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Arc'teryx Zeta SL Review

This stormworthy and function focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best performance in our review
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Photo: Arc'teryx
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | Check Price at REI
Compare prices at 3 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
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 10, 2021
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81
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 14
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 7% 7

Our Verdict

The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is the top scorer in our fleet. It scored 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 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.

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Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
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$279 List
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$249 List
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$159 List
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Pros Top-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pocketsGreat weather resistance, long-lasting DWR, breathable, pack-friendly pockets, helmet-compatible hood maintains good peripheral visionGreat storm protection, above average breathability, no clammy feeling, packs tightly into reversible stuff pocket, deep helmet-compatible hood, less crinklyIncredible price, Gore-Tex, solid weather protection, excellent hood design, weight and packed volumeVersatile, durable, long lasting DWR, good stormworthiness, minimal clammy feel
Cons No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harnessAverage weight and compressed size, bulky cutAverage freedom of movement, less stretchy than most other air-permeable models, fit, low handwarmer pockets could be more functionalWets out quicker than other Gore-Tex models, two layer design isn't as long-lasting, clammy interiorHeavy, average packed size, mobility, and freedom of movement
Bottom Line This stormworthy and function focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best performance in our reviewTop tier weather protection and breathability, coupled with an excellent set of outdoor oriented features make this one of our favorite models for soggy excursions into the backcountryThis jack-of-all-trades jacket offers some of the best weather protection and durability for an air-permeable modelOne of the best values you can get for a piece of rain gear, this Gore-Tex model is packed full of functional featuresA durable jacket with function focused design that will keep most satisfied, without putting a hole in your wallet
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Stormbolt... Outdoor Research Mi... REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Patagonia Torrentsh...
Water Resistance (30%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Breathability & Venting (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Comfort & Mobility (18%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Weight (15%)
7.0
6.0
6.0
6.0
6.0
Durability (5%)
8.0
6.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
Packed Size (7%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Stormbolt... Outdoor Research Mi... REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Patagonia Torrentsh...
Measured Weight (Medium) 10.9 oz 14.5 oz 14.5 oz 12.5 oz 14 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite Plus waterproof breathable laminate 3-layer GORE-TEX Ascentshell 3L 2-layer GORE-TEX Paclite 3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 40-denier ripstop (N40r) Gore-Tex Paclite Plus 30-denier ripstop nylon 100% nylon stretch ripstop Polyester 350-denier 100% recycled nylon, polycarbonate PU membrane, tricot backer
Pockets 2 hand pockets 2 hand 2 hand, 1 chest 2 hand 2 zippered hand pockets
Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly Yes Yes No No No
Pit Zips Yes Yes No No Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) No No Yes No No
Stows Into Pocket? No No No No Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

Some models may perform better for specific applications, but no model does as many things as well as the Zeta SL, and that is what makes it stand out as the cream of the crop. Striking an unmatched balance of storm protection and breathability with packed size and weight, no model can match its level of high, across-the-board performance.

Performance Comparison


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.
Photo: 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 has an exterior face fabric bonded to the waterproof membrane and an innermost chemical coating to 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 two-layer design helps make 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.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The new Zeta SL is one of the best models we tested, and it provides top-tier weather protection and a long-lasting DWR. In our direct side-by-side comparisons, it excelled in our shower and garden hose tests, keeping us comfortable and dry. During real-world testing, including two dozen days backpacking, climbing, and ski touring over a very damp spring in the Pacific Northwest, the Zeta SL exceeded our expectations and was one of the most stormworthy products we tested.

We loved all the details of this jacket, like the minimal shoulder...
We loved all the details of this jacket, like the minimal shoulder seams (to reduce wear on potential leak points), low profile, and extremely functional wrist cuffs, which minimize how much water ran down our arms (if our hands were above our head).
Photo: 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, sporting a minimal but effective internal storm flap which keeps the water out in even the wettest of storms. The Durable Water Repellency (DWR) held up incredibly well and is one of the best in our fleet.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Hood Design

The Zeta SL features one of the best overall hood designs on the market due to its nearly unmatch and unobstructed peripheral vision, a deep (AKA more protection shape), and a brim that actually keeps the rain off the front of your face. A feature our review team found so easy and functional in this model's hood design is how it cinched down. Unlike most 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. 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. Most importantly, the hood moves with you more than most products we tested, and it maintained exceptional peripheral vision.

This model's top-tier peripheral vision in action; there weren't...
This model's top-tier peripheral vision in action; there weren't that many hoods that would move with us as far as we could look in either direction.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

One slight downside is that the hood isn't big enough to fit over most climbing or bike helmets. It could fit but doesn't lend itself to a high level of comfort. Instead, the low profile design enabled us to wear it underneath the helmet, and it didn't feel too bulky or cumbersome.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

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 ever-so-slightly more breathable. In our tests, we found them extremely comparable; while a slight edge could be given to Gore-Active pieces, it would be pretty difficult to distinguish any differences.

Despite its "two-layer" construction, it was one of the least...
Despite its "two-layer" construction, it was one of the least "clammy" feeling models we tested.
Photo: 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 a higher or lower level of breathability, but this level fluctuates more depending on internal heat build-up, and to a lesser extent, environmental factors. When we were working hard (such as hiking), both Gore Paclite Plus and Gore Active breathed 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. As we talk more in-depth about in the best in class article, 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.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Comfort & Mobility


Our testers loved the feel of the internal fabric of the Zeta even more so than the REI XeroDry, which also features 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, even if we only had a t-shirt on under it.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

The Zeta SL boasts some of the better overall mobility and range of motion of any model we tested, with only the mega stretchy Rab Kinetic Plus scoring better. All of our testers 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.

Photo: 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.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Pocket Design

The Zeta SL has an incredibly functional pocket design and is one of our review team's favorites. Its pockets are slightly elevated to remaining accessible, even while wearing an overnight pack or climbing harness. Not only are they accessible with a backpack on, but because the pockets are out of the way, the zippers didn't pinch our hips under the pressure of a pack's hip belt. While slightly elevated, the pockets are still low enough to provide a pleasant place to keep our hands warm and tucked away.

Weight


The SL in Zeta SL stands for Super Light, and at 10.9 ounces, the Zeta SL is on the lighter end of the spectrum and the lightest Gore-Tex model in our review. It's lighter than most full-featured hardshells, yet it doesn't forego much in the way of performance or overall weather protection to these models.


Arc'teryx reduces the weight of this model in several ways: there's no additional ventilation besides simply unzipping the primary front zipper. Thirteen mm seam tape is used, which is the smallest in our review, and the watertight zippers have minimally sized storm flaps to complete the package. Even the Velcro wrist straps are lower-profile than most, minimizing weight. This jacket is plenty light enough to satisfy the majority of outdoor enthusiasts.

Durability


The Zeta is durable and offers a reasonable, albeit pretty average resistance to tearing or scuffing. The longevity of the DWR also impressed us; 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 10.9 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.

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 1L Nalgene bottle.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Packed Size


For the amount of weather protection this model provides, we were impressed with how small it compresses down. It's roughly 25 percent more packable than most three-layer Gore-Tex jackets and offers nearly all the performance benefits.

The Zeta SL (second from the left) shown next to a number of other...
The Zeta SL (second from the left) shown next to a number of other models in our review.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

It compresses smaller than the Outdoor Research Foray and The North Face Dryzzle, which both use Gore-tex Paclite fabric and are still smaller than the Marmot PreCip, yet still offer superior stormworthiness. If you are truly shopping for a "just-in-case" model to live at the bottom of your pack, it's nearly double the size of the most compact model, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain. While those models were significantly more compressible, neither offered the versatility or stormworthiness of the Zeta SL.


Value


With its price tag, it's easy to find a less expensive raincoat. However, we still think this model is a reasonable value, as it's arguably more versatile and lighter than most 400-700 dollar jackets. These expensive hardshells might be slightly more durable or heavily featured and could offer better performance for specific applications like downhill skiing. However, for most hikers, climbers, mountaineers, and backpackers, this model provides more than enough toughness.

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.
Photo: 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. As a whole, 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.

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.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is a versatile do-everything three-season jacket that offered the best overall balance of performance and versatility. No model can match the Zeta's across-the-board performance, scoring at or near the top in literally every comparison category. It is on the more expensive side, but its performance attributes and versatility easily justify the cost which isn't 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, where 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