REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Review
Cons: Hard to get things out of pockets, not stylish
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Our Analysis and Test Results
These pants performed above average in many of our metrics. We enjoyed wearing them while hiking and backpacking, and they kept us cool in the humid heatwave of late summer in New England. Thoughtful design at a decent price makes them a Best Buy winner in our book.
Comfort and Mobility
These pants offer the mobility of a 94% nylon/6% spandex blend without sacrificing comfort against the skin. They advertise a relaxed fit, which we found to be accurate, especially in the front and thighs. Though they are not quite as stretchy as the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, we had the freedom of movement that we needed for a variety of activities.
We had no trouble taking big steps up boulders on hikes, and they are relatively comfortable with a climbing harness as well. Enhanced by their lightweight fabric, the Sahara's are near the front of the pack when it comes to this metric.
Venting and Breathability
This pair is slightly above average regarding its breathability, but it shines when it comes to ventilation. The stretch-nylon blend kept us cooler on warmer days. When it just got too hot though, we took advantage of our options. Most other pairs of convertible pants require the wearer to remove their footwear to get into shorts mode. The massive zippers on the lower legs of the Sahara's make it super easy to slide them off, even over chunky hiking boots. As a result, we were much more likely to actually use the conversion feature.
If even that is too much of a hassle though, then the lower leg side zips function as an in-between option. Each leg has a snap at the ankle to hold the bottom in place, so it doesn't flap around. And though they don't quite seem like they were intentionally designed for it, another option is to fully unzip the lowers and pull up the material above the knee and secure with the ankle snap. If you're worried about being able to adapt to the weather, we think these pants are a truly excellent option.
The Sahara pants perform well in a variety of activities. The blend of nylon and spandex fabrics makes them a good choice for climbing and scrambling. Their multiple ventilation options and durability allow them to adapt nicely to both hot and cooler weather, and their water resistance is great for getting you through a heavy rainstorm relatively unscathed.
We don't think they are particularly stylish. The cargo pockets and conversion zippers aren't our first choice to wear around town, but if practicality is more important than fashion, this pair will suit you well. They earn big plus points in versatility because of the side zipper on the lower leg discussed above.
We were pleasantly surprised by how water resistant this model proved to be. On the first rainstorm we wore them, they kept us completely dry from the waist down. Even after a few spins through the washing machine, they haven't failed us. Water beaded up and rolled off these pants long after other models started to absorb moisture.
One sneaky smart addition that REI made to these pants is making the hand warmer pocket interiors from half stretch nylon (against the skin) and half mesh (facing away from the skin). This arrangement provides a modest amount of ventilation while also preventing precipitation from running into the pocket and down your thigh. The only issue we ran into was that because of their water resistance water ran down the front and onto the tops of our shoes.
The Sahara Convertible is loaded with features. Some could use a small tweak, but for the most part, we are impressed. These pants come with a full complement of pockets; two front hand warmer, two zippered cargo, and two rear. The righthand front and cargo pockets also have smaller inset mesh pockets for change and protein bars, respectively.
We love how deep the two front pockets are, but we think the dual zipper/cover flap closure of the cargo pockets is redundant and makes items a little tricky to remove. The pocket opening is also a little narrower than other hiking pant cargos. Similarly, we wish that the rear pockets had a zipper (instead of just a flap, with no secure closure). We didn't have a huge issue with items falling out, but for traveling in busy areas where wallet security is a consideration, it would bring us piece-of-mind to be able to close those pockets completely.
As for other features, the conversion zippers glide much more smoothly than those on some other convertible models like the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible. For even more user-friendliness, they are right/left color-coded, so it is easy to reattach the legs on the correct side.
This model also comes with an integrated belt. It is reasonably low-profile, so it doesn't chafe when you have a backpacking hip belt buckled over it. It also has a vast range of adjustment for when you lose inches on your waist during longer adventures. Our only confusion is around the additional set of standard belt loops; we just never needed a second belt.
These pants are a solid choice for a variety of outdoor activities. Because of their versatility, they are a great choice for both short and long backpacking trips, scrambling, climbing, and bouldering, as well as for riding in comfort during long-haul air travel. And at only 11.2 ounces, they pack away nicely in a carry-on as well.
Retailing for $70, this model is one of the least expensive pairs in our review. We think that its solid design and host of useful features make it a great value for anyone who needs a reliable pair of hiking pants that they can turn to again and again. Convertible pants are also generally more expensive than their less versatile, single-piece counterparts, which further increases the value of these trousers.
The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible is a practical, comfortable, and highly water resistant model that can suit your needs in a wide range of outdoor activities. It earns our Best Buy Award for its versatility at an affordable price. They are not the most fashion-forward model, but if we wanted a single, reliable pair that we could turn to for most of our outdoor needs, this would be it.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch