Running is one of the purest forms of exercise you can perform. When you run, you are using the body’s natural movements to propel yourself forward at high speeds — it is exhilarating, rewarding, and challenging.
Obstacle course running makes the act of running even more exciting! It involves running over all kinds of terrain, climbing obstacles, and jumping over barricades. Obstacle running is a form of running that feels much more enjoyable than running in circles on a track or dodging traffic as you jog in the city.
However, obstacle course running is also an extremely demanding form of running that requires a lot of skill. It also requires better equipment, including a great pair of running shoes that are suited to many different types of terrain including sand, dirt, rocks, cement, and mud.
This guide will offer some tips for buying the right pair of running shoes before highlighting 5 of the best obstacle course shoes on the market!
Choosing the Right Obstacle Course Shoes
Here are a few simple tips to help you choose a great pair of obstacle course shoes.
Get shoes made for running.
Did you know that athletic shoes made for walking are different to athletic running shoes? Walking shoes have quite stiff soles while running shoes are very flexible and cushioned. This additional flexibility is required for obstacle course running because you will be running over some hard and uneven surfaces.
Find a shoe that is right for your foot
Feet come in all shapes and sizes. The size of your toes, heels, inner arch, outer arch, toe mounds, and outer heel are unique to your body. The trick to find a great pair of obstacle course shoes that fit your feet is to “understand” your feet.
If you understand your feet, you can look for shoes that accommodate your unique requirements. Most major shoe brands offer variations on their shoes to suit different kinds of feet. Different manufacturers are also known for fitting differently. For example, many people find Adidas® shoes to be a bit narrower at the front compared to ASICS®.
If you are unsure about the unique attributes of your feet, take a look at the last pair of shoes that you bought. Look inside the shoe and on the sole to determine if they have worn in an uneven way.
If the sole on your shoes has worn on the inside edge and outside heel, that means you have low arches and your feet are rolling inwards when you run. This is called over-pronation.
If the soles have worn on the outside edge and outside heal, you have high arches — a condition called supination. Confused? Don’t worry, here is a handy chart to help you identify what kind of feet you have. Also think about the width and shape of the other components of your feet.
Only wear shoes that feel comfortable immediately
Running shoes should feel comfortable immediately. You shouldn’t have to break them in, so if you order a pair that feels slightly off, don’t hesitate to exchange them for another pair.
Look for shoes with a tight heel fit and room at the front
Good obstacle course shoes require a snug fit around the heel to prevent the shoe from slipping off while traversing through sand or mud. However, you should retain at least 3/8 to 1/2 an inch of space between your big toe and the front of the shoe. This gives your toes some breathing space. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests that you should be able to wiggle your toes while wearing obstacle course running shoes.
Choose shoes with excellent traction
Given the very rough, uneven and slippery terrain you will be covering, the shoes you select should have excellent traction in all conditions. The soles should have extended teeth which allow the shoes to retain traction even in the mud or wet conditions. The soles should have wide channels that allow water, mud and debris to drain as you lift your feet. If the channels are too narrow, mud will become trapped and traction will be lost.
Look for shoes that address any issues you have
If a part of your foot is prone to injury or regularly causes you pain, find shoes that address that issue. For example, if your heels are often sore after a run, looking for shoes that have additional padding in that area. You can find special running shoes with gel, Freon, air or additional rubber compounds on the heel to reduce impact levels.
Don’t spend too much — or too little!
Good quality obstacle course shoes can be expensive, but the cost is absolutely worth it. When you wear a great pair of shoes, your performance will dramatically improve, you will be more comfortable, and you will be less likely to injure yourself. You will also obtain more longevity out of a quality pair of shoes.
Of course, you can also spend too much on a pair of shoes. The best approach is to find a happy medium, where you spend enough for a great pair of shoes without over-spending on unnecessary features or expensive brand names.
Get a pair that is slightly larger than you would normally wear
Most running shoes are slightly smaller than you would expect, so runners often get a pair that is half a size large than their normal dress shoe. If you are running in a long obstacle course race, you can also expect your feet to swell slightly during the race. If your shoes are too tight, you will be prone to having blisters and black toenails. Opt for a pair that is half a size bigger than you normally buy.
Choose shoes with a tough and resilient upper
Obstacle course shoes really take some punishment while on the course. Dirt, water, dust, sand, mud and other “unidentified” substances will be everywhere! For this reason, obstacle runners tend to avoid shoes with a porous upper — they don’t want liquids rapidly seeping into the shoe.
Don’t worry about the looks of the shoe
If you are playing basketball or running in the city, you might like to have a pair of shoes that look “cool” and impress onlookers. Looks don’t matter when it comes to obstacle course shoes! Your shoes will probably be covered in mud and slime within 20 minutes of starting the race — so no one will be able to tell if you dropped an extra $50 for a pair of shoes with a cool design!
Light shoes do work best
Look for shoes that are lightweight, because they will allow you to remain agile and nimble on your feet — essential when dealing with rocky or slippery terrain. Just be aware that the chunky soles on obstacle course shoes do make them weigh more than standard running shoes. Here is some data on how much shoe weight affects performance.
Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Trail Unisex Running Shoe
- NEW FEATURES - Designed with a 4mm drop means the update on the new model has the perfect heel to toe drop for lifting...
- ADDED COMFORT - A minimally constructed, yet super durable upper with protective overlays creates one of the most...
- FLEXIBLE DESIGN - The outsole technology in the forefoot ensures the foot has the flexibility and freedom to move...
The Inov-8 X-Talon 212 is a reliable and highly durable shoe that was first released in 2013. It is specifically designed for obstacle course and cross country running, and is packed with useful features. It has become a best seller for Inov-8 and are used by many obstacle course racers.
The shoe is primarily made from fabric and synthetic materials, with a natural rubber sole. It is a tight-knit shoe to reduce the risk of water ingress and the textile upper is abrasion resistant — ensuring the shoe continues to look great for a few years. If water does manage to enter the Inov-8 X-Talon 212, its quick draining system will take care of it.
These shoes come with a 6 mm removable insole, allowing the wearer to tweak the fit. The midsole is made from injected EVA, which adds to the comfort of the shoe. The sole features very deep cleats, which are perfect for wet conditions.
Salomon Men’s Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe
- TRAIL RUNNING SNEAKER: Featuring an aggressive grip, precise foothold, & lightweight protection, the Salomon Speedcross...
- ALL THE WILD PLACES: With a monster grip for soft trail conditions, the lightweight, highly cushioned Speedcross 4 is...
- GO THE DISTANCE: Whether you love daily road running in your neighborhood, an escape to a local trail, or something more...
This is another very popular shoe amongst obstacle course racers and you will regularly spot it out on the trail. The popularity of the Salomon Speedcross 3 is based upon its incredibly durability, and performance. This shoe is also a fantastic all-rounder — if you are unsure about the weather or trail conditions, you can wear these shoes and be prepared for anything.
This shoe is packed with useful features including anti-debris mesh to keep crud out of your shoes and the quicklace speed lacing system. This lacing system uses Kevlar fibres and a plastic pulley system to lace up your shoes and lock the laces into place. This system seals the shoes well and makes putting them on a breeze.
The Speedcross 3 has a well padded heel, so it is an excellent option for runners who experience some heel discomfort. This shoe has a synthetic, seamless upper with SensiFit construction. This is a seriously well-made upper that will do well in any weather conditions. The sole is synthetic and has a sole tread depth of 3/16 inch. It has an aggressive tread pattern which provides excellent traction on most surfaces.
ASICS Men’s GEL Fuji Runnegade 2
- I.G.S (Impact Guidance System) Technology - ASICS design philosophy that employs linked componentry to enhance the...
- Dynamic DuoMax Support System - This evolution of DuoMax system enhances stability and support, with reduced weight and...
- Guidance Line Midsole Technology - Vertical flex groove decouples the tooling along the line of progression for...
ASICS recently updated its Fuji Runnegade line, making a number of improvements which make the shoe even better for obstacle course running. The ASICS Fuji Runnegade 2 how has a better sole and an anti-gravel tongue to prevent debris from entering the shoe.
The latest version also has better drainage and breathability, which makes this shoe a great choice in wet conditions. The Fuji Runnegade 2 has a Solyte® midsole, which reduces the weight of the shoe.
ASICS shoes are usually very comfortable and the Fuji Runnegade 2 is no exception. It has a thick heel gel cup and plenty of cushioning in the shoe itself. The excellent support provided by this shoe makes it a great choice for people with weak heels or ankles.
Reebok Men’s All-Terrain Super OR Running Shoe
- Garment leather upper for comfort, support, and authentic heritage style
- Low-cut design for an iconic silhouette
- Die-cut EVA midsole for lightweight cushioning and stability
Rebook appears committed to produce a great pair of obstacle course running shoes. They have been regularly modifying their All-Terrain Super OR shoe based on user feedback since it was released.
The latest version of the shoe features a super-tough Condura® upper, which uses high tenacity synthetic fibers. This is a huge improvement over the original All-Terrain Super OR, which had issues with ripping.
This shoe uses a speed lacing system that is simple-to-use and effective. It helps to reduce the amount of debris that can enter the shoe while running. If any fluid does enter the shoe, it is quickly removed with the Reebok’s H2O Drain technology. Other useful features include mid-foot teeth for additional traction while climbing and an underfoot rock guard. This is a great all-rounder shoe that will perform well in any conditions.
Inov-8 X-Talon 190
- For running fast on trails, hard-packed trails and over rocky terrain.
- Superior trail traction: Multi-directional 4mm deep studs, each with a wide contact area, provide aggressive grip,...
- Superior trail traction II: Using three sticky rubber compounds on the outsole increases grip and durability. The...
This is another great pair of obstacle course shoes from Inov-8. These shoes are designed for competitive runners and are very lightweight. Because they are designed to minimize their weight, they have less padding than most obstacle course shoes and the heel drop is only 3 millimeters.
Other features include a water-repellant textile upper, thick teeth on the sole tread, a toe guard, a removable 3 mm insole, the TPU Lacing System, and a minimally-padded tongue. These shoes have a low-profile injected-EVA midsole, making them somewhat shorter than most other pairs of obstacle course shoes.
If you are interested in racing competitively, these shoes are an excellent choice — just be aware that because they are lighter, they are less durable than other obstacle course shoes. If you regularly run in extreme conditions, you will see these fail earlier.
Best Value for Money Obstacle Course Shoe
The Inov-8 X-Talon 212 Trail Unisex Running Shoe usually retails for less than the other shoes reviewed here. Despite it being an affordable option, this is a well-made shoe that is highly durable and performs well.
Best Competitive Obstacle Course Shoe
The Inov-8 X-Talon 190 should improve your performance on the track because it is so lightweight. While the X-Talon 190 is an excellent shoe, remember that it hassles padding than other models. It is best suited for short to medium length competitive races.
Best Obstacle Course Shoe Overall
It is a tough choice, but the best obstacle course shoe overall goes to the Salomon Men’s Speedcross 3 Trail Running Shoe. It has the perfect combination of features, price, and quality for obstacle course running.
We hope you enjoyed reading our guide to the Best Obstacle Course Shoes. These shoes will deliver many hours of fun on the trail! Make sure you check out our obstacle course ideas for adults.
Featured image via Unsplash