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REI Co-op Sahara Convertible - Women's Review

A great bargain for a convertible hiking pant the does it all
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $70 List | $69.95 at REI
Pros:  Mobile, wide range of fit options, shed water easily, excellent pockets
Cons:  Button doesn’t appear to be durable, limited color options
Manufacturer:   REI Co-op
By Meg Atteberry ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 16, 2019
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 14
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 7
  • Venting And Breathability - 20% 9
  • Weather Resistance - 15% 7
  • Features - 15% 9
  • Versatility - 15% 7

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. Our favorite part? The legs are wide enough to let you transition to shorts without taking your boots off. On the downside, they're too thin to fight off chilly weather. In all, they 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 for it.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Our favorite part of the Sahara pants is their wide range of sizing options. REI makes them in plus, regular and petite sizes ranging from 0 to 22w. The shorts range from 7" to 8.5", which are a little shorter than others we tested. A 94% nylon and 6% spandex blend gives these Best Buy winners a light, stretchy feel. But, at times, 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


The Sahara did well in the rough desert terrain. After carrying a heavy pack over cross-country terrain  there was no chaffing at the waistbelt.
The Sahara did well in the rough desert terrain. After carrying a heavy pack over cross-country terrain, there was no chaffing at the waistbelt.

Comfort and Mobility


The photos on REI's website don't do these pants justice. We thought they'd look a little frumpy on but were pleasantly surprised. The legs are slightly baggy, but they still 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 lower score, we never found anything irksome on the trail.


We are also impressed with how well these pants move. The slightly articulated knee gives 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.

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

If you just need a little extra air  undo the bottom zipper of the Sahara just a bit.
If you just need a little extra air, undo the bottom zipper of the Sahara just a bit.

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.


The ability to convert into shorts is also 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.

We love that the Saharas are offered in a range of sizes from petite to plus sizes. As shorts  they still fit well  providing enough coverage and room to hit the toughest trails.
We love that the Saharas are offered in a range of sizes from petite to plus sizes. As shorts, they still fit well, providing enough coverage and room to hit the toughest trails.

Weather Resistance


When it comes to moisture, the Sahara comes in at the top of the pack. The water-repellent finish doesn't allow for any water to penetrate the pants. It just pooled and beaded and rolled off quickly and easily. The only area that absorbed water was the tiny strap for the built-in belt. These pants also boast UPF 50+ protection from the sun.


We knocked the pants down a touch for wind resistance, since the thin material doesn't cut the breeze as well as other pants in this review. After sitting at the top of a breezy multi-pitch belay station, our legs were quite cold. We had to bounce around to stay warm. Luckily, the looser fit means adding a base layer under the Sahara isn't a problem.

The Saharas make quick work of water with their excellent repelling action.
The Saharas make quick work of water with their excellent repelling action.

Features


One of the biggest reasons that the Sahara is worth a few extra bucks when compared to pared-down budget 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.

It's all about the little things and the Saharas have two distinct zipper colors so pants are easy to convert from shorts back to pants mode.
It's all about the little things and the Saharas have two distinct zipper colors so pants are easy to convert from shorts back to pants mode.

The pockets are also exceptionally well planned. You can fit your hands in the front pockets, a shockingly rare feat. The two cargo pockets can hold most phones, and one has a separate compartment to store keys or lip balm. These pants also have a built-in belt, which is super handy if you plan on backpacking or wearing a heavy pack. There are belt loops too, but actual belts don't work well with backpacks.

The Sahara pants aren't tight or loose  allowing you to move when you need to.
The Sahara pants aren't tight or loose, allowing you to move when you need to.

Versatility


Convertible pants get high marks for versatility on the trail. As shorts, the Sahara's are a bit shorter in length, with a 7-inch inseam. We still feel covered despite the shorter length, and the shorts don't sit tight around our thighs. We appreciate the feminine look with the function you need to hit the trail.


With excellent water-repelling technology, 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.

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.

We love the Saharas pockets! There is even an extra storage pocket for keys or lip balm within the cargo pocket.
We love the Saharas pockets! There is even an extra storage pocket for keys or lip balm within the cargo pocket.

Value


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

The Saharas are an extremely versatile  comfortable pant offered in a wide range of sizes at a reasonable price.
The Saharas are an extremely versatile, comfortable pant offered in a wide range of sizes at a reasonable price.

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. The top button doesn't scream robust either, and many online reviewers complained that it popped off. REI does give you a spare, though.

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.

Meg Atteberry