Best Shoes for Spartan Races & Mud Runs Reviewed
Obstacle course racing (OCR) is an exciting and invigorating experience full of challenges which push us to the limits. Naturally, some races are much more demanding than others, demanding a more serious training regimen. Spartan & mud runs can be grueling and unforgiving; testing your physical, mental, and emotional endurance to the limits. Selecting proper footwear can be stressful, which is why we have put together an evaluation process for the best shoes for Spartan & mud run to help you make an informed decision.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 11 hrs of research
Synthetic mesh upper
QuickLace Closure System
Sole: Contagrip TA
- Salomon Speedcross 5
- Salomon Speedcross 4 CS
- Salomon XA Pro 3D
- Merrell Glove 4
- Inov-8 Mudclaw 300
- Salewa Ultra Flex Mid GTX
- New Balance Nitrel v2
- Adidas CF Racer TR
- Salomon Speedtrak
- Inov-8 X-Talon 212
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Shoes for Spartan Race
1. Salomon Speedcross 5
Synthetic mesh upper
QuickLace Closure System
Sole: Contagrip TA
High price point
Featuring a stronger grip and a more responsive upper than its predecessors, the Salomon Speedcross 5 is the ideal shoe for OCR. Maintaining its Sensifit upper, the 5 is highly breathable, which prevents the dampness you can encounter when participating in high-energy activities like OCR. Further, the 5 has synthetic overlays for a snug fit that compresses your foot into the cushioned midsole.Read more
The cushioned midsole of the 5 is made of EnergyCell+ technology, giving you a high amount of cushy feedback when in motion. It also provides unparalleled comfort and allows you to go the distance, something demanded of OCR.
A Contagrip outsole with chevron-style lugs provide traction and grip, working with the lightweight construction of the 5 to help the wearer save energy versus previous editions of the Speedcross. A bit on the higher end of the price-points on this list, but still a good value for what you get.
2. Salomon Speedcross 4 CS
Anti-debris Mesh & Water-resistant Textile
Sensifit with Quicklace
First, with the high-quality design and the addition of both the water resistance and anti-debris systems in place, these qualify as great OCR footwear. Secondly, Sensifit with Quicklace system allows for the duality of both comfort and a quick-tie speed; thus, allowing you to truly focus on the race ahead. Lastly, Contragrip technology helps to traverse through wet and soft terrain types.Read more
Debris and water can be an absolute pain for those running obstacle course races. These trail runners, however, is designed to withstand such nuisances and further your ability to navigate wetter, rockier, and softer terrain than ever before. With both anti-debris mesh and water-resistant textile, these are perfect for any obstacle course racer.
Sensifit technology allows this pair of shoes to cradle your feet in both comfort and support. Moreover, this pair of trail runners is equipped with a quick-lace system; providing less time for your shoes and more time concentrating on the upcoming race.
3. Salomon XA Pro 3D
Tuck-away Lace Pockets
Aggressive Grip Lugs
2-year Limited Warranty
Lacks Heel Cushioning
Firstly, these trail runners are for navigating through technical, soft terrain. Secondly, designed for OCR, this pair will help you traverse more efficiently via the aggressive lugs. Thirdly, lightweight with the obstacle course runner in mind, lace pockets are in place to keep laces out of the way. Finally, molded EVA ensures a comfortable ride while you challenge with the spirit of a champion.Read more
As most trail runners know, traction is all about the ability to prevent any pickup of potential debris and performance of the lugs. These lugs do not disappoint, as they are specific in design for technical OCR. Furthermore, created to rip through some of the softer grounds, these lugs are well-placed and are efficient.
A molded EVA midsole is in place to help increase comfortability levels. One of the last things any racer desires to worry over is discomfort created from their shoes while they still have a lot more race to go. This EVA midsole provides comfort throughout the race; thus, alleviating any thought of aching feet and furthering your drive to stay the course.
4. Merrell Glove 4
Vibram TC5 Outsole
Lacks Grip On Wet Rock
These trail runners are equipped with 3-mm lugs and are created to give grip to wet, mud, and slippery surfaces. Made with an upper mesh design, this pair of OCR shoes is both breathable and comfortable. Also, this zero-drop trail footwear provides excellent support and traction for rockier terrains, such as gravel. Finally, the soft dirt navigators are great for your next obstacle course run.Read more
When traversing questionable terrain, underfoot protection is a necessity. With TrailProtect technology, these Merrell Glove 4 trail running shoes offer just that. Also, they are comfortable and allow for navigation through soft dirt and wet environments.
Utilized in conjunction with TrailProtect technology, the Vibram TC5 Outsole provides grip on surfaces such as mud, wet, and slippery terrain. With this kind of traction, you no longer need to worry about your gear and can concentrate on the run ahead.
5. Inov-8 Mudclaw 300
Protective Rand Wrap Overlay
Dual-c Combination Sticky Outsole (medium & hard)
These trail runners are equipped with two types of sticky rubbers on the outsole; medium and hard. This allows for optimized gripping through multiple terrain types such as wet, mud, and rocky. Furthermore, the 8-mm studs provide aggressive traction while you rip through the obstacle course of your choosing. Overall, this pair is an ideal choice for OCR.Read more
Precision Fit creates an environment conducive to maximum comfort and overall stability. Also, the design utilizes the right mix of both flexibility and support; thereby, helping you to navigate, even against some of the roughest types of terrain.
The 8-mm studs and aggressive outsole will navigate nicely through wet, mud, and rocky terrains. Moreover, these shoes are created for easy transition between the various types of terrain found within an obstacle course race.
6. Salewa Ultra Flex Mid GTX
Michelin Ultra Train Outsole
Gore-Tex Extended Comfort Lining
Waterproof & Breathable Protection
More Suited To Speed Hiking
Firstly, this pair of trail runners takes traction to another level. With Michelin rubber at its foundation, these are sure to not only hold traction in slippery mud and/or rocky terrain but they will, also, help you to perform quickly through your course. Secondly, stability is the heart and soul of these traction go-getters; providing easier climbing situations. Overall, these are certain to be worthy of any obstacle course race.Read more
The Flex collar provides better ankle range of motion. Moreover, this design helps to add both flexibility and stability while hiking your favorite trail and course. In essence, climbing becomes less strenuous.
The outsole has exceptional tread and creates a wonderful environment conducive to speed hiking, mountain training, and trail running. If your racing course is full of rocky terrain, these hikers are the way to go.
7. New Balance Nitrel v2
NB Response 2 Performance Insert
Any Spartan race participant is sure to appreciate the aggressive technology found in the New Balance Nitrel v2. Featuring a lightweight construction, combined with a synthetic, mesh upper and a hybrid outsole, the v2 will let you perform on multiple terrain types, all while keeping you dry and comfortable.Read more
The mesh upper of the v2 is highly breathable and allows for easy heat regulation. The upper is constructed of a lightweight fabric that doesn’t hold down the wearer. In addition, the v2 comes with a performance insert that protects the heel and foot and offers excellent support.
The all-terrain outsole is unique, insofar as its ability to adapt to multiple terrain types. The tread pattern on the outsole offers grip and traction, without rocks and debris from getting stuck in between the grooves. The design pattern on the bottom of the shoe adds stylish flair to the entire product. A great shoe if you’re conscious about fashion and driven to win.
8. Adidas CF Racer TR
Cloudfoam Cushioning & Sockliner
Rubber Outsole Inserts
Unsuitable for Heavy Use
The Adidas CloudFoam Racer TR trail running shoe is perfect for lightweight obstacle course racing. The added rubber outsole insert serves to both provide traction and support. Additionally, these have a breathable mesh upper for dampness prevention and a three-stripe seamless strap system for more stability. Finally, these are great for light-wet, light-rocky, and light-mud situations.Read more
The mesh upper is designed with seamless three-strip overlays to provide greater stability. In addition, this pair of trail runners is breathable. Lastly, the mesh design creates a flexible; yet, supportive environment.
The rubber outsole inserts help to stabilize and support your feet while you race your favorite lightweight obstacle course. Moreover, they help provide traction through wet, dirt, and rocky terrain.
9. Salomon Speedtrak
Lugs for Mud
Great for Technical Racing
Unsuitable for Long Distances
Narrow Toe Box
If you run about 3 miles (5K) or less in an OCR, then this pair will do the job. They are great for releasing mud and continue to do so with each step. The comfort factor of these requires you to not run long distances, however, as they are built better for short runs. They have decent technologies such as endoFit, Sensifit, and Quicklace. This footwear is a perfect beginner's OCR gear.Read more
The lugs are spaced apart, so as to evenly distribute and release water and mud. They handle well in multiple conditions and are durable. Their height is minimal enough that you retain decent stability, as well.
These are lightweight and aid in reducing overall fatigue while on your run. With the plethora of technologies in use and the structure of the shoe, this lightweight feature is fantastic.
10. Inov-8 X-Talon 212
1.25-inch Heel Height
Multiple Terrain Traction
Injected EVA Midsole
Heel Pull Loop
Not Water Resistant
Great for obstacle course racing, especially in the mud and dirt, this pair of runners are made with a 1.25-inch heel height. An injected EVA midsole helps with shock absorption and a heel pull loop assists with on and off. A textile and rubber upper helps to make these anti-abrasive and the traction is multi-terrain. Overall, we like these for OCR where mud and dirt reign.Read more
As OCR runners know, shock absorption is the key to happier feet. Furthermore, the EVA midsole does a great job at handling load-rate; thereby, your feet will thank you for a job well done.
This is a slight heel height which can add a bit more stability during your run. It is not minimalist; nor, is it a bit too much. This is a heel height that meets the happy medium between the two.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
There are two ways in which a pair of OCR shoes differs from regular running sneakers. The first, and most important one has to do with the very nature of Spartan races, which are mostly done on uneven, demanding trail courses where you’ll be required to go through muddy, wet and slippery terrain before you reach the goal. Naturally, your feet will require a higher level of protection than that which you get from your mesh road runners, which is why this type of footwear is always made with added technology in the upper that’s supposed not only to protect you, but also to ensure you have all the support you need for improved results.
Overall, trails are usually filled with small rocks, twigs and pebbles which could potentially break your shoe and cause injury. To prevent unwanted discomfort, try to purchase shoes with a stronger, anti-debris upper that won’t allow pebbles into the shoes, but also won’t tear if it’s caught on something. Trail-specific models will often include these types of additions, ranging from mud guards, toe bumpers, gusseted tongues and others.
For a higher level of protection, you may even want to look for strong overlays, but be aware that these may influence the shoe in terms of weight and drying speed. Leather is usually unsuitable for OCR, so nylon and TPR should work better. If you know you won’t be going through water, but want to stay dry in rainy conditions, you may even opt for a Gore-Tex upper which won’t allow your feet to get wet.
Nonetheless, waterproof shoes will usually not be the best choice for two reasons. For one, they’re usually heavier than their lightweight mesh counterparts, which will slow you down and cause you to be more fatigued as the race progresses. Second, if you’re ankle deep in a puddle, no amount of Gore-Tex is going to keep water out. In these cases, a shoe that has moisture wicking and quick-drying abilities is going to perform incomparably better.
Ask any professional athlete what the main thing they want from their gear, and they’ll tell you without thinking: allowing them to perform at their best, without having to think about it. When it comes to shoes, this is most reflected in the comfort they provide. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t even know they’re there, save for the cushioning underfoot, the protection from the rugged terrain, and the support they provide under the arch.
Being made with more durable and tough materials, trail footwear will often disregard comfort factors such as flexibility, softness and breathability. But, the best pairs will offer all of these aspects. Some manufacturers even invest into research that looks at finding the best possible fit, resulting in excellent models such as the Salomon Speedcross and Speedcross CS which will not only mold to the foot, but will even support it in the medial area to offer a feeling that’s locked in and secure.
The most important thing you should look for in your next purchase is definitely the lining. You should try and get a pair of sneakers that are breathable, with moisture wicking abilities that’ll draw swear and water from the feet, letting it evaporate and preventing infections, bacterial overgrowth and blistering.
Secondly, you may want to get a pair of footwear that has some padding in the upper, namely in the collar and tongue area. The collar is important because it’s often the area which can cause the most rubbing, and sometimes even socks aren’t enough to prevent chafing. A padded tongue, on the other hand, can allow you to tightly fasten your shoes without the laces cutting into the top of your foot, making the entire run more comfortable and enjoyable.
Regardless of the type of running you'll be doing, you need to be aware of the fact that this athletic activity puts a force 5 times your body weight on your feet. While for one landing this isn't that much, with a race or daily training, it can add up to quite a bit. To protect your body from such impact, you will want to go with footwear that's got a good amount of shock absorbing abilities which will disperse this force, saving your muscles and joints from pain and fatigue.
Most models listed above have some sort of shock absorption, from traditional EVA foam components to Air, GEL or even Wave cushioning. All of these can do a great job, and you should definitely go with what works best for you. But, this is not the only aspect of the midsole you need to look out for.
Flexibility is rather important. If the gear for your feet has no flexibility, then you will be unable to transition to various terrain types with ease. Not only can this slow you down but there is a higher potential for injury if the shoes are not flexible enough, as well. Likewise, on the other side of the same coin, sturdiness must be present. If your shoes are too flexible, they will give in when harder terrain types are faced; thus, causing potential ankle twisting, foot slippage, or some other kind of foot-related injury. Making certain your OCR shoes are balanced well in the realm of flexibility is essential.
Heel-to-toe differential refers to zero-drop, offset, and ramp angle. Zero-drop is when your heel and toes lie flat as you land; or at the very least, there is zero-drop between the heel area and forefoot. An 8mm drop means that is how much it raises your heel in comparison to the location of your forefoot. Understanding the type of race you are facing is extremely important when choosing your heel drop.
More than this, however, is making sure to know your own body. If you are a minimalist and have not been treading around in supportive shoes all of your life, zero-drop shoes might be perfect for you. If, however, you have not been running around barefoot a lot, zero-drop runners are known to cause injuries in relation; that is, many people are not ready for zero-drop footwear and an extreme obstacle course combined. If you truly desire to run in minimalist shoes, try working your way down to zero-drop. In this, you are taking care to protect your health.
Regardless of the type of trail you'll be running on, you need to consider how well a pair of footwear is going to aid your feet in getting you to the finish line. For many, this means higher levels of support, namely in the heel and arch areas that can take quite a beating during any running session.
Most models on the list above are made with neutral support, meaning that they're most suited to those with a medium arch, without any pronation issues or arch-related pain. However, they definitely won't be enough for flat footed runners, nor for those who tend to overpronate, suffer from plantar fasciitis, or pain in any part of the foot. These individuals should always look for footwear that'll hug the foot from below, lifting the arch and ensuring that it isn't working overtime in order to absorb the generated shock.
It's important to note that plenty of support can also be provided by the shoe's lacing system and overlays on the upper. Oftentimes, running sneakers will have internal cages that wrap around the midfoot and are tightened through the laces, ensuring that there's enough stability so that there's no unwanted frontal movement that would lead to a lower level of stability.
OCR footwear needs to give you the ability to traverse multiple terrain types. Furthermore, this transfer of terrain type should be doable with ease of transitional motion. If you find it difficult to transition from one terrain type to the next and you know it is the shoes, then they are not the right kind of shoes for the job. Transition with ease is the characteristic you look for. Lug traction outsoles will allow you to traverse from mud to dirt or vice versa. OCR footgear should have a lug system in place and should be considered an aggressive traction.
The tread type will determine your ability to navigate through certain ground surfaces such as wet, dirt, mud, and rocky. If your shoes have a flat waffle-like outsole, they are not going to do very well in the mud. Footgear with a nice lug system is better for mud. The bigger the lug, the more 'aggressive' the traction; generally, speaking.
When determining performance in OCR (obstacle course racing) shoes, the ability to shed dirt, rocks, and mud are critical aspects. The further you traverse into the course, the more chance there is to gain a more massive load via unwanted hitchhikers. These hitchhikers come in the form of debris and latch onto your shoes. The more substantial your runners become, the more rigorous the course is. Fatigue begins to set in, and the race turns into a more prominent monster than it should be. The correct footwear, however, can shed dirt, rocks, and debris; thereby, allowing you to focus on the course and not on heavy hitchhikers weighing you down.
Look for lug systems which are based upon the type of race you are running; that is, do you need long lugs are shorter ones? Spacing is essential in determining whether or not your footwear will, indeed, shed the monstrous hitchhikers, as it were. If the lugs are too closely situated, then they will hold onto the dirt, instead of letting it go. Spacing is a big factor in whether or not mud will be released when you pick your foot up.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Spartan Mud Runs have become one of the toughest and most sought after races for challenging runners around the world.
To help train for these races, not only will running play a part, but upper body strength will as well. Hit the gym for a few weight sessions to increase your upper body strength, or try going to a climbing gym a couple times a week for a fun way to get the arm strength needed for the race's obstacles.
Spartan Races will go on rain or shine, so long as nothing dangerous about the weather could potentially be threatening.
When training, it's good to head out in the rain now and again for your runs, to get a little used to changing environments and temperatures, similar to what you may encounter on race day!
Other Factors to Consider
If your footwear fails you during an obstacle course run, frustration could not begin to describe the feeling you would have at that moment. It might seem all of your training would be a total loss; all over a pair of shoes, no less. We understand this very notion and are appreciative you have chosen us, in this regard. Selecting proper footwear can be stressful, and this is why we have put together this list for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best shoes for Spartan & mud runs are built to withstand the heavy demands of obstacle course running. These need to be lightweight, have multi-terrain capabilities, able to transition from one terrain to the next with ease, be supportive and stable, and provide comfortability. Additionally, they should have a tuck-away laces system and, ideally, have some water-resistant property. Finally, they should fit well and provide cushioning.
The best method is to use a soft-bristled brush, soap, and water.
A Spartan race consists of obstacles containing variables such as mud, dirt, and rock. These races are, typically, formulaic and individually oriented. There are three types of Spartan races designed for the beginner and on through to the most experienced. The Sprint is a 3-5 mile race, the Super Spartan is 8+ miles, and the Ultra Beast is 12+ miles. Each of these races has added obstacles, accordingly.
A Tough Mudder race is similar in terrain variables, but this is where the similarities end. Tough Mudder events do not run off of the clock but are about the team completing the course. Approximately 78% of team participants complete the 10-12 miles of 20-25 obstacles. Furthermore, these obstacle courses are more inventive than the formulaic barriers offered by a Spartan race.
As with any exercise, it is first recommended you seek out a health care professional to determine your ability to participate in one of these events. If, however, your doctor has already given the thumbs up, then it is best to work your way up. Training means a daily regimen of endurance-boosting and strength-conditioning activities such as walking, jogging, running, burpees, planks, push-ups, pull-ups, and squats are a great start. Most of all, however, you need to be always aware of your base fitness level before entering one of these demanding events.
The Spartan race offers the Sprint which is a far-shorter distance than the 10-12 mile Tough Mudder. If, however, we are discussing equal distance in miles, the Tough Mudder would be the easier of the two; since, Tough Mudder races are team-based. Also, the Spartan races have burpee penalties. For example, if you fail at a rope obstacle, be prepared to dish out 30 burpees before being allowed to move on.
The answer lies in what you consider to be fun. Spartan races are individually oriented. As such, these races are for those searching out a pure racer experience and quality from the course. Tough Mudder, on the other hand, is team-oriented. It is about what entices you into the realm of being fun. If you are after a pure race, then the Spartan challenges are for you. If, however, you are driven by the spirit of a team, then the obvious choice is the Tough Mudder. Both are fun in their unique way and bring with them their own unique sets of challenges.
First and foremost, the week before, it is strongly recommended you get lots of rest and stretch out thoroughly. Secondly, on the night preceding race time, you should hydrate well and eat plenty of carbohydrates. Next, be sure to pack energy bars and water into your pockets; especially, for more extended events. You do not want to weigh yourself down, but these events are not known for catering to your run, either. The exhibition may offer you a single cup of water and nothing more. For more extended games, I would recommend you pack, accordingly.
In addition to the physical preparations, you should always mentally prepare. These obstacle course races can take a heavy psychological toll on you. As such, you should spend your time working out the mental aspects of what you might be facing. Although there might be a seemingly impossible rope climb up ahead, it is not there to see if you can do it; but rather, it is there to see if you are willing to do something not expected. This same-like scenario exists in all obstacle course races. Mental preparation is part of the keys to success.
Finally, bring a cheer squad with you. If you do not have to trek it alone, don't. It is mentally easier to make it through the more robust parts of obstacle course races when you can hear someone cheering you on, as opposed to self-cheering while you are exhausted. Support can be the difference in how much we are willing to go that extra mile; especially, when we are new to the sport. There is nothing wrong or shameful about bringing along a supporting cast.
If, however, there is no one with you during your drive to conquer the latest course, try and utilize a competitor or teammate for support. Since Spartan races are individually oriented, it is a good idea to choose someone who paces with you. Together, you can drive each other to the next obstacle and on through to the end of the race. I call it competitive sportsmanship, per se.
- What I Discovered Running My First Spartan Race, Article, Apr 09, 2015 ,
- What to Expect From Your First Spartan Race , Article, Mar 09, 2017 ,
- 10 Things I Tell Anyone Who Wants To Do A Spartan Race, Article, Jun 16, 2015 ,
- 13 Tips for Mud Run Rookies, Article, ,
- The Dangers of a Mud Run, Article, Feb 06, 2013 ,
- Should You Try Obstacle Course Racing?, Article, Sep 12, 2017 ,
- Spartan vs. Tough Mudder How The Top Mud Challenges Compare, Article, Aug 19, 2013 ,
- Comparing The Big Three: Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder & Spartan Race, Article, May 30, 2014 ,