REI SAHARA CONVERTIBLE PANTS
TEST SERIES BY SHAWN CHAMBERS
November 10, 2015
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sound_foundation AT yahoo DOT com
Lexington, Kentucky, USA
5' 10" (1.78 m)
182 lb (82.60 kg)
Backpacking Background: I love Appalachian hikes and being in the woods. My preference is for a hike that leads to a stellar view. Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are my usual stomping grounds. I increasingly find myself enjoying longer, multi-day hikes and I try to find a good balance between pack weight and comfort. I generally have a base weight of 12-15 lb (5.4 - 6.8 kg).
Manufacturer: Recreational Equipment, Inc.
Year of Manufacture: 2015
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.rei.com
MSRP: US $64.50
Colors: Asphalt (tested), Black, Brownstone, Concrete, Sandcastle
Waist: Small, Medium (tested), Large, X Large, XX Large, XXX Large - Note: Not all colors available in all inseam lengths
Inseam: 28" (71 cm ), 30" (76.2 cm), 32" (81.3 cm - tested), 34" (86.4 cm), 36" (86.4 cm)
Measured Weight: 12.1 oz (343 g) for size Medium
I feel like I must start this test with a confession: I have never worn a pair of convertible pants before. Ever. Okay, I got that off my chest. The reasons are many. I like my high activity pants to be slim fitting whenever possible and convertible pants are usually baggy in the thigh area so they look like proper shorts when the legs are removed. Also, I was never a fan of having to sit down, take off my shoes, etc. to convert a pair of pants to shorts while on the trail. Lastly, I have owned several dual purpose items in my lifetime and I generally find when something tries to be two things it often fails at both of them. For these reasons, I have paid little to no attention to any advancements or new designs in this area of outdoor clothing.
Recently I had been considering a pair of convertible pants because I never pack extra pants on my two to three day hikes and my pants often have very dirty legs after just one day on the trail. I admit it would be nice to remove the legs and scrub them out and let them dry while still having a pair of shorts to hang out in around camp. So despite the negatives I stated above, I will admit that I was very intrigued when I read about the test opportunity for the Recreational Equipment, Inc. (hereafter "REI") Sahara Convertible Pants. Why? The design centers around what REI dubs No-Sit Zips, which means that each leg can be removed while standing with no need for the wearer to remove any footwear or drag a pant leg down and over muddy boots or shoes. If this design really works well I can see how useful this would be during my long, sweltering summer hikes coming up.
Fit, Fashion, and Features
I was glad to see that my REI Sahara Convertible Pants (hereafter generally just "pants") arrived in my preferred color of Asphalt. These pants have an elastic waistband and the size Medium is stated to be 32-34" (~81-86 cm), which ended up fitting me perfectly in the waist with no need for a belt. I will mention that waist sizes are available from Small all the way to XXXLarge (28" - 50" or 71 to 127 cm) and a handful of different inseams as seen above. The length was as expected.
REI did not list a weight for these pant on the store website, so tossing them on my digital scale was one of the first things I did. For the size Medium, the total weight is 12.1 oz (343 g). Once the legs are removed the remaining shorts are 8.0 oz (227 g) and the combined weight of the removed legs is 4.1 oz (116 g). This was a pleasant surprise. Given the big side pockets I had guessed they would be a bit heavier.
Trying them on, the bagginess in the thighs was also as expected, but not as bad as I feared. Double checking against two other pair of hiking pants I own, the REI pants measure 11.5" (29.2 cm) across the lower thigh area, which is only 0.5" (1.3 cm) wider than my other pants. I can live with this.
The material is soft feeling to the hand and listed on the waist tag as 100% nylon with a 100% polyester interior waistband, which feels softer to me than the nylon. The hand feel of the material and the weight of the garment make me hopeful that it will be quick drying and fairly durable. REI's website also states that the fabric is rated to UPF 50+ for ultraviolet protection and it has a durable water repellent finish. Overall the construction seemed okay, but I did notice a few loose threads here and there which I will keep an eye on for any future seam separation.
These are cargo pants and have many pockets. There are two front hand pockets and the right one has an interior small pocket for change inside. The two back pockets are flap covered with hook and loop closures. In addition, the right side back pocket also has a zipper closure. Each outside leg has a large cargo pocket also with a flap hook and loop closure. The left hand side also has an added zipper closure for extra security as seen in the photo. The bottoms and sides of the cargo pockets are bellowed to allow for placement of larger items in them, too. Curiously the right sided leg pocket has a small outer pocket which has a hook and loop closure, but I have no idea for what use it would be best suited. I suppose it would be okay for keys just walking around, but I doubt I would use it on the trail since I would worry about something falling out of it. There is easily enough pocket space for me in these pants. My only complaint is I use my right side leg pocket constantly for my phone, license, money, etc. I wish the zipper were on the right side pocket and not the left leg pocket. With roughly 90% of the world being right handed it seems the zipper would be better on this side.
|Flap / Zipper Closure|
Of course, the key feature is probably the No-Sit Zip legs. I was able to figure out how to remove them quickly enough, but my first reaction to putting them back on was trying to orient them. I quickly realized that REI must have anticipated that since each leg has a different colored zipper to easily distinguish right from left. The colors are widely different for the zippers and even in low light I feel like it would be easy to tell them apart. Once oriented properly, the legs are actually fairly straightforward for me to reattach. My only concern is that the zippers do not feel particularly robust to me. I look forward to seeing how well they hold up in the coming months.
|Color Coded Zippers|
So far, I have only worn these around the neighborhood for a few daily walks and trips to the grocery. These pants have a pretty nice rugged look to them and they have been comfortable to wear under these casual conditions. I look forward to the trying them on the trail in the coming months.
My initial impression of the REI Sahara Convertible Pants is a positive one. The style and fit are both better than I anticipated. The pockets are numerous. The No-Sit Zips work well and are easy for me to use. My only complaints are I wish the zipper were on the right leg instead of left leg pocket, there are some loose threads, and I do have concern about the durability of the leg zippers.
Performance In The Field
Date: July 18 - 19, 2015
Location: Sheltowee Trace, Kentucky
Distance: 30 miles (48 km)
Temperature: 70 - 97 F (21 - 36 C)
Date: July 27 - Aug 3, 2015
Location: West Highland Way, Scotland
Distance: 96 miles (155 km)
Temperature: 42 - 66 F (6 - 19 C)
I finally had the chance in mid-July to put the REI Sahara Convertible Pants to my first proper test. I knew that I would have no problem using them as shorts on this trip since the weather forecast called for a heat index of around 105 F (41 C). Kentucky's humidity is no joke!
The start time was an early 7:45 a.m. to take advantage of the cooler morning temperature for as long as possible. It barely mattered. Within the first hour I was already dripping sweat and paused to take the legs off the pants. I had practiced enough that I had both legs removed and stowed in my pack in less than a minute. The relief was immediate. The Sheltowee Trace on this particular stretch is overgrown in spots with lots of blow downs, but the few scrapes and scratches would be worth the ability to vent some heat.
I had my phone, keys, and a small plastic zip bag with my license and a few bucks in cash stowed in the right cargo pocket and only a bandana stored in my left. I hadn't noticed much movement during the first few miles, but once the legs were removed it was immediately apparent to me how much more the legs shifted due to the weight in the pockets. Sadly, briars and trail growth weren't the issue with my legs - it ended up being the shorts!
I don't know if it was a combination of the heat, sweat, stuff in the pockets, or just my physique, but within 30 minutes or so I began to feel irritation behind both knees from the shorts. I tried to ignore it, but it became worse and started to genuinely hurt. I tried everything that I could think of in the next couple of hours because I dreaded the heat of wearing pants, but nothing worked. I tried rolling the legs up, but they wouldn't stay. I tried pulling the waist up higher and cinching my backpack hipbelt extra tight to hold the waistband, but that also failed. The spot just kept rubbing. I finally conceded defeat. I examined the back of my legs, which now looked like I had a large rash on them. I had no choice but to reattach the leg bottoms.
I finished the first day with no more rubbing, but the pants were soaked in sweat. Fortunately, the material is light enough that they dried out pretty quickly once I was at camp. I did convert the pants back into shorts at camp that night, but promptly made them pants again the next morning.
The second day was just as hot as the first, but the back of my legs were still tender from the previous day and I wasn't about to remove the legs again and exacerbate the problem. I was disappointed that here I was on the hottest hike of the year and I couldn't take advantage of having shorts.
|Bringing the Sahara to Scotland|
I checked the pants over thoroughly after this first hike and was disappointed to see a hole in the back of the left leg area just above the reinforced area. I don't remember snagging them on anything, but there was a small hole. Fortunately it didn't get any bigger after washing but I plan on patching it in the future.
The Sahara Convertible Pants were given a second chance just a bit over a week later. I opted to bring them along with one other pair of hiking pants for my eight day venture up the West Highland Way. The temperature change was truly remarkable. The triple digit Kentucky summer was quickly forgotten in the mid 60s F (~18 C) days trekking through the windy Scottish Highlands.
I quickly became happy with my pants again. The side cargo pockets were great for carrying my passport, cash, phone, etc. I also loved having the internal coin pocket within the right hand pocket - great for stowing £1 coins in. At night, the style of the pants made them nice enough to eat in a pub or go out for a beer without looking too much like "hiker trash". Some nights if the legs were soiled I would remove them, wash them, and hang them to dry and lounge around in the shorts worn over my lightweight sleeping thermal bottoms. I really like how quickly the material dried.
Once the trip was over, I again carefully examined the pants and found that the right cuff now has a one inch wear hole at the bottom hem. I guess this was from scraping the ground. I will keep an eye on this hole as well to make sure it doesn't become a problem.
|Two trips, two holes|
All in all, I found the pants to be very packable, comfortable, and stylish. Of course, the Scottish temperatures never once made me want to hike in them as shorts and this is probably why I enjoyed them so much. Even though I had a second pair of hiking pants with me I wore the Sahara Convertible Pants the vast majority of the time. They felt great on the trail.
Thoughts to Date
I have been able to use the REI Sahara Convertible for nearly 100 trail miles (161 km), but I still have mixed feelings. When I wear them as pants I really like them, but as shorts...well, so far not so much. I will give them another go on a hot day-hike soon and see if they are still as irritating to my legs while in shorts mode. I will say when casually worn as shorts around the house and neighborhood they seem to function okay with very little irritation. I think my heavy sweating, more heavily laden pockets, and faster pace all led to them rubbing me raw when on the trail. Even if I find them a failure as shorts when hiking I still like the ability to remove the legs for cleaning while wearing the shorts around camp. I have durability concerns, though, since both hikes have led to holes in the pants. Admittedly, this is a fair amount of trail miles, but I would have expected them to hold up better.
Date: Aug 22 - 23, 2015
Location: Sheltowee Trace, Kentucky
Distance: 29 miles (47 km)
Temperature: 60 - 88 F (16 - 31 C)
Date: Oct 24 - 25, 2015
Location: Sheltowee Trace, Kentucky
Distance: 28 miles (45 km)
Temperature: 59 - 71 F (15 - 22 C)
I only had a short rest period once returning from Scotland and fortunately the temperatures in Kentucky were still hot enough for me to test the REI Convertible Pants as shorts. I waited until mid-afternoon during my August hike until the temperature was near its peak and paused trailside to zip off the legs. My pockets were filled with the usual gear I have been carrying: phone, bandana, license and credit card, GPS unit, and keys. Of course, I instantly felt relief from the heat and this sense of comfort lasted for at least a half hour. Unfortunately, the relief wouldn't last long.
It only took a short time before I started noticing the same rubbing sensation that had plagued me during my very hot July hike. The legs of the converted shorts were swinging pretty freely and I could feel them rubbing just above the back of my knee. I tried to tough it out for a few minutes and rearranged some of the things in my pockets, but quickly made the decision that it just wasn't worth it. I stopped and could tilt my leg enough to already spy a red chaffing mark along each leg. I still had lots of miles to travel that day and the next and wanted to do it in comfort so I had no choice but to reattach the legs. I immediately felt better and by the next day I noticed the irritated area was already fading. I'm glad I didn't hesitate this time and just admitted defeat.
Once back home, I removed the legs and turned the pants inside out and inspected the interior to try and figure out why they irritate my legs. I still can't decide. The zipper is covered by a flap of fabric, but it still creates a slightly raised band around the leg. Also, the interior stitching is a bit rough and maybe that is the part that is rubbing. I really don't know. I have shown a picture below pointing to the covered zipper area and the stitching. Neither of these areas seem particularly rough when I rub them with my hands, but it seems my anatomy, sweat, and the motion of the legs are causing something to really bother my skin. I wish I had taken a photo of my legs back in July because this time I switched back to pants so quickly that the irritated area didn't show up well when I tried to photograph it the next day.
I only had one more chance to use these pants during the final months of testing and that was for a much cooler October stretch of the same trail. Like my earlier hikes, when I use them strictly as pants they feel great and perform well. I had no need to even consider using the pants in shorts mode on this hike due to the crisp Autumn temperatures. I did encounter a bit of rain and was very pleased with how quickly the fabric dried out.
These last two hikes did have quite a bit of deadfall, rocks, thorns, and other things that could easily do damage to clothing. During my final inspection I did not notice any new damage and the other two areas I mentioned in my Field Report have not worsened. The color has not faded after many washings and I do not notice any loose stitching or fault with any of the zippers or hook and loop closures.
I will admit that I am disappointed that I can't wear these convertible pants as shorts during hot, active trail walking - the time when they would benefit me the most. I am also disappointed that I can't seem to solve the puzzle of why they rub me the wrong way. Everyone's anatomy is different and something is just not compatible with my legs and these shorts.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Despite this shortcoming (pun intended) I still actually really like these Sahara Pants. I still enjoy wearing them with the legs detached at night around camp so I can clean the mud off the legs. Although I had some initial doubts about the long term durability of these pants, I actually feel pretty positive about them now - especially considering they have seen 150+ miles (240+ km) on the trail. I like the pockets now that I have had a chance to figure out what goes where. I also think they are stylish enough that I feel good wearing them casually around town.
I actually would buy these REI Sahara Convertible Pants again and use them. I have resigned myself to the fact that I may not be able to take advantage of them as shorts, but I still enjoy enough of the other features to make them worthwhile. I like the comfort and the fit is perfect for me. I have no doubt that I will use them for many more miles on the trail.
I give sincere thanks to BackpackGearTest.org and REI for allowing me to test these pants.
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