The North Face Denali 2 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 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.
With the Denali 2 keeping him warm, our tester reflects on another awesome day of skiing in the Sierra backcountry. This contender earns a high score for warmth.
This jacket is by far the warmest fleece in this year's selection, a 10 out of 10. It's 333 g/m2 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.
On our slim, 5'9" tester, this jacket felt bulky in the shoulders and too long in the arms.
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.
With two cinch cords, you can make the hem on this jacket very tight, keeping the heat in. Unfortunately, it rides up uncomfortably when pulled tight.
The thickest fleece is in this year's lineup is also the least breathable. This jacket is designed to get the most warmth you can get out a traditional fleece jacket, making no concessions for breathability. Gone are the pit zips from the old Denali Jacket, which isn't a big 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 sitting on the chairlift, but don't try to run or do any steep hiking in this jacket, our testers who tried found themselves a sweaty mess in no time.
The thick, plush cuffs on this jacket keep the sleeves in place, but they are loose enough to pull up above your elbows. Big plastic zipper pulls are easy to manipulate with gloved hands.
Attributes that make this jacket 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.
This Jacket resisted rain and wind better than any other model in this year's review. Look closely and you can see that light precip isn't absorbed due to the DWR finish.
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 durable water repellent finish. 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.
Nylon patches over the chest, shoulders, and elbows of The North Face Denali make it even more durable and weather resistant.
This is not the jacket you want to lug around the backcountry or haul into the alpine. Weighing in at 24.7 ounces, it's the heaviest fleece in the review, but if you plan on using your fleece for shorter day hikes, car camping, or staying toasty around town, than the weight of this jacket won't be an issue.
Our lead tester stays warm on date night while scarfing down a massive helping of frozen yogurt. The Denali 2 has a classic style, loved by many.
Love it or hate it, this jacket has, a classic look that has remained popular for years. Those drawn to the style of this fleece have a plethora of color combinations to choose from.
The price of this iconic jacket seems fair to us. 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.
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 year's 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, but if you're interested in purchasing this jacket because you like the style, you'll also be taking home a fleece that specializes in keeping you toasty.