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REI Co-op Sahara Convertible Review

This comfortable, well-ventilated pair of pants comes with a full complement of features
REI Co-op Sahara Convertible
Credit: REI Co-op
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Pros:  Excellent water resistance, good ventilation options, versatile
Cons:  Hard to get things out of pockets, not stylish
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 29, 2018
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  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7.0
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 7.0
  • Versatility - 15% 7.0
  • Water Resistance - 15% 9.0
  • Features - 15% 8.0

Our Verdict

The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible is a comfortable and breathable pair of pants. It earns a Best Buy Award for its full complement of features at a competitive price. The feature that makes this model stand out above every other pair of convertibles is the vertical zipper that runs up each leg from the cuff almost up to the knee. This feature enables the wearer to remove the lower legs and convert the pants to shorts without having to remove their footwear first. They also have exceptional water resistance. They aren't particularly stylish, but if you are more of a practical-minded outdoors person, this will easily be a pair of hiking pants that you can get behind.

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.

Performance Comparison

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - these pants are an affordable standout that kept us moving on the at...
These pants are an affordable standout that kept us moving on the AT in early fall.
Credit: Rachel Stanton

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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - we could move up and down boulder fields with ease in these pants...
We could move up and down boulder fields with ease in these pants. The stretchy material is comfortable and doesn't limit mobility. They also blend into a forest landscape very well.
Credit: Benjamin Applebaum-Bauch

We realize that not everyone is in love with these pants. It became evident during our research phase that many customer reviews on REI's website highlight the reduced durability of this iteration from previous models. Specifically, there are several reports of the button popping off after a few uses, as well as some disappointment in the design aesthetic and materials. The lightweight, thinner fabric that our testers saw as a benefit in the heat is also a liability for some users who report that it tears easily. Though we haven't tested previous versions of this pant, we didn't find any major faults in its durability. In our few months of testing them, they served us well.

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 legs zip off quickly and can be taken off over shoes.
The legs zip off quickly and can be taken off over shoes.
The long side zippers on the lower leg are a feature unique to these...
The long side zippers on the lower leg are a feature unique to these pants that increases their versatility.


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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - these pants offer versatility for when the weather is cold, but...
These pants offer versatility for when the weather is cold, but you're working up a sweat.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Water Resistance

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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - on the left, water beads up and rolls off the saharas very well. on...
On the left, water beads up and rolls off the Saharas very well. On the right, the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible doesn't have any water resistant coating.
Credit: Benjamin Applebaum-Bauch


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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - the pull tab color matches that of the zipper end.
The pull tab color matches that of the zipper end.
Credit: Benjamin Applebaum-Bauch

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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - the integrated belt is practical and comparatively unobtrusive...
The integrated belt is practical and comparatively unobtrusive, similar to the one on the Prana Stretch Zion models.
Credit: Benjamin Applebaum-Bauch

Best Applications

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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - this model performs well as pants or as shorts.
This model performs well as pants or as shorts.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch


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.

REI Co-op Sahara Convertible hiking pants - the spandex in the fabric provides necessary stretch for squeezing...
The spandex in the fabric provides necessary stretch for squeezing between boulders.
Credit: Benjamin Applebaum-Bauch


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
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