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REI Co-op Sahara Cargo Short Review

These thin yet water resistant shorts are a great option for the practical, budget-minded hiker
rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review
Credit: REI Co-op
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $60 List | $59.95 at REI
Pros:  Good water resistance, many pockets, inexpensive
Cons:  Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little small
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 10, 2022
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 11
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7.0
  • Features - 25% 7.0
  • Versatility and Style - 20% 6.0
  • Venting and Breathability - 10% 8.0
  • Weather Resistance and Dry Time - 10% 8.0

Our Verdict

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.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award   
Price $60 List
$59.95 at REI
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Pros Good water resistance, many pockets, inexpensiveComfortable, stylish, water resistantLightweight, odor resistant, zippered pocketsStretchy and comfortable, soft waist liner, drawstringLightweight, elastic waist, dry quickly
Cons Utilitarian appearance, pocket openings a little smallA little tight when sitting down, no integrated beltNot super stylish, liner limits versatilityWaist gets loose, only one zippered pocketNo rear pockets, no fly
Bottom Line These thin yet water resistant shorts are a great option for the practical, budget-minded hikerThese comfortable, functional shorts really impressed us on our adventuresA lightweight, breathable pair of shorts that are equally comfortable on a run as they are on a backpacking tripLightweight and breathable shorts that have a lot of stretch for high mobilityThese 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%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Features (25%)
7.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Versatility and Style (20%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Venting and Breathability (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Weather Resistance and Dry Time (10%)
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
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.

Performance Comparison


rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - the rei sahara cargo is a lightweight pair of shorts with a lot of...
The REI Sahara Cargo is a lightweight pair of shorts with a lot of pocket storage capacity.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - there's no integrated belt, but the elastic at the back provides a...
There's no integrated belt, but the elastic at the back provides a little extra room to ensure that the fit is as good as can be.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

Features


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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - two cargo pockets provide extra space for carrying snacks, keys, or...
Two cargo pockets provide extra space for carrying snacks, keys, or other small items.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - with additional pockets at the rear, these shorts are made to carry...
With additional pockets at the rear, these shorts are made to carry quite a bit. Surprisingly, the fabric is also lightweight.
Credit: Sarah Van Cleve

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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - strong water resistance makes this pair of shorts a high performer...
Strong water resistance makes this pair of shorts a high performer in wet weather.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - in terms of venting and breathability, these shorts are right in the...
In terms of venting and breathability, these shorts are right in the middle: not too long (and hot), not too short either. They aren't too heavy, but also won't leave you feeling naked like other models.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

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.

rei co-op sahara cargo short hiking short review - this all-purpose pair comes in at a reasonable price.
This all-purpose pair comes in at a reasonable price.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Ben Applebaum-Bauch
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