The Arc'teryx Beta SL gives you the weather protection of a burly hardshell, for the weight—and price—of a much lighter jacket. This was our favorite hardshell layer for high output aerobic mountain sports. We enjoyed motoring uphill on our skis when it was dumping snow, as the Beta would shed precipitation and wick moisture. It features an athletic cut that facilitates movement, making ice climbing movements fluid, and also helps ensure excess body heat is pumped quickly out of the jacket. We loved every adventure in this jacket, so it earns our Top Pick for Ultralight.
Arc'teryx Beta SL - Women's Review
Cons: Less durable, not ideal for coldest weather
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Arc'teryx Beta SL is an ultralight hardshell that makes few compromises to be as light as it is. It is fully featured yet minimal.
The Beta SL is more light than it is burly, but it is plenty strong enough for most mountain adventures, minus the most arctic or worst blizzard. It didn't top the charts in this category, but it still got a strong score of 7 out of 10.
The cut is long and slender, with drawcords at the hem to seal out cold drafts, and the hood is highly adjustable with three drawcords to seat it well around your head or helmet—and with a cinching interior trim that brings the small visor in close to your face and seals out wind and precipitation. The cuffs are adjustable and straightforward with lightweight velcro closures.
The Beta SL is made of Gore-Tex PacLite, which is specifically designed to be lightweight, but still holds up to Gore-Tex's high storm-proofing standards. While some burlier fabrics will seemingly add warmth (being thicker helps better block wind and seal in body heat), the thinner fabric of the Beta SL is much better at wicking heat and moisture away from your body. This makes it an excellent layer for milder climates where you want to move fast and stay dry through highly variable (and perhaps temperamental) mountain weather. We loved this jacket for ski touring in the Pacific Northwest, as well as on trips where we valued ultralight gear, like long and steep backcountry ice climbs in Montana.
For a beefier jacket that is still relatively lightweight, check out our Editors' Choice winner, the Norrona Trollveggen.
Arc'teryx has mastered the art of making otherwise stiff, plasticky shell material feel like you're wearing a sweatshirt. If you take a look at the paneling and articulation patterns of their garments, this starts to make sense. The gusseted underarms and raglan sleeves improve mobility and fit—as does the absence of pit zips.
Arc'teryx included only the most necessary features in this jacket design, which also means the jacket moves well. There are few zippers, and the PacLite fabric is light and supple, again meaning that it moves well with your every ice tool swing or ski pole plant.
The hood adjusts in many directions, allowing you to cinch it close around your head and/or helmet. The supple fabric, again, moves comfortably with you, so when you turn your head, you're not suddenly looking at the inside of your hood. That drives us nuts, especially on mixed climbs or in chimneys where you need to look behind you for a foothold.
The light weight of the fabric also improves mobility, as it moves more fluidly due to the suppleness. And the two high zippered pockets are placed such that they don't inhibit bending or twisting of your torso while climbing and wearing a harness—and you can still access them easily.
The Beta SL is made of Gore-Tex's most lightweight, breathable shell fabric, PacLite. We are huge fans. This jacket has no venting, no pit zips, and the two front pockets won't function as vents in a pinch.
But the PacLite material is very lightweight, thinner, and so breathable that we felt it wasn't far off from feeling like a soft shell. The slender, athletic fit also means the fabric is closer to your body heat, so it's easier to pump moisture out of the jacket.
This is also a jacket designed for milder climates or ambitious, fast and light pursuits where you're moving fast. It has a slender, athletic fit which doesn't allow you to wear many layers underneath. As such, this is not the hunker-down-arctic-survival-jacket. We preferred to wear this jacket over a lighter fleece or wool layers when we were moving fast.
At 6 ounces, this jacket smashed the competition. It is the only hardshell that features Gore-Tex PacLite, which is one of the burliest lightweight breathable fabrics out there. The next closest competition was the OR Clairvoyant at 7.5 ounces, made of Gore-Tex Active fabric. The Clairvoyant was similarly supple, light, and breathable, and a strong competitor for the Beta SL.
While we are always disappointed when a jacket doesn't include a chest pocket, we understand that Arc'teryx needed to make some hard decisions when streamlining the design of this ultralight shell jacket. Instead, they included two high hand pockets, still easily accessed while wearing a harness. For the incredible weight of 6 ounces, we are okay with this compromise.
Gore-Tex PacLite is not the most durable—it is optimized for light weight overall. As such, this is an excellent layer to save for those critical fast-and-light missions. However, it is also a much more affordable jacket from Arc'teryx and makes for a good workhorse shell jacket for the right (milder) climates.
The outer material features a ripstop fabric that helps ensure that if you do snag the jacket, a hole won't become a giant rip. In our tests, we scratched around on mixed climbs with sharp tools and did not have any durability issues or red flags with this jacket.
This is an excellent hardshell for most uses except the most severe winter storms and long, cold expeditions. It is so light you'll want to take it everywhere, both as an emergency just-in-case shell or as your go-to jacket for aerobic activities in cold and wet climates.
The material is light and breathable enough for high energy mountain sports, but protective enough to keep you warm and dry, and sealed from the elements, in a variety of mountain conditions. It is durable, ripstop material, but not the most durable in this review. For a burlier shell, check out the Norrona Trollveggen or the slightly more durable OR Clairvoyant.
The fit of the Beta SL limits its use as a burly storm shell because it is a little too slender to accommodate a bigger down jacket underneath. If your clothing system is also geared toward ultralight, however, this will be a great addition. For example, we were able to layer the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer underneath for extra cold days ice climbing; then we would layer a bigger puffy jacket over the top. This worked well so long as the belays were just cold—and not dripping wet or super snowy.
This jacket is best suited to activities where your priority is light weight, but you can't compromise weather protection. We loved this jacket for ice climbing because it is soft, supple, and light enough to make climbing movement easy, but it would keep us dry through dripping sections of ice and blowing snow. It also worked very well for backcountry ski touring—it is light and breathable enough to keep you from sweating inside the jacket, so we could wear it while skinning through heavy snowfall.
This is an excellent hardshell for any mountain sport where light weight is your priority. Everyday use on an expedition to the Alaska Range might put a little too much wear on this jacket, but it would be a great one to bring to basecamp and take out for those milder days and longer pushes on more significant or more technical climbs. The cut is trim and athletic, so you won't be able to layer a lot of warm clothing underneath the Beta SL, but it will work well with other ultralight clothing layering systems and for milder mountain conditions.
The Beta SL could have won our Best Buy award if it was just a little bit more versatile than the OR Clairvoyant. The Beta is a little more of a specific-use hardshell, and one you may want to save for special trips or fast ascents. The Clairvoyant was just a little bit more durable, allowing you to use it as more of a workhorse, and thus earning the award.
The Arc'teryx Beta SL is an impressive hardshell jacket. It weighs only six ounces, yet it is a fully featured hardshell with an adjustable hood, cuffs, and waist hem. It is made of lightweight, breathable Gore-Tex PacLite, which offers solid storm protection despite the low weight. It is surprisingly affordable for an Arc'teryx jacket, which makes it much more accessible—and helped us justify wearing it more often because we could be a little less worried about wearing it out too fast. This is a jacket that will keep you covered on most of your mountain adventures and hold up through rain, snow, and wind. This won't be the best for arctic expeditions but would be a great choice for fast and light ascents and aerobic mountain sports in inclement weather. This is an excellent year-round shell jacket, burly enough for most winter conditions, but light enough to make the cut in your ultralight summer mountaineering kit.
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Most recent review: February 26, 2018
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