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Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant Review

Lightweight, yet tough, comfortable, and articulated enough for a week long backpacking trips where it rains every day.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $225 List | $225.00 at REI
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
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Sep 23, 2019
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89
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 13
  • Water Resistance - 25% 10
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 8
  • Features - 5% 8
  • Packed Size - 12% 9
  • Weight - 17% 9
  • Durability - 5% 7

Our Verdict

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.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   Top Pick Award 
Price $225.00 at REI
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Pros Lightweight, excellent stormworthiness, packable, sweet 3/4 length side zips, impressive breathabilityLightweight, stormworthy, quiet fabric, good breathability, 3/4 length side zips, effective elastic cuffsDurable, among the most weather resistant on the market, comfortable fit, excellent mobilityMega stretchy fabric, best breathability in the review, built in belt is the bombBy far the lightest and most compact pant in our review, great mobility, elastic waist band is extremely comfortable and functional
Cons No pockets, waist band is not as nice as others, expensiveNo zip fly, one marginally useful pocket, DWR didn't last as long as other models and needed to be retreated more frequentlyAnkle length zips, no venting options, no waist tightening/cinching options, no belt-loopsNot quite as abrasion resistant as other models, so-so weather-resistanceLess durable than most, hard to pull on over boots
Bottom Line Lightweight, yet tough, comfortable, and articulated enough for a week long backpacking trips where it rains every day.Highly protective pants that are light and compact for tucking away in your backpack.A basic, few-frills Gore-Tex pant that offers fantastic storm protection and mobility; it sacrifices little convenience for weight, without giving up anything in the way of performance.A fantastic all-around pant with rad stretchy fabric, which offers exceptional freedom of movement and the best breathability.Hard to beat for any trip where weight and packed space are at a premium - as long as there isn't too much off-trail travel, where their lower than average durability could be an issue.
Rating Categories Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant Outdoor Research Foray Pants Marmot Minimalist Pant Stretch Ozonic Pants Outdoor Research Helium Pant
Water Resistance (25%)
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
10
10
0
7
10
0
8
Comfort And Mobility (18%)
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
9
Breathability & Venting (18%)
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Features (5%)
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
5
Packed Size (12%)
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
10
Weight (17%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
10
Durability (5%)
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
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6
Specs Arc'teryx Zeta SL... Outdoor Research... Marmot Minimalist... Stretch Ozonic Pants Outdoor Research...
Measured Weight 8.6 oz / 245g 10.2 oz / 289g 11oz / 292g 10 oz / 283g 6.5 oz / 184g
Waterproof Fabric Material Gore-Tex Paclite Plus 2L Gore-Tex 2.5 Layer Gore-tex with PacLite Technology 2.5 Layer Dry Q Active Stretch 2.5 Layer Pertex Shield+
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 40-denier nylon ripstop 2L 100% Polyester 50D 50D 100% Polyester w / Gore-tex PacLite Waterproof Breathable Membrane 40D Dry Q Active Stretch 30D 100 Nylon Ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ Waterproof Breathable Insert
Pockets 0 pockets 1 pocket 2 pockets 1 pocket 1 pocket
Side Zips Length? 3/4 length side zips 3/4-Length 1/4 Length Ankle Zips Full Length Side Zips 1/4 Length Ankle Zips
Put on Over Hiking or Mountaineering Boots Yes Yes Hiking Boots, but not all Mtn Boots Yes No
Inseam Length, Size Medium 30, 32, 34 in 30 in 31, 32, 33 in 30, 32, 34 in 31 in
Stows Into Pocket? No Yes No Yes Yes
Waist band Style Nylon Belt + Elastic Band Elastic + shock cord 1/2 Elastic Nylon Belt + Elastic Band Elastic + Shock Cord

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.

Performance Comparison


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.

Our review team's overall favorite for its excellent weather protection  compact size  and low weight. It suits the needs of a wide range of users nicely; it's light enough for day hikes  yet offers enough protection for week-long trips where it might rain every day.
Our review team's overall favorite for its excellent weather protection, compact size, and low weight. It suits the needs of a wide range of users nicely; it's light enough for day hikes, yet offers enough protection for week-long trips where it might rain every day.

Water Resistance


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.

This model uses Gore-Tex PacLite Plus; it's incredibly water-resistant and offers one of the most long-lasting DWRs in our review.
This model uses Gore-Tex PacLite Plus; it's incredibly water-resistant and offers one of the most long-lasting DWRs in our review.

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.

The 3/4 length water-tight zippers keep the elements out.
The 3/4 length water-tight zippers keep the elements out.

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.

This model is one of the few to feature a zippered front fly  making them easier to pull on and off. The low profile waistband offers exceptional comfort.
This model is one of the few to feature a zippered front fly, making them easier to pull on and off. The low profile waistband offers exceptional comfort.

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.

The Zeta sports a low profile webbing cinch strap to help tighten your pants. We appreciated this design over more common Velcro options  and it's also less bulky feeling  especially while wearing a pack.
The Zeta sports a low profile webbing cinch strap to help tighten your pants. We appreciated this design over more common Velcro options, and it's also less bulky feeling, especially while wearing a pack.

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.

This model features two side zippers that are commonly lumped into the 3/4 length; however  in reality  they are more like 2/3rd length. Regardless  they functioned similarly to most 3/4th length options.
This model features two side zippers that are commonly lumped into the 3/4 length; however, in reality, they are more like 2/3rd length. Regardless, they functioned similarly to most 3/4th length options.

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.

This photo shows the 2/3s length zipper opened up all the way to see its relative length. We prefer the 3/4 and 2/3 length pants over full-length pants; you'll keep most of the benefits of side-zips (easy-to-pull on  venting  and this style is much more comfortable  complete with a thicker waistbelt.
This photo shows the 2/3s length zipper opened up all the way to see its relative length. We prefer the 3/4 and 2/3 length pants over full-length pants; you'll keep most of the benefits of side-zips (easy-to-pull on, venting, and this style is much more comfortable, complete with a thicker waistbelt.

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.

Like many Arc'teryx products  the company commonly tweaks brand-name materials (in this case Gore-Tex PacLite Plus) to their own specifications in the hopes of getting the highest performing materials possible.
Like many Arc'teryx products, the company commonly tweaks brand-name materials (in this case Gore-Tex PacLite Plus) to their own specifications in the hopes of getting the highest performing materials possible.

Features


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.

These pants are more minimally focused than most others in our review; as a result  they don't offer many "extra features". We do appreciate the low profile cuffs and metal buttons  which help minimize back-splash or snow coming back into the pant.
These pants are more minimally focused than most others in our review; as a result, they don't offer many "extra features". We do appreciate the low profile cuffs and metal buttons, which help minimize back-splash or snow coming back into the pant.

Weight


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.

This pant weighs a stunning 8.5 ounces  which is incredibly light for a Gore-Tex pant with 3/4 length zippers. The low weight and impressive weather resistance are the primary reasons this is one of our favorite pairs.
This pant weighs a stunning 8.5 ounces, which is incredibly light for a Gore-Tex pant with 3/4 length zippers. The low weight and impressive weather resistance are the primary reasons this is one of our favorite pairs.

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 weight these pants were among the most compact in our review. A size medium here shown next to a 1-Liter Nalgene bottle for size reference.
Similar to weight these pants were among the most compact in our review. A size medium here shown next to a 1-Liter Nalgene bottle for size reference.

Packed Size


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.

Durability


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.

Best Applications


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.

Value


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 Zeta faces stiff competition from models like the Outdoor Research Foray. However  no other model could touch its across the board performance when it comes to weight  mobility  and storm worthiness.
The Zeta faces stiff competition from models like the Outdoor Research Foray. However, no other model could touch its across the board performance when it comes to weight, mobility, and storm worthiness.

Conclusion


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