A couple years ago, I wrote a post on some of the popular obstacle racing shoes available then. A lot has changed, including the availability of the footwear reviewed in the post!
Before, we only had a couple options to choose from for race day. Now, there are several athletic footwear companies that make treads designed for the demands of a muddy and/or urban obstacle runs, some even specializing in OCR shoes.
When choosing the right fit, keep in mind the most common demands of obstacle racing. Let’s review them from the original post.
Demands of Obstacle Racing: 5 Footwear Needs
You’ll need to be prepared to run, walk, and/or run-walk (crawl?) anywhere from 3-10+ miles, depending on your obstacle race. So your footwear should have some of the characteristics of a running shoe.
2. Running and Walking Over Mud and other Slippery Surfaces
If you have an off-road OCR plan, you’ll need to step through mud, slippery balance beams, mucky hills, and similar obstacles. You’ll need a shoe that will give you some traction.
Since you’ll be running through a lot of mud and possibly rocky patches, it will also be helpful to have a shoe that can provide some protection against debris.
3. Lateral/Multiplanar Foot Motion
Running through unstable surfaces makes for a lot or lateral and multiplanar foot motion. You’ll need a shoe that offers some stability for you to get over uneven surfaces.
If you’re preparing for a zombie-themed run, you will also need a shoe that offers support and flexibility to cut away and escape from the undead.
4. Swimming/Wading in Water
Swimming and/or walking through murky water is a common obstacle in mud runs. Having a shoe with material that dries quickly is a must.
Leaping over fire, climbing to the other side of a wall, getting down a slide — all of these require good landing mechanics.
Having a shoe with some support may help you stick the landing for some obstacles.
In addition to these factors, it’s good to be aware of some of the special features to look for in an obstacle racer.
OCR Footwear Features
Unlike your average running shoe, the soles of most obstacle racing kicks have aggressive treads. Sometimes they’re triangular, rectangular, trapezoidal, or even circular. These treads help you shed mud and debris.
I’ve heard the trapezoidal-shaped lugs shed mud and debris best, but you may need some trial and error to find what works best for you.
If you have an urban obstacle race planned, lugs don’t matter as much. You may actually be better off with a racing flat that has some some features of an OCR shoe, namely, grip for rope climbs. This gets us into the next feature.
Grip Along the Arch (for ropes)
In some obstacle racing shoes, you may notice additional treads along the inside of the arch. These are intended to help with obstacles like rope climbing and other challenges that involve wrapping your feet around a barrier.
Let’s face it. It’s impossible to keep free from water when you are taking on a muddy race. And OCR shoe manufacturers are sensitive to our plight as many now offer drainage punctures along the shoes’ outer.
If you have an obstacle race planned in which you expect trekking and wading through water or muddy deep puddles, look for footwear with drainage capabilities.
Now that we’ve gone over needs and features, let’s get into the actual racing shoes. Here are a few options to consider for your next muddy OR.
Icebug, an athletic footwear company based in Sweden, originally started with the main goal of providing shoes that didn’t slip on ice. Thanks to this objective, Icebug is one of the masters in grip technology.
The Acceleritas, introduced last year is highly reviewed by users and racers. New this year, the Icebug Zeal has also received positive initial reviews.
1. The Icebug Acceleritas
Icebug Acceleritas Features
- Excellent in particular for efficient runners with good form.
- Lightweight, even when water seeps in. (Maybe too lightweight for heavier or inexperienced racers who may need more support in a shoe.)
- Excellent, aggressive treads. Lugs are somewhat trapezoidal, hopefully lending to shedding mud and debris quickly.
- No drainage holes, but mesh is made of non-absorbent material that helps minimize water intake.
- Reviewed highly for OCRs.
2. The Icebug Zeal
New for 2015, the Zeal has garnered raving reviews from obstacle athletes.
Icebug Zeal Features
- Lightweight, but offers a little more stability than the Acceleritas.
- Innovative, aggressive treads. The lugs are a new technology unique to Icebug, designed to help you shed mud and debris quickly.
- Grip along the soles to help with rope climbs.
- No drainage holes, but mesh dries quickly.
- So far, reviewed highly for OCRs.
3. Reebok All Terrain Super
Last year, Reebok rolled out the All Terrain shoe, designed for Spartan Races and other obstacle challenges.
Tried and tested by Spartan Pro Racers, the All Terrain is a great option for casual and serious obstacle racers.
- Lugs: has a ton of them, including tecjnology to help with grip for rope climbing.
- Lightweight and won’t get weighed down by water seepage
- Drainage: has it. In addition to quick dry mesh, the All Terrain Super has drainage ports for water to seep out.
- Specifically designed by and for obstacle racers.
4. Under Armour Speedform
As Tough Mudder sponsors and partners, Under Armour recently got into racing shoe development specific to obstacle endurance challenges.
Unlike their predecessors, Under Armour has a mid and low iteration of their obstacle-specific Speedform shoe.
- Excellent traction, particularly along the toes and also wraps up along heel with additional outsole
- Minimal shoe, but outer rubber sole protects from rocks and other debris on the course.
- Mid variety offers more stability for ankle and extra layer of protection, which may be essential for longer races.
There aren’t too many reviews so far on Amazon, but at the time of this post was published, the shoes had an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
Under Armour Men’s UA SpeedForm Low XC Features
- Lightweight, flexible thanks to low overall profile of shoe. You will feel the trail with this shoe.
- Like the mid variety, traction is excellent and wraps around the heel.
- Like the mid variety, it’s a minimal shoe, but outer rubber sole protects from rocks and other debris on the course.
- Better for speed (in comparison with Mid Speedform XC). Probably better suited for obstacle athletes with a few races under their belts.
So there you have a few different options for you obstacle racing season this year!
There may be some trial and error involved, but considering the high cost of some of these racing shoes, it would be a good idea to read the reviews in depth to see if there are any specific pros and cons that resonate with you.
I have yet to decide on a pair for this year, but I’m leaning towards the Reebok All Terrain Super. More than any other feature, the drainage ports sell me on the shoes. And I like the treads a lot.
What’s your obstacle racing shoe of choice?
© 2009-2015 Melissa Rodriguez
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