The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible wins our Best Buy award not because they are the least expensive pants, but they provide the most bang for your buck. These pants are full of features, fit well, and aren't too heavy. We love the thought that went into these pants, and you can transition to shorts without taking off your boots. Also, they repel water and have a full range of mobility. We felt a bit too cool in these pants when there was a chill in the air, and we would love to see more exciting color options. All in all, they are an excellent option for hiking in a multitude of different climates. Their lightweight, easy-to-convert features also make them a worthy companion on a backpacking trip. We even took these pants to the crag and had a great time. They do everything well at a reasonable price.
REI Co-op Sahara Convertible - Women's Review
Cons: Button doesn’t appear to be durable, limited color options
Manufacturer: REI Co-op
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Co-op Sahara Convertible consists of a 94% nylon and 6% spandex blend that gives these Best Buy winners a light, stretchy feel. At times we felt that the nylon blend was a bit too thin, allowing cold breezes to put goosebumps on our legs more than once. One of the most unique and our favorite parts about these pants is their wide range of sizing options. The Sahara's are offered in size 0 to 16 with a 32 inch inseam and even include plus and petite options. As shorts, these pants are a bit shorter than other models we tested with an inseam of just 7 inches.
Comfort & Mobility
The photos on REI's website don't do these pants justice. From the get-go, we felt that these pants would feel a bit frumpy, but we were pleasantly surprised when we put them on. The legs are slightly baggy, but there is still a sleeker look to them. The baggier fit means that more body types will be suited for these pants, unlike other models in our review, where the legs feel a bit tight.
From a mobility standpoint, we are highly impressed. The knee is articulated slightly, giving you plenty of range of motion for scrambly hikes or even at the crag. We didn't encounter any problems in the canyons of southern Utah when wearing the Saharas. Although the waistband doesn't have fancy features like an inner felt lining, we didn't have any chaffing or comfort issues when wearing these pants for extended periods or with a heavy pack.
Lastly, there's nothing worse than wearing hiking pants, only to find that they stretch out after a mile or so. A lot of the newer fabrics tend to allow for plenty of movement, but they also stretch over time. The Saharas maintained their shape mile after mile.
Convertible pants automatically get high marks for versatility, simply because you can wear them so many ways. However, the Saharas go above and beyond by providing a few nifty extras that most other pants didn't. 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 have plenty of movement and appreciate the more feminine look, while still providing the function you need to hit the trail.
What makes the Saharas stand apart are the zippers at the bottom of the pants. This feature allows you to remove the lower part of the pant while keeping your boots on. Although while wearing hiking shoes we could accomplish the same results with our other convertible models, we couldn't get any other model we tested to slip over boots. This feature doubles up as a way to unzip the bottoms a little and catch a breeze, however, if you unzip them too much, the extra flopping fabric becomes cumbersome and gets in the way.
We also like the fact that these pants offered a bit more versatility than just existing as hiking pants. With excellent water repelling technology, the Sahara's are a superb buy for a kayaking trip or activities around the water. Their exceptional mobility also lends them to be useful at the crag, although we aren't sure how the thinner fabric will hold up to abrasive surfaces over time.
Although we appreciate the fact that these pants let through breezes, we feel they did this almost too well. There were a few times during testing where our legs would get cold, or the pants wouldn't keep us as warm as we would have liked. If you're primarily hiking in hot climates, then you've got nothing to worry about.
The ability to convert into shorts is also obviously a plus here. And if you're someone who hates really long shorts, the shorter, breezier inseam of the Saharas is likely to be much more up your alley.
Overall we didn't experience any durability issues while we tested the pants. However, the button front doesn't exactly scream "robust" and having the button pop off is certainly a possibility and something about which a lot of online reviewers complained. REI does give you a spare, though.
Also, we didn't have any trouble climbing on both granite and sandstone for several days while testing these pants. However, it's important to note that the material of the Sahara's is on the thinner end of the spectrum, so we did raise an eyebrow to the possibility that these pants may not hold up for years.
When it comes to moisture, the Saharas came 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.
We knocked the pants down a touch for wind resistance, since we feel 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, and we had to bounce around to stay warm. Fortunately, the looser fit means adding a base layer under the Sahara's on a cold day isn't going to be a problem, but the pants could have performed a bit better here. Lastly, these pants boast UPF 50+ protection from the sun, which is pretty much standard with newer pants these days, but worth noting.
Our favorite part about the Saharas and one of the biggest reasons we feel the pants are worth the few extra bucks when compared to more pared-down, budget models is the fact that REI did not skimp on features. You get quite a lot for your dollar, which is why these win the Best Buy award, despite not being the cheapest pants.
We've already talked about how much we love the zippered bottoms that allow you to transition the pants into shorts without removing boots, but the features don't stop there. Each pant leg has color-coded zippers, so you can quickly re-assemble the pants without having to guess which side is which.
All of the pockets of these pants were exceptionally well thought out. The hand pockets actually fit your entire hand. The two cargo pockets can hold most phones, and one even has a separate compartment to store keys or lip balm. Lastly, 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 they aren't necessary.
Although these pants aren't the cheapest pants in our lineup, the Saharas out-perform most of the other models in this review. Their full range of features, comfortable fit, and superb mobility make them worth the few extra dollars and then some. Despite not being the cheapest pants, they sure are a feature-loaded bargain.
The Sahara's wide range of features and excellent comfort and mobility scores give you everything you could ask for in a reasonably priced pair of pants, which is why these pants get our thumbs up and Best Buy award.
— Meg Atteberry