Selecting Shoes for Your Next Obstacle Course


Now that the obstacle race date is fast approaching, it may be a good time to take sometime and prepare for the race. One of the most common asked question by a newbie runner is “What type of shoes am I supposed to wear?”.  This article will guide you through what is available on the market so that you can decide which type of shoe is the right one for you.


Some people wear regular sneakers, flip-flops, combat boots, and even one of those $10 throw away sneakers (because your shoes will most likely be trashed when you are done with the race).

Whatever you decide to wear, know that what you wear on your feet may potentially make a key difference between completing the course or bailing out during the competition so research as much as you can before settling on a product. With return friendly online store like Zappos, it is easier than every to try out various shoes (although you may want to try some at your local store first).

While browsing through various shoe brands and models, you will want to consider the following questions:

  • RACE REQUIREMENT – Some mud races like the Original Mud Race require that you wear boots that consists of either leather uppers or a combination of leather and mesh with laces.
  • COMPETITION SPIRIT – Do you want to race competitively or are you happy with just finishing the race?
  • OBSTACLES / TOPOGRAPHY – What type of challenges will you encounter at the race? Remember although most obstacle races will feature mud, the amount and depth of mud can vary greatly. For example, Merrell Down and Dirty has mud that is more akin to a slip-and-slide, whereas Rugged Maniacs go crazy with deep muck infused in a motocross track environment.  You also want to find out as much as possible about the non-mud related obstacles will need to tackle like swimming, bouldering and rock climbing.
  • COMPETING MORE THAN ONCE – You also need to take into account whether this is a once-in-a-lifetime event for you or you plan on becoming a mud racing enthusiast.

In general, it boils down to buying a pair of light weight, quick drying shoes that: a) protects your feet from rocks and branches (as well as occasional barbed wire) and; b) gives you good traction on both dry and wet surfaces.

Of course everyone has differing opinions on which shoe type is the best, but most seem to agree that for races that do not specifically require boots (a la Original Mud Race), a pair of light weight minimalist running shoes win out over heavy, thick-soled sneakers that will soak up mud and water which will make you feel like you are running with cement shoes.

Classic Sneakers vs. Minimalist Shoes

If you are just starting out and unsure whether or not you will like this type of competition, you may simply want to lace up your regular sneakers and compete. However, if you are interested in competing in multiple races, it will definitely be worthwhile to buy a pair of minimalist shoes. Although minimalist shoes are bit pricey, prices should come down as competition increases between brands.

If you have tried out a pair and you know exactly which brand/model is perfect for you, check the REI Outlet for deals on overstocks (50% OFF on Outdoor Gear & Clothing at REI-OUTLET!)

If you decide on a pair of minimalist running shoes, you will need to setup a specific transition time period to gradually allow your foot/ankle/legs/running style to adapt to your new shoes or you may risk getting injured (read more at Barefoot Running Training Tips)

Classic Sneakers

fitness2xtreme-images-review-lm-shoes-old-sneakers-flTo find the best shoe for mud races I searched the web to see what fans of mud races where saying. The below list comprises of the most often recommended sneakers from people who have run multiple mud runs along with the pros and cons for each one.

A common recommendation especially for people who are new to mud racing or who are not sure if they want to do a second mud race is to use an old pair of running shoes that you won’t mind ruining and tossing in the donate pile after the race.

Just make sure the sneaker has a good amount of treads left. You don’t want to be sliding your way through the race.

Pros Cons
  • You don’t need to spend money on new shoes that are about to be forever stained with mud
  • traditional running shoe they will have thick soles and padding that will help protect the bottom of your feet from rocks and other debris.
  • Unless your old running shoes happen to be a pair of minimalist shoes, they will most likely fill with water and mud after the first mud pit making the race much slower and less enjoyable.
  • Also you will never be able to get the silt out of the padding or completely clean the mud off of them.

Minimalist Sneakers – Vibram FiveFingers

fitness2xtreme-images-review-vibram-fivefingers-10-flThe Tough Mudder Race Association decided to poll their visitors to see what people recommended. The Vibram Five Finger shoes came in second place (after an old pair of sneakers). It is also the shoe that most people think about wearing when running a mud run.

There are many variations of the Vibram Five Finger shoes. Some provide more protection and traction then others. You definitely want a shoe that covers the entire foot. The more open Vibram five fingers’ tend to let in small rocks and do not provide adequate protection for the top of your feet. Some race enthusiasts recommend the KSO or the Komodo Sport LS. But I found comments that the KSO does not have enough traction for the obstacles. The Komodo Sport LS seems to have more padding which may provide more protection.

Pros Cons
  • The Five Fingers are the most minimal of the minimalist shoes around which makes make them great for the water related obstacles.
  • Some users report that they can use their toes to grip the climbing obstacles.
  • Fans of these shoes also report they clean up well with a few washings.
  • Because they are so minimal you will feel every rock and they may not be sturdy enough (there have been reports of these shoes ripping on the course.)
  • You will need to spend a decent amount of time getting used to this shoe otherwise you risk injury.
  • Vibram FiveFingers can be snug and it can be hard to get a correct fit


fitness2xtreme-images-review-new-balance-minimus-trail-flAlthough this shoe came in sixth in the Tough Mudder Poll it is probably the most recommend minimalist shoe on the various discussion boards.

According to New Balance, “…The Minimum was designed not to chase trends but rather to satisfy the individuals looking to achieve a closer-to-barefoot running experience…”.

Keeping that in mind, know that there are few different variations of the New Balance Trail shoes; MT 10, MT 20 and the newest version MT ZERO so make sure to try them out at your local store.

Pros Cons
  • Don’t get weighted down by water and mud, dry quickly
  • Provides enough traction on the obstacles and cleaned up after a few cleanings.
  • They also all seem to have the same complaints. They provide little to no protection from rocks and debris on trails, though they have provide more protection than the Five Fingers
  • The fit seems to be true to size if you don’t wear socks or wear very thin socks. If you prefer a heavier sock go up a half size.


fitness2xtreme-images-review-merrell-barefoot-trail-running-2-flThis group of shoes came in third place on the Tough Mudder poll.

The discussion boards generally list the Merrell Barefoot pace and the Merrell Trail Glove as the top recommended shoes for mud races.

Pros Cons
  • Most reviews state the shoe runs true to size
  • Although it has a rock plate there have been reviews on the Trail Gloves that state the rock plate did not provide enough protection from Rocks.

Should you duct tape your shoes to keep them on?

fitness2xtreme-images-review-lm-shoes-duct-tapingThere is a lot of controversy over whether you should use duct tape (or any other type of tape) to keep your shoes on and the mud out of your socks.

Many people will tell you, you need to tape your shoes on during a mud race or risk losing them to a muddy grave, but there are many down sides to taping your shoes on.

The biggest one is that unless you are running in boots (or some other type of shoe that has a heel) when you wrap the tape around the bottom of the shoe you lose gripping surface which you will need for the non-mud related obstacles.

Another disadvantage of taping your shoes is that people have a tendency to tape too tightly reducing the circulation and flexibility therefore increasing the chance of injuries.

There have also been reports from the various racers that the duct tape starts to unravel during the race slowing you down and even causing you to stop to take it off.

The opponents of duct taping your shoes say you are better off just having a good fitting shoe that is tied tightly with a double knot and tuck your laces in.

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