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Arc'teryx Zeta SL Review

This storm-worthy and function-focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance in our review.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $300 List | $299.00 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 15, 2019
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82
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 16
  • Water Resistance - 30% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 8
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 9
  • Weight - 15% 6
  • Durability - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 5% 7

Our Verdict

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 outstanding mobility, 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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
Arc'teryx Zeta SL
Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award   
Price $299.00 at REI
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$249.00 at REI$164.93 at Backcountry
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$139.99 at Amazon
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$149.73 at REI
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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 pocketsThe most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthyStretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, pleasant low-profile wrist closures, hood design is comfortable and maintains good peripheral visionAwesome hood, fantastic fit, very durable, exceptionally versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pocketsStormworthy, versatile, durable, comfortable, high level of ventilation, great price for a Gore-Tex jacket
Cons No ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harnessCut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other modelsNo chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layeringHeavy for a "minimalist" design, slightly more expensive than non Gore-Tex jacketsOn the heavier side, slightly on the more expensive side
Bottom Line This storm-worthy and function-focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance in our review.One of the best jackets for backpacking and hiking, it's and packable, yet still provides top-tier storm worthiness.A solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you back.While this jacket didn't win an award, it remains one of our favorites and is an awesome do-anything jacket offering excellent stormworthiness, functionality, & durability.A fantastic all-around shell with some of the best ventilation features out there, in a fairly light, durable, and stormworthy package.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist Outdoor Research Foray
Water Resistance (30%)
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9
10
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9
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7
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9
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9
Breathability & Venting (25%)
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8
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8
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8
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7
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7
Comfort & Mobility (20%)
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9
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8
Weight (15%)
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6
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5
Durability (5%)
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8
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7
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7
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9
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8
Packed Size (5%)
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7
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7
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7
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7
Specs Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint... Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist Outdoor Research...
Measured Weight (Medium) 11 oz 10.5 oz 10 oz 15 oz 16 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus waterproof breathable laminate 3-layer Gore-Tex Active Proflex™ 3-layer GORE-TEX with PacLite technology 2.5 layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus 20D ripstop nylon Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L 100% recycled polyester 50D w/ Gore-tex PacLite waterproof breathable membrane
Pockets 2 hand 2 zip hand 2 hand 2 zip hand, 1 chest 3: 1 chest pocket & 2-hand pockets
Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly Yes Yes Yes Almost
Pit Zips Yes No No Yes Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) No No No Yes Yes
Stows Into Pocket? No No No (but included stuff sack) No Yes

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.

Performance Comparison


After extensive testing  we found the Zeta SL to be the best all-around model. While other models excel at a specific application  no other contender could match the Zeta's across the board performance or overall versatility.
After extensive testing, we found the Zeta SL to be the best all-around model. While other models excel at a specific application, no other contender could match the Zeta's across the board performance or overall versatility.

Water Resistance


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 several models in our review.

The Zeta SL uses Gore-Tex Paclite fabric; it features an excellent design which is one of the best at keeping its wearer dry in both our shower and garden hose tests  as well as in real-world use.
The Zeta SL uses Gore-Tex Paclite fabric; it features an excellent design which is one of the best at keeping its wearer dry in both our shower and garden hose tests, as well as in real-world use.

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's hood effectively cinches down over a wide range of headwear while maintaining a decent amount of peripheral vision.
The Zeta SL's hood effectively cinches down over a wide range of headwear while maintaining a decent amount of peripheral vision.

Hood Design

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.

The hood featured on the Zeta SL is exceptional. Here  our lead tester demonstrates minimal loss of peripheral vision.
The hood featured on the Zeta SL is exceptional. Here, our lead tester demonstrates minimal loss of peripheral vision.

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).

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.
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.

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.

The Zeta SL 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.
The Zeta SL 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.

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 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.
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.

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 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.
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.

Pocket Design

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.

Weight


The SL in Zeta SL stands for Super Light. At 11 ounces, the Zeta SL is nearly the lightest Gore-Tex jacket we tested. Of note, it is lighter than most full-featured hardshells, yet doesn't forego much in the way of performance or overall weather protection. Arc'teryx reduces the weight of this model in several ways: there's no additional ventilation besides simply unzipping the primary front zipper. Its 13mm seam tape is used, which is the smallest in our review, and the watertight zippers have only a minimally sized storm flaps complete the package. Even the Velcro wrist straps are lower-profile than most, minimizing weight.


Durability


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.

Packed Size


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.

This model crushed every comparison category  though it was just barely lighter and more compact than average. With that said  it is far smaller and more compact than many hardshell jackets and doesn't give up much in the way of performance. It's also still plenty small enough for backpackers and hikers.
This model crushed every comparison category, though it was just barely lighter and more compact than average. With that said, it is far smaller and more compact than many hardshell jackets and doesn't give up much in the way of performance. It's also still plenty small enough for backpackers and hikers.

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.


Features


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.

Value


With its price tag, it's easy to find a less expensive raincoat. However, it's arguably more versatile and lighter than many 400-700 dollar jackets on the market, making it an excellent 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.

After extensive testing  we found the Zeta SL to be the best all-around model. While other models excel at a specific application  no other contender could match the Zeta's across the board performance or overall versatility.
After extensive testing, we found the Zeta SL to be the best all-around model. While other models excel at a specific application, no other contender could match the Zeta's across the board performance or overall versatility.

From a value standpoint, several other Gore-Tex Paclite models range from 200-225 dollars 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.

Offering few downsides  the Zeta SL is our review team's choice if we could only own one jacket for a wide range of outdoor activities.
Offering few downsides, the Zeta SL is our review team's choice if we could only own one jacket for a wide range of outdoor activities.

Conclusion


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