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The North Face Denali 2 Jacket - Women's Review

A heavyweight fleece jacket for very cold conditions.
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Price:  $179 List | $129.98 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lots of color options, abrasion resistance, classic styling
Cons:  Bulky and heavy, not breathable
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Cam McKenzie Ring ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 12, 2018
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53
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 13
  • Warmth - 20% 9
  • Comfort - 20% 5
  • Breathability - 20% 3
  • Layering Ability - 20% 4
  • Ease of Movement - 15% 4
  • Weather Resistance - 5% 9

Our Verdict

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).


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Pros Lots of color options, abrasion resistance, classic stylingBreathable, durable, helmet compatible hood, awesome thermoregulation, high valueBalaclava hood with neck gaiter, good wind and water protection for a fleeceLightweight, breathable, full-length zipper and a hoodSuper cozy materials, stylish, lightweight, warm
Cons Bulky and heavy, not breathableNot weather resistant, expensiveNot very breathable, expensiveNot very warm, no weather resistanceExpensive, not the most breathable, zipper slips
Bottom Line A heavyweight fleece jacket for very cold conditions.The reigning champion that simply can't be beat for versatility.A technical jacket for alpine and ice climbing, or other active sports in colder climates.This light fleece is a high-performance layer that is breathable and comfortable.The lightweight and stylish fleece is built for town and leisurely hikes.
Rating Categories Denali 2 Jacket R1 Full Zip Hoody Fortrez Hoody Rab Nucleus Hoody - Women's Kyanite Hoody
Warmth (20%)
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
5
10
0
8
Comfort (20%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
Breathability (20%)
10
0
3
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
7
Layering Ability (20%)
10
0
4
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Ease Of Movement (15%)
10
0
4
10
0
10
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
8
Weather Resistance (5%)
10
0
9
10
0
4
10
0
9
10
0
5
10
0
6
Specs Denali 2 Jacket R1 Full Zip Hoody Fortrez Hoody Rab Nucleus Hoody... Kyanite Hoody
Type Heavyweight Midweight Midweight Lightweight Lightweight
Main Fabric Recycled polyester fleece, DWR coating, nylon overlay Polartec PowerGrid(93% recycled polyester/7% spandex) Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface Technology (88% polyester, 12% elastane) Thermic fleece & Power Grid Nylon, polyester
Unique Features Abrasion resistant panels on shoulders Hidden zippered pocket, balaclava hood fits under a helmet, brick-patterned insulation balances breathability and warmth Balaclava hood with neck gaiter Close fitting hood fits under a helmet Stretchy, abrasion-resistant fabric, gussets for movement
Weight (ounces) 18.8 11.9 11.9 11.2 11.2
# of Pockets 3 (2 hand, 1 chest) 2 (hand), 1 hidden zippered pocket (right hand) 3 (2 hand, 1 arm) 2 (hand) 2 hand
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

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.

Performance Comparison


Cooking dinner on a chilly night in the Denali. This classic fleece is a warm and toasty outer layer  but it just doesn't measure up to the new advances in fleece technology out there.
Cooking dinner on a chilly night in the Denali. This classic fleece is a warm and toasty outer layer, but it just doesn't measure up to the new advances in fleece technology out there.

Warmth


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 thick fleece will keep you very warm. Extra features like the cinch cord hem help seal the warmth in even more.
This thick fleece will keep you very warm. Extra features like the cinch cord hem help seal the warmth in even more.

Comfort


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.

This thick fleece is not the most comfortable option out there  and it also takes up a lot of room in our backpacks. It lacks the compressibility to be useful for extended trips  but still works well for car camping.
This thick fleece is not the most comfortable option out there, and it also takes up a lot of room in our backpacks. It lacks the compressibility to be useful for extended trips, but still works well for car camping.

Breathability


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.

What not to do in this jacket - go for a hike with a pack on. There is not a lot of breathability in this layer  and coupled with the thick fleece we were instantly sweaty and uncomfortable.
What not to do in this jacket - go for a hike with a pack on. There is not a lot of breathability in this layer, and coupled with the thick fleece we were instantly sweaty and uncomfortable.

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.

While you can wear this jacket over other layers  it is too bulky to fit comfortably under a shell jacket or backpack. Notice here how the material is bunching at the waist  which was uncomfortable.
While you can wear this jacket over other layers, it is too bulky to fit comfortably under a shell jacket or backpack. Notice here how the material is bunching at the waist, which was uncomfortable.

Weather Resistance


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.

The nylon abrasion patches to a great job of beading up water and helping to keep you dry in a light rain.
The nylon abrasion patches to a great job of beading up water and helping to keep you dry in a light rain.

Value


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.

This jacket is great for car camping situations where you want a warm layer for chilly mornings and evenings.
This jacket is great for car camping situations where you want a warm layer for chilly mornings and evenings.

Conclusion


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.


Cam McKenzie Ring