The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo shorts are a utilitarian hiker's best friend. The fabric is surprisingly airy yet water-resistant, and they earn our Best Buy Award for their practicality at a reasonable price. True to their name, they come equipped with a full complement of pockets with plenty of (and perhaps too much) space to store trail snacks. They have a longer inseam and a more relaxed cut than many other contenders, so they aren't going to be the pair you put on if the look is important to you. However, as far as this category is concerned, the price can't be beat. Other award winners like the Patagonia Quandary and Arc'teryx Palisade offer more sophisticated styling, but for the price point, the Sahara Cargo shorts get the job done just as comfortably.
REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short Review
Cons: Baggy fit, utilitarian appearance
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
These lightweight and breathable shorts performed well on day-long and distance hikes. We took them on some hot and humid summer trips 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 comfortable and functional.
The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo earns big points for its weather resistance, quick-dry capabilities, and overall comfort. Though they don't take top honors, we still consider them a solid option.
Comfort and Mobility
These shorts are near the top when it comes to comfort. The fabric is surprisingly thin, the crotch is gusseted, and the fit is relaxed. All of this adds up to a pair that give you plenty of room to high step, scramble, and stretch on trail. The integrated belt offers a fair amount adjustability to fine-tune the fit if your waistline changes on an extended trip. With an 11" inseam, these are one of the longest models that we tested; on one of our six-foot testers, they fell just below the top of the knee. When traveling, they were a go-to pair for cross-country flights; they are great for curling up in a window seat without bunching up.
Other pairs with exceptional comfort include the Patagonia Quandary, Prana Stretch Zion, and Patagonia Nine Trials, which comes with a stretch, breathable interior liner.
The features on these shorts are deep. They come equipped with two front hand warmer, two rear, and two cargo pockets. The right cargo pocket has two compartments, one of which is 'hidden' to hold important documents while traveling. The rear and cargo pockets come with cover flaps to prevent items from falling out. We have mixed feelings since the flaps do what they are designed to do, but zippers would also be equally, if not more effective, and better looking. The flaps also make it more difficult to reach into the pockets as well.
This is one of a couple of peculiar pairs (the Prana Stretch Zion being the other), that comes with both an integrated belt as well as traditional belt loops. We like the option in theory, but in practice, it is redundant to have both. 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 faster than other models.
The Arc'teryx Palisade is a similarly-styled model with excellent features that we would highly recommend. The Patagonia Quandary look better and offer a great combination of zippered and unzippered pockets.
Versatility and Style
The Sahara Cargo are versatile, but not stylish. They are 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 light weight makes them a decent choice for longer backpacking trips as well, though some of our testers found the length to be somewhat annoying for multi-day adventures.
The primary downside of these shorts is that they are just kind of goofy looking. Coming in army cot green, burlap, and quiet shade (gray), 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 that is all about functionality, these shorts won't let you down.
On the flip side, the Prana Brion doesn't fit the mold of a traditional hiking short, but this pair does look really good. The Arc'teryx Palisade fills the role of high-quality (and way more expensive) variation on the cargo shorts theme.
Weather Resistance and Dry Time
Because of the thinness of the fabric, we expecting precipitation to seep through fairly quickly. However, testing showed that these shorts have 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 the fastest, because of the light material and the fact that they absorbed less water to begin with.
They also come with a UPF rating of 50+ to keep you protected in the sunshine. They offer more skin coverage than any of the shorter pairs; however, the wind does cut through them sharply.
Ventilation and Breathability
These shorts have the same ventilation benefits as most other pairs in this review, that is, the pockets are mesh-lined. Again, it is the pleasantly thin fabric that kept us cool on hot days. The looser fit also means that air circulates more freely than with slimmer models.
These shorts are best used for day hikes and traveling. If you are going on a quick out and back and don't want to deal with a pack, there is enough carrying capacity in the pockets to keep you covered. Though we have pointed out the lack of style a few times with this model, the relaxed fit and features make for a very comfortable pair to wear for air travel or long hauls in the car.
At $50, 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 $15-$20 more for a pair that performs equally well but looks way better. Even so, if everything else about the Sahara Cargo looks good, you certainly won't be disappointed by what you get for your money.
The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo shorts are lightweight and breathable. They offer good comfort and wearer mobility because of their relaxed fit, and their initial water resistance is the best of any model that we tested in this review. They earn a Best Buy Award 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 for the money, we think that they are the best for the money.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch