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
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.
and Cons Thus Far
Things I like...
It packs easily and retains
its shape even after being rolled up or folded.
The headband is quite comfortable due to its soft texture and
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
Things I think could
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
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)