The Arc'teryx Zeta SL shell pants are some of the most comfortable shell pants we have tested. The pre-articulated, curved knees make them fit like a glove and allow the design to be more trim without feeling restrictive. The side zippers reach up to mid thigh and combined with the front fly closure, make putting them on in a hurry quite easy, even if you're wearing light hiking shoes. The Gore-Tex Paclite Plus is highly abrasion resistant and impressively breathable, as well as reliably waterproof. These pants are much more expensive than similar pants, but if you care for them, they will last, and the versatility/durability combo they offer is well worth it.
Arc'teryx Zeta SL Pant - Women's Review
Cons: Expensive, partial side zippers
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL is a very comfortable, lightweight shell pant with partial side zippers.
Gore-Tex leads the industry in waterproof, breathable fabrics. Arc'teryx utilizes Paclite Plus from Gore-Tex, which is a 2 layer waterproof fabric. This means the waterproof membrane is laminated to an abrasion-resistant outer fabric, and the inner surface is treated to be abrasion-resistant, which eliminates the need for a liner. All of this ensures impressive light weight without sacrificing the waterproofness of the garment.
The Zeta SL inspired absolute confidence in rain and light snow. The Paclite is noticeably lighter than 3 layer Gore-Tex, so we wouldn't say they are ideal for extreme climates, but they certainly offer much more protection from the elements than would be expected for their weight. They have waterproof zippers on the sides, which worked very well in our field testing.
Comfort and Mobility
Arc'teryx has truly mastered the art of movement in stiff plastic clothing. The paneling of the Zeta pants ensures excellent freedom of movement. The gusseted crotch ensures the pants stay in place in a variety of positions, and the knees are pre-articulated, reducing the restricted feeling you get when walking or cycling in most shell pants. These pants stay with you when high-stepping up steep trails, and do not restrict your normal range of motion. They are a more trim fit, so you may feel restricted if you layer them over thicker pants. If you put them on over lightweight hiking pants or leggings, they move like a dream and look like a pair of dress pants.
The side zippers reach up to mid-thigh, which makes putting these pants on over boots much easier. We do love full length side zippers, but these extra-long ones are excellent so long as you're not trying to put the pants on while wearing crampons or skis.
Breathability and Venting
The Zeta SL is made of highly breathable Gore-Tex Paclite material. As a 2 layer waterproof shell, this is among the lightest possible waterproof materials. It feels lighter and thinner, which facilitates breathability. These pants have side zippers which reach to mid-thigh. They are not useful as side vents, however, because the zippers only open from the bottom. The breathability thus relies entirely upon the fabric.
The Zeta SL pants are not the absolute lightest shell pants in this review, but they bring a high level of durability and versatility to an impressively lightweight garment. The 2 layer Paclite is worthy of some rugged mountain pursuits—fast-and-light climbers may find these pants to be very capable on some alpine objectives. However, they are most well suited to trekking and backpacking where you need a durable, reliable, and still impressively lightweight shell pant.
The Zeta SL rolls up into the size of a cycling water bottle, which is impressively small! These compact emergency shell pants are light and compact enough to earn a spot in your ultralight backpacking kit, and still mountain savvy enough to take on your fast-and-light glacier climbs.
One of the stand-out features we appreciate most on the Zeta SL is the stiffened bottom hem fabric on the legs. This really allows you to stretch the limits of these shell pants. For outdoor enthusiasts, it can become troubling to choose the right layer for the activity at hand. If you want optimal performance, you end up with three different types of shell pants; one for skiing, one for hiking, and another for emergency use on your ultralight adventures. The Zeta SL comes impressively close to serving the most needs in a single pair of shell pants—and that hem design helps make it so. While we do not recommend buying these pants for the purpose of mountaineering, if you take them on a trip to try it out for the first time, they will likely be adequate, and that stiffer fabric at the hem of the lower leg will help prevent you from catching your crampons on the pants.
If climbing is not your thing, that stiffened lower leg fabric provides reliable coverage around your boot cuffs. The side zippers open the pants all the way to mid-thigh, making it exceptionally easy to get these pants on over shoes and light boots. Additionally, the traditional fly closure and elastic waist make enough room to get these pants on in a hurry. These are an excellent emergency shell pant for a variety of outdoor uses.
The side zippers are waterproof instead of having a storm flap over a regular zipper. We like these waterproof zippers a lot as they eliminate extra material (and therefore weight), and make the pants feel more svelte and streamlined.
Arc'teryx shell materials are among the most durable we have tested, especially if well cared for. The Gore-Tex membrane is laminated onto an abrasion-resistant face fabric, and the stiffness of the material ensures the pants are not as susceptible to snagging, even when bushwhacking or hiking through rugged trails. The rest of the features keep pace with excellent waterproof zippers that were smooth to operate—one concern with these types of zippers is when they feel sticky or gummy, that often means they wear out sooner.
The Zeta SL is a bit of an investment compared to other shell pants. Given the thoughtful design, reliability, lightweight and durability, we think these are well worth the price if you know you need a good pair of shell pants. The versatility of the Zeta is impressive.
The Arc'teryx Zeta SL shell pants are impressively lightweight waterproof/breathable pants for a variety of outdoor uses. We were pleased with how much we could challenge these pants in different conditions, even taking them ice climbing (though be sure you put your crampons on after putting the pants on). The Zeta is highly comfortable, offering impressive mobility for a variety of outdoor activities.
— Lyra Pierotti
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