Frugal hiker that I am, really, I picked up a couple of pairs of REI Sahara Convertible Pants on sale. They’re quite thin nylon pants with color coded zip off legs and lots of pockets, including side cargo pockets. I’ve never been a huge fan of convertible pants or cargo pants because I don’t like the feeling of knee zippers rubbing against my legs or the bulk of big side pockets. But I figured I’d give them a go and return them if they didn’t work out. They were marked down at a bargain price that I couldn’t pass up. Much to my surprise, they turned out to be perfect for hot and humid weather and for travel, both as shorts and long pants, and I wear them far more often than I’d have expected.
Specs at a Glance
- Weight: 11.4 oz in a men’s 36 x 30, also available in women’s sizes
- Pockets: 6, including two zippered side cargo pockets
- Material: 94% nylon/6% spandex
- UPF Rating: 50
- Shorts Inseam: 10″
If you’re a regular reader, you know I am a diehard fan of RailRiders EcoMesh long pants for hiking in tick territory because they’ve been pre-treated with Insect Shield (Permethrin) which kills insects that land on the pants. While the EcoMesh Pants have long mesh vents along the legs, they become too uncomfortable to wear when it’s really hot and humid or I find myself hiking in desert terrain where shorts are far more comfortable to wear and ticks aren’t an issue. The side zippers on the EcoMesh pants also set off TSA alarms at airport security, necessitating a pat down, so I avoid traveling with them.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Sahara Pants. They’re made with a very thin and lightweight fabric which is soft, cool and quite pleasant to wear. They’re super breathable and if you hold the fabric up to the light, you can pretty much see through them. They dry quickly when they get wet and require no special care when washing. I use the shorts as swim trunks when modesty is called for, in addition to hot weather hiking, mountain biking, and kicking around town.
The fit is comfortable and relaxed without being baggy and the belt loops accommodate a standard belt, although I usually wear the pants without one. The adjustable waist band is nice when they loosen up or if you’ve lost weight during a trip. The crotch is gusseted which is good for scrambling and active use. The zip-off legs are color-coded and easy to remove or attach and the zippers have proven durable and trouble-free.
There are multiple ways to vent the Sahara Convertible Pants. You can unzip the knees part way without completely taking the legs off. There’s also a side zipper that runs from the ankle to the knee that you can open to vent your calves, with a snap at the bottom cuff to keep them securely attached to your leg. Depending on the dimensions of your thighs, you can also unsnap the bottom cuff, roll up the legs above your knees, and snap them to wear the pants as shorts, without unzipping the legs at all.
There are two front pockets, two pockets on the bum, and two on the sides. The ones on the bum and sides have top flaps, while the side pockets also have zippers on top for secure storage. I wish there was a zipper inside one of the front pockets to hold a travel wallet for airport and train travel, but it’s not a deal killer. The side cargo pockets are flush with the sides of the pants, and not bulky at all like traditional army pants, so you hardly know they’re there.
If you’re looking inexpensive hiking or everyday utility pants, I’d recommend trying these REI Sahara Convertible Pants. I like buying REI clothing because it’s usually high quality and relatively inexpensive compared to more mainstream brands. One trick I use is to buy “unpopular” colors or the ones that REI offer sales pricing on. You can save a substantial amount of money that way.