Stormworthy and lightweight, the Arc'teryx Zeta SL is the best all-around performing pant in our fleet. The Zeta is simple, yet offers just enough features to keep even our most demanding testers happy. This design, coupled with a lightweight and breathable Gore-Tex Paclite Plus fabric helped it to win our Editors' Choice Award. No other model could match its exceptional balance of weight, durability, and weather resistance, which was equally at home as a just-in-case layer as it was for all-day use on a soggy week-long backpacking trip.
Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Lightweight, excellent stormworthiness, packable, sweet 3/4 length side zips, impressive breathability
Cons: No pockets, waist band is not as nice as others, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
After more than two weeks of daily and constant use, with extended testing beyond the two-week mark, all of our testers continue to be impressed with the Zeta. Its no-frills and minimal weight-focused design (there are no pockets on this pant) help this model disappear in your pack. Its 3/4 length zippers allow you to slip them over hiking or mountaineering boots, and its Gore-Tex Paclite Plus material keeps the water out. Arc'teryx calls them an "emergency pant", as it's the lightest waterproof pant they make. Fortunately, the Zeta will still provide better all-day weather protection than the majority of models featured in our review.
The Zeta is one of the best three-season options on the market; its simple design, coupled with top-tier fabrics, make it light enough to bring along as a just in case layer, but can also perform exceptionally well when needed every day on your week-long rainy trip.
The Zeta SL uses the latest form of Gore-Tex's weight-focused waterproof fabric called Paclite Plus. Gore calls this a two-layer fabric; however, its construction is much closer to most 2.5 layer materials, with a thin, half layer coating on the inside (and not a loose mesh liner) to help protect the internal waterproof membrane.
The Zeta is one of the best performing models we tested, offering top-notch (though not unmatched) performance when it comes to the overall level of water resistance, keeping us dry no matter the adventure. This pant's 3/4 length side zips use watertight zippers and do not have an inner flap.
While we didn't find this to be a dealbreaker, we did experience the tiniest (and we mean tiny) bit of water soaking through after spending several hours hiking up an overgrown trail in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness during a heavy rainstorm. Fortunately, this is to be expected in such conditions, and we determined all in our fleet to experience similar issues when worn on overgrown, drenched trails.
Comfort and Mobility
The Zeta is an incredibly comfortable pair of rain pants, as it offers an articulated fit that does not inhibit movement. It also strikes a great balance between being roomy enough to fit over a thin pair of hiking pants but not so loose that it feels bulky.
We appreciate the waistband, which is wide and designed to lay flat under the waist belt of a pack. There's a sneaky adjustment on one side, which can be used to tighten or loosen the waistband depending on the user and what they may be wearing. The internal material feels exceptionally plush against our skin, when we found ourself putting them on over hiking shorts or underwear for longer soggy days on the trail.
Breathability & Venting
The Gore-Tex Paclite Plus is one of the more breathable fabrics we tested - something all of our testers appreciated, when venting during a rainstorm or shortly afterward can be difficult on brushy or overgrown trails, where water may just drain into the sides of the pant. The Zeta is one of the nicer options to wear while hiking and did not feel clammy when doing so.
The Zeta SL features relatively long side-zippers; however, much like the Outdoor Research Foray, neither of these models offer true full-length zippers. We appreciate this design and like it more than traditional full-length side zippers, as the pant can be pulled on over boots but doesn't have the downside of additional bulk around the waist - which can be uncomfortable under the waist-belt of a pack. The only downside of this 3/4 length design is you can't zip the pants entirely in half, making them easier to put on if you're wearing crampons or skis. While this is a disadvantage, it was a minor inconvenience to deal with, and worth the comfort and reduced weight of the 3/4 length zip. For the ease of this review, we will call them 3/4 length, but they are a little shorter; 2/3 length is a little more fitting. We do want to note that we experienced no issues with this length.
This is one of the few rain pants we tested which do not feature any sort of pocket. While we were a little skeptical of this omission, testing revealed that it was not greatly missed. Why so? If you're putting a pair of rain pants on often, you'll almost undoubtedly have a rain jacket on, and can stash your goods accordingly. In addition to boasting a lower weight, the lack of pockets actually made these pants more comfortable.
This exceptionally streamlined pant weighs in at 8.5 ounces, making it one of the lightest in the review. It's certainly the lightest model to feature decently long side zips relative to its storm worthiness.
Arc'teryx can achieve such a low weight with several design aspects, such as super low gauge water-tight zippers that don't have zipper pulls. This pant also sports the smallest seam allowance of any in our review and thus can have the narrowest seam tape.
Similar to our weight metric, the Zeta SL is one of the more compressible options, mostly due to its straightforward design. If compressibility is your number one priority, the Outdoor Research Helium will take up notable less space in your pack. However, for the majority of competitors in our review, most are similar or less packable than the Zeta, and few can match it for its packability relative to its storm worthiness.
While lighter than most of the pants in our review, we still found these pants to be durable. Instead, most of the weight savings is thanks to a simple design, that is free of typical bells and whistles (versus utilizing a super lightweight fabric).
The Zeta SL uses a 40-denier nylon ripstop which is a little thinner than the 50D used on both the Outdoor Research Foray or the Marmot Minimalist. While it is thinner, we don't think there is much, if any difference in toughness, tear-resistance, or overall longevity. In fact, the Zeta is more tear-resistant and offers longer-lasting weather resistance than the price pointed Patagonia Torrentshell, REI Essentials, or the Marmot Precip.
The Zeta SL is a versatile three-season rain shell; it's light enough to be a just-in-case shell that can be left in the bottom of a pack on a day hike but tough enough for multi-day backpacking or summertime mountaineering. It's an excellent option for three-season applications where its top-tier storm worthiness and simple, yet packable design are an asset rather than a hindrance.
The Zeta is one of the spendier weight-focused rain pants currently on the market. Why the price difference, and is it worth it? The Zeta SL does boast technology to set them apart from other contenders and is a lightweight, packable option for anyone looking for mobility and articulation. However, if you're on a budget and aren't looking to spend more than two hundred dollars, consider one of our Best Buy options.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is easily one of the best all-around three-season pair of rain pants. Its versatility allows it to be worn on extended backpacking trips, where you can expect to be damp the entire adventure, and can, of course, be stuffed and forgotten about in the bottom of your pack. If you've got the dollars to spend on the best of the best, this is our top recommendation.
— Ian Nicholson