Hands-on Gear Review

The North Face Denali 2 Jacket - Women's Review

Women's Denali 2 Jacket
Price:  $179 List | $89.47 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Lots of color options, abrasion resistance, classic styling.
Cons:  Bulky and heavy, not breathable.
Bottom line:  A heavyweight fleece jacket for very cold conditions.
Editors' Rating:   
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Type:  Heavyweight
Main Fabric:  Polartec 300 fleece with recylced Repreve fibers and DWR
Unique Features:  Classic design, snaps on the sleeves for compatible TNF shells
Manufacturer:   The North Face

Our Verdict

The classic two-toned Denali 2 fleece 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 - but if you need something to wear around the campfire then this is the perfect option. For a newer and updated fleece jacket look, check out our Editors' Choice winner the Patagonia R1 Hoody - Women's.


Product Update
The Denali 2, pictured above, is the latest iteration of the Women's Denali Jacket. Keep reading to learn more about the updated sleeve cuffs and more.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Fleece Jacket for Women Review


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Cam McKenzie Ring

Last Updated:
Tuesday
October 3, 2017

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The New Women's Denali 2 Jacket vs. the Original Denali


The Denali 2 is the latest take on the long-standing popular Denali jacket. For this new version, The North Face tweaks the fabric recipe, adding more recycled materials to the fleece material: the updated item incorporates at least 50% recycled content by weight. The sleeves have also been modified with flexible stretch cuffs and the pit zips are no more. While TNF has maintained the zip in compatible integration, which makes the jacket harmonious with other North Face products, they've done away with the snaps in the sleeves and on the back of the neck which was originally part of this system. Classic colors like TNF Black carry through to the current line-up and new colors such as Ink Blue / Petticoat Pink and Bright Navy/Harbor Blue are brand new. The Denali 2 costs the same amount as its predecessor at $179 a pop.

See the differences for yourself in the side-by-side comparison photos of the two products displayed below. (The new Denali 2 is on the left).
Women's Denali 2 Jacket

Here's a summary of the changes:
  • No More Zip Pits — The previous Denali jacket integrated pit zips. This is no longer a feature with the new model.
  • More Recycled Materials Used — The North Face confirmed that the new Denali 2 is made with more recycled material than the previous Denali. The fleece continues to be made from recycled bottles (which TNF called "Reprieve fibers" in the older Denali).
  • Modified Sleeve Cuffs — The sleeve cuffs are now made of a stretchy fabric which is fitted at the wrists.
  • No More Snaps — The snaps on the sleeves and at the back of the neck (which were part of the Zip/Snap-In compatible system) have been removed. However, the product is still Zip/Snap-In compatible!
  • New Colors — The available colors on TNF website for the Denali 2 are as follows: Provincial Blue/Ink Blue, Vintage White/Burnt Olive Green, Ink Blue/ Petticoat Pink, Barolo Red/Sequoia Red, Bright Navy/Harbor Blue, TNF Black/ Late Bloomer Print, Black Plum Heather/Dark Eggplant Purple and TNF Black.

We haven't had a chance to test out the new Denali 2 fleece, so for now, the main review text below reflects the scores and opinions of the OG Denali Jacket.

Hands-On Review of the Original Women's Denali Jacket


The North Face Denali Jacket is made with Polartec 300 Series fleece. This material uses "Repreve" fibers, which come from recycled soda bottles. There are two hand pockets and two chest pockets, and nylon reinforced shoulders and elbows. It also has a cinch cord hem and snaps at the cuffs that work with select TNF jackets. There are around 10 color combinations and options available, and 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.

This classic fleece is warm and toasty  but it just doesn't measure up to the new advances in fleece technology out there.
This classic fleece is warm and toasty, but it just doesn't measure up to the new advances in fleece technology out there.

Warmth


The North Face Denali Jacket was 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. 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 was not as comfortable and cozy as some of the newer styles of fleeces that we tested. While the fleece material is soft, it's not nearly as plush as the hi-loft silken raschel fleeces that we tested, like the Patagonia R2 Jacket - Women's. Also, the boxy cut of the jacket meant that it was not as comfortable for wearing lounging around the house - this is definitely more of an "outerwear" fleece rather than a snuggling-up-by-the-fire model.

Fleece lined pockets are comfortable and help keep you hands toasty  but the pile on this jacket is not nearly as comfortable as some of the new silken hi-loft fleeces out there.
Fleece lined pockets are comfortable and help keep you hands toasty, but the pile on this jacket is not nearly as comfortable as some of the new silken hi-loft fleeces out there.

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. The men's version of this jacket now has pit zips, which might help it be a little more breathable, but even those are probably not enough to overcome the lack of breathability. 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 North Face Denali Jacket was 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 was 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. Same goes for when we tried to wear it under a pack - the extra material on the sides bunched up and 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.
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.

Wind Protection & Water Resistance


The extra thick fleece actually does a great job of blocking the wind, even more so than the "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody - Women's. But neither of these options works as well as a dedicated wind layer, and you'd be better off bringing a lightweight wind breaker jacket on your hike than this heavy fleece. The Denali also blocks a light rain, both from it's 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.

Style & Fit


While we appreciated the "classic" look of this fleece, it's just not as stylish as it used to be. The current trends of body contouring/tapered silhouettes are much more flattering, and fit better with other layers. Also, the torso is quite short on this jacket as well as the arms, so if you have long arms this model will not work well on you.

The arms on this model are cut short  so beware if you have a positive "ape index."
The arms on this model are cut short, so beware if you have a positive "ape index."

Best Applications


The North Face Denali Jacket is 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).

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.

Value


This jacket costs $179 (or more if you want to customize it). That's a lot of money for something that is not as versatile a layer as the R1 Hoody.

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 90's, and there's been a lot of advances in fleece since then.
Cam McKenzie Ring

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Most recent review: October 3, 2017
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