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REI Co-op Sahara Convertible - Women's Review

These 2-in-1 convertible hiking pants work wonderfully, providing great breathability and excellent value
rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review
Credit: REI Co-op
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $80 List | $79.95 at REI
Pros:  Mobile, wide range of fit options, vents and breaths wonderfully, good pockets
Cons:  Doesn't block the wind, not a great style around town
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Clark Tate ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 29, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 14
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7.0
  • Venting And Breathability - 20% 9.0
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 6.0
  • Features - 15% 9.0
  • Versatility - 15% 5.0

Our Verdict

The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible pants offer excellent performance, stellar comfort, and top-notch features at a reasonable price point. They easily win our Best Buy Award. These lightweight, easy-to-convert, and weather-resistant pants are a worthy companion for any backpacking trip. One of the most unique aspects is that the lower legs unzip down the side, letting you transition to shorts without taking your boots off. They're too thin to work well in chilly weather, but the cut is so loose that it’s easy to wear a base layer underneath. In all, these pants are an excellent option for hiking in a range of three-season weather. We even took these pants to the crag and had a great time. They do everything well without making you pay extra for it.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award 
Price $80 List
$79.95 at REI
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$70 List
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Mobile, wide range of fit options, vents and breaths wonderfully, good pocketsVery comfortable, versatile, wind and water resilientIncredibly light, soft with endless stretch, breathable, DWR finishLightweight, breathable, comfortable, flat waistband with a drawstringLightweight, easy to move in, breathable
Cons Doesn't block the wind, not a great style around townFit can be hard to perfect, not as breathable as the previous versionNot the most flattering, low rise can be uncomfortableNot water resistant, snags easilyMaterial pills, front pockets are small, sizing is off
Bottom Line These 2-in-1 convertible hiking pants work wonderfully, providing great breathability and excellent valueWith their endless mobility, comfortable details, and technical abilities, these are our favorite overall women's hiking pantsIncredibly soft, flowy, and stretchy, these pants are comfortable, except for the low rise, which can make the crotch feel tightThis lightweight pair of hiking pants is comfortable and has great mobility, but it's not very durableA lightweight, breathable, and weather resistant pair of pants that perform adequately to get you out on the trails without spending a ton
Rating Categories REI Co-op Sahara Co... Outdoor Research Fe... Mountain Hardwear D... The North Face Aphr... Columbia Saturday T...
Comfort and Mobility (35%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
5.0
Venting And Breathability (20%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Weather Resistance (15%)
6.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
7.0
Features (15%)
9.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
4.0
Versatility (15%)
5.0
7.0
6.0
4.0
4.0
Specs REI Co-op Sahara Co... Outdoor Research Fe... Mountain Hardwear D... The North Face Aphr... Columbia Saturday T...
Measured Weight, Size Regular 12 oz 9.5 oz 4.1 oz 7.5 oz 9.2 oz
Size options and versions 0 to 26w, Petitie, Regular, Plus, Tall 0 to 14 XS - XL XXS to XXL, Short, Regular, Plus 2 to 24w Short, Regular, Plus, Long
Fabric 96% recycled nylon/4% spandex 86% bluesign nylon (46% recylce), 14% spandex 90D stretch woven ripstop 94% Nylon, 6% Elastane 95% nylon, 5% elastane Omni-Shield Summiteer Lite 96% Nylon, 4% Elastane
Fabric Features Quick dry Quick-dry Ultralight Quick dry, moisture wicking Omni-Shield advanced repellency
DWR Finish? Yes No Yes Yes No
UPF? UPF 50+ UPF 50+ No rating None UPF 50
Pockets 2 hand, 2 back, 2 cargo 2 hip, 2 back, 1 cargo 2 side, 1 rear, 1 zippered thigh 2 hand, 1 zip 2 hand, 1 side (zip), 2 back (Velcro)
Zip-Off or Roll-Up? Zip-off Roll-up cinch cuffs Roll-up No Roll-up
Integrated Belt? Yes, internal drawcord Yes No Yes, internal drawcord No
Fit Features Mid rise, convert to shorts, relaxed fit, straight leg, 2 inseam lengths Gusseted crotch, articulated knees, drawstring at waist, stretch fabric, harness-compatible waist Three inseam length options, elastic waist, stretch fabric Stretchy fabric, gathered material along sides, drawstring at waist and feet Gusseted crotch, mid rise, straight leg, convertible to capris
Social or Environmental Certifications Contains materials that meet the bluesign® criteria
Contains recycled materials
86% is bluesign approved nylon (46% is recycled)

Our Analysis and Test Results

One of our favorite aspects of the Sahara Convertible pants is REI’s wide range of sizing options. REI makes them in plus, regular, and petite sizes ranging from 0 to 26w. The shorts range from 6.75 inches to 7 inches in length, which is a little shorter than the others we tested. A 96% recycled nylon and 4% bluesign-approved spandex blend gives these Best Buy winners a light, stretchy feel. But, at times, the nylon blend is a bit too thin, allowing cold breezes to bring goosebumps. Then again, they are named after a famous desert. These are great pants to work up a sweat in.

Performance Comparison


rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - the sahara's have an elastic waist and loose cut that ensure they...
The Sahara's have an elastic waist and loose cut that ensure they stay in place on your waist while giving your legs plenty of room to move and breathe.
Credit: Clark Tate

Comfort and Mobility


The photos on REI's website don't do these pants justice. We thought they'd look frumpy on but were pleasantly surprised. The legs are slightly baggy, but they still have a relatively sleek look. The relaxed fit works well for a range of body types. While these aren't the coziest pair of pants we tested and the lack of little luxuries resulted in a slightly lower score, we never found anything irksome on the trail.


We are also impressed by how well these pants move. Extra tucks of fabric around the knee give you enough range of motion for scrambly hikes or rock climbs. We didn't encounter any restrictions when chimneying through the canyons of southern Utah while wearing the Sahara. Although the waistband doesn't have a fancy felt lining, we didn't run into any chaffing issues while wearing these pants for long days with a heavy pack.

A lot of stretchy fabrics that move well also stretch out over time. And there is nothing worse than pulling on hiking pants only to have them stretch out after a mile or so. The Sahara maintains its shape mile after mile.

rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - these pants have a generous cut and enough stretch to ensure that...
These pants have a generous cut and enough stretch to ensure that they never hold you back.
Credit: Clark Tate

Venting and Breathability


We appreciate that these pants breathe exceptionally well and let air pass through to cool your legs. But they're almost too good at it. A few times during testing, our legs got chilly. If you're primarily hiking in hot climates, these are an excellent option for you. If not, you will likely need a baselayer beneath these pants


The ability to convert these pants into shorts is obviously a plus here. And if you're someone who hates long shorts, the shorter, breezier inseam of the Sahara is likely to be much more up your alley.

REI also added a side zipper on the zip-off portion of the pants. This lets you easily remove the lower panel without taking off your boots. Though it seems like it would be way too much zipper to deal with and could lead to chaffing, neither concern was founded. We appreciate how easy it is to turn these pants into shorts. Putting the panels back on is slower, and kind of annoying. We think it’s worth it.

rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - the fabric breathes well and the lower legs zip off. it's hard to...
The fabric breathes well and the lower legs zip off. It's hard to vent better than that.
Credit: Clark Tate

Weather Resistance


The Sahara’s durable water repellant (DWR) finish does an admirable job of keeping splashes and sprinkles from soaking your pants. On misty, drizzly hikes, sea kayaking trips, and wet dog walks in the northeast, these pants shook off light dousings with ease. When we stood in the downpour of a shower, however, they wet through quickly. They were among the first pants in the test to dry out after a good soaking though. All told, we think these are excellent pants for wet weather, as long as it’s warm out.


They do well in the sun too, with UPF 50+ protection. We knocked them down a touch in the score for this category due to their poor wind resistance. The thin material doesn't cut the breeze as well as other pants in this review. After standing on top of a breezy ridgeline our legs were a bit chilled. Luckily, the looser fit means adding a base layer under the Sahara isn't a problem.

rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - a durable water repellant coating beads water when it's springing or...
A durable water repellant coating beads water when it's springing or you're splashing. It won't keep you dry in a downpour, but it helps.
Credit: Clark Tate

Features


One of the biggest reasons that the Sahara Convertible is worth a few extra bucks when compared to the pared-down, least expensive models is that REI did not skimp on features.


One of our favorite features is the zips on their hems, which let you convert them to shorts without taking your boots off, a rare feat. They also allow you to unzip the bottoms to catch a breeze. If you unzip them too much, though, the flopping fabric gets in the way.

The other feature that makes these pants more user-friendly is color-coding on the zippers that turn them into shorts. They help you re-assemble the pants without having to guess which side is which. We love this.

A color-coded zipper unzips around your thigh to release the lower...
A color-coded zipper unzips around your thigh to release the lower leg panel.
A zipper at the hem lets you remove it without taking off your shoes.
A zipper at the hem lets you remove it without taking off your shoes.
And your legs are free!
And your legs are free!

The pockets also work well. You can fit your hands fully into the front pockets, a shockingly rare feat for hiking pants. But, while a previous version of these pants had an angled entrance to the pockets that let your arms relax, the new version’s hand pockets are more vertical. This makes them less comfortable to use, unfortunately. Still, they work better than most.

The hand pockets are large enough to be comfortable, but their...
The hand pockets are large enough to be comfortable, but their vertical orientation is less comfortable than the previous version of these pants.
The thigh pockets are big enough for your phone or a bar or two. One...
The thigh pockets are big enough for your phone or a bar or two. One has a zipper.

The two cargo pockets can hold most phones, and one has a zip to keep important items secure. These pants also have a built-in drawcord belt, which is super handy if you are planning on a longer adventure where your weight might fluctuate. An earlier version of the pants featured a belt on the outside, which was more comfortable than the internal drawstring. Still, it works. There are belt loops too, but belts don't work well with backpacks.

The previous version of these pants had an external belt. Now it has...
The previous version of these pants had an external belt. Now it has an internal drawstring.
It works, but it's a bit less elegant.
It works, but it's a bit less elegant.

Versatility


Convertible pants get high marks for versatility on the trail. As shorts, the Sahara's range from a 6.75-inch to 7-inch inseam, which is one the shorter side for convertible hiking pants. We still feel covered and protected despite the shorter length, and the shorts are loose around our thighs, so we don’t worry about the zipper chaffing. We appreciate the feminine look with the function you need to hit the trail.


With excellent water-repelling technology and quick-drying fabric, the Sahara pants are also a good option for a kayaking trip or activities around the water. Their exceptional mobility also lends them to be useful at the crag, though we aren't sure how the thinner fabric will hold up to abrasive surfaces over time. When we tested the hem on rough granite, we can see some scraping after 20 or so passes.

Where they aren't as versatile, is in the rest of your life. They work great for outdoorsy pursuits but don't transition well to the office, a quick dinner with friends, or running errands around town. They’re a look and it's outdoorsy.

rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - our favorite features are those zip-off legs.
Our favorite features are those zip-off legs.
Credit: Clark Tate

Value


These aren't the least expensive pants in our lineup, but the Sahara Convertible out-performs most of the other models in this review, and is a pair of hiking pants and shorts wrapped in one. Their full range of features, comfortable fit, and superb mobility make them worth a few extra dollars.

We'd also expect these pants to last a while, but the material is thin, so it may not hold up as well as thicker options. These pants included recycled materials and materials that meet bluesign environmental standards. If you value environmental sustainability, that could sweeten the deal.

Conclusion


The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible has many useful features and excellent comfort and mobility, giving you everything you could ask for in a reasonably priced pair of pants. That's why they get our thumbs up and the Best Buy Award.

rei co-op sahara convertible for women hiking pants review - from warm, rainy days, to sun and heat, these pants keep up.
From warm, rainy days, to sun and heat, these pants keep up.
Credit: Clark Tate

Clark Tate
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