The North Face Denali 2 Hoodie Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, blocky cut
Manufacturer: The North Face
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The North Face Denali 2 Hoodie comes with a lot of different features to please. Just about anyone looking for a warm fleece for non-technical use will appreciate this toasty jacket. 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, another couple of chest pockets, a hem cinch that is tensioned from inside the handwarmer pockets, and elastic-bound sweatshirt style cuffs to help trap in body heat. It also sports two-ply nylon reinforced shoulders, chest, hood, and elbows to help reduce abrasions and extend the life of the jacket.
This fleece is toasty warm. The 300 weight Polartec fleece is about as thick and warm as it gets. Even though thick, its a "standard" fleece, with no breathable grid patterns or stretchy side panels. Snug cuffs and a cinch-able hem keep the heat from escaping, and the hood, with its "Kenny from Southpark" brim perimeter cinch, goes the extra mile to help lock in the warmth when it's really cold. For active pursuits or anytime its not downright cold, this jacket tends to be a bit too much.
The Denali 2 Hoodie is comfortable for hanging out by the campfire 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 of a backpack, and the hem cinch, though a welcome feature, 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.
Being one of the thickest fleece' is in this year's lineup is also one of the least breathable. This jacket is designed to get the most warmth possible out of 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 aluminum bleachers of a cold football game, 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 don't tend to work well for layering. The bulky material tends to bunch up in the sleeves, noticeably restricting movement when under a puffy jacket or 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. This jacket is sized big, and our testers had no problem fitting a base layer or a sweater underneath.
While this jacket won't layer well under most jackets, it is, however, zip compatible with some TNF jackets. For that application, they layer well but are best used for seriously cold, non-active days.
The Denali 2 stands up to wind and rain just about better than any other fleece in this year's review. While it will eventually get saturated in heavy rain, light rain beads up well on the fleece and nylon portions and is easily shaken off. The nylon panels help keep wind out, and 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 in the backcountry or haul into the alpine. Weighing in at 27.1 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.
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 visible damage after a few months of climbing and scrambling around. In a nod to environmental stewardship and sustainability, each Denali 2 Hoodie is constructed with at least 50% recycled content.
The North Face Denali 2 delivers an iconic look while keeping the wind off your back. It's one of the more weather-resistant fleeces in this year's review, but due to its lack of breathability and weight, we don't recommend it for endurance activities. It doesn't score well in layering ability because of its 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.
— Adam Paashaus & Matt Bento