Like the sport’s competitors, good OCR shoes must be tough, versatile, and able to withstand everything sadistic race organizers throw at them. They also better feel good on your feet.
That mix isn’t always easy to find in a sneaker, so I called on Outside's obstacle-course racing expert Erin Beresini to answer this question. The early OCR adopter, Buyer’s Guide tester, and fitness columnist wrote the book on obstacle-course racing—literally. Beresini’s Off Course: Inside the Mad Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing is a definitive history of the young and fast-growing sport, and will be available October 14.
So when it comes to buying the right OCR shoes, the three-time Ironman finisher knows of what she speaks. Here are her suggestions:
Look to Inov-8
A lot of racers favor Inov-8 shoes because they have large, grippy lugs on the bottom, which allows for great traction on technical terrain. They won’t slide on either the uphill or the downhill, even if it’s muddy, says Beresini.
Inov-8 makes shoes that range from super minimalist to fully cushioned, and Beresini suggests selecting the amount of support based on your own needs and preferences. "I have flat feet, so I need more support than the really minimalist shoes. But if you can get away with minimalist shoes, do it because they drain really fast and they’re lightweight," Beresini said.
Go for the lightest, most minimal shoe you can handle so it doesn’t bog you down during the water obstacles. The X-Talon 190 is a good choice for minimalists. If you need a bit more support, Beresini suggests the TrailRoc 245.
Test Reebok’s Spartan-Specific Line
Reebok released its All Terrain Series specifically for Spartan Races, and according to Beresini, the company nailed it with its new shoes. The All Terrain Supers were designed specifically for the Super Spartan course—an eight-mile race with more than 20 obstacles. "The outsole has really tiny teeth that help you when you’re rope climbing," says Beresini. "They're also designed to drain really well because the designers knew you were going to get your feet soaked."
Choose Your Socks Wisely
After you’ve picked out the right pair of shoes, make sure you protect your feet—and calves—with the right socks. Beresini uses compression socks when she competes in obstacle-course races. They prevent dirt and rocks from getting into the socks, and they’re made from quick-dry synthetic fibers so they don’t hold water.