With a trip to the Italian Dolomites coming up, what better place to test the Arc’teryx Zeta AR jacket? We used the jacket on cold, windy days as well as when we were stuck hiking in rain, and came away impressed.
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Arc'Teryx Zeta AR - The Verdict
Crossing the rock face, hanging onto the steel cables of the famed Kaiser Jager route in the Italian Dolomites, our gear tester heard a man yell out from in front of her, “Che Bella”! She soon realized that rugged Italian man wasn’t talking about her, he was talking about her new Zeta AR shell, in our view, the best Arc’Teryx jacket.
The Zeta AR is a great all-around jacket. Long enough to cover the bum for ski touring, but strong enough to take it out for a trip backpacking in the rain. We can’t wait to test it out (and the waist cinch) this winter for three months of ski touring in the Canadian Rockies.
The Zeta AR is Arc’teryx’s All Round (AR) hiking shell (Zeta), designed for day-in, day-out use by people who like to get out regardless of the weather forecast. Although it’s designed for hiking, we are eager to put it to the test this winter, as it has all the characteristics we look for in a year-round shell.
When to use Arc'Teryx Zeta AR Jacket
While this is designed as a hiking/trekking coat, we think it will work well as a coat for ski-touring as well. For extreme weather you’ll probably want a shell that’s a bit more robust, like the Beta AR.
Versatility. This is a year-round coat. The fit allows it to be great for winter adventures, and the weight makes it suitable for hiking and backpacking the rest of the year.
Pit Zips. Why are companies getting rid of these? We couldn’t imagine hiking without them.
Materials. We love the backer technology that means it doesn’t feel horrid to have bare arms in the jacket. The Gore-Tex C-knit is a revolution, and means it’s quiet and not crinkly like other Gore-Tex coats. For some reason, it’s just really nice to wear this coat.
It just works. Everything makes sense with this coat. The fit is right, the materials are right, the pockets work with or without a pack.
Cons of Arc'Teryx Zeta AR Jacket
Expensive. OK, all Arc’teryx gear is expensive, but when you consider the warranty and durability of the product, Arc’teryx starts becoming very good value.
Colours. It seems that the colours for the Zeta are more muted. We’d love to see this in a great red for women, or a vibrant blue for men.
Front pocket zips. This one is minor, but the zips go the opposite way (down instead of up). This is not a big thing, but for the first couple of days this was a minor annoyance.
Arc’teryx has been exclusively using Gore-Tex for all of their waterproof breathable shell jackets for as long as anyone can remember. This long-lasting partnership has allowed Arc’teryx to refine their construction with one of the most reliable membranes on the market. While other companies are experimenting with new technologies, Arc’teryx has remained steadfast using solely Gore membranes.
Perhaps it is because they like working with the same technology year after year, allowing them time to perfect the design and fit instead of learning how best to design with a new material. It could also be because Gore-Tex works, and with their design headquarters located in Vancouver BC, right beside the Coast Mountains, they know the gear has to be able to handle an unbelievable amount of yearly precipitation.
Thus, for Arc’teryx to construct an “all around hiking shell” for use in their backyard mountains, it must be extremely waterproof and windproof, and also extremely reliable; characteristics Gore-Tex is well known for.
This Arc’teryx shell uses Gore’s C-Knit construction, which reduces the crinkly feeling that most shells have, and makes it feel nicer on the skin. Indeed, we’ve had no problems hiking for a prolonged period with only a t-shirt underneath, something unfathomable with a traditional Gore-Tex coat.
We also appreciated the quiet calm walking in the rain without too much rustling. We especially appreciate the C-Knit backer when taking the coat off after a long day, as the inevitable small amount of condensation from our sweat that clings to the inside of a typical Gore-Tex coat just wasn’t there, and did not inhibit the removal of the jacket.
Something less tangible is the feel of the jacket. As with essentially all Arc’teryx products we’ve tested, the time and dedication taken by the designs is evident just by putting on the jacket. The seams are meticulously placed to avoid rubbing, the stitching is precise, the fit is perfectly dialled, and the quality of materials is extremely high.
Everything just works as it should; these jackets were designed and made with the precision of a military strike, making the Zeta AR one of the best Arc’Teryx jackets.
Design and Fit
Like most Arc’teryx products, the Zeta fit like a glove. We found it to be a bit looser than typical Arc’teryx jackets, however we will appreciate the extra space in winter, when we pop an Atom LT and a Rho while out ski touring.
The cut is long through the torso, extending to the upper thigh. This obviously increases the area of protection, but also allows you to wear more layers underneath.
Being such a versatile shell, we can see how well the Zeta AR will work not just in a rainstorm in autumn, but also as a shell for adventures in the winter.
The jacket features two large pockets on the front, sealed by WaterTight zippers. We enjoyed using these cavernous pockets to stash a toque for rapid layer changes, a bar for fuel or even a large map! When carrying a backpack with a waist belt, the pockets remain completely accessible as the zippers are situated relatively high on the torso.
Call us old school but we also got great use out of the pit zips, featured under each armpit. Many new jackets (including some of Arc’teryx’s others) are ditching pit zips to save weight, improve fit or simply because they don’t need them. However, we couldn’t imagine a coat without pit zips, and really appreciated opening these massive pit zips for warm starts in a valley bottom, when we were hiking in late-summer storms or simply when we didn’t want to stop to take off a layer.
The large hood has ample adjustment and does an admirable job for sealing out the weather. We still prefer the unrestricted space that accompanies wearing a wide-brim Gore-Tex hat on super rainy days, but when the winds picked up, the safety allowed by the hood is well appreciated. Additionally, the robust wrist straps blocked out wind and rain from saturating our forearms.
This particular jacket has the hood connected fully to the collar, instead of having a separate collar and hood. Choosing between the two is a personal preference, but for those with puffy jackets that have hoods, being able to nest the hoods within each other neatly is an understated nicety.
With all these features we are impressed at the relatively light 425/390 g (men/women) weight. It is certainly not the lightest jacket, but when the rain is really coming down all the features listed above are godsends. Sure, you could get a thin, delicate, less breathable shell and save a hundred grams, but we think having the large pit zips, robust construction and great adjustment that come with this Arc’Teryx shell is worth it.
Arc'Teryx Zeta AR - The Verdict
In the last year we’ve taken hard shells to Nepal, India, the Rockies, the Sierras, but we have not in the Alps and Dolomites. There is value in being prepared, and a confidence in venturing out knowing your gear won’t let you down if the weather turns ugly. For these long days in rugged mountains, the Zeta AR ticks all the boxes: it is extremely waterproof, breathes well, has pit zips for extreme over-heaters, boasts large pockets, offers a comfortable fit, and it is reasonably light.
The added bonus is that this jacket is versatile enough to be used when skiing, climbing, and hiking. A quality shell is a staple for every hiker’s gear collection, and we think that the Arc'Teryx Zeta AR should be at the top of your list.