Just in time for the 2019 hiking season, Arc’teryx has introduced two new ultralight shells to their already strong line of rain gear. For those in need of a lightweight and packable jacket that will keep you dry and moving through nasty conditions, the new Zeta FL (available in both men’s & women’s) is an excellent choice and makes our list of the Best Backpacking Rain Jackets.
Weight: 7.2 oz (Men’s) / 6.2 oz (Women’s)
Material: 2-layer N20r Gore-Tex Paclite Plus
Features: Sealed waterproof zippers, adjustable hood, non-adjustable elastic wrist and hem bands
The 2-layer Zeta FL is made with Gore-Tex’s new Paclite-Plus waterproof membrane, adhered to a super thin and lightweight 20 denier nylon face fabric. Though sacrificing thicker, more durable materials and a liner layer to shave every possible ounce, this jacket still feels great against the skin, almost like a waterproof windbreaker. Because it’s so minimal, the FL compresses down into a remarkably small size.
The no-frills design of the Zeta FL abandons conventions of many other rain shells, forgoing drawstring hem adjustments and velcro adjustable cuffs. Though more simple, this clean design still works well for most builds. Also, the two convenient front pockets have top-down waterproof zippers and are high enough to accommodate backpack hip belts and climbing harnesses.
There’s always going to be a trade-off between weight and durability with ultralight gear, and this jacket is no different in that regard. While Arc’teryx does have one of the best warranties in the business, it sadly doesn’t cover wear and tear, so this jacket probably isn’t for those who tend to be really tough on their gear. Backpackers looking for more of a balance between durability and weight might want to check out the Zeta SL (men’s & women’s), the FL’s more durable cousin. But for us, we lean towards the weight savings and packability of the FL.
Like all rain shells, the Zeta’s breathability will diminish with time and use. In addition, the lack of a lining layer separating skin from waterproof membrane will require more regular washings with Tech-Wash to flush out oil and sweat from the Gore-Tex. That said, washing rain gear is far easier than most think. Here’s our quick guide on how to wash your rain gear.
What we like
Weight & Packability - this is the lightest, most packable jacket that Arc’teryx makes, and while there are slightly lighter rain shells out there (by an ounce or two), very few can compete with the quality and comfort of the FL.
Design & Fit - The trim cut of the Zeta FL is extremely comfortable without being suffocating. It has a thoughtfully minimalist design, including only the features you need to keep you dry and moving forward on the trail.
Front Pockets - Most jackets in this weight class cut out pockets to save every ounce. But front pockets are very useful on the trail, and we prefer jacket that include them, so this is a big plus in our books.
Materials - As with all Arc’teryx products, this jacket uses only top of the line materials and construction techniques.
Warranty - Arc’teryx covers all of their jackets for the lifetime of the product (excluding wear and tear). We’ve had excellent experiences with their customer service over the years and they really seem to stand by their products.
What we don’t like
Durability - The 2-layer construction and thin exterior nylon of the Zeta FL make it less durable than thicker mountaineering rain shells. For us, we think this tradeoff is well worth it for the ultralight packability, and we still expect this jacket to cover many years and thousands of trail miles. But if you’re tough on gear or highly value durability in your rain shells, check out the Zeta SL (men’s & women’s), which will take more of a beating.
Breathability - To us, the word “breathable” tends to be highly misleading when it comes to rain shells. That said, hikers will still want to monitor their activity level and keep perspiration to a minimum while wearing the FL (and any other rain shell). Also, the FL may require washing a bit more often than a typical 3-layer shell.
Cost - Some hikers will find the $325 MSRP on this jacket too high for their budget. For those looking for an ultralight, top-of-the-line shell with an excellent fit and feel, the Zeta FL might still be an excellent choice.
No Cuff & Hem Adjustments - While it’s not the biggest deal in the world, we generally prefer jackets with simple cuff and hem adjustments. This helps us regulate airflow and minimize perspiration on the trail.
The Arc’teryx Zeta FL (men’s & women’s) is an extremely well-made, ultralight rain shell that’s specifically designed for hikers and climbers. If you’re in the market for a highly packable shell made with top-of-the-line materials and a comfortable athletic fit, the Arc’teryx Zeta FL just might be the jacket for you.
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