Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $99 - $179 | Compare prices at 9 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.
A burly, thick fleece for colder conditions, The North Face Denali Jacket offers good value and reinforced construction. Made of Polartec recycled fleece material, 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.
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 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 $15 less. The Ortovox is sized slimmer and made of more natural materials, with a significantly higher price tag.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
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 the warmest of all the fleeces, so much so that I overheated in a bike store just standing around yapping about carbon fiber. 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 is cut like a garden shed: straight and square and blocky (which could actually be a good thing if you're broader across the middle) and not super flattering. It's also bulky and hard to move in, restricting some mountain functionality. The blocky color scheme is more of the same ol' same ol', as fresh as a KFC franchise. It felt oversized too, which is weird given that the supposed target market is outdoors types. Maybe this is some of the "size creep" that fashion magazines talk about where size medium today was size large 20 years ago so people who've gotten bigger won't feel bad? 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.). Then you'd come into town and look hardcore with your black on color statement of wilderness readiness while relaxing on the cafe patio that others have vacated for warmer climes.
There's a crazy awesome overlook about a 20-minute bike ride from my house that faces the coast and has million dollar views for free. The first ten minutes are a dusty uphill grind, the next ten a fast downhill into a rolling single-track. Then you sit down, crack open the flask and wait for the magic light to hit. At 50 degrees, with both pit zips and the front open, it was still hot. Then, buttoned up on the fast section and kicked back at the overlook, it was perfect. Plus, the two side pockets will fit a beer each for poaching the movies. Or so I've heard.
Top dollar gets you solid gear and a good warranty. If your metabolism runs cold and you want a single fleece, get it now. If you're getting a second jacket for cold temps, find one on sale.
Chris Mac's 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. If I could only own one fleece, it would be this or something with a very similar design. 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 nine different colors and five 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 $165 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 - Men's.
North Face Denali - Women's
— Kevin Swift
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 5, 2013
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