Our verdict

We think that the Fairbanks Mid from Columbia is something you'd be compelled to make your go-to on fall-to-early-winter excursions. As long as those excursions are short, sweet, and...easy. You see, there is a lot we love about the boot but when it comes to serious hikes, it works more like a hiking-inspired sneaker than a dedicated workhorse. But for a light, city-trail kind of hike, we found this super lightweight and snazzy boot hard to ignore.

Pros

  • Remarkably light
  • Head-turning looks
  • Excellent waterproofing
  • Good grip on mild terrain
  • Hard-wearing outsole
  • Soft cushioning
  • Flexible design
  • Fits as expected

Cons

  • Not a true hiking boot
  • Lacks support and stability

Audience verdict

80
Good!

Who should buy

The Fairbanks Mid is a men's hiking boot from Columbia. We think that it is a great pick for the guys who:

Columbia Fairbanks Mid review

Who should NOT buy

This Columbia boot is ideal for more casual outdoor adventures but is no good for demanding hikes. If you need truly functional footwear for multi-day trips, steep inclines, and challenging terrain, we recommend the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX instead.

And if you don't hike in mud, river crossings, or downpours on a daily basis, we suggest that you consider a non-waterproof boot instead. The Timberland Euro Hiker, for example, allows the foot to breathe while keeping it protected from shallow puddles and drizzles.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid lab test

Breathability

The waterproofing appears to be quite effective in the Columbia Fairbanks Mid. It completely eliminates breathability in the upper!

We used a smoke-pumping machine to test how permeable the boot's textile is. As you can see from the video below, the smoke is only able to escape through the gaps at the very top of the collar. Thus, we rated the breathability of this Columbia boot as low as 1 out of 5.

In our follow-up transparency test, we put the boot's upper against the light. It is clear that there are no extra perforations or ventilation holes on the boot.

Lastly, we had a look at the textile up close through a microscope.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid microscope 1

Being so incredibly densely woven, neither water nor air has a chance to pass through.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid microscope 2

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 1
Average 1.6
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Heel padding durability

The heel counter turned out to be a problem too. Squeezing and pushing it revealed how floppy this part of the upper is! We gave it a low stiffness rating of 2 out of 5 as well.

Given these findings, we do believe that the Fairbanks Mid is more of a mid-cut hiking-inspired sneaker rather than a proper hiking boot because of its lack of stiffness and structure.

But if you're someone who goes on light hikes and doesn't rely on strong ankle support, this may be fine by you.

Outsole hardness

Columbia chose a super hard rubber compound for the Fairbanks Mid's outsole. Pressing our durometer against it returned 89.4 HC. This is a few points harder than the average of our lab-tested hiking boots.

This is a really good sign as we have found harder outsoles to last longer.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Outsole hardness
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 89.4 HC
Average 87.7 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
81.0 HC
Outsole hardness
92.1 HC

Outsole thickness

The outsole itself is of average thickness in this Columbia boot. Excluding the lugs, our calliper shows a 2.6-mm layer of rubber underfoot.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Outsole thickness
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 2.6 mm
Average 3.0 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
1.8 mm
Outsole thickness
5.6 mm

Weight

Putting the boot on for the first time, we were pleasantly surprised with how light it felt on the foot.

Placing the boot back on the scale, we found that it weighs 15 oz (425g) in a men's US size 9. That's incredibly lightweight given that waterproof hiking boots on average weigh a whopping 20 oz (568g)!

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 17.95 oz (509g)
Average 18.48 oz (524g)
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
11.71 oz (332g)
Weight
28.29 oz (802g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

When it comes to cushioning, the Fairbanks Mid features a rather minimal and grounded platform.

Using a calliper, we measured its heel stack height at 30.9 mm. That's half a centimetre lower than average!

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Heel stack

That is one of the main reasons why we don't recommend this boot for serious hiking adventures. The lack of cushioning becomes very apparent after only 5 miles of walking.

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 30.9 mm
Average 36.3 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
26.2 mm
Heel stack
46.9 mm

Forefoot stack

Based on our measurement, your toes are separated from the ground by a mere 19.4 mm of sole! That's one of the thinnest forefoot stacks we've seen on hiking boots.

A no-no for long distances!

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Forefoot stack
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 19.4 mm
Average 22.5 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
17.0 mm
Forefoot stack
30.7 mm

Drop

In the Columbia Fairbanks Mid, your heel is elevated above the toes by 11.5 mm. That's a standard drop for a hiking boot.

You need more cushioning in the heel to protect it from the impact while the forefoot remains more flexible.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Drop
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 11.5 mm
Average 13.8 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
2.6 mm
Drop
20.9 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

We expected minimal cushioning from this Columbia boot and were left surprised by its softness!

Measuring the boot's primary foam, our durometer showed a reading of 19.9 HA. That is a whole 41% softer than hiking boots on average!

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Midsole softness

Generally, you want a slightly firmer boot to keep you and your load supported throughout the hike. And for that reason, we think that it's better to use the Fairbanks Mid for hard-packed trails and semi-paved roads, where soft ride is more appreciated.

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 19.9 HA
Average 27.1 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
15.4 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
53.3 HA
Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

Difference in midsole softness in cold

However, if you are picking this Columbia boot for winter or as a three-season boot, be prepared that the softness will reduce!

To mimic cold weather, we kept the boot in the freezer for 20 minutes. After that, we repeated the durometer measurement and it now showed 29.1 HA.

On the bright side, this is still 16% softer than what we saw in the other lab-tested boots.

That was quite a leap. The Fairbanks Mid's cushioning firmed up by 46.2% after this test!

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Difference in midsole softness in cold
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 46.2%
Average 19.3%
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in midsole softness in cold
100%

Insole thickness

A finishing touch in the boot's cushioning is the insole. We measured its thickness at 5.6 mm which is only about a millimetre thinner than average.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Insole thickness
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 5.6 mm
Average 6.1 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
3.7 mm
Insole thickness
10.7 mm

Stability

Torsional rigidity

The Columbia Fairbanks Mid is the exact opposite of a stable and supportive hiking boot.

Our manual assessment of the boot's pliability showed that it has little-to-no torsional rigidity. On a 1-5 scale where 5 is the stiffest we only gave it a 2!

In addition to the boot's soft cushioning, we think that it's a disaster formula for flat feet and/or overpronation.

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 2
Average 4.3
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The heel counter turned out to be a problem too. Squeezing and pushing it revealed how floppy this part of the upper is! We gave it a low stiffness rating of 2 out of 5 as well.

Given these findings, we do believe that the Fairbanks Mid is more of a mid-cut hiking-inspired sneaker rather than a proper hiking boot because of its lack of stiffness and structure.

But if you're someone who goes on light hikes and doesn't rely on strong ankle support, this may be fine by you.

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 2
Average 3.5
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Flexibility

Stiffness

The boot's flexibility wasn't a big surprise given its lack of stability and support.

According to our force gauge, it took as little as 18.6N to bend the boot to a 90-degree angle. That's a whopping 122% less than it takes a hiking boot on average!

Of course, it makes this Columbia boot feel more like a sneaker on the trail as it bends easily along with your foot. This made us even more convinced that the Fairbanks Mid is just a high-rise outdoor sneaker.

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 18.6N
Average 44.9N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
16.6N
Stiffness
84.7N

Difference in stiffness in cold

But just like its cushioning gets firmer, the boot tends to get stiffer in low temperatures.

It required more force (29.9N) to bend the boot after it had spent 20 minutes in the freezer. Still not as stiff as most hiking boots though (59N).

For context, the boot stiffened up by a good 60.8%!

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 60.8%
Average 25.4%
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in stiffness in cold
100%

Grip / Traction

Lug depth

Measuring the lugs of the Columbia Fairbanks Mid, we found them to be a little shallower than average. At 3.5 mm, these treads are not as toothy as most.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Lug depth

But from our experience, they still do a great job on moderate terrain and on slightly wet surfaces.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid outsole

However, if you need a pair to deal with mud, mossy roots, and wet rocks, we recommend going for the more aggressive traction pattern. Like that on the Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX.

Salomon-X-Ultra-4-Mid-GTX 10.jpg

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 3.5 mm
Average 4.2 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
3.0 mm
Lug depth
5.8 mm

Size and fit

Toebox width at the big toe

However, if you are picking this Columbia boot for winter or as a three-season boot, be prepared that the softness will reduce!

To mimic cold weather, we kept the boot in the freezer for 20 minutes. After that, we repeated the durometer measurement and it now showed 29.1 HA.

On the bright side, this is still 16% softer than what we saw in the other lab-tested boots.

That was quite a leap. The Fairbanks Mid's cushioning firmed up by 46.2% after this test!

Test results
Fairbanks Mid 86.5 mm
Average 78.4 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
67.6 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
91.1 mm

Toebox feel

For a medium-width foot like ours, the Columbia Fairbanks Mid proved to be a very well-fitting pair of boots.

There was enough room for our toes to splay freely and even fit a thicker sock.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid laces

Tongue: gusset type

The boot comes with a fully-gusseted tongue which perfectly complements its waterproofing capacities. The gussets don't let water and debris inside the boot while also creating a secure foothold.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Tongue: gusset type
Test results
Fairbanks Mid Both sides (full)

Comfort

Tongue padding

The interiors are very well-padded in the Fairbanks Mid. There is 12.1 mm of foamy padding in the tongue of the boot, about the same amount as we see in most hiking boots.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Tongue padding
Test results
Fairbanks Mid 12.1 mm
Average 11.0 mm
Compared to 25 hiking boots
Number of shoes
5.9 mm
Tongue padding
22.3 mm

Heel tab

A finger loop at the back assists in getting the boot on. Nice and handy.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Heel tab
Test results
Fairbanks Mid Finger loop

Removable insole

For those who need customised support on the trail, the boot's insole is easily removable to accommodate any custom insert.

Columbia Fairbanks Mid Removable insole
Test results
Fairbanks Mid Yes