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The North Face Denali Jacket Review


Fleece Jacket

Price:   Varies from $107 - $179 online  —  Compare at 4 sellers
Pros:  Pit vents, warm, hem drawstring, lots of pockets.
Cons:  Heavy, bulky, bunches up, blocky cut.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   The North Face

Overview

The North Face Denali Jacket has been around since as long as we can remember. It also hasn't changed much since it was first released. This heavyweight fleece is warm and durable, but not the best option for being active in. Think more along the lines of hanging around camp at night or under a shell for really cold days, rather than something aerobic like hiking or snowshoeing. It looks quite stylish and can be customized to many different fleece/nylon color combinations, but for more technical pursuits, check out our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia R3 Hoody, or our Top Pick for Breathability, the Patagonia R1 Hoody.

New Version Available
The North Face has released the updated Denali 2 Jacket. We noticed some distinct cosmetic changes but are waiting on confirmation from the manufacturer about the updates.

RELATED: Our complete review of fleece jackets - men's

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Kenny Barker
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Monday
November 21, 2016
The North Face Denali Jacket comes with a lot of different features to please just about anyone looking for a warm fleece. It is constructed with Polartec 300 Series fleece with "Repreve" fibers (fleece derived from recycled soda bottles) and is made with 85% recycled materials. This jacket has two hand warmer pockets along with two chest pockets, and a zip cord hem and elastic-bound cuffs to trap in body heat. It also sports two-ply nylon reinforced shoulders and elbows to help reduce abrasions and extend the life of the jacket. For an extra $50, you can order a customizable one from TNF. There are currently 10 stock color options, and the jacket weighs 25.7 ounces. In support of the "Denali" jacket, TNF makes an annual donation to the Denali Rescue Volunteers, an organization which provides support to the National Park Rangers on Denali to help keep climbers safe and assist them if they need a rescue.

Performance Comparison


Heading out for dinner on a cold night. This jacket has a stylish  around-town look to it  and kept our testers quite warm  but it is not well-suited to more technical outdoor pursuits.
Heading out for dinner on a cold night. This jacket has a stylish, around-town look to it, and kept our testers quite warm, but it is not well-suited to more technical outdoor pursuits.

Warmth


This is by far and away the warmest fleece we tested this year. If you are not concerned with carrying a heavier jacket, then it's a great layer to bring along during the coldest parts of the year while hiking or rock climbing. The elastic cuffs and drawstring hem are great features that ward off the cool air and trap in the heat. If you are looking for an extremely warm, thick, and heavy jacket, look no further.

The elastic drawstring hem is great for keeping the frigid air out. It can also be loosened to allow cooler air to enter when needed.
The elastic drawstring hem is great for keeping the frigid air out. It can also be loosened to allow cooler air to enter when needed.

Comfort


The North Face Denali Jacket is comfortable to wear as an outer layer around town or sitting around a campfire. However, our testers found that this fleece doesn't work well for all body types during most activities involving movement. When we used it to hike, climb, or do anything active, the comfort level dropped dramatically. It is bulky and wide and does not fit smoothly under a backpack while heading to the cliff. It doesn't pair well with a climbing harness either for the same reason. The cinch cord hem is nice when it is really cold out, but it is also annoying because it rides up in the back when it is engaged. This jacket is better suited for someone with a shorter torso. Our taller testers found their backsides were exposed when bending over in this model due to its shorter length.

The boxy design is great for lounging  but not so good for wearing under a pack or harness.
The boxy design is great for lounging, but not so good for wearing under a pack or harness.

Breathability


This fleece is warm, but the thick 300 weight material is not very breathable. This jacket has pit-zipper vents so that you can try to control the airflow in and out a little better, and that does help quite a bit, but the abrasion-reinforced shoulders and elbows negate that advantage as they impeded airflow and breathability as well. Our Best Buy winner, the Marmot Reactor, is made with 100 weight fleece, and while not as warm as this model it is much more breathable. So is our Top Pick for Breathability, the Patagonia R1 Hoody, as well as the Patagonia R2 Jacket, and the Mountain Hardwear Monkey Man 200 Jacket.

The Denali is the only one we tested that featured pit zippers for added breathability. Unfortunately  even the vents can't do much to overcome the inability of the heavy fleece material to breathe.
The Denali is the only one we tested that featured pit zippers for added breathability. Unfortunately, even the vents can't do much to overcome the inability of the heavy fleece material to breathe.

Layering Ability


TNF has an entire line of layerable items in their production. The North Face Denali Jacket is part of their layering system and incorporates a zip-in compatible zipper for layering ease. It also has cuff snaps to keep the jacket in place when layering with one of their compatible outer shells. If layered with a thin outer shell, this fleece jacket is guaranteed to keep you warn during a strong wind or rain storm. Due to its square cut and bulky size though, our testers felt it was not best to use it with a thicker or insulated outer layer. On the other hand, we had no trouble layering underneath it we could wear each of the other fleeces we tested, (and sometimes two of them!), under this one.

Ease of Movement


Due to the square cut of The North Face Denali Jacket, it did not receive a high score for this category. The jacket was a bit tight and restrictive in the shoulders and upper arms for most of our testers, and loose and baggy down around the hem. The hem rode up on our testers backsides during any kind of movement, and overall this jacket is just not well suited to being active in.

TNF has a line of jackets and layers which zip to one another. The elastic cuffs host a button which attaches to an outer layer for easier on and off abilities. The only downside to this is that it only works with TNF system  so if you don't have one of their shells you're left with these snaps that don't do anything.
TNF has a line of jackets and layers which zip to one another. The elastic cuffs host a button which attaches to an outer layer for easier on and off abilities. The only downside to this is that it only works with TNF system, so if you don't have one of their shells you're left with these snaps that don't do anything.

Wind Protection & Water Resistance


This was the thickest, heaviest jacket we tested and it excels at keeping the wind at bay. As far as the rain, it soaks it in but it does takes some time for the water penetrate through to your skin. If you were stuck in a downpour for a long period of time, you'd be left with an extremely heavy jacket that takes a long time to dry out.

The nylon overlay and heavy fleece on this jacket resist wind and water well  but once the material is saturated it becomes even heavier than it already is.
The nylon overlay and heavy fleece on this jacket resist wind and water well, but once the material is saturated it becomes even heavier than it already is.

Weight


If you are looking for a lightweight mid-layer, then you should check out any of the other fleeces we tested in this review. This heavyweight fleece weighs 25.7 ounces, and is twice as heavy as the Patagonia R1 Hoody or Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. This is not the best fleece for carrying miles into the backcountry when you are trying to travel light, but it is a great layer to throw in the trunk when car camping, where weight is not an issue.

This jacket features two chest pockets - you never know when you're gonna need the extra storage.
This jacket features two chest pockets - you never know when you're gonna need the extra storage.

Best Applications


Due to its boxy cut and thickness, this stylish fleece is best used around town or camp. It's also useful for days out in the boulders or a shorter approach crag. High heart rate activities are not the best option for this fleece.

Value


If you are looking for a thick and warm fleece for a low activity level pursuit, then the $180 price tag might not seem like too much. It'll also last a long time thanks to the abrasion patches in high wear areas like the elbows and shoulders. However, its versatility is limited, and for $20 more you can get our Editors' Choice winner, the Patagonia R3 Hoody, which is almost as warm but can be used for many more applications.

Conclusion


The North Face Denali Jacket was the warmest and thickest fleece we tested. The best thing about this fleece is how stylish/fashionable it is, and we even were complemented while wearing it to an outdoor mall one day. It isn't the most breathable for high octane activities, which make this fleece better suited for leisurely activities. The heaviness of this jacket also doesn't make it the best option for backcountry hikes or alpine climbs. While you could argue that everyone should own at least one of these iconic fleeces in their lifetime, you should check out the other fleeces reviewed here if you are looking for something lighter and better suited for outdoor enthusiasts.

Other Versions


The North Face Denali Jacket - Women's
  • Cost - $180
  • The women's version of this jacket

Denali Hoodie - Men's
  • Cost - $200
  • Hooded version of this jacket
Kenny Barker

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: November 21, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 0%  (0)
3 star: 100%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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Helpful Buying Tips
Which one will fit you and your needs best? We tested eight different models to help you find the best one.
 How To Choose The Best Fleece Jacket

by Kenny Barker & Eric Schnepel


Unbiased.