REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short Review
Cons: Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little small
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
Compare to Similar Products
REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short
$59.95 at REI
$79.00 at Backcountry
|$39.00 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$56.21 at Backcountry|
Compare at 3 sellers
$44.95 at REI
|Pros||Good water resistance, many pockets, inexpensive||Comfortable, stylish, water resistant||Lightweight, odor resistant, zippered pockets||Stretchy and comfortable, soft waist liner, drawstring||Lightweight, elastic waist, dry quickly|
|Cons||Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little small||A little tight when sitting down, no integrated belt||Not super stylish, liner limits versatility||Waist gets loose, only one zippered pocket||No rear pockets, no fly|
|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||Lightweight and breathable shorts that have a lot of stretch for high mobility||These athletic, lightweight shorts come with an interior liner and ventilation holes that help you stay cool|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Sahara Ca...||Patagonia Quandary...||Patagonia Nine Trai...||Outdoor Research Fe...||REI Co-op Active Pu...|
|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...||Outdoor Research Fe...||REI Co-op Active Pu...|
|Weight||5.9 oz||7.1 oz||6.6 oz||6.7 oz||5.8 oz|
|Material||96% recycled nylon, 4% spandex||95% nylon 5% spandex||100% recycled polyester||86% nylon, 14% spandex||86% polyester/14% spandex|
|Water Resistance||DWR finish||DWR coating||DWR coating||DWR coating||Not specified|
|Sizing (Waist, Length options)||W: 30" - 44"||W: 28" - 41"
L: 8", 10", 12"
|XS - XXL||W: 28" - 42:
L: 7", 10"
|Size S - XL|
|Sun Protection||UPF 50+||UPF 50+||Not specified||50+||UPF 50|
|Convertible, or option available?||Pants, convertible available||Pants available||No||No||Pants, shorts|
|Pockets||6||5 (plus right coin)||3||2 hand, 1 zip hip, 2 back||2 hand, 1 embedded zip|
|Waist Strap/Fasten||Button and zip fly||Button and zip fly||Elastic/Draw string||Button and zip fly||Elastic, drawstring|
|Other Features||Relaxed fit, Elastic on back waist, gusseted crotch||Classic fit, curved waistband, gusseted crotch||Odor control liner, waist drawcord, reflective logo||Drawstring, lined waist band, harness compatable waist||Ventilation holes, interior liner|
Our Analysis and Test Results
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 small gussets at the bottom and pleats on the sides to expand volume. The right one also has a zipper closure for a little added security. 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.
Should You Buy the REI Sahara Cargo?
The REI Co-Op Sahara Cargo 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 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. If high functionality and low price are key purchase drivers for you, this is a great pair to consider.
What Other Hiking Shorts Should You Consider?
For those who like pockets but want a little more stretch in the fabric, the Prana Stretch Zion II is a great alternative. For added style, the Prana Brion and Patagonia Quandary are excellent options that retain functionality and have strong features as well.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More