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Reviews > Clothing > Hats, Caps and Visors > REI Womens Sahara Hat > Owner Review by Jamie DeBenedetto

Women's Sahara Hat
Recreational Equipment, Inc.

Owner Review


Jamie DeBenedetto

August 30th, 2016

Report Contents

Reviewer's Information

Product Information & Description

Collective Use and Field Conditions

Pros and Cons

Reviewer's Information Back to contents

Name Jamie DeBenedetto

Me and the Saguaro

Age and Gender 43 year old female

Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

Weight 170 lb (77 kg)

Head Circumfrence 22 in (56 cm)

Email JamieD1005(at)


I spent many hours of my youth fishing, rafting, creeking, and dayhiking in the wild places of Arizona. I caught the backpacking bug in high school. Presently I work as an exPAWdition leader so I'm in the field, usually with a pack of dogs, at least sixteen times a month. Primarily I'm a dayhiker with the occasional family camping trip mixed in throughout the year.
I prefer hammocks over ground sleeping and I gravitate toward multifunctional gear that enhances my comfort level with minimal fuss and weight. My total pack weight is typically less than 25 lbs (11 kg).


Phoenix, Arizona - The Grand Canyon State - USA















Product Information Back to contents

Manufacture URL

(Recreational Equipment Inc. (aka REI) -

Year of Manufacture


Made in



US $34.95

(Listed Specifications - Taken from the packaging and/or website)

Total Weight
Not given
Available Colors and Sizes Wombat & White; S/M & L/XL
Crown Height Not given
Brim Width 3.5 in (9 cm)
Materials Nylon outer with a polyester headband
Sun Protection UPF 50+
Care Instructions N/A
Warranty N/A

(Specifications as received and observed by this writer)

Weight (taken with a digital office scale) 2.9 oz (81 g)
Color and Size Tested Wombat; S/M
Crown Height 3.5 in (9 cm)
Brim Width 3.5 in (9 cm)


Product Description Back to contents

The REI Sahara Hat is a wide-brimmed sun hat designed for women. The crown is made of flexible, easily compacted nylon that carries a UPF 50+ rating. (UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, which is an indication of how well the fabric blocks UV rays. A 50+ rating is considered excellent.) There are three ventilation eyelets on each side of the crown and what I'm guessing is a secret compartment on the underside. This area corresponds directly to the top of the wearer's head so any items would need to be pretty flat and lightweight. (Pictured at right) Around the inside of the crown is the moisture-wicking headband, 50% of which is made from recycled polyester. The brim is flexible but slightly more ridged than the crown due to a foam insert. The foam provides a bit of buoyancy as well. Lastly, the Sahara hat has a 14 in (35.5 cm) bit of cord (what they call the chin strap) that cinches up under the chin for a more secure fit.

Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents

I discovered the REI Sahara hat back in 2009. This is actually the third one I've owned but the previous two were slightly different than the current model. These hats get lots of mileage because I live in a sunny climate. Although I split time between this model and one of the older ones, I'm guessing I've worn this hat at least a hundred times in the two years I've owned it. I primarily hike in desert terrain between 1,200 and 3,200 ft (360 and 975 m). My outings are year round giving me exposure to rain, hail, wind, extreme heat, and our norm, beautifully calm, sunny weather. Temperatures ranged anywhere from 45 F (7 C) in winter up to 115 F (46 C) or more in summer. Beyond hiking, the Sahara hat has also seen quite a bit of use on camping and fishing trips, while kayaking, and at numerous other outdoor events.

My Experience Back to contents

Years ago when I was wandering through my local REI (which I do for the exercise, definitely not out of some weird gear obsession) looking for a new sun hat, I chose the Sahara because it had a nice wide brim and the non-rigid crown was more comfortable than the other pre-molded styles I tried. Knowing nothing about the hat prior to my purchase (yes, I searched BGT first) I had no idea that all these years later I'd still be wearing a version of it several times a week. Despite all the different scenarios in which I've used it, it's met my needs perfectly. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a single thing I don't like.

Of the Sahara's many positives, my favorite is how easy it is to clean. The wombat color doesn't show the dirt as much as the white option (which I also own) but after a while sweat and grime do add up. The hat needs nothing more than a quick rinse and it's good to go. Literally, just clean water, no soap or elbow grease. I tend to rinse it, squeeze the water out, rinse it once more, then hang to dry. Even the sweat rings on my white version come right out. The exception is the headband. On the wombat color the headband is a darker brown so the dirt doesn't show up as much but on the white version the band is also white and that has accumulated some dirt intermingled with skin oils over the years. Although these stains do fade a bit with soap and scrubbing, they don't disappear entirely.

I realize hats typically fall into the "simple gear" category, not generally full of bells and whistles but the Sahara has a few surprises under its brim. One is quite literally in the brim. REI has added a layer of foam to the brim which creates the three-fold benefit of shape retention, short-term water resistance and floatation. I've rolled up or folded the hat on several occasions and it always pops back to its original shape within seconds of unfolding. With regard to the water resistance, it takes a while for it to soak through but since the crown is thin nylon, which wets-out much faster, there's really not much of a net benefit. The floatation aspect I've tested several times in various pools, water parks, and lakes, usually by accident. (I'm not always good at remembering to cinch up the chin strap, don't judge!) I won't say it's unsinkable but I haven't lost a hat yet so the foam's doing its job pretty well so far.

The other surprise is this little "compartment" on the inside of the crown. Basically just overlapping material (nylon, same as the whole crown), no button or hook-and-loop closure. Nothing is mentioned about this space on the REI webpage so I can only assume its purpose. To me it appears to be an inconspicuous space where one might conceal very lightweight items like cash, ID, or possibly a key. Since the compartment is right on top of the head, anything placed in there has to be pretty flat, although it is big enough so that all three of the items I listed could fit at the same time. I've only carried cash there once just to see if it was possible. It worked fine as long as I didn't mind sweaty money.

In prep for this report, I did actually rack my brain trying to think of a time the hat had ever fallen short and the only thing I could come up with was the chin strap. Actually, that's not totally accurate, it wasn't the chin strap, it was the lack thereof. The original version used a cord with toggle that ran around the base of the crown. Although I applaud REI's attempt to improve upon such a staple feature of boonie-style hats, this set-up didn't work well at all on windy days. I was glad to see REI make the change in this current version of the Sahara because, for all its simplicity, the adjustable chin strap just plain works. Other than the obvious use of keeping the hat securely on my noggin in windy conditions, I've also used it to hang the hat for drying and to lash it to my pack or kayak. The only improvement I'd love to see REI make regarding this feature is to replace the current strap material with 550 cord. That would take the chin strap to a whole new level of usefulness.

Pros and Cons Thus Far Back to contents

Things I like...

It packs easily and retains its shape even after being rolled up or folded.
It floats.
The headband is quite comfortable due to its soft texture and slight stretch.
The headband does a nice job of wicking moisture.
The chin strap is no fuss and keeps the hat on my head when needed.
Care and cleaning require only a simple rinse.
The wide brim offers excellent shade and short-term protection from rain.

Things I think could be improved...

It'd be even more useful if the chin strap was 550 cord instead of hollow string.
A few more interesting color choices would be fun.
I'd love to see a more ethical choice than China for the manufacturing country.

(The picture to the right is my friend Patrick and I embarking on the last leg of the 62 mile/100 k Black Canyon Trail near Cortes, Arizona, elevation 3,700 ft/1,130 m. Photo taken by Jodi Williams)


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Reviews > Clothing > Hats, Caps and Visors > REI Womens Sahara Hat > Owner Review by Jamie DeBenedetto

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