The classic two-toned North Face Denali 2 fleece jacket is recognizable around every campfire in America. While it continues to hold its stake in the market, not much has changed with the technology or style of this item since its original debut. This is both its asset and its downfall. If you are looking for a classic, warm, and durable fleece, look no further. However, there have been great advances in fleece material over the years that the Denali doesn't take much advantage of, other than using recycled fibers in its construction. This warm layer is not very breathable, and the material itself is not as soft as the newer hi-loft fleeces. It also has a boxy cut and doesn't layer well under other jackets or shells. It performs best when worn as an outer layer for chilly days and nights when car camping (so you don't have to haul this heavy jacket anywhere).
Updated Color Options
See the photo above for one of the current colorways for the Denali 2.
Our Analysis and Test Results
Polartec 300 Series fleece uses "Repreve" fibers, which come from recycled soda bottles. There are two hand pockets and one chest pocket, and the shoulders and elbows are reinforced with a nylon overlay. It also has a cinch cord hem, and it usually comes in multiple color combinations. For an extra $50, TNF sells customizable ones where you can decide everything from the color of the zipper pulls and logo to even a custom label. TNF also makes a donation to the Denali Rescue Volunteers organization, which supports the Denali National Park Rangers and the hundreds of climbers that attempt to climb Denali every year.
The Denali 2 Jacket is hands down the warmest layer that we tested. It's made with 300 weight fleece, and even without a hood, it kept us toasty warm in cold conditions. The cinch cord hem and elastic cuffs help seal in even more heat, and if you are looking for a warm outer fleece layer for around town or camping, then you won't get cold in this jacket.
This jacket is not as comfortable and cozy as some of the newer styles of fleeces out there. While the fleece material is soft, it's not nearly as plush as the hi-loft silken raschel fleeces that we tested. Also, the boxy cut of the jacket makes it less comfortable for lounging around the house in — this is more of an "outerwear" fleece rather than a snuggling-up-by-the-fire model.
The warmth that this jacket brings to the table removes any chance of it being breathable. The thick fleece acts as a sweat retainer, and we got that awful feeling of having our sweat bead up on the inside of the fleece and then roll down our backs and arms when hiking hard in this jacket. This is the jacket you want to put on after your hike, not during.
Layering Ability & Ease of Movement
The Denali 2 is not the easiest to layer with nor did it have good ease of movement. While it is roomy enough to accommodate any of the other fleeces that we tested underneath it, it is not possible to layer it under a shell or wind layer without feeling constricted. Most women's outerwear is cut with a tapered fit, but the cut of this jacket is boxy, and we felt it bunching up inside. The same goes for when we tried to wear it under a pack. The extra material on the sides bunches up and is uncomfortable.
The extra-thick fleece does a great job of blocking the wind. But neither of these options works as well as a dedicated wind layer, and you'd be better off bringing a lightweight windbreaker jacket on your hike than this heavy fleece. The Denali also blocks a light rain, both from its thickness and from the nylon panels on the shoulders and front, which cause water to bead up and roll off the material; however, this jacket is still not a viable replacement for a rain jacket.
This jacket costs a lot of money for something that is not very versatile, making it a low-value option. However, if this is what you're looking for, it might be a perfect match.
We can see why this classic fleece jacket continues to be so popular. It's a really warm and durable layer, and one of these will probably last for years. However, it's not as stylish as we'd like, nor as breathable or comfortable. All in all, the Denali seems stuck in the '90s, and there's been a lot of advances in fleece since then.
There are so many different (and nice!) fleece options out...
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