REI Co-op Sahara Long-Sleeve - Women's Review
Cons: Wrinkles relatively easily, sleeve tab extremely high
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The REI Sahara is a button-up shirt with a collar, made of 95% nylon and 5% spandex. It has a 35 UPF rating and features two snap chest pockets, tab sleeves, a back vent, active-style underarm, and a sunglasses loop.
Comfort and Fit
We think the fabric of the Sahara is quite soft and comfortable to wear. It's not the softest or thinnest collared shirt we tested, but clever features and overall flexibility help to make it a great option for staying comfortable and happy, no matter what shape you are. One feature that's not on any of the other button-up models we tested is the underarm panel which helps vent the armpits and eliminate those underarm seams that often cause uncomfortable rubbing. This shirt also has a relaxed yet classically feminine cut that we like.
The features of the Sahara are understated and blend into the design of the shirt better than so many other similar shirts with gaudy pockets, tabs, snaps, and zippers sticking out everywhere. It has less obtrusive chest pockets with small snaps rather than hard-to-use velcro. Our most significant complaints about the Sahara are how easily it wrinkles inside a bag or suitcase, and how high the sleeve tabs are — they practically make this a short-sleeved shirt! — but other than that, this is an excellent sun shirt.
At 35, we aren't blown away by the UPF rating of this shirt. While certainly substantially more protective than sunscreen, this is one of only a few shirts included in this review with a UPF under 50. We also feel that the buttons just below the neck could be placed more helpfully. While leaving them unbuttoned is attractive and comfortable, buttoning them up protects more skin, and we felt this made the neck area quite tight.
However, we are very impressed with the sleeves, which are long enough for even our self-described "ape-armed" testers. They also boast a fairly unique, curved cuff that does a great job protecting the backs of the hands from those harmful UV rays. Additionally, the Sahara comes in several colors that change every year, though inevitably some are always dark — which makes them hotter. If you plan to wear this on very exposed hikes, we'd recommend picking up a lighter color than the dark blue we tested most recently.
The thickness of the fabric on the Sahara is about middle of the road for collared shirts we tested. It's not so thick that you will feel stifled, but it also isn't as thin as some others that almost feel as though you're not even wearing a shirt. The underarm panels are a mixed bag here as well. They're a great help when it comes to mobility, but the fabric used could be thinner to help with venting and sweaty build-up.
On the other hand, our reviewers love the vented back panel. Unlike the other button-up shirts we tested, the Sahara has no inner mesh layer. Instead, it vents directly to the skin, via six small slits that connect across the back with reinforced stitching. These are very helpful for keeping cool, though they can get a bit trapped under a close-fitting backpack. That said, no non-buttoned shirt in our review has any sort of vents, and we appreciate that the Sahara does. When you do find yourself sweating, as you inevitably will, it wicks moisture well and dries quickly to keep you cool and moving.
We really like the classy, feminine cut and versatile design of this shirt. We feel it outcompetes the many boxy or loose shirts out there for style and is much more versatile as both a sun shirt and just a nice indoor option. Our main tester usually isn't a fan of how she looks in a button-up shirt, and even she enjoys wearing this one. It also extends its usability with those underarm panels, making it much more comfortable to paddle or hike briskly using trekking poles. And while lots of other button-up shirts are covered in giant pockets that are an eyesore, the Sahara keeps its features subtle and tucked away.
We're quite impressed by the many general features the Sahara has that make it a solid choice for a variety of activities. It manages to combine underarm panels for mobility, sleeves that roll up high for when you're hot (and remembered your sunscreen!), and a pleasing aesthetic you can wear to brunch. Though it is available in only a few colors (that change every year), we like that the options are a blend of colors that won't break your eyeballs or make you feel like you're a little girl again. Additionally, this is one of only a few shirts in this review that we feel can make a smooth transition from the trail to the office, earning it our Top Pick for Most Versatile.
REI makes the Sahara with double-stitched hems stitched into a 95% nylon, 5% spandex blend. This gives it good stability while still being flexible enough to allow for good range of motion. The underarm panels are also treated to be odor-resistant, which is a nice touch for your thru-hike or extended camping trip.
Though it's not as thick and beefy as some others, we had no issues with the durability of this shirt during the multiple rounds and several months of testing we subjected it to. It's not ripstop, but it's made of a solid material that withstands being scraped through bushes and against rocks. It also has reinforced stitching just about everywhere. Now that we've had it for several years, we can happily report that it still looks as good as the day we first got it.
The Sahara has several understated features that we feel make it useful and classy. The two chest pockets snap closed and are large enough to fit an iPhone 6 while closed. This shirt also has high sleeve tabs, a vented back, movement/smell friendly underarm panels, and a sunglasses loop.
This shirt isn't cheap, but it is about in the middle of the pack when it comes to price. However, for the number of activities, places, and scenarios you can appropriately wear it, we feel the Sahara is well worth what you'll pay. You might even love it so much you end up buying two — have you used your REI dividend yet?
Overall, the REI Sahara is a well-rounded sun shirt for so many different activities. Though it may not have the coverage of some of the other shirts in this review, we think it's a highly versatile shirt that even the anti-button-up shirt-wearers among us have a hard time disliking. Its long list of uses helped it secure a Top Pick Award for Versatility.
— Maggie Brandenburg