My first hike after moving to the Pacific Northwest took me on a 7-mile haul to one of the best views of Seattle, if the day is clear. Unfortunately for me, it rained the entire time, and my three-year-old rain jacket that I previously considered “good enough” just didn’t hold up. By the time I reached the top, I was soaked, cold and cursing my supposedly rain-proof layer. I was still grumbling about the weather when a woman in a high-quality rain jacket strolled past, smiling, waving and looking dry from the comfort of her gear. I was reminded, begrudgingly, of the adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”
Although it might seem hard to justify investing in gear that you’ll only use in inclement weather, a good shell jacket can last you years—and Arc’teryx GORE-TEX® shell jackets are meant to excel on bad weather days. Even if you’re already sold on giving the brand a try, choosing the right Arc’teryx jacket can be daunting. To help, we’re going to break down the difference between their multisport and hiking lines: the Beta and Zeta jackets.
The Beta series consists of versatile multisport shells, built to excel in a wide variety of conditions. Helmet-compatible hoods and durable GORE-TEX laminates are some of the key features in the Beta line, making them ideal for alpine hiking, mountaineering and skiing. The Zeta series, designed specifically with hikers in mind, keeps some of the same technical specs but cuts down on heavier features deemed unnecessary for trekking. These jackets are comfortable, packable and a great choice for tossing into your bag when the weather is unpredictable.
Before we dive in, here’s a quick breakdown of how Arc’teryx names its apparel.
Beta Series: Mountain Multi-Use
Zeta Series: Hiking and Trekking
AR: All Round. High-performance weather protection and materials, emphasizing versatility for multiple activities.
SL: Superlight. Superlight materials and design, emphasizing light weight and packability over durability.
FL: Fast and Light. Minimalist, high performance and lightweight for rapid travel in variable conditions.
There are many other series and styles of Arc’teryx jackets and apparel, but we’re going to stick to these four for now:
Beta AR Jacket
Type of Waterproofing: 3-layer GORE-TEX Pro waterproof breathable laminate
Weight: 13.2 oz. (women’s); 1 lb. (men’s)
Acr’teryx designed the Beta series for a wide variety of outdoor activities. The AR stands for “All Round” usage—meaning this jacket is good for, well, pretty much everything. The Beta AR combines GORE-TEX Pro—a three-layer waterproof material and the most durable in the GORE-TEX line—with 80-denier nylon through the shoulders and areas of high wear. This selective reinforcement helps add durability to the Beta AR without adding too much weight.
Pull the Beta AR on over your puffy, and appreciate the roomy cut designed for easy layering. Tug the hood over your helmet, and you’ll see how the Arc’teryx helmet-compatible DropHood design make this a good choice for downhill or backcountry skiing and mountaineering.
The two large hand pockets on the Beta AR sit slightly higher so they won’t interfere with the hipbelt on your pack, and seal with Arc’teryx’s signature WaterTight zippers. These water-resistant pockets, plus an interior zippered security pocket, give you plenty of options for carrying your multi-tool, GPS or other essentials. The Beta AR also comes equipped with underarm zippers to give those pits some fresh air when things get heated. Of the four jackets we’re comparing, you get the most durability and greatest number of features in the Beta AR, and this comes at a higher cost and weight.
Beta SL Hybrid Jacket
Type of Waterproofing: GORE-TEX PACLITE® Plus with 3-layer GORE-TEX high-wear areas
Weight: 10.6 oz. (women’s); 12.3 oz. (men’s)
The Beta SL Hybrid combines two types of GORE-TEX to create a jacket that cuts down on weight without sacrificing waterproofing. Arc’teryx constructed the main body of the jacket from GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus, which is more compact than standard GORE-TEX. For areas that undergo extensive wear, like the top and back of the shoulders, they used a more durable GORE-TEX laminate. Essentially: durability where you need it, packability where you want it.
As with the Beta AR, the SL Hybrid has pit zips for ventilation, two WaterTight zipper pockets, an adjustable drawcord for tuning the fit and a helmet-compatible hood. However, you won’t find an interior pocket in the Beta SL Hybrid; nor will you get the added durability of GORE-TEX Pro. That’s traded for packability, allowing you to stuff this rain shell into a full pack. We love the Beta SL Hybrid for extended backpacking trips or technical climbs.
Zeta SL Jacket
Type of Waterproofing: 2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus
Weight: 9.5 oz. (women’s); 10.9 oz. (men’s)
If you’re most likely to reach for a rain jacket while out hiking, the Beta line may have too many added features. Instead, consider the hiking-specific Zeta jackets. The Zeta SL, designed as an emergency shell, feels more like a lightweight layer than a rain jacket, but don’t let that fool you—this jacket uses GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus to keep you dry and comfortable. Tossing a jacket like the Zeta SL into your pack will keep you from ever being caught unprepared again.
This super-light jacket sports a slim cut, adjustable cuffs and a single drawcord hem to keep out water. The Zeta SL is ultra-breathable; so much so, in fact, that Arc’teryx eliminated pit zips to cut out some bulk. It also packs down to be about the size of a Nalgene. How’s that for super light?
Zeta FL Jacket
Type of Waterproofing: GORE-TEX Paclite Plus
Weight: 6.9 oz. (women’s); 7.8 oz. (men’s)
Moving from the Zeta SL to the Zeta FL, you’ll see fewer features—cutting out more than 3 ounces of weight. For example, where the Zeta SL has a drawcord hem and velcro cuffs, the Zeta FL uses an elasticized trim to keep the cuffs and hem snug.
The slim fit of the FL jacket, designed as an emergency shell, is perfect for hikes where you need a little added protection from unpredictable rain or wind, but it won’t do well if you need to layer over heavy jackets. The unlined waterproof design boasts remarkable breathability, so Arc’teryx has again left out the armpit vents.
Added bonus: This jacket gets our stamp of approval on bare skin as the interior is not as sticky or loud as some waterproof materials, making it ideal for summer storms or sweaty arms.
Ideal for: No-frills, lightweight protection from the elements while hiking
No matter the conditions, it’s always good to keep a sturdy, reliable shell in your gear arsenal. So whether you opt for the Beta series, the Zeta series or something entirely different, feel confident in deciding to go with a brand that thrives in bad weather. Once you get that out of the way, it’s time to get on to more important decisions—like planning your next adventure.