The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The North Face Denali 2 Jacket - Women's Review

A heavyweight fleece jacket for very cold conditions.
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Price:  $179 List | $149.99 at Amazon
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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61
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 11
  • Warmth - 25% 10
  • Comfort - 20% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 3
  • Layering Ability - 15% 4
  • Ease of Movement - 10% 4
  • Weather Resistance - 10% 9
  • Style - 5% 5

The Skinny

The classic two-toned 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, but if you need something to wear around the campfire, then this is the perfect option. If you're looking for a high-performance fleece, check out our Editors' Choice winner the, Patagonia R1 Hoody.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The North Face Denali 2 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 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. However, we gave The North Face Osito 2 our Top Pick for Warmth award because it's almost as warm as the Denali but a little more versatile.

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, like the Patagonia R2 Jacket. 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. Same goes for when we tried to wear it under a pack. The extra material on the sides bunches up and is uncomfortable. The North Face's Osito 2 jacket has a more tapered fit and is a better option for a warm layer to wear under a shell.

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, even more so than the "Hardface Technology" on the Arc'teryx Fortrez Hoody. 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 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.

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 arms are short on this jacket, 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 Denali 2 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).

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 Patagonia R1 Hoody. Our Best Buy on a Budget winner, the REI Co-op Fleece, retails for only $50 and is only slightly less plain than the Denali.

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