10 Best Obstacle Course Racing Shoes Reviewed
The usual rules for high-performance shoes in running terms get thrown out of the window. The performance is not about local runs in parks, a road run, moderate or challenging trail runs or even competitive running events. For obstacle courses, we need shoes which can cope with the complex challenge of climbing a rope, scaling an often slippery wall, being subjected to extreme water conditions, mud, slippery surfaces, wet logs, deep inclines, just to name a few. We want the ability for speed, serious traction grip, high levels of protection, the right amount of cushion, top durability, appropriate flexibility and serious support. Under obstacle course conditions the durability of a shoe is tested to the max, if the durability fails then you also fail.
What makes these shoes different than regular running shoes? Namely the amount of traction and the measures that are in place for durability. With so many shoes to pick from, it can be difficult to choose the OCR shoe that’s right for you, so we’ve put together a list of the top 10 shoes on the market to help you make your decision.
- Salomon Speedcross 4
- Contagrip technology
- Altra Superior 3.0
- Stoneguard rock plate
- Inov-8 X-Talon 200
- Rope-Tec rubber
We’ve evaluated factors such as traction, support, protection, and responsiveness in order to bring you an overview of the best options out there – removing the daunting task of trying to find the right shoe and making it easier to find the best option for you.
11 Best Obstacle Course Racing Shoes
1. Salomon Speedcross 4
This shoe fits very comfortably and close to your foot. It provides just enough protection for trail running. A molded EVA midsole makes this shoe extra comfortable and supported. This shoe has a 10mm drop and weighs 310g.
The Salomon Speedcross 4 provides great traction thanks to its rubber sole and aggressive grip, Wet Traction Contagrip.
These shoes are priced averagely compared to others on the market.
Protection for trail running
Some customers have complained that this shoe feels too narrow.
2. Altra Superior 3.0
Use this shoe regularly for racing off-road or all trail running conditions and of course the shoe will work for running obstacles courses.
You get comfort as a result of the creative design work built into the shoe, runners can appreciate the light-weight of this shoe because it ensures the shoe performs well for racing, even in challenging environments while also giving a good all-around comfortable FIT. When running in muddy environments feedback states that the shoe effectively dispells wet clingy mud. Reviews are positive regarding the very good level of stability which the shoe gives, ground feedback is consistent and helpful for runners, the shoe gives reliability in very challenging environments, in the past, there were issues with rips occurring in the upper and this issue has been fixed through now designing in a more sturdy mesh which is very durable.
Runner feedback has been constantly popular regarding the outsole, the shoe is performing satisfactorily on muddy, wet and uneven trail surfaces, the overall feeling is that traction is superb.
When you buy this, you invest more to get more.
Very good traction
Runners suggest wider width options would be nice
3. Inov-8 X-Talon 200
A rubber toe bumper on the forefront of the shoe works to protect your toes from rocks, debris, and other obstacles. The lacing system on this shoe was designed to be a bit narrower than its predecessor, ensuring for a secure and snug foot all the way across the midsole. The shoe also has a water repellent coating, ensuring that your feet stay dry throughout your entire run.
The 8mm sticky rubber studs on the bottom of the outsole provide awesome grip on both soft and hard ground. Additionally, hardened Rope-Tec rubber on the outsole protects against burning for when ropes are a part of your workout.
This shoe is priced moderately compared to others on the market.
Avaliable in three colors
Rubber studs for traction
Water repellent coating
Rubber toe bumper
Snug midfoot fit
Rope-Tec rubber to protect feet from burning
Many people have found that this shoe runs small.
Roclite 282 GTX
The midsole gives good response exactly when it is needed and the outsole has a high degree of durability, the shoe is ideal for challenging runs and will serve runners using it for obstacle races.
A Neutral running shoe which ensures comfort, the shoe has very good waterproofing which makes it very good for obstacle racing. The upper is Gore-Tex which means seriously good waterproofing working in conjunction with breathability. The shoe allows for natural movement due to the innovative level of flexibility designed into it.
Stability is strategically designed into the shoe which means runners have good control over balance, the shoe performs really good on trails and can be a good shoe for off trails and certainly for challenging environments.
Traction is superb, the outsole is coated with a sticky rubber compound which ensures reliability and stability on a good range of challenging surfaces.
Sticky rubber on the outsole ensures a durable external layer while also maintaining traction over the various surfaces
Layout more money and in return get a high performing running shoe with trustable durability
Higher than some of the other brands due to a lot of innovative shoe tech
Altra King MT
The outsole is optimized to perform for trails and this works very with the stability and designed in protection.
Notably, feedback from runners is consistent that this shoe is designed to take on the rigorous challenges which can be thrown up by running trails in different weather conditions.
Enjoy a relaxed and comfortable ride while out on the trail with this shoe, any wet mud thrown up onto the upper is easily dispelled and the outsole does very well at shedding wet clinging mud. The stone guard shoe tech is effective at keeping out debris and grit while the midfoot strap system comfortably secures the midfoot region.
The feedback given via reviews compliments the breathability, stability, protective level and overall comfort level of this shoe.
The outsole gives nice reliable and consistent grip on various difficult surfaces, the construction is durable and built to last.
The shoe price is above average.
Grip/traction is very good
Outsole is durable
The shoe affords stability
Good in challenging weather
Comfortable and gives nice protection
Some runners have commented that we need to watch for mud clinging to the shoe lugs
4. Inov-8 X-Talon 212
Weighing only 212 grams, this shoe is relatively lightweight and flexible. It does a great job of complimenting the foot’s natural movement and also working to increase speed. A water repellent coating ensures that your feet remain dry, even when running through streams and puddles.
The 8mm sticky rubber studs do a great job of providing traction on all kinds of terrain, from soft dirt trails to rough and rugged rocks.
These shoes are priced moderately compared to others.
Lightweight and flexible
8mm sticky rubber soles
Water repellent coating
Compliments foot’s natural movements
Some people have found that this shoe fits a bit too narrow.
5. Reebok All Terrain Super OR
Mesh drainage ports which were strategically placed in order to make water dry easily and quickly. The Duragrip upper also helps protect the shoe from damage, as it provides durability in high-wear areas. An underfoot rock guard protects your feet against sharp objects such as rocks and other debris.
Midfoot teeth do a great job of providing traction and protection during your obstacle course routine. Additionally, square lugs on the bottom of the outsole provide 360 degree traction.
This shoe is priced similarly to other quality trail shoes on the market.
Mesh drainage ports
2 colors available
Square lugs for traction
Underfoot rock guard
Some people have stated that this shoe rubs the backs of their ankles.
6. Merrell All Out Crush
M Select Fresh, a long-lasting technology that prevents sweat and moisture from damaging your shoes, contains antimicrobial agents. These help prevent odor and the growth of bacteria. Additionally, the shoe’s Uni-Fly impact absorption system provides you with a soft landing. It then disperses the impact and encourages a strong and stable takeoff.
This shoe consistently delivers slip-resistant stability and heavy-duty traction over mixed terrain.
The Merrell All Out Crush is a bit more affordable than others options.
- Protective toe cap
- Drainage ports
- Uni-Fly impact absorption system
- Great traction
- Reflective details for visibility
- Antimicrobial lining
Some people find that there is not enough padding in the midsole.
7. ASICS GEL Fuji Runnegade 2
Featuring PlasmaGuard, this shoe stays protected from rain and mud without the loss of flexibility and breathability. The rubber sole and rear foot gel cushioning system allow for a comfortable fit and a smooth transition from the impact phase to midstance. Additionally, a gusseted tongue construction prevents gravel and other debris from entering the shoe.
This shoe has a very rugged outsole, which is great for terrain such as dirt roads. Specially designed lugs provide traction in even the most extreme conditions.
This shoe is priced on the low-to-mid range on the price scale.
- Gusseted tongue to prevent gravel
- Rugged outsole
- Specially designed lugs for traction
- PlasmaGaurd technology
- Rear foot gel cushioning system
- Flexible and breathable
Some people find that the tread wears out easily.
8. La Sportiva Mutant Backcountry
An air mesh lining ensures that your feet stay cool and dry throughout your whole workout as well as works to prevent blisters. A ‘Spryratongue’ design wraps around the shoe for added stability and comfort. The adjustable Fusiongate lacing harness provides much more security than traditional lace-up shoes.
Lugs made of La Sportiva’s FriXion XF rubber give you a sturdy grip with the ground, even on wet rock or slick trails.
This shoe is one of the most expensive options on this list.
6 colors available
- Fusiongate lacing harness
Air mesh lining
FriXion XF rubber lugs
Some people find that this shoe fits small.
9. Icebug Pytho3
This shoe’s rubber sole does a great job of providing the foot with support and responsiveness. Also, the tongue and collar of the shoe are both padded for additional comfort. The shoe’s upper is made of nylon, which is water-repellent.
With a BUGrip sole for superior traction, this low-profile shoe remains flexible while allowing for a good terrain feel.
This is the most expensive option on this list.
Supportive and responsive
Padded tongue and collar
- Some find that this shoe’s outsole is a bit too slick.
10. Icebug Acceleritas5 RB9X
Quick-dry mesh helps assure that your feet stay comfortable. With an upper made of polyester mesh, this shoe is super lightweight and doesn’t irritate the skin. The midsole is made of compression molded EVA foam, making for a supportive footbed.
Rubber 9 Extreme technology is used on this shoe’s outsole. The outsole is designed with a special pattern that optimizes traction on hard as well as soft surfaces. Around the outsole is RB9X, providing the shoe with even more grip. This innovative compound provides incredible traction on all terrains.
These shoes are a bit on the expensive end of the scale.
Polyester mesh upper
Compression molded EVA foam
- Great traction
- Soft and airy upper
- Some people find that this shoe is not heavy-duty enough.
11. Reebok All Terrain Super 3.0
Reebok heard the feedback and they have reacted, this fourth shoe model has had major updates to the upper to put right previous problems with ripping. It's true to say that Inov-* and Icebug shoes are still hot favorites but Reebok is determined to get back to the top group.
This shoe like its previous version is tops when it comes to draining water, on obstacle courses we will get wet feet, this shoe is very effective at dispelling water.
Why did the previous shoe model have ripping issues? Runners suggest it was due to the narrow FIT and this issue has also been addressed through updating.
The previous shoe had a popularity among runners for many positive reasons, issues have been addressed and updated to counter previous ripping issues. Read our review and see if you want to try out this updated version.
Reebok was first to build factory-drainage-ports into running shoes and this innovative approach was very well received by runners. This standard of comfort is continued. There were comments about debris in the drainage runoff when water is dispelled, debris will flow with it, better out than remaining in the shoe.
Another update for comfort and secure hold is the updated lace system, the laces no longer thread through the shoe, instead, they pass through a stand-alone rubber system which is fitted separate from the shoe tongue. For runners who like a low cut shoe, this will be fine, for others, they will need to try the shoe to see how good stability for the ankle is for them.
Durability is enhanced through the update to reinforce the toe-box to address previous tear concerns, Reebok responded to concern for ripping in this area and updated the shoe.
The “Dura-Grip” rubber is reinforcing the toe box where the previous models were widely known for tearing. It looks like Reebok heard the call for correction(or got tired of replacing shoes for this issue)
Traction is superb through Rope-Pro which is a tread system which flows from the lace area all the way down to around and around the mid-sole. A high performing tread with good sticky factor is also built into the interior-outsole for grip maximization even for complicated rope climbs on obstacle courses, in fact, the grip system works well on walls and other obstacle course challenges.
Priced at a similar amount to other high performing shoes for obstacle courses, the updates make this a worthwhile investment.
High performing dispelling of water through drainage ports.
A new Upper system built into the shoe
High performing tread system-Rope Pro
An updated reinforced toe-cap
Rock Guard system designed into the mid-sole
A new updated stand-alone lace-up system, will runners appreciate and will the new reinforced upper be enough?
The Factors We Used in Our Evaluation
When you choose a good performing obstacle course running shoe you need to carefully review and ascertain that the shoe offers features which will perform to meet your own personal and specific needs.
You don’t get more different than an obstacle course race, the challenges you face are of course running and for this we need a high performing shoe but you also have to master swinging, climbing ropes, possibly scaling a wall, climbing up a net face and dropping safely down about 8 feet or more feet on the other side, wading out of a deep water pit having fallen into it when trying to get over it, crawling through a makeshift tunnel, wading, running through mud and many more exceptional challenges depending on which obstacle course you choose.
You won’t get far without the right type of running shoes.
Check out our reviews regularly because we are always updating reviews for you, look for a pair of shoes which can give top trail running capability, offer lightness combined with serious durability and protection. You’re going to look closely at a pair of shoes with top performance tread of the type which will reliably grip in the most treacherous mud and loose wet surface conditions.
Upper shoe construction. The strategy for reviewing and identifying the best shoe will require looking for an upper shoe construction which though thin it offers durability, protection, stability and does not retain water, in fact, you want an upper construction that lets water out efficiently.
Minimalist vs Non-Minimalist. Your first consideration will be to decide if you need a non-minimalist or minimalist running shoe and keep in mind that the majority popular high-quality brand shoes tend to produce minimalist styled shoes. Consider brands such as Reebok, Icebug shoes, New Balance and Inov-8, these are a very good starting point when you look for a shoe which will specifically work for you. There are more brand shoe options and our review looked far and wide to ensure you have a good selection of choices.
Non-minimalist. If you’re set on non-minimalist shoes check whats being offered by Salomon, factor in a need for design with the right weight, lighter can mean quicker, once your shoe has been subjected to mud and soaking, light-weight designed into a shoe will speak positive volumes.
Comfort is key when choosing a shoe. If a shoe’s midsole is made from EVA foam, it’s most likely super comfortable. Also, take into consideration if the shoe is supportive enough around the ankle. This is especially important for a trail shoe. Support is very important with this type of activity. Without the proper support, you put yourself at risk of joint injuries. It is also important to keep in my mind if you are prone to joint injuries that this aspect is especially crucial. It is important to not only have it feel comfortable but to also to give you enough support in the long run. The lacing system also affects the way the shoe feels on your foot. Many shoes use QuickLace technology, while others still use a traditional lacing system. This is purely a personal choice; it’s strictly based on preference. However, many runners find that the QuickLace systems provide the foot with more support than does a regular shoe. Again, this will very important if you are prone to joint injuries. It will also factor in how much stress and pressure you may put on your feet with various activities.
Traction is very important, especially when faced with adverse weather conditions. Traction also plays a key role when moving on a difficult terrain at a higher speed. You will want to keep in mind how quickly you will be moving and what type of terrain you might encounter. Typically, you want to look for a shoe that has rubber lugs on the bottom of the outsole. These lugs “dig” into the ground with every stride, giving you the best traction possible. Today, most of the trail shoe brands on the market do use these types of lugs. They’re efficient in muddy areas, dry trails, grassy terrain, you name it. This is especially important during or after adverse weather conditions. Another factor that contributes to traction is whether the shoe has a tread design on the bottom that is specifically in place for grip. Traction is an important factor in any running shoe, but especially so for trail shoes. With the rough, rocky, sometimes unpredictable terrain, your shoes have to be designed to last. The better the traction the more stability you will have.
When you’re running through an obstacle course, you need a shoe that’s going to hold up, allowing for quicker movements. Many trail shoes use a heavy-duty rubber outsole to provide extra support. This is great to have, as is a mudguard. Exposed to the type of conditions that you are during an obstacle course race, durability is pretty important. Many shoes have a water-repellent coating or feature a water-repellent mesh material. This can greatly increase the life of your shoes, so it’s a good idea to check if a shoe has this feature before you make a purchase. It is also important to note that it will also increase your balance and stability in adverse conditions.
Value for money
Additional Things To Think About
Cost can play a big role in purchasing your next shoe. You probably don’t want to break the bank in the process of purchasing a pair of OCR shoes. If you’ve never owned a pair in the past, you may be even more hesitant. While there are some relatively expensive OCR shoes out there, many quality shoes are priced fairly considering the craftsmanship and durability. The other thing to weigh in is the length of the shoe life. The initial cost may seem a little overwhelming, but weighing the cost over time will make it seem more cost-effective. Understanding that it is an investment that will have gains long after the initial cost.
It’s relatively important for a trail shoe to have some degree of water-repellent properties to the standard of a good gore-tex shoe but drainage capability must be evident. This is very important especially if you will be using the shoes in harsh weather such as rain or snow. With obstacle course races, you never know when you’re going to come into contact with a puddle, for example, on the ground. This is also useful when faced with various weather conditions. When the upper of a shoe is water-repellent, it prevents your shoe getting logged down with water, becoming heavy and uncomfortable. Typically these water-repellent areas of the shoe are made of a mesh-like material. This also helps to keep your foot cool and ventilated. When you have a breathable shoe it will reduce that considerably. It will also allow the shoe to dry quickly so that you may continue to increase your athletic performance.
Having a breathable shoe will also help in prolonging the life of the shoe. Odors and bacterial can decrease the life of the shoe. This may also affect your speed and balance.
You’re going to want a shoe that’s breathable for a few reasons. First, the more ventilated a shoe is, the cooler your feet stay during your run, helping to reduce sweat and moisture. Ventilation also helps prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors. Some shoes even use a special anti-microbial fabric to further eliminate other bacteria. A breathable shoe means that your shoe dries quickly, which is a huge advantage to have. If a shoe does not dry quickly, it gets weighed down with moisture, which affects your athletic performance. This also helps prolong the life of the shoe.
Just as with regular running shoes, drop heights vary across the board. Shoes with a low drop are lower to the ground and typically have minimal cushioning. The low drop shoe typically allows the heal to sit at shoe level. Higher drop shoes are different than the “minimalist” low drop ones in that they provide much more support and cushioning. The choice between a high drop shoe and a low drop shoe is strictly a matter of personal preference. That is why it’s very important to choose which is more comfortable for you. A good idea is walking around in both types to ensure which one feels better.
Q: What is the difference between an OCR shoe and a regular running shoe?
A: A good OCR shoe is necessary for racing success. Obstacle courses, such as Tough Muddle, are typically full of rough terrain, puddles of water, and inches of mud. With such extreme conditions, you need a shoe that’s a bit more durable than your typical running shoe. Since OCR’s are specially designed to handle these types of terrain, it’s recommended that you are always equipped with a solid, specialized shoe.
OCR’s provide more protection to the foot, increases traction, and repels water. This enables you to have firm traction with keeping the pace and keep up your endurance. This will also ensure stability preventing joint injuries. Along with accidental stumbling or falling, this might also be ideal for those that run in adverse weather conditions or may hike in more difficult terrains.
Q: How do I choose the right size?
A: It’s often very difficult to find these types of trail shoes in common sports stores. This leads to people buying from an online source. We do not recommend purchasing OCR’s this way. This makes it difficult to choose the right size considering you can’t try on a shoe via the internet. If you do purchase it via the internet make sure you keep all receipts so that you can exchange for a different type of shoe if needed. The typical rule of thumb is to order OCR’s one size larger than your regular shoe size. The reason for this is that your feet swell when you’re working out! You don’t want them to be so tight that your foot becomes uncomfortable and feels restricted. This will also help increase the life of the shoe ensuring long-lasting wear for the long term.
When trying on shoes we suggest you try on several different pairs to compare which feel most comfortable to you. You might want to try on a different shoe on each foot to compare the difference. Walking around the store up and down the aisles or even being able to run if it is allowed. We recommended this so you can get a good idea of how the shoe will feel and hold up before making your purchase.
There are many different brands to choose from which can make the task even more daunting. We suggest researching what types of brands you are wanting to purchase. Often when we enter a shoe store the salesperson is looking to sell us something. To have an idea prior to purchasing will help make the task a little less stressful. This will also help prevent you from being distracted by a salesperson.
The shoe drop is also something to consider. While its a personal preference understanding the difference between the high and low drop of a shoe will help in finding the right fit. Trying on both types to see what might feel more comfortable for you and offer the best support.
Q: What gives a shoe great traction?
A: Traction is very important when purchasing a shoe. When a shoe has a design on the bottom of the outsole that’s specially designed for traction, that shoe is going to do great on trails and essentially all sorts of terrain. When there’s the addition of lugs to the bottom, traction is increased even further. The lugs serve as little “spikes”. They dig into the ground with every stride to really make sure that you’re stable and planted firmly on the ground.
Since traction is especially important in trail running or obstacle course racing, this is always a huge factor to consider when looking to purchase a quality shoe. It will also ensure that whatever terrain you may face you are well prepared. This will allow you to flow through various terrains effortlessly. Allowing your athletic performance to not be hindered.
It is very important to keep in mind the type of activities you will be using the shoes for. Will you be using the shoes for obstacle courses primarily or will you be using the shoes for track running? It is also important to consider what type of terrain you might encounter. Could you be using the shoes in diverse weather conditions? Maybe you will be using the shoes for muddy obstacles courses. This is where traction will play a key factor in the type of shoe you purchase. It is important to take into consideration the level of comfort you may be needing. As an example, if you have weak joints or prone to knee injuries looking for a shoe that offers more comfort and support will be vital in your shoe selection.
Q: Is a QuickLace lacing system better than a traditional one?
A: Not necessarily. The QuickLace system is efficient at holding the foot down and in place, but some prefer the traditional system. This is essentially a personal preference. Sometimes the lacing system can affect the way the tongue feels against your foot, so consider this before buying. QuickLace may be ideal for those who have weaker joints and need a more supportive shoe. Keep in mind comfort is the key!
Q: How much does a pair of OCR shoes typically cost?
A: It varies, but the majority of OCR shoes are priced roughly in the $100-200 range. To some, this cost may feel like it will break the bank. Considering the overall cost with the length of the shoe life. The investment cost up front will outweigh the cost over time. A lower cost shoe may need to be replaced twice or three times as quickly.
The cost, in the end, will be well worth it! The cost of a shoe can be a factor in determining which one you may select but we encourage you to think about the more quality of a shoe the longer it will last. The investment you make now can save you in the long run. It will not only be easier on your wallet but it will also ensure you will you have the right shoe. This will also decrease the result of stress and injury.
Q: I’m thinking of choosing a Gore_tex running shoe for protection against water entering my shoe, am I on the right track?
A: If your looking for solid protection against water then yes you are on the right track but think about this more. For an obstacle course, unless its a dry course you are going to need a shoe with very good drainage capability. Gore-Tex will keep water out but if you end up wading through a water ditch your shoe will fill up and you’re going to need to drain the water out.
Once your shoe is waterlogged it will increase in weight a lot and add the mud factor which will stick to your shoe and you will be seriously struggling to get through the race. We all know how good Gore-Tex is but in certain conditions you should consider other factors and this might mean choosing a shoe which does not perform so well at keeping water out but rather it performs to let water drain out. Check out these nice high performing trail shoes as options but if your heart is set on defense against water then look at these top quality shoes.
Q: I prefer non-minimalist shoes and I’m thinking that the shoes will wear out faster when I run regular obstacle courses, is it ok to just get a cheap pair of shoes as they won’t last long anyway?
A: I feel choosing an unknown and untested obscure shoe will backfire on you especially during the race. Brand shoe makers carry out a lot of research to ensure runners get the right level of protection, durability, performance, and comfort. Cheaper unknown and often imported shoes can look up to the job but the reality can be very different. In the long term when considering durability will you really be saving money? You will be replacing inferior shoes more often and your level of performance could be dramatically reduced. Take a look at this review of good quality shoes and see if there is a pair which works for you.