Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $89 - $179 | Compare prices at 5 resellers
Pros: Good thick fabric, pit zips, one of the warmest fleeces tested, recycled material, extra layer of nylon in high-wear areas
Cons: Blocky cut, standard color scheme, felt too oversized, thin wrist elastic seems a bit fragile, chest pockets look cluttered
Best Uses: Colder weather than the others, backpacking, photography, moderate to low exertion endurance events
Manufacturer: The North Face
A burly, thick fleece for colder conditions, The North Face Denali Jacket has remained a staple for many years. Made of Polartec recycled fleece, it has a smaller footprint than some others without sacrificing performance. A good fit for stockier bodies, it has plenty of room and won't feel restrictive to most. It's on the upper end of the price range, and the lower end of our scoring metrics, but if you need a warm jacket that can work as a stand alone layer or under a looser outer layer, this is a good option.
With nothing crazy or super-trick about it, you will probably find it does a lot of things well, unobtrusively. The Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 has a slimmer fit and better feel for about the same price. Patagonia's lighter weight R2 does the trick if you're working harder or want to layer under a shell without roasting, and costs around $10 less.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Denali is one of the most classic fleece jacket designs out there. It has been around forever and still performs well today, either on its own or with other layers. In 2009 it was revamped and is now made of 100 percent recycled material. It hits that nice balance of being warm, but not too bulky so that you can still wear it under a shell jacket. There are four pockets in which to stash stuff and it comes in many different colors and sizes. Both the shoulders and elbows are reinforced, which is part of the reason this fleece will last forever. I have had one for 16 years and it is still going strong. The downside to the abrasion resistance is that this jacket is a little heavy and does not breathe well. It is less for high heart rate activities like running and more for hiking, climbing or camping. At $179 it is not cheap, but its durability and warmth mean that it should last most people for a decade (make sure you choose a color that you will like for decade). This is not the best active fleece (it does not breathe well). If you want one of the best active fleece jackets, check out the Patagonia R2 Jacket.
The North Face Denali fleece feels plenty burly and warm it's the kind of thing you can grab heading out the door and be ready for any temps above zero. The pit zips help keep you cool when you're working harder or the temps rise. This was one of the warmest of all the fleeces - you might just overheat if you wear it indoors. Recycled material gains a few eco-props and feels better than paying top dollar for polyester from China. An extra layer of nylon in high wear areas points to greater durability, and with the economy flat-lined it's good to get stuff that will last.
This thing has a straight and square and blocky cut (which could actually be a good thing if you're broader across the middle); overall, it's not super flattering. It's also bulky and hard to move in; as mentioned above, it is not suitable for mountain functionality. It also felt oversized too. For an otherwise well-constructed jacket, the wrist elastic looked like the kind that blows out after a year or two. The chest pocket zips are perpendicular, looking unbalanced and cluttered.
Ideally this would be a second fleece for when temps are low or you'll be holding still in the cool (wildlife photography, star gazing, etc.). With its classic look, it's also great for cool evenings at your favorite outdoor patio.
This jacket runs more than the more technical and cozy pieces we tested. For about $30 less, you could purchase our Best Buy award winner, the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200, which is cozier, more flattering, and warmer.
The North Face Denali - Women's is the women's version of this jacket. This jacket is also available for both men and women, with a hood: the North Face Denali Hoodie - Men's and the North Face Denali Hoodie - Women's.
— Kevin Swift
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 23, 2014
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