Obstacle Course Races (OCRs) have taken over the world of marathons. It isn’t enough for people to just burn a few calories – and half a day – running in a great loop. They want more excitement, more teamwork, more thrills with their course. To accommodate this, every country, state, territory, and principality has come up with their own flavor of mud run. From the Spartan races to the ubiquitous Tough Mudder competition, mud runs are everywhere, but if you want to compete, you need the right set of mud run shoes, or you’re going to be left in the slimy dust.
When selecting a set of shoes for the mud, your first thought should be traction. A pair of trail running shoes is often ideal for giving you the grip required, but for more advanced courses, you might want to consider a set of hybrid approach shoes that can really dig in. You’ll also want to consider drainage since water is one of the most common obstacles. Finally, they must be marathon-grade comfortable, because they’re going to be on you for miles. For simplicity’s sake, we located the 9 best mud run shoes for any foot and every skill level.
Pro: Responsive sole feel
Con: Lack long-term durability
Tossable Traction: Perhaps you follow the revered OCR tradition of tossing your shoes into the heap after each run. Well, rather than putting on a pair of sneakers ready to give up the ghost, why not buy the Kanadia as an inexpensive alternative? Non-slip lining holds your foot in place and the mesh upper breathes easily. Triple contact points across the upper help to hold your foot in place so that it doesn’t jostle side to side or up and down as you hop, skip, jump, fall, climb, and scramble across the course. For the price, you’ll find a lot to love without any fat to be trimmed.
Vibram FiveFingers KMD Sport
Pro: Weight reducing EVA arch
Con: Tight and binding
Center Mass: The unique design of the FiveFingers isn’t just to make you look goofy among the other mud runners, that’s just a bonus. The true drive behind the glove look is not only to give you better gripping facility with your toes, but also provide you with a forefoot landing strike that lands right below your center of gravity. This is important when scrambling up a hill or diving into a muddy bog, because it aids keeping your balance. Plus, you can write notes with your toes.
Under Armour Spine Vice
Pro: High versatility
Con: Tend to degrade with daily use
From the Mud Run Masters: There’s probably no company that is more closely associated with the OCR community than Under Armour, so it would stand to reason they would be able to come up with one of the shoes out there. Using an unusual drainage design on the soles, these use a combination of gaps and solid outsole performance to cope with the varied terrain that any obstacle course race is going to provide. The tough body is intended to be your go-to shoe for multiple runs and is easily cleaned by just being hosed off in between competitions. A spine cage adds support and structure without packing on the pounds.
Salomon Speedcross 3
Pro: Deep gripping lugs
Con: Poor grip on smooth surfaces and pavement
Most for the Money: Largely considered the Cadillac of mud run shoes, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Speedcross 3’s when you’re looking at an OCR of any shape or size. Beginning with the Sensifit system, these shoes will fit you exactly so long as you get the proper size (that means buying online might not be the best decision). The heel is comfort padded to provide a better landing surface. Made from OrthoLite foam, which includes recycled tires in the ingredients, these last long without losing their shape or efficacy, even after a few seasons of serious abuse.
Pro: EVA midsole with zone cushioning
Con: Aggressive cleat is not ideal for hard surfaces
Dig In: The Mudclaw began life too heavy to really be an effective shoe for mud runs, at least for those who wanted to seriously compete. The traction was there but the heft was too much to really allow for supreme speed on straightaways. Recently, Inov-8 has revamped and redesigned it to decrease the heel drop for a more natural landing and decrease some of the bulk. Melding together the tongue and upper gives the Mudclaw a more solid feel along the top that also prevents dirt and wetness from sneaking inside and causing squish to wreck your run.
Merrell Trail Glove
Pro: TrailProtect padding protects against rocks
Con: True barefoot running shoes with 0 drop
Fantastic Flex: Many shoes built for mud runs focus intensely on the soles and then slap whatever hunk of mesh they have lying around the workshop onto the top. Here, the focus is as much on the upper as it is the outsole. Using intense quick-drying, water-wicking material these keep sweat away from your feet as much as they prevent wetness from seeping in and weighing you down. Able to dry rapidly, you’ll find what they lack in padding they make up for in comfort from the adverse elements inherent in the OCR circuit. With a bendable body there’s no need to break these in as they slide on, ready for action right out of the box.
New Balance Minimus Trail Running Shoe
Pro: True Vibram outsole
Con: Almost no arch support
Surface Area: Using a wide toe-box, the Minimus is a minimalist running shoe built to give you more traction by providing a wider surface on the bottom. The outsoles curve up and back so whether you’re landing oddly on uneven terrain or launching off of an obstacle, you’ll have tread right where you need it. Using a ACTEVA midsole you’ll find that in spite of the low drop, there’s comfort to be had under the hood which will help you kick out that last mile in style.
Salomon XA Pro Mid GTX
Pro: Excellent ankle support
Con: Will tire you out more quickly than lighter shoes
Boot Cut: We’d never suggest choosing a pair of boots for mud runs, but if that’s how you cut your jib, we’d tell you to go with the Pro Mid GTX from Salomon. Technically made to be hiking shoes, these keep the weight low enough that you can run in them without worrying about getting over encumbered, but they are still going to be awfully heavy. Using a strong and weather-resistant exterior, they don’t tend to pick up excessive water or dirt which will weigh you down, but any addition to the already ponderous size is going to be felt with every step.