The new Arc’teryx Zeta LT represents a distinct break from the hiking rain jacket status quo: design and performance that nearly match an alpine hardshell, but with the comfort and weight of a packable rain jacket. Retailing for over $400, the Zeta LT doesn’t have a whole lot of direct competition, with most hiking-ready shells coming in at half price or less. But following a season of testing, we’ve concluded that for hikers needing a bomber shell that doesn’t weigh down their pack, nothing comes close. Below we break down the Zeta's C-Knit construction, weather protection, sizing and fit, and more. To see how the Zeta LT stacks up against the competition, see our comparison table and article on the best rain jackets.
Virtually all other rain jackets for hiking are 2-layer or 2.5-layer construction. For the Zeta LT, Arc’teryx went with a premium Gore-Tex 3-layer formula: a waterproof and breathable membrane sandwiched between a tough and lightweight outer shell and an inner liner. This gives you hardshell-like protection from the elements without the clammy feeling common with other rain jackets.
It’s the new inner liner, dubbed C-KNIT, that we were most excited to try out. This liner is quite thin, which helps make the Zeta LT competitively lightweight and packable—praise you don’t often hear for a true 3-layer shell. Additional benefits include increased breathability and a smooth finish that is quieter than most crinkly hardshells.
In our use we found all of the above to be true, but most impressive is the next-to-skin comfort. The interior feel of most hiking shells is an afterthought in the quest to cut weight, resulting in a slippery and plastic-like feel when you’re wearing a short-sleeve shirt that is exacerbated in heavy rain when the jacket presses against your skin. Not so with the Zeta. That slippery feel is replaced with buttery softness. And the C-KNIT fabric pulls moisture away from your skin better than other hiking shells, including a previous hiking favorite: GORE-TEX Paclite. In comparing to C-KNIT’s feel and performance, Paclite jackets such as the Marmot Minimalist are clammier inside yet have a similar packed size.
As we touched on above, the Zeta’s 3-layer construction is unique for a hiking shell. Most manufacturers opt for a 2.5 layer, which means the jacket has a thin veneer on the interior rather than a full fabric layer as a means of trimming weight and packed size. What you give up with the 2.5-layer design is durability and performance in high winds and heavy rain.
Impressively, the Zeta manages to keep total weight competitive while completely outperforming 2.5-layer hiking jackets thanks to a burly outer shell, water-resistant zippers, and a superb hood. It’s been made to handle the worst subalpine conditions you’ll run into, making it a great match for treks through remote areas where the weather can turn nasty: places like Patagonia, New Zealand, Scandinavia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest.
During early season hikes in cool weather, we rarely ran into issues with breathability. But as is the case with any waterproof rain jacket, ventilation is a challenge when you’re really working hard. Totally zipped up, performance is solid and the C-KNIT liner does a nice job keeping you cool. The liner fabric and snug fit effectively draw hot air away from your skin and help avoid the “sauna effect” better than any other hiking shells (note: this does not include heavier hardshell jackets). However, to really dump heat on warmer days on the trail, pit zips or at least some form of pit venting would be helpful. And for super strenuous hiking in warm weather, we did find ourselves wanting a more efficient venting system (pit zips do add extra weight and bulk so we can see why they were left out).
Weight and Packability
The first time we put on the Zeta we were struck with just how light it felt. On our scales, the Zeta LT in a men’s medium weighs 11.85 ounces—essentially dead on its listed weight of 11.8 ounces (335 grams). For some perspective, true ultralight shells like the Patagonia Alpine Houdini (see the in-depth review) weigh half that but come with a laundry list of compromises that limit their performance in rough conditions. Mid-level performance hiking shells, such as the Outdoor Research Foray or Marmot Minimalist, are a better reference point, and come in about 3-4 ounces heavier than the Zeta LT. The extra weight of those jackets can be attributed to pit zips and a less streamlined design, and it’s extra bulk that’s readily apparent when trying on the jackets back-to-back.
The Zeta LT technically isn’t packable: it doesn’t include a stuff sack or a 2-sided zipper for stuffing it into a hand pocket. It is, however, easy to compress into a manageable, compact size. For throwing it in a backpacking pack, you can roll or stuff the jacket into the interior of the hood and cinch it down to hold everything in place. Doing so helps reduce the risk of tearing the shell while stowing it in your pack.
The Zeta is made with Arc’teryx’s low profile, simplistic StormHood. It’s a design we’ve loved in a number of applications, including the popular Cerium LT Down Hoody, for the secure feeling and excellent coverage. Pulling a single toggle cord at the back of the hood tucks the fabric evenly around the sides and face, and the uniform adjustment retains a good field of vision.
You also get a real bill on hood of the Zeta that hangs over your forehead at a downward angle a couple inches (it offers more protection than any other rain jacket). The bill has a solid enough structure to withstand direct wind and does a nice job protecting your face from raindrops. Even for some of our smaller noggin-ed testers, the fully-cinched StormHood fits well and offers excellent protection.
The Zeta LT comes with a standard assortment of pockets: two for your hands and one for interior storage. The hand pockets sit high enough to avoid a backpack hipbelt. Standard height hand pockets not only create annoying pressure points underneath a hipbelt, but they’re also useless when wearing a pack if you can’t access the zipper. But for daily use or even just resting your hands, the pocket location on the Zeta LT isn’t completely natural. In many ways, hand pocket placement is one of the more limiting aspects of the design. Outside of this, the rest of the jacket is suitable for any day of the week—in town or in the woods. But the pockets leave no doubt that this $400 jacket is first and foremost a performance piece.
Quality weather resistant zippers provide excellent protection for any smaller items you’d like to store in the hand pockets, but we still recommend placing valuables like a phone or wallet in the interior pocket. The zippered closure is placed lower than a standard napoleon pocket, and instead layers behind the left-side hand pocket. The space is large enough for any phone but is a bit small to fit a pair of gloves, for example.
Cuffs and Zippers
Rain jacket cuffs fall all over the map, from burly Velcro to minimalist elasticized cuffs to cut weight. The cuffs on the Zeta LT are nicely in the middle, with partial Velcro that gets the job done without any discomfort. We also like the angled cuff design, which allows for slighter fuller coverage over the top of the hand while hiking without restricting use of the hands. The Marmot Minimalist has a similar hand design and we were happy to see it on the Zeta LT.
The water-resistant zippers also are impressive, which have a proper coating to keep moisture out but aren’t sticky like some other jackets. The action is smooth for the protection you get, and Arc’teryx added a nice piece of thin fleece at the chin to prevent rubbing.
Arc’teryx lists the fit as trim, with the intent for the outer layer to accommodate a baselayer or midlayer. We mostly agree with the designation, but would say that the fit is a little more forgiving by Arc’teryx’s standards. The brand is known for having a streamlined athletic cut, something we experienced with the Cerium LT midlayer and others. Both our testers fall on the slim side, ranging in height from 5’10 to 6’1”, and were happy with the amount of space with the medium size to squeeze a puffy underneath the shell while retaining good range of motion. The Zeta LT also runs a little on the long side and has a drop hem that provides great protection should you want to use it for spring skiing.
What We Like
- Fantastic mix of light weight and trail performance: the Zeta offers 3-layer hardshell protection and breathability with a feature set that’s been tuned for hiking and trekking.
- The best fitting hood we’ve tried—the StormHood is easy to adjust and provides excellent protection in bad weather.
- The C-Knit backer has a soft feel that makes it very comfortable for a rain shell (and it's not crinkly).
What We Don’t
- Very expensive for a rain jacket.
- We prefer pit zips for strenuous hiking and in moderate conditions.
|Arc’teryx Zeta LT||$425||11.85 oz.||3L Gore-Tex||Performance/hiking||No||No|
|Outdoor Research Realm||$279||10.9 oz.||3L AscentShell||Performance/hiking||No||Yes|
|Patagonia M10||$399||8.1 oz.||3L H2No||Performance/hiking||No||Yes|
|Marmot Minimalist||$200||15.13 oz.||2.5L Gore-Tex||Hiking/daily use||Yes||No|
|Outdoor Research Foray||$215||15.13 oz.||2.5L Gore-Tex||Hiking/daily use||Yes||Yes|
As mentioned above, the 3-layer Zeta LT doesn’t have a clear competitor in specs or price. The Marmot Minimalist has a similar feature set and feel, but that jacket is 2.5-layer GoreTex and outweighs the Zeta LT by more than 3 ounces. The Outdoor Research Foray (see our in-depth review) is another competitor in terms of the hardshell-like feel, but you’re still only getting 2.5-layer GoreTex without the premium comfort. And among lightweight 3-layer shells, the Zeta feels more substantial and hardshell-like than the Patagonia M10 and Outdoor Research Realm (see our in-depth review). Those jackets also have a climbing focus that doesn't translate as well to hiking with features like helmet-compatible hoods. In many ways, Arc’teryx essentially has created a category: the high performance yet lightweight rain jacket for hiking.
The Arc'teryx Zeta LT is about twice the price of a typical hiking shell, but it’s hard to realistically compare the Zeta to those jackets. It’s simply superior, with less weight, a more comfortable fit, and better wet weather performance. If you can fork over the $400, it’s the top overall hiking shell on the market.