We often hear the question, “what should I wear to my first obstacle course race?“
One of the most attractive points of obstacle course racing is the minimal gear required to participate. You can realistically race with just a pair of shoes, socks, shorts/pants, and a shirt (debatable). Unlike many other sports, you don’t need to go out and spend thousands of dollars just to participate. We will tell you that proper gear can also make or break your race depending on the course, the weather on race day, and your level of conditioning. For example, if we would have tried to race that Lake Tahoe Spartan World Championship race dressed like the elites in just shoes, socks, and compression pants, we most likely would have been pulled from the course for hypothermia.
Take a listen, check out our list, and feel free to comment below with what has worked for you!
Quite possibly THE most important piece of equipment you will want to get right is your SHOES. We recommend using trail-running shoes with extra traction. Some races are more forgiving than others on this point, but most courses will punish you for not setting yourself up for success here. Don’t be like Stephanie and show up to the Wintergreen Spartan Super in an old pair of running shoes.
Just a few tips on what to look for in your trail running shoes:
- Excellent traction.
- Drain well.
- Light weight.
- “Low drop” otherwise you will feel like you are running in platforms which will increase your chances of rolling your ankle. We’ve really enjoyed our Saucony Trail Running Shoes. Coach Steve, on the other hand, literally left his Salomon’s sitting on the side of the course after he was convinced they tried to kill him. They work for some people, but Steve felt like he was running in high heels. No matter which shoes you choose, train in them before you decide to race in them.
This may seem obvious, but if you’ve never done a race, you may not know that pretty much anything you wear IS going to get muddy and will never return to its original color if it started out light. We would also like to tell you that everyone always looks best in dark (especially black) colors.
For most races, you will want to wear tight, synthetic clothes to keep from getting caught up in things like barbed wire and to wick moisture away from your body. Avoid all cotton except for those hot races where the race page information actually tells you to wear cotton. The perfect example for when to wear cotton would be the SoCal Spartan Beast where in 2014, they pulled hundreds of racers off the course for heat illness. This race was coined “Hellmecula” after that year.
You also want tight fitting clothing so it stays on. If you have any doubt, go out in your yard, cover yourself with extra wet mud and see if your shorts stay up. Our favorite compression pants and shorts come from 2XU.
Your choice of pants over shorts or shorts over pants will depend on the race day weather and how much protection you are looking for from your clothing. Either way, we recommend training in them before racing in them.
We recommend high compression socks both for their compression benefits, and to protect you from obstacles such as the rope climb. Well, more like the rope descent since that is when you can sustain some pretty nasty rope burns. Another benefit of wearing the high compression socks is they keep dirt, sand, and rocks from collecting at the back of your heel. Stephanie ended up with a deep bone bruise on her Achilles tendon after racing with sand stuck in the back of her low-cut socks.
We have also experimented with these wool running socks in colder weather and they worked great!
We spend a lot of time crawling around on the ground in obstacle course races, so some racers choose to wear protective arm sleeves, elbow guards, and knee pads. The ground is usually rough, rocky, and hard, so practice your bear crawls and decide what you will need for protective gear.
Gloves are an item some athletes choose to wear. We spend so much time working our grip strength that we have built up hefty calluses, so we opt out of gloves for gripping, but definitely wear them for warmth if necessary. The trick here is to keep them dry so they will keep your hands warm. If you plan to wear them on the obstacles, test them out with wet mud coating them before you race with them to make sure they are going to help you, not hurt you.
Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must for some races. Just don’t get the sunscreen in your eyes and don’t take your expensive sunglasses on the course.
Headlamps are a must for afternoon start times, slower racers, and when you are racing during the time of year where we have shorter days. You do not want to get pulled from the course and given a DNF for not showing up with a headlamp.
If you would like to fashionably keep your head warm, we offer TheAthElite beanies.
We recommend a hydration pack for any race you plan to be out on the course for more than a couple hours. Some organizations provide more water than others, but ultimately, you are entering into this sport for a challenging experience. Carrying your own water adds to that experience.
These are the hydration packs we run with. because they hold a lot of water and are low profile to minimize getting caught on obstacles.