long arms benefitted from this combination of features and design, as the ends of the sleeves didn't pull back, even when reaching directly above our heads. While the sleeves were slightly longer than average, all of our testers agreed they never felt bulky or too long, and most folks commented that this aspect made the jacket more comfortable overall.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Zeta SL is a relatively minimalist jacket that offers several small nods to comfort, like a micro-fleece lining on the top of the inside of the zipper, which protects the wearer's chin but is otherwise a pretty simple design. One comfort and function-oriented design is a similar price of fabric that is found on the chin is also on the back of the neck. This extra material not only adds comfort but it increases longevity by absorbing oil and sweat, reducing the chance of the interior fabric delaminating. We love the slightly more athletic fit, which still allows for effective layering — without bunching in the underarm areas.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl features two slightly elevated hand pockets, and our...
The Zeta SL features two slightly elevated hand pockets, and our testing team universally LOVED this feature. The elevated pockets provide a great place to tuck your hands out of the cold, and we were still able to access them while wearing a climbing harness or backpack's hip belt. Best of all, there was no zipper to get pinched under a hip belt and bite into our waist at the end of a long day of carrying heavy loads.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pocket Design

The pockets on this model are slightly elevated so that they remain accessible under a pack or while wearing a harness and their zippers don't pinch while wearing a backpack. While slightly elevated, they weren't so high that they still didn't provide a pleasant place to keep our hands warm and tucked away. It is this combination of features that makes Zeta's slightly elevated, function-focused pockets among our review team's favorite.

Weight


The SL in Zeta SL stands for Super Light; at 11.3 ounces, the Zeta SL is on the lighter end of the spectrum and the lightest Gore-Tex model in our review.


It's significantly lighter than most full-featured hardshells, yet it doesn't yield much in the way of performance or overall weather protection to most of these heavier models.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - while not insanely light, the zeta provides fantastic weather...
While not insanely light, the Zeta provides fantastic weather protection for the weight and is the lightest model we tested to use Gore-Tex.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Arc'teryx reduces the weight of this model in several ways: there's no additional ventilation besides simply unzipping the primary front zipper, this saves a least a few ounces of materials of zippers and stitching. Arc'teryx uses a 13 mm seam which is the narrowest in our review. This model uses watertight zippers, enabling them to minimize the size of the storm flap further saving weight. Even the Velcro wrist straps are low profile, also minimizing weight without giving up much, if anything in that way of functionality. While not the absolute lightest model, for most users this model is plenty light enough to satisfy the majority of outdoor enthusiasts.

Durability


For an 11-ounce jacket, the Zeta is surprisingly durable; it provides respectable resistance to tearing or scuffing and is notably tougher than most models of similar or less weight. The longevity of its DWR also impressed our review team; even after a full winter and spring, it's still going strong. Besides the Zeta SL's outer tight-knit exterior face fabric, it offers several features that increase this model's overall durability. There aren't any seams on the shoulders, which is typically the first place seam tape will pull back, due to the pressure of shoulder straps and abrasion. Additionally, the seam tape used on this product is the thinnest in the review; this not only saves weight but makes it 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 Zeta is one of the most robust jackets we tested, which is particularly impressive, considering it weighs only 11.3 ounces. The Outdoor Research Foray and Marmot Minimalist edged out the Zeta in the durability metric (mostly due to their slightly thicker face fabric), but both of these models are heavier and we didn't find the Zeta far less durable.

Packed Size


The Zeta compresses down very small considering the amount of weather protection this model provides. Overall it's roughly 25 percent more packable than most three-layer Gore-Tex jackets and offers nearly all the performance benefits.


This model is one of the few options that doesn't feature some sort of "stuff pocket" to help compress it. While this was hardly a big deal as we just stuff it into its own hood or down the side of our pack, it is one of the few features that most of the jackets in our review have.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - unlike the majority of jackets in our review, the zeta lt does not...
Unlike the majority of jackets in our review, the Zeta LT does not offer a reversible pocket that the jacket can stow into. It does, however, compress smaller than average, as seen here stuffed into its hood next to a one-liter Nalgene bottle.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

It compresses smaller than the Outdoor Research Foray and The North Face Dryzzle, both of which use Gore-tex Paclite fabric. Even compared to the 2.5 layer Marmot Precip, the Zeta packs down more compactly. The title for the most packable jackets goes to the Outdoor Research Helium Rain and the Patagonia Storm 10 — both of which were roughly 50% the volume of the Zeta but also provide less stormworthiness, are less versatile, and are less durable.

Value


With its price tag, it's easy to find a less expensive raincoat. However, the Zeta provides good value for the cost. It's arguably more versatile and lighter than many jackets that fall in the 400-700 dollar price range. While a hardshell can offer a higher level of durability, features, or winter-related applications, the Zeta is an exceptional jacket — and our first pick — for hikers, backpackers, climbers, and mountaineers. It's tough, storm-resistant, and boasts a superior weight and packed volume.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - despite the price tag, which is more expensive than most of its...
Despite the price tag, which is more expensive than most of its direct competition, is well worth the cost, as it has superb all-around-performance and a versatile design.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

From a value standpoint, several other Gore-Tex Paclite models cost less and score similarly in our tests. In some cases, they might even offer a particular advantage, like the Outdoor Research Foray, which provides better ventilation, or the Marmot Minimalist, which is slightly more durable, though both are also 50 percent heavier and less packable. So while they have a few advantages, they aren't better in as many categories as the Zeta. Overall you can buy less expensive models; two of the best deals on Gore-Tex jackets are the Marmot Minimalist and the REI XeroDry, but even those can't match the all-around performance that you'll find with the Zeta SL.

arc'teryx zeta sl rain jacket review - the zeta sl is our favorite model. no other model could match its...
The Zeta SL is our favorite model. No other model could match its performance.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is a sweet, versatile do-everything three-season jacket that provides the best overall balance of performance and versatility. No model can match the Zeta's across-the-board performance, as it scores at the top or near the top in every comparison category. While it is on the more expensive side, its performance attributes and versatility easily justify the cost — which isn't that much more than a lot of its direct competition.

Not many models can easily disappear in our pack for a day hike or afternoon trail run, but still keep you dry on a stormy week-long backpacking trip, when it's supposed to rain every day. This model's top-tier materials and overall design will keep you comfortable and dry, regardless of the conditions, and its mobility and freedom of movement mean you won't be bothered when wearing it. If we could only have one rain jacket for a huge wide range of applications, this would be it.

Ian Nicholson
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