The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo shorts are a utilitarian hiker's best friend. The fabric is surprisingly airy yet water-resistant. They earn our admiration for their practicality at a reasonable price. True to their name, they come equipped with a full complement of pockets (six total) with plenty of space to store trail snacks or other essential items in the cargo pockets. Other award winners offer more sophisticated styling, but for the price point, these shorts get the job done just as comfortably. They are an all-purpose and lightweight budget option for summer adventures where pockets are paramount. Admittedly, we miss the more stretchy fabric and cinch belt on the previous iteration of this short. Even without these features, this pair is still our favorite all-around model in its lower price range.Editor's Note: This review was revised on May 19, 2022 with info on the updated Sahara Cargo Short.
REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short Review
Cons: Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little small
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short
$41.89 at REI
$69.00 at Backcountry
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$31.39 at REI
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|Pros||Good water resistance, many pockets, inexpensive||Comfortable, stylish, water resistant||Lightweight, odor resistant, zippered pockets||Lightweight, elastic waist, dry quickly||Good water resistance, inexpensive|
|Cons||Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little small||A little tight when sitting down, no integrated belt||Not super stylish, liner limits versatility||No rear pockets, no fly||Materials feel cheaper, no waist adjuster, fabric not stretchy|
|Bottom Line||These thin yet water resistant shorts are a great option for the practical, budget-minded hiker||These comfortable, functional shorts really impressed us on our adventures||A lightweight, breathable pair of shorts that are equally comfortable on a run as they are on a backpacking trip||These athletic, lightweight shorts come with an interior liner and ventilation holes that help you stay cool||These simple shorts are inexpensive and practical|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Sahara Ca...||Patagonia Quandary...||Patagonia Nine Trai...||REI Co-op Active Pu...||Columbia Silver Rid...|
|Comfort and Mobility (35%)|
|Versatility and Style (20%)|
|Venting and Breathability (10%)|
|Weather Resistance and Dry Time (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Sahara Ca...||Patagonia Quandary...||Patagonia Nine Trai...||REI Co-op Active Pu...||Columbia Silver Rid...|
|Weight||5.9 oz||7.1 oz||6.6 oz||5.8 oz||6.9 oz|
|Material||Nylon||95% nylon 5% spandex||100% recycled polyester||86% polyester/14% spandex||95% nylon, 5% elastane|
|Water Resistance||DWR finish||DWR coating||DWR coating||Not specified||Omni-Shield coating|
|Sizing (waist, length options)||30 - 40||28 - 41; 8", 10", 12" inseams||XS - XXL||S-XL||28 - 42; 8", 10"|
|Sun Protection||UPF 50||UPF 50+||Not specified||UPF 50||UPF 50|
|Convertible, or option available?||Pants, convertible available||Pants available||No||Pants, shorts||Pants available|
|Pockets||5||5 (plus right coin)||3||2 hand, 1 embedded zip||5|
|Waist Strap/Fasten||Button and zip fly||Button and zip fly||Elastic/Draw string||Elastic, drawstring||Button and zip fly|
|Other Features||Relaxed fit, integrated belt, gusseted crotch||Classic fit, curved waistband, gusseted crotch||Odor control liner, waist drawcord, reflective logo||Ventilation holes, interior liner||Regular fit, stain repellancy|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Since our test period, REI updated the Sahara Cargo Short with gusseted pockets and elastic on the back of the waistband to improve fit. We’re linking to the new short in our review. The two models can be compared above; the version we tested is on the left, followed by the updated short on the right.
These lightweight and breathable shorts performed well on both day-long and distance hikes. We took them on some hot and humid summer trips on the Pinhoti Trail as well as some cooler, wetter climbs on the Oregon coast. They lack the technical aesthetic of some more expensive pairs, but they are ultimately practical.
Comfort and Mobility
These shorts are comfortable. The fabric is surprisingly thin and the crotch is gusseted. The swatches of elastic behind each hip also accommodate a range of waist sizes if you find that you are between two of the advertised short sizes. For some of our testers, this adds up to a pair that gives you enough room to high step, scramble, and stretch on trail. With a 10" inseam, they are just about average in length of the models that we tested; on one of our six-foot testers, they fell just above the knee.
With all of that in mind, we did notice that the nylon fabric is fairly static relative to other hiking shorts. In fact, as far as we can tell, there is no spandex, elastane, or anything else that would give them some stretch and mobility. Consequently, they do bunch up when sitting down, especially if you are just doing a partial lean on a log during a water break. One other minor issue that we experienced is that the fly doesn't quite go down low enough to be optimally useful and one tester reported that the corner of fabric near the button closure rubbed slightly against their skin.
The features of these shorts center around their pockets. They come equipped with two front handwarmer, two rear, and two cargo pockets. The cargo pockets have a small gusset/pleat at the bottom to expand volume and the right one has two compartments, one of which is 'hidden' and provides a little more security for small items. We like this for securing a car key. The rear and cargo pockets come with cover flaps to prevent items from falling out, however, they also make it decidedly more difficult to reach into each of the pockets. The right rear and left cargo pockets also have zippers in addition to the flaps. However, all of them are large enough to hold a large smartphone.
This pair comes with traditional belt loops as well as elastic swatches in the waist (it doesn't extend all the way around, just three inches or so behind each hip). The Sahara Cargo also comes with a traditional sewn front plastic button, as opposed to a riveted metal snap or button. We didn't have any issues during initial testing, but we could imagine that the thread will wear over time. They are a good option for traveling because they pack down small and have a wide array of pockets. The fabric is also Bluesign approved, meaning that these shorts have been manufactured in a way that considers their environmental and human impact.
Versatility and Style
The Sahara Cargo is versatile, but not stylish. This pair is good for day hikes, traveling, and any time you may need to keep a lot of stuff close at hand but don't necessarily have a pack with you. Their low weight makes them a decent choice for longer backpacking trips as well (though thru-hikers may want something a little shorter and even thinner). Our word of caution is that the fabric is not stretchy at all which makes them not ideal for climbing, stretching, or yoga.
The primary downside of these shorts is that they are just kind of goofy looking. Coming in army cot green, asphalt, and cork, the combination of the cargo pockets and the flap covers convey more of utilitarianism than outdoor chic. We wouldn't opt to wear them when style is a consideration, but if you are a hiker or a traveler that is all about functionality, these shorts won't let you down.
Weather Resistance and Dry Time
Because of the thinness of the fabric, we expected precipitation to seep through fairly quickly. However, testing showed that these shorts have some of the best DWR (durable water repellent) coating of any model that we tested. They resisted water the longest with moisture still beading up after a few minutes of moderate rain, and dried quickly because of the light material and the fact that they absorbed less water to begin with. On longer trips, they were a suitable stand-in for a bathing suit.
They also come with a UPF rating of 50+ to keep you protected in the sunshine. They provide more skin coverage than models that are made specifically for trail-running and/or long-distance hiking and they also break the wind well.
Ventilation and Breathability
These shorts have the same ventilation benefits as most other pairs in this review, that is, the front pockets are partially mesh-lined. However, it is the fabric itself that kept us cool on hot days. When you hold it up to the light, the reason for its breathability becomes evident in the amount of light that passes through the fabric.
This pair barely tips the scales at 5.9 ounces, making these shorts one of the lightest models in the bunch. Their UPF rating will keep you protected from the sun, while the breathability of the fabric allows sweat to evaporate quickly. Though the legs don't really have any stretch to them, they fit loosely enough (without being baggy) that air circulates freely.
These shorts are among the least expensive that we tested. The Sahara Cargo is worth the cost and they perform well enough to justify the price tag. If we were committed to the investment in a pair of hiking shorts, we would opt to spend a little more for a pair that performs equally well but looks way better. Even so, if everything else about this pair looks good to you, you certainly won't be disappointed by what you get for your money.
The REI Co-Op Sahara shorts are lightweight and breathable. With an elastic waistband, they offer good comfort, and their initial water resistance is some of the best of any model that we tested in this review. They earn a top spot for their higher performance at a lower price. They aren't the first pair that we would choose to wear — we prefer ones with a little more style — but we think that they are one of the best for the money.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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