The North Face Denali Jacket
By Jon Sharp
The world is divided into two types of people: those who own the Denali fleece jacket by The North Face, and those who haven't heard of it. For most people, if you mention the word 'fleece', the image they picture in their heads is that of the Denali--even those who don't know it by name. Saying the Denali is a fleece jacket is like saying that a Kleenex™ is a facial tissue. Its styling is both distinctive and ubiquitous. You'll encounter this jacket both on the mountain and in strip malls. What do people find in this fleece that makes it the standard by which all others are judged? We got one, and we found out for ourselves.
The Denali fleece jacket is made with Polartec 300 Series fabric. This means that it is very warm, and highly breathable. Though this type of fleece is commonly used for many other fleece jackets, the Denali has quite a few technical features that others lack. Probably the most distinctive are the chest panels of 2-ply Supplex nylon that extend over the shoulders onto the back. There is also a similar patch of Supplex on the underside of each forearm. The main purpose of these is to provide a more durable material in the higher-wear areas where your arms might brush up against rocks or branches, and where shoulder straps of packs would wear on the upper body. Another benefit of the chest patches is to provide a little more protection against wind.
To make this a truly useful fleece, The North Face has included four pockets in the Denali: two handwarmers, and two chest pockets. In addition, the waist has an elastic draw-cord to seal out the elements. One other feature that I find invaluable in a technical jacket is the inclusion of pit zips. By adding them to the already great thermal properties of the 300 Series Polartec fleece, it is easy to maintain a comfortable core body temperature. I found I could wear my fleece in a very wide range of temperatures simply by varying the pit zip openings.
In practice, this jacket is very versatile. I've already mentioned the temperature regulation, but because of those properties, I found myself wearing this jacket more often than any other jacket I own. Whether it was to keep me warm until the car heated up on my way to work, while going for a walk, or even on my mountain bike while I searched for a trail amidst the snow, I was comfortable and warm in the Denali. True to form, those small panels of nylon strategically placed around the jacket prevented it from snagging on branches and helped it wear better over the shoulders. It is also nice to know that the Denali can be washed in a normal washing machine after that muddy hike.
Summary: For $165 you get the highest quality in a fleece jacket. That may seem like a lot of money, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee against defects, and a brand you can trust for high-quality and highly-durable products. There's a reason why the Denali is so popular--it's an incredible fleece. You will reach for this fleece again and again for almost any activity. When spring comes to an end, and you're packing it away, you'll long for the fall when you can bring it out again and add it to your every-day attire. Well, now that you know about the Denali, what group does that put you in?
Jon Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com specializing in mountain biking.
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