5 Essential Items for Your Obstacle Course Race Kit
There are few events more fun, life-affirming, or challenging to your all-round fitness than obstacle races. These races present an intoxicating mixture of strength-focused features and endurance-targeting runs.
Having the right gear to take on such a race can be the difference between hopping over the finish line with one shoe, covered in scratches and bruises, and carrying a field’s worth of mud in your shorts or powering past the flag with all your faculties and expensive kit in one piece.
With that in mind, here is the equipment you should buy if you want to optimise performance while staying comfortable, well-fuelled, and with a bit of luck, injury-free.
You need shoes that offer excellent grip on a variety of surfaces - from mud and sand to wet grass and metal. That means soles with deep lugs in key areas and enough room between them that mud can be easily cleared during running sections of your race.
Your shoes should have high eyelets so your laces sit high, securing your shoes to your feet - essential for keeping them on as you make your way through sections of cloying mud. Drainage is also key. Your feet will be regularly submerged during a race, so unless you want to run in a pair of shoes that feel like fish tanks, you want kicks with a porous upper that releases water as quickly as it allows water in. Shoes with a hardened nose are of great benefit because they can minimise nasty toe stubs when you accidentally kick underwater rocks.
Shoe of Choice: Inov-8 X-Talon 212, £56.95
If we treat the above-mentioned features as boxes, these shoes tick all of them. Dense toe caps protect your foot digits and high eyelets keep the shoes on your foot in the deepest, suckiest mud. A breathable upper allows water to quickly drain, and the 6mm drop and deep lugs allow for a well-gripping, barefoot-style feel that will keep you light and fast on any terrain.
You’re powering through the race, the mud has barely slowed you down, and you’re tearing through the log carries. Then you get to the “world’s longest monkey bar” and you slip off the second bar straight into the neck-deep pool of freezing cold water below. Grip strength is one of the first things to desert you when you start to get tired. That, or the organisers have covered the bars in butter, which some have been known to do.
To increase your chances of swinging your way through this type of obstacle, or handling every rope climb in your race with aplomb, a pair of obstacle race-friendly gloves are what you need. These gloves should offer excellent dry and wet grip, and allow water to drain so they don’t feel boggy and uncomfortable. It’s also essential that any gloves you buy are super-durable because they’ll get snagged and scuffed during an obstacle race. I suggest staying away from pure neoprene, which are often light and quick drying but can tear easily.
Glove of Choice: Mechanix Wear M-Pact, £22.99
These come in full and fingerless versions so you have an option for cold- and hot-weather races. These gloves are not actually made for obstacle racing but have a ton of features that make them perfect for this purpose. Form-fitting TrekDry material keeps them snug and helps them to drain water quickly. Sonic-welded thermal rubber protects your knuckles from bangs and bumps, and XRD palm padding enhances grip on monkey bars and ropes while protecting callouses you’ve created in the gym.
You can get some seriously cool first-person video clips at an obstacle race, but not if you lose your camera the first time you get violently submerged after slipping off a set of monkey bars. And this happens a lot.
According to one Tough Mudder official I spoke to, they often fish around twenty cameras out of water features after an event - mainly because people have attached them badly. If you still want to have possession of your expensive action camera at the end of your race, the best option is to chest mount it with one of the strapping systems that locks over your shoulders and around the sides of your chest. Head-mounted cameras come off too easily in the water, and wrist-mounted ones are likely to get bashed into oblivion during a race.
Camera of Choice: GoPro Hero4 Black, £409.99
As well as capturing ultra-high definition 4K video, this camera offers cinematic quality 240fps slow motion, has easy-to-manipulate buttons (even when the camera is covered in mud), and takes twelve megapixel photos - so you can take crystal clear shots of your team posing once you’ve crossed the finish line. The GoPro chest mount - the “Chesty” - is fully adjustable to fit a wide range of body types, feels comfortable against skin or multiple layers, and is secure enough to stay attached to your body over the most grazing of high walls.
When you crawl through gravelly mud trenches, scraped bleeding shins are an inevitability. And the more trenches you go through, the worse and more painful those scrapes get. You can avoid this with some quality shin protection. Conventional football shinpads don’t drain particularly well and offer a level of protection that’s frankly overkill for an obstacle race, but the light neoprene protectors worn by CrossFitters are well suited to wet, muddy, obstacle-strewn races. What’s more, these protectors are snug enough to offer some of the benefits of compression wear - increased blood flow and reduced muscle strains.
Shinguards of Choice: RockTape RockGuards, £34.99
These feature durable neoprene on the shin side and Lycra on the the back which makes for a light, comfortable fit. A zipper and footstrap keep them locked in place during the fastest of runs. Wear these for your next obstacle race and rope-burnt shins will be a horror from your past.
Any obstacle racer worth their salt will be able to tell you that cotton t-shirts not only chafe nipples and armpits, they hold onto water like there’s a drought on. You need a t-shirt that is short on seams, fits well, and wicks away water from your body to keep you free from itches and scratches. It also needs to be quick drying so you don’t feel as if you’ve gained a couple of kilos every time you end up jumping (or falling) into a water feature.
Wicking T-Shirt of Choice: Reebok Spartan Performance Tee, £23
The slim-fitting nature of this minimal-seam polyester t-shirt means reduces the risk of it snagging on any barbwire you’re crawling under. Mesh venting under the arms allows for a good flow of air to stop you overheating, and PlayDry tech in the fabric pulls moisture away from your body to stop you from becoming a soggy, itching mess.
What is your favourite piece of obstacle course racing equipment? When has a piece of kit got you out of a sticky situation during a race? Post your preferences and experiences to comments.
More Like This:
- The 3 Keys to Obstacle Course Racing Success
- How to Train for Success in Your Next Obstacle Course Race
- Free 4-Week Training Plan to Get You Obstacle Course Race Ready
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Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.