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Columbia Sandy River Cargo - Women's Review

Functional and fun, these shorts cover all the basics
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $30 List | $29.99 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Affordable, water resistant, breathable
Cons:  Unnecessary belt, small cargo pockets
Manufacturer:   Columbia
By Sara Aranda ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 21, 2019
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#3 of 9
  • Comfort and Mobility - 35% 8
  • Venting and Breathability - 20% 9
  • Versatility - 15% 5
  • Water Resistance - 15% 7
  • Features - 15% 6

Our Verdict

The Sandy River Cargo is an outstanding performer. The main disadvantage resides in the snug waistband design. The nylon covered elastic band slowly detracts from the all-day comfort and versatility due to their lack of practicality for activities such as running. Still, they are a great blend between casual and athletic, offering key perks like sun protection and ample venting. They are useful for treks from the spring to fall, yet the best time of year to wear these shorts is in the summer. These are a breezy, water-suitable choice for all your casual needs.

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Our Analysis and Test Results

When we first pulled these shorts out of the bag, we were both impressed by their thin, ultralight material and concerned for their durability. The more we wore them, however, the more they instilled confidence. Constructed with Columbia's Perfecta Plus II quick-drying nylon, they weighed an incredibly light 5.1 ounces (4.2 ounces without the belt). The bright color we tested is quirky and can either be a pro or con depending on your own style preferences; as far as we know, Columbia does offer neutral tones for this model.

Performance Comparison

With venting and mobility as its leading qualities, this pair fares just above average overall.

True to size and ultralight  these shorts are nice to move around in and fun to wear.
True to size and ultralight, these shorts are nice to move around in and fun to wear.

Comfort and Mobility

We are used to mid-rise or low-rise bottoms, so these shorts feel very high-waisted, and we notice it all the more due to the snug nature of the elastic waistband. It is challenging to have them sit any other way, but we got used to it nonetheless. The nylon is not necessarily abrasive, but the general constriction of the waistband can become irritating over long periods. The rest of the fabric is gentle, fluid, and moves with the body; the wide leg openings are a thoughtful detail, yet they aren't as baggy as other similar pairs. Wide leg openings are essential for high-stepping, scrambling, and even for speed. We can perform static stretches and use a foam roller without concern for mobility but wish the comfort held up.

Being that the shorts are unlined, the risk of underwear exposure is thankfully minimal due to the gracious 6-inch inseam. Sizing-wise, these shorts technically run small. According to the online sizing chart, the XS is labeled as being equivalent to a size 2. Other shorts of this brand that we've tested, however, are a size 2 and fairly relaxed fitting. Technicality aside, we feel that the XS is appropriately XS and should not be confused with the number sizing. If you need something more suitable for all-day wear, consider a more traditional waistband or a smoother, non-irritating elastic design.

The Sandy River Cargo shorts are roomy enough to do more than just hiking. Here we have them out for a casual run.
The Sandy River Cargo shorts are roomy enough to do more than just hiking. Here we have them out for a casual run.

Venting and Breathability

Nylon is naturally moisture-wicking, and these shorts are no exception. Adequate venting is also a given due to the baggier leg openings. We did not notice any extraordinary retention of heat or sweat during our tests. A waistband is always a place for heat to build, especially when layered over with shirts and jackets; yet, we found the nylon of these to remain soft and breathable. Even after running in them, we were not encumbered by sweat. We found the quick-drying advantage to be better than many of the thicker shorts.

With an elastic waistband  plastic snap and zip fly closure  the added belt seemed superfluous.
With an elastic waistband, plastic snap and zip fly closure, the added belt seemed superfluous.


Designed as activewear, being able to transfer to an urban setting isn't as intuitive. Due to the bright nature of the color, they are rather quirky and fun for running casual errands or a visit to the dog park, but they are not very inspiring to wear to keep on for a nicer lunch date.

While the inseam is lengthy, wearing the shorts at our waist created the illusion of the shorts being shorter than they actually are; this might detract from its appearance for those wanting a more mature and lengthier look. Style aside, the versatility among varying activities is a key advantage for these shorts. Running, as we've already mentioned, is doable, though only recommended for short distances since the material bunches between the legs. The tight elastic waistband also poses the most discomforting factor against running and other endurance sports (especially beneath a pack with a hip belt). Having a 6-inch inseam and technical material makes this pair more applicable across a range of fair-weather conditions and types of outings, like kayaking, for instance.

The Sandy River Cargo is a pair of high-waisted shorts that are breezy and casual. The belt is optional  however  and only adds extra weight.
The Sandy River Cargo is a pair of high-waisted shorts that are breezy and casual. The belt is optional, however, and only adds extra weight.

Water Resistance

Columbia does not label this pair as having OMNI-SHIELD water-resistant technology. However, we were surprised to find during our test that water beads well and does not readily soak into the nylon. These shorts also dry within minutes of casual water contact — as fast as many of the top competitors for this metric. This granted a stronger score, but not as high as those with a DWR finish.

Having water resistance is important, but drying time might be even more so. If you're out in warmer weather, getting wet might actually be a plus. The ability to dry off quickly is what prevents unpleasant circumstances like the lowering of your body temperature if you're exposed to prolonged wetness, especially in the backcountry. Drying time is something we weigh as part of the Features metric, however, since this technicality is (hopefully) a function of intentional design.

The results of our water resistance test. These shorts are not only resistant but also dry within minutes.
The results of our water resistance test. These shorts are not only resistant but also dry within minutes.


Despite not having rear pockets, this pair still comes with four. Two of them are located on the thigh and are cargo-designed. We wish that one of these accessory pockets (with the zipper) could be bigger. While putting anything more than a chapstick or a key isn't necessary for our purposes, the zipper makes the opening very tight and challenging for our fingers. We are a huge promoter of big pockets, and the main two in front are spacious and mesh-lined. Due to the light fabric, though, we wouldn't recommend carrying heavy items.

Additional features include Columbia's UPF 30 sun protection, belt loops and belt, an elastic waistband, and a plastic snap and zip fly closure. We did trend towards removing the belt altogether since the fit was already more than sufficient without it.

These shorts only have four pockets and they are all in front. Two of them are small and cargo-inspired  but almost too small for much use.
These shorts only have four pockets and they are all in front. Two of them are small and cargo-inspired, but almost too small for much use.


Manufactured in Indonesia and backed by Columbia's One Year Good Faith Guarantee, these shorts retail for an incredible price. Packed with perks and utility, they rightfully earn the Best Buy Award. Quality is gratefully upheld as opposed to being sacrificed for affordability with this pair, and while the belt is a bit superfluous, they are worth every penny. If possible, try on the shorts in a store to mitigate a too-tight waistband.


In the end, scoring high in features and breathability isn't enough to outweigh comfort. For us, we want to wear comfortable apparel, and we don't want to spend much time thinking about its performance during our activities; this is where the Sandy River Cargo falls short for strenuous activities. Regardless, they are still a superb piece of apparel and are more than adequate for the casual or intermediate hiker seeking the best deal; for this, we greatly recommended them.

Sara Aranda