Review: Arc’teryx Zeta SL Rain Jacket

Rain Jacket
Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket
$299, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL

Sometimes, mountain weather refuses to cooperate with your plans. On an August trip backpacking in the Wind River Range with my son, we saw patches of blue sky only on our first afternoon—followed by a couple of days of rain, culminating with us hiking out nine miles in a wind-driven tempest and temps in the 40s Fahrenheit. On days like that, I’m happy to have a shell that will reliably keep me dry and comfortable like the Zeta SL.

The relatively minimalist design of the Zeta SL focuses on the needs of backpackers and dayhikers, keeping the weight at 11 ounces (for the men’s medium), while still providing functional features like a storm-worthy hood and two hand pockets with water-resistant zippersand keeping the price competitive with the very best three-season rain shells for hiking. The jacket does not stuff into a pocket but is relatively compact, squishing down to the size of a softball to occupy little space inside a pack (where you hope it spends most of its time).

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Arc'teryx Zeta SL Jacket.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket.

The Gore-Tex Paclite Plus membrane kept me dry through hours of hiking through wind-driven rain and delivers good if not exceptional breathability that prevents overheating in moderate temperatures. The fabric’s durability compares with the best three-season rain shells; and while it’s a little crinkly, it feels less stiff than some waterproof-breathable jackets. Overall, the Zeta SL displays the exceptional construction and design of Arc’teryx apparel.

The adjustable hood, while not helmet-compatible—this isn’t a shell for climbers—sports a laminated brim that extends over your face and the jacket’s waterproof front zipper comes up over the chin, very effectively shielding your face from rain. The adjustable cuffs and hem seal out wind and precipitation.

Typical of Arc’teryx apparel, the fit is close but neither tight nor bulky, enhancing breathability and allowing me to wear a couple of base layers underneath and an insulated vest, if needed—plenty of layers for the weather most backpackers and dayhikers encounter. The length covers most of my butt. And the articulated design permits excellent freedom of movement: This is a comfortable shell to spend a long, wet day in.

Like many lightweight rain shells, the Zeta SL lacks pit zips—which some users who typically frequent mountains where rainstorms are accompanied by cool temps won’t miss. But people who sweat prodigiously or typically hike in mild climates may prefer a shell with underarm zippers.

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Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket

The Verdict

With a basic but effective feature set and a waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex membrane, the Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket strikes a balance between performance, low weight, and packability in a rain shell ideal for backpackers and dayhikers.


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See “The 5 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” “5 Pro Tips For Buying the Right Rain Jacket For the Backcountry,” and all of my reviews of rain jackets and outdoor apparel and that I like.

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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” “A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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