The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is the winner of our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice. It scored the highest, or near the highest, in all of our comparison categories and boasts incredible versatility. The Zeta excelled at all activities we could throw at it, including day hiking and mountaineering. Toss it in the bottom of your pack to protect against afternoon thunderstorms or wear it all week on a soggy backpacking trip. The Zeta offers our review's best mobility and top-tier storm worthiness, and features our favorite hood design - which maintains excellent peripheral vision, even when fully cinched down. If we could only choose one model for a wide range of activities, from rainy around-town walks to backpacking, to alpine climbing, this piece of rough weather protection would be it.
Arc'teryx Zeta SL Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Top-tier storm worthiness, 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
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Our Analysis and Test Results
No model in our review is as well loved as the Arc'teryx Zeta SL. It performed well in all our scoring metrics and was the rain jacket that our testers reached for the most, thanks to its versatility and across-the-board performance. While you can buy another model that might perform better for a specific application, this is the cream of the crop.
The Zeta uses Gore's newest lightweight waterproof material in Paclite Plus, improving and replacing the older Gore-Tex with Paclite technology material. This updated version features a membrane that is remarkably similar to other versions of Gore-Tex except for the innermost coated layer, which is commonly called a half layer by other manufacturers (but isn't in this case by Arc'teryx).
The innermost layer is coated and is much much thinner than most 3-layer models; this helps maintain breathability, as there is less fabric for moisture to pass through. The fabric on the new Zeta SL is one of the best in the fleet, providing top-tier weather protection and a long-lasting DWR. It's worth noting that while this model uses Paclite Plus, the slightly older Gore-Tex is still used on a number of models in our review.
In our direct side-by-side comparisons, the Zeta SL excelled in our shower and garden hose tests, keeping us comfortable and dry. During real-world testing, it made the trek on various trips, including two dozen days in the backcountry while backpacking, climbing, and ski touring over a very damp spring in the Pacific Northwest. The Zeta SL experienced close competition with the Outdoor Research Foray, Marmot Minimalist, Patagonia Cloud Ridge, and the REI Drypoint GTX, which all scored fairly similarly in this metric.
The Zeta SL offers an array of well-designed features that 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 and into our sleeves, while our hands were above our head. The main front zipper is watertight and sports a minimal internal storm flap; while small in appearance, it proved more than adequate to keep water out, even during the wettest of storms. The Durable Water Repellency (DWR) held up incredibly well on this jacket and was among the most long-lasting in our review.
The Zeta SL features one of the best hood designs in the fleet. The brim kept rain off our face, and the hood cinched easily with one hand. It was easy to loosen it with two hands, which helped to accommodate any headwear. When cinched, it clung closely to the user's head and moved nicely with its wearer, maintaining exceptional peripheral vision. One downside is the Zeta SL hood wasn't big enough to fit over a majority of climbing or bike helmets; however, it was low profile enough to fit underneath them without being too bulky or cumbersome.
Breathability and Venting
The Zeta SL's Paclite Plus material is one of the more breathable in our fleet, with the 3-layer Gore-Tex Active used in the REI Drypoint GTX offering comparable performance to that of the Zeta. The Zeta SL provides similar breathability to several of the air permeable models like the Outdoor Research Interstellar and the Rab Kinetic Plus, however; these models performed better if it was exceptionally hot and humid out. All of our testers loved the feel of the internal fabric of the Zeta. It was significantly less clammy and sticky feeling than competitors and felt great directly against our skin, even if we only had a T-shirt on under it.
One small drawback of the Zeta SL is that it doesn't feature any additional ventilation. As we talk more in-depth about in our main review, ventilation isn't as crucial as breathability; for example, if it's pouring rain or 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. However, if your body runs warm and killer ventilation 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).
Comfort & Mobility
The Zeta SL boasts some of the best overall mobility and range of motion, with only the mega stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus scoring better.
We loved this jacket's slightly longer arm length and exceptionally well-designed, articulated sleeves. Even folks who don't have long arms benefitted from this combination of features, 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.
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. A similar fabric on the back of the neck can also be found; it adds comfort and increases longevity by absorbing oil and sweat, reducing the chance of the interior fabric delaminating. We love the athletic fit, which still allows for effective layering - without bunching in the underarm areas.
The Zeta SL has an extraordinarily functional pocket design; the pockets are slightly elevated, remaining accessible, even while wearing an overnight pack or climbing harness. Best of all, the pockets are out of the way, and the zippers didn't pinch our hips 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 Zeta SL stands for Super Light. At 11 ounces, the Zeta SL is nearly the lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested, with only the REI Drypoint GTX being every-so-slightly lighter (10.5 oz). Of note, it is lighter than most full-featured hardshells, yet doesn't forego 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.
This model uses a 40-denier ripstop nylon exterior face fabric. The fabric is more durable and resistant to tearing/scuffing than the majority of models in our review. The longevity of these models DWR also impressed us; even after a full winter in spring, it's still going strong. Besides the Zeta SL's outer face fabric, it offers several features that increase this model's overall durability. First, 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 bottom line is the Zeta is one of the most robust jackets we tested, which is particularly impressive, considering it weighs only 11 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.
For the amount of weather protection this model provides, we were impressed with how small it packs down. It's roughly 25 percent more compressible than many three-layer Gore-Tex jackets and offers nearly all the performance benefits.
It compresses smaller than the Outdoor Research Foray and The North Face Dryzzle, which both use Gore-tex Paclite and is still smaller than the Marmot PreCip or Patagonia Cloud Ridge, yet still offers superior storm worthiness. If you are truly shopping for a "just-in-case" model to live at the bottom of your pack, it's double the size of the three most compact models: the Patagonia Storm Racer, Black Diamond Fineline, and Outdoor Research Helium II. While those three models were significantly more compressible, none of them offered the versatility or storm-worthiness of the Zeta.
The Zeta is a relatively no-frills model that has been designed to be worthy and lightweight. We feel Arc'teryx has accomplished this nicely by including and focusing on the features and design aspects that matter to the majority of people. An exceptional hood, pack-friendly pockets, low profile cuffs, the thinnest seams in our review, and little extras like additional fabric in key places (to minimize the odds of it delaminating) earn the Zeta our Editors' Choice Award.
It doesn't have much in the way of extra features, such as pit zips, places to stash items, or a reversible pocket to pack the jacket into. While you can buy lighter weight or more fully featured models, the Zeta strikes a near-perfect balance of weight and functionality. We still consider it lightweight, and it does not give up much in the way of performance.
The Zeta SL is the quintessential all-around rain shell that is suited for most outdoor activities. It's as much at home while mountaineering as it is backpacking, day hiking, or walking the dog on a wet Sunday morning. It's light enough for extended trips where users are embarking on adventures in which weight and packed volume are of the utmost importance, especially if storm worthiness is at all a consideration. It might be somewhat overkill as a "just-in-case jacket" in which you carry it on many excursions but hope you won't have to pull it out.
With a $300 price tag, it's easy to find a less expensive raincoat, as the Zeta is one of the most expensive jackets in our review. However, it's arguably more versatile and lighter than many $400-$700 jackets on the market, making it a super value. Pricey hardshells might be slightly more durable or heavily featured and could offer better performance for specific applications like downhill skiing, though most rain jackets are not meant to serve this purpose.
From a value standpoint, several other Gore-Tex Paclite models range from $200-$225, 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. As a whole, you can buy less expensive models than this one, but few, if any models offer the all-around performance that you'll find with the Zeta SL.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice; it scores at or near the top in nearly every comparison category and is a three-season do-everything model. While expensive, heavier than some in our fleet, and of average packed size, its pros far outweigh its cons, as the Zeta SL provides you with exceptional versatility, top-tier storm worthiness, and fantastic mobility. For folks with a quiver of jackets that might be looking for a specific application (such as incredibly lightweight or packable), others may be just the ticket. However, no model in our fleet comes close to this one for its all-around capabilities.
Other Versions and Accessories
Arc'teryx makes the Zeta LT which is similar in overall design but uses a 3L Gore-Tex fabric instead of the lighter 2L Gore-Tex Paclite Plus used in the Zeta SL.
— Ian Nicholson