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REI Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants Review

REI Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants Review

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.

Side calf zips provide ventilation and make the lower legs easy to take off

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.

The REI Sahara Convertible pants come with standard belt loops and a cinchable webbing strap for fine tuning the fit.
The REI Sahara Convertible pants come with standard belt loops and a cinchable webbing strap for fine tuning the fit.

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.

Hiking in REI’s Sahara Convertible Pants
Hiking in REI’s Sahara Convertible Pants

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.

Disclosure: The author purchased this product.
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  1. I have been using Sahara zip-offs for more years than I can remember years. I liked the original pair so much I have picked up additional ones when REI had 20% off sales. I have not bought any new ones in quite a few years, but they used to be available in 28″ inseam, which was the original reason I tried them. Other than winter, they are about all I hike in based on the venting options you mention. To resolve the tick problem, I just sent my to Insect Shield and had then treated. Thanks for the review.

  2. I’ve traveled and hiked extensively in Sahara pants. I’ve been very satisfied with them, especially their quick-drying performance in humid Tennessee summers. I’ve ripped a couple pairs in prickly vegetation in the Texas/New Mexico area, and ripped up another pair on a butt slide, but in general the failure mode that I’ve experienced from them has been that they’ve simply worn out from age after several years.

  3. What I love even more than these are the Sahara pants that have roll-up legs that you can convert to crop pants or just below the knee shorts. Then you don’t have to worry about losing a leg or dealing with zippers if you want to cover your legs quickly. Only two problems is that 1.) I wish the legs rolled up past the knees, but I guess then you’d have a lot of material rolled up that might get uncomfortable and 2.) last I saw, they had changed them so that they only rolled up to the crop pants version, which is useless IMO because in hot weather I want to be wearing shorts, thank you very much. Having an inch or two of uncovered leg is a world of difference from having most of your lower leg free.

  4. These used to be great pants, I have two pairs of 7+ years old medium-weight nylon men’s L, 30″ inseam, still good as new. (I am a 5’5″ 110# woman). Huge cargo pockets a plus for me, as is generous cut, much better than women’s version, which was narrow. If I can’t do a full squat (sit on heels) without the pants binding, I don’t buy. Seeing as I do a fair amount of macrophotography and am often squatting or on knees photographing a mushroom or ground plant, a loose cut is necessary. I gather from the comments at REI that the new ones are cut smaller and have smaller pockets, a minus so far as I am concerned.

    Shameless plug for “Insect Shield Your Own Clothes” treatment service. The Insect Shield mail-in-your-clothes people do fast work at a good price – best value out there, particularly when you get home and find a dead tick on your sock cuff.
    www dot insectshield dot com/Insect-Shield-Your-Clothes-P338 dot aspx

  5. They were decent while they lasted, but I busted a knee or leg zipper in less than a year. Given, I was scrambling rocks so maybe beyond normal use, but still…

    Good for the price.

  6. I’ve generally had a good experience with REI branded gear and clothes over the years. This includes the Sahara line of clothing, especially shirts and shorts. The current generation of shorts are cut differently, though, and i’ve had stitching come undone prematurely. The shirt cuts keep changing, too. I suppose this is not so unusual among manufacturers these days. If you find something you like, stock up before it’s discontinued or “improved.”

    I’ve yet to find any convertible pants where the seam didn’t uncomfortably rub on the front of my thigh. Sadly, the REI ones do this, too. And, as with most shorts, the inseam is too long. Shorts shouldn’t come almost to the knee. Running shorts or Patagonia Baggies work best for me, and i just carry a pair of lightweight long pants when and where the extra coverage or warmth is needed.

  7. Great pants. I’ve had a pair for probably 10 years. Other than fading they’ve held up to hundreds of miles of hiking and numerous camping trips. I got an ash hole in them a while back and would like a new pair. But REI like so many other clothing companies only make clothes for the average person. So I can’t get the length I need. I guess I’ll need to shop elsewhere.

  8. Just bought a pair today. Be warned that REI has a lot of variants using the Sahara branding.

    The ones I bought last year annoyed me because the main pockets were not as deep as earlier models. When you sat down on a chair, your change and pocket knife would slip out.

    Not all models have the side zips Phil shows.

    The Sahara Classic Convertible Pants Relaxed Fit model seems to have all the good features.

    By the way, in New England I wear these anytime it is above freezing.

    • Hmmm – was looking at REI website today and the reviews seem to indicate REI has made them even worse, The bad reviews seem to have started in Summer 2019. Too small, changes to lower leg so it doesn’t full unzip. Can’t get to the store during the crisis, but I don’t think I’ll buy them.

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