The North Face Denali 2 is an updated version of the classic North Face fleece jacket, first debuted all the way back in 1988. Its fans are legion 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 better than any other jacket in this year's review.
The North Face Denali 2 Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, bunches up, blocky cut
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Matt Bento