The North Face Denali 2 is an updated version of the classic The North Face fleece, first debuting all the way back in 1988. The Denali has a fan following and you'd be hard-pressed to find an outdoor retailer that doesn't carry it. This fleece is thick, heavy, and reinforced with nylon patches over the chest arms, making it a poor choice when weight is a concern. However, for a short day in the wilderness or running around town on cold winter days, the Denali holds up as a stand-alone jacket against the wind and light rain.Editor's Note: This product was retested and the review was updated on August 26, 2022.
The North Face Denali Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, bunches up, blocky cut
Manufacturer: The North Face
Compare to Similar Products
The North Face Denali
Check Price at REI
$169.00 at REI
Check Price at REI
|$169 List||$179 List|
Check Price at REI
|Pros||Weather resistant, warm, hem drawstring, lots of pockets||Cozy, athletic fit, breathable, lightweight||Breathable, lightweight, inexpensive, comfortable for athletics||Perfect fit for most active uses, ideal weight for many conditions, great hood design||Incredibly soft brushed fleece interior, athletic fit, incredibly comfortable|
|Cons||Heavy, bulky, bunches up, blocky cut||No thumb loops||Average weather resistance||Not as warm for its weight as some high-loft models||No thumb loops|
|Bottom Line||An excellent stand alone fleece for shorter day hikes and staying warm around town on cool, breezy days||Patagonia made the classic R1 warmer and more comfortable with this versatile piece||Highly featured and even higher performing, this cost-effective option provides a hard-to-beat value||A perfect layering piece that regulates body temperature so well you'll leave it on from summit to sleeping bag and everywhere in between||An extremely comfortable and well-built fleece that’s ready to accompany you as far into the mountains|
|Rating Categories||The North Face Denali||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Patagonia R1 Hoody||Arc'teryx Kyanite A...|
|Layering Ability (15%)|
|Weather resistance (10%)|
|Specs||The North Face Denali||Patagonia R1 Air Fu...||Outdoor Research Vi...||Patagonia R1 Hoody||Arc'teryx Kyanite A...|
|Measured Weight||17.1 oz||12.5 oz||13 oz||11.4 oz||15 oz|
|Main Material||Main: 100% polyester
Overlay: 70D nylon
|100% Polyester||94% polyester, 6% spandex||93% polyester, 7% spandex||53% polyester, 38% nylon, 9% elastane|
|# of Pockets||4||3||3||1||2|
|Unique Features||Hem cinchcord, DWR||Slim-fit hood, quick drying||Thumb holes, UPF 30, 3-panel hood with binding||Balaclava hood, odor control, thumb holes||Scuba hood, stretchy fabric|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Denali 2 comes with a variety of different features that are sure 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 handwarmer 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.
This jacket is by far the warmest fleece in this year's selection. The Polartec 300 series fleece is thick, like a heavy blanket. No breathable grid patterns or stretchy side panels here, just thick fleece between you and the cold, reinforced with wind-resistant nylon on the chest and across the back of shoulders. Snug cuffs and a cinchable hem keep the heat in, and the warm collar kept our necks warm like a scarf. No other contenders were on par with the Denali's warmth.
The Denali 2 is comfy when hanging out by the fire, or strolling around on a brisk, winter evening. As soon as we did anything that got our heart rate up, this fleece felt too hot, bulky, and restricting. It is too bulky to fit comfortably under a climbing harness or the waist belt on a backpack, and the hem cinch rides up when pulled tight. Two zippered handwarmer pockets offer a welcome respite for your freezing mitts, and the two chest pockets have plenty of room for snacks, keys, or chapstick. The left chest pocket has a hole for headphones.
The thickest fleece is in this year's lineup, the Denali 2, is also the least breathable. It's designed to provide the warmth you can get from a traditional fleece jacket, and there aren't many concessions for breathability. Gone are the pit zips from the old Denali, which isn't a major problem, as they didn't offer much relief from this furnace of a fleece anyway. The takeaway here is that the Denali 2 is great for stationary activities like belaying or walking to a local coffee shop, but we don't recommend wearing it for steep hiking or running, as our testers who tried found themselves a sweaty mess in no time.
Attributes that make the Denali warm and weather-resistant aren't the best for layering. The bulky material tends to bunch up in the sleeves, noticeably restricting movement when under a puffy jacket or a hardshell. If you want to layer up over this fleece, you'll need to size your shells a bit bigger to accommodate the big shoulders and thick, stiff collar. This jacket is sized big, and our testers had no problem fitting a base layer or a sweater underneath.
The Denali 2 stands up to wind and rain better than any other fleece in this year's review. It's also the only fleece with a non-PFC durable water repellent on the woven overlay for added protection. While it eventually becomes saturated in heavy rain, light rain beads up on the fleece and nylon portions and is easily shaken off. The nylon panels that reinforce the chest, shoulder, and elbows help light winds at bay. On cold, breezy winter days, this was the only fleece we could wear comfortably as a stand-alone jacket without a shell.
This is not the jacket you want to lug around the backcountry or haul into the alpine. Weighing in at 17.1 ounces, it's the heaviest fleece in the review. However, if you plan on using it for shorter day hikes, car camping, or staying toasty around town, the weight of this jacket won't be an issue.
Should You Buy The North Face Denali?
The price of this iconic jacket is reasonable. It's warm and weather-resistant, so on chilly days around town, you could get away with one layer. We didn't do any destructive testing, but in our time with this jacket, we noticed no obvious damage after a few months of climbing and scrambling around. In a nod to environmental stewardship and sustainability, each Denali 2 is constructed with at least 50% recycled content. There are definitely better-functioning jackets and ones at a lesser price but if you like the style, the Denali is a great option.
What Other Fleece Jackets Should You Consider?
The North Face Denali 2 delivers an iconic look while keeping you warm and the wind off your back. It's by far the most weather-resistant fleece in this review. Due to its lack of breathability, we don't recommend it for endurance activities, and it doesn't score well in layering ability because of its stiffness and bulk. Unless you've decided to purchase this classic fleece, higher performing products, like the Patagonia R1 Hoody, Mountain Hardwear Stratus Full Zip, or Outdoor Research Vigor cost less and provide exceptional performance.
— James Lucas and Matt Bento
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