How to Choose the Right Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) Shoes

Proper OCR shoes will make or break your experience in any obstacle course race, here are how to choose one and our top picks.

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How to Choose the Right Obstacle Racing (OCR) Shoe

Obstacle racing, hiking, or anytime you will be running on varying terrain requires a unique type of shoe. Some of the qualities to look for include durability, versatility, comfort, and drainage.

Durability goes without speaking; OCR is harder on running shoes than any other sport. The shoe should be able to survive at least a season of racing. Be sure to check all seams. Inspect for cracks, rips, tears, or fray in the shoe construction after each race.

Because you will likely put your feet in water multiple times in a race, the shoe must drain properly. When your feet get wet, your socks shift and your shoe turns into a blister factory (might want to consider a blister kit post-race). There is nothing quite like coming out of a river only to feel like you have two waterbeds sloshing about in your shoes. It consumes more energy and will cut your motivation in half. Then again, there is nothing quite as satisfying as taking one step out of the water and having all the water expended from your shoes!

Versatility and comfort go hand in hand. Many obstacles you will encounter will require a unique type of shoe. The problem is, we do not have the time nor the energy to carry a bag full of shoes with us. And your run-of-the-mill all-white New Balance dad shoe will not cut it when you are trying to get a foothold on a wet piece of 2×4 or when leaping rock to rock down a river bed. Alternately, running 10+ miles in a full-blown climbing shoe will destroy your feet. OCR shoes must be rugged enough to handle the demands of running through mud and grass, cushioned enough to handle downhill packed trails, firm enough to climb obstacles, and stable enough to keep you from spraining your ankle.

Is this your first OCR race? If you haven’t already, check out our Spartan Race preparation guide.

Now on to the OCR shoes…


INOV-8 X-TALON 212

The Talon 212 has the potential to be one of the greats in terms of OCR shoes. The shoe is built like a tank with a very aggressive “talon-like” lug (or cleat) pattern that will surely cut into any terrain. From the toe box to the heel cup, you have a very rugged, minimalist designed for long runs through the austere terrain. There is little to no cushioning and they run small so make sure you get the right fit. We loved this shoe through all obstacles requiring footholds because the fit compares to that of a climbing shoe.

Amazon, $90

PROS

  • Extremely rugged
  • Deep cleat for mucky trails
  • Form-fitting like a climbing shoe

CONS

  • No flex in fabric to allow natural feet swelling
  • Aggressive lug pattern feels unstable
  • Drainage slow

SALOMON SPEEDCROSS 4

The Speedcross is perhaps one of the most beloved trail shoes currently on the market. It is a popular choice for newcomers and ultra-runners alike. One of the more distinguishing features of the Speedcross are the aggressive paddle-like lugs (or cleats) on the sole. You will be hard-pressed to find more grip on slippery, muddy conditions. These lugs, however, contribute to instability when attempting to pivot or transition to hard-packed surfaces. On hard surface obstacles such as the inverted board, it is extremely difficult to hold on.

Amazon, $99

PROS

  • Extra cushioning and protection throughout
  • Extremely popular choice for beginners
  • Cinch fit laces

CONS

  • Narrow construction
  • Long cleats make for instability on hardpacked surfaces

ALTRA KING MT

Altra is known for their unique shoe fit. They claim that all of their shoes are “foot-shaped.” What this means is they have an extraordinarily large toe box to accommodate splay (when you push off your toes naturally spread outward). The shoes are made to an incredible quality standard and the King is no different. Although the velcro strap may not be making a fashion statement, you cannot beat the comfort of this shoe. That being said, there are some limitations as an OCR shoe. Because of the added comfort, the shoe lacks some limitations in terms of durability. The shoe, once wet and dragged through a Spartan Race or two will rip and tear around the ankle. Additionally, our experience was that it holds water under the sole longer than most.

Amazon, $139 (Men’s) (Women’s)

 

PROS

  • Wide toe box for natural splay
  • Most comfortable on and off road
  • A velcro strap adds reinforcement, giving it a “hugging” feel

CONS

  • Durability concerns
  • Wide toe box makes toe holds and climbing difficult

(TOP VALUE) REEBOK ALL TERRAIN SUPER 3.0

The All Terrain Super is our top pick. The shoe was made specifically for Spartan Races, one of the toughest OCR events. After you take it out of the box and try it on for the first time you will understand. The shoe wears like a slipper with an integrated tongue (meaning it is all one piece). The cleats are long but evenly distributed throughout the foot so you are not tripping or throwing off your gait. Perhaps one of the greatest features of the product is the foot arch grip. If you have ever tried to climb a rope in tennis shoes, you understand it is incredibly difficult to get a good bite. Reebok has reinforced the arch and added rubber grip to the out-sole wrapping under the mid-foot. You will notice an immediate difference on the ropes.

Amazon, $70

 

PROS

  • Versatility, purpose-built for OCR
  • Rope climb grip on the inner arch
  • Excellent water drainage throughout

CONS

  • Minimal cushioning and ankle support
  • Many different seams raise durability concerns