A Guide to Wearing the Right Gear to Obstacle Races and Mud Runs

How to Dress for Race Day

Participant in extreme obstacle race crawling under barbed wire
Mud runs require special gear. Westend61 / Getty Images

One of the most perplexing issues for those entering into the obstacle course race (OCR) world is figuring out what to wear to the first event. Most sports have a set standard, but race day wear for obstacle races and mud runs leaves many people stumped. Rather than learn by trial and error, there are a few key do's and don'ts that you can follow. 

The Cardinal Rule of OCR: No Cotton!

Cotton and OCR are enemies.

They really should never be seen in the same venue together. However, many participants show up to their first event in cotton shirts emblazoned with a team name. By the finish line, they wishing they had chosen differently.

Why is that? Cotton is a great product, however, it is also great at holding water once it's wet. In OCR's you get very wet and very muddy. Cotton quickly loses its shape and that form-fitting shirt will be hanging at your knees before you know it.

Leave the cotton at home and take a top-down approach to your race day wear.

Hats, Sunglasses, iPods, etc...

A basic rule of OCR is: don't run with anything you don't mind losing. While not part of all races, some do require you to jump off a platform, swim or wade through murky mud pits, or any number of other obstacles. Each of these is a possibility to lose any items on or around your head.

Leave the jewelry at home or at least in the car.

An earring can snag on a sandbag or during a bucket carry. A necklace can get caught and be gone forever. Even your ring can be lost in the melee of a race.

Headbands are a great option for ladies and men with longer hair. It will keep hair out of your face so you can see whatever is in front of you.

Just remember to hold on to it if you have to Walk the Plank in a Tough Mudder.

It's also best to leave the electronics at home unless they are completely waterproof and securely attached to you. Many participants enjoy running with GoPros, but you need to remember to hold on to them in the water. Otherwise, you might be making a donation to the watery pits. 

Select the Right Top

Many men, especially in the elite or competitive heats, ditch a shirt altogether. Many of the top women choose to run in just a sports bra. This follows another rule of OCR: less is more. The less you have on, the less you have to get wet, muddy, or snagged.

Not all people are comfortable baring it all and when the weather is cold, a shirt is a must. Wicking fabrics are the key to a good top. The water should wick away and not be held in the fabric.

Also, a form-fitting or compression top is preferable as it has less of a chance to get snagged on a wire, rope, or other obstacles. Many women opt for a formfitting tank. 

Just keep in mind that your clothing should not be an additional obstacle. Some of the top manufacturers for good OCR gear are CW-X Compression Wear, 2XU, Under Armour, and Reebok

Your Bottoms Are Important

Compression is the key to a great OCR bottom.

Whether it is worn alone or under a pair of shorts, nothing is better than a good pair of compression shorts for a race.

The same as a compression top, compression bottoms will help wick away moisture, keep mud to a minimum in the more sensitive areas of your body, and will not get caught on wires as easily as a loose pair of shorts or pants.

Again, avoid cotton, even in your underwear.

Many men prefer to wear a pair of shorts over compression shorts. However, it is more and more common to see men racing in compression shorts alone as many choose to forgo the baggy stuff altogether. Other men who do not like compression opt for shorter running shorts.

For obvious reasons, women do not fear compression shorts. 

Keep in mind that people at an OCR are not looking at how you look. Instead, they are looking at what you can accomplish.

It's all going to be filthy by the end and your clothing should help your race. 

The Right Socks for Race Day

Again, leave the cotton at home. Your feet will be wet and it could start as soon as a couple feet into the race. They will only get wetter as the race goes on. Save the cotton socks for after the race when you need to slip into something warm and comfy.

Choose a well made, wool or wicking sock. Great companies include Injinji toe socks, Smart Wool, and Darn Tough

Don't Forget the Shoes

While you may be tempted to wear an old pair of sneakers to your first event, this will most likely end in misery. Instead, opt for a pair of shoes with good tread, drainage, and support.

Traditionally, most trail shoes have been good for OCR. A key is to find a shoe with good drainage that is not Gore-Tex. Gore-Tex is a popular material that helps repel water from shoes but it also locks in the water and doesn't allow it to drain out.

One of the best shoe companies for all competitors is Inov-8. This UK based company started as a fell running and trail shoe company, but the OCR world quickly adopted them as their own.

For those looking for more support Salomon also makes a great trail shoe to crossover into the OCR market. Since Reebok is the sponsor for the Spartan Race, it's only natural that they now have tough all-terrain shoes designed for OCR as well.

Other Gear

A few other items are worth considering for your first race, though they're not a priority. You might want to get a few races under your belt before buying these, but they're something to think about.

Many racers opt for compression sleeves for either their lower legs or arms. These give a layer of protection against rocks and roots when crawling through obstacles. They also offer compression, which helps with circulation and can decrease cramping.

If it is a long race or runs, hydration might be needed as well. There are many ways to carry race fuel on the course, so explore your options. You can also find out if water is provided throughout the race.

Gloves are another item that many racers like to have when climbing obstacles. They are not mandatory and many competitors choose not to wear them.

Finally, remember a full change of clothing or else you might have a muddy and cold ride home. 

Overall, when headed out to race, leave your keys at home (or at least in bag check), make sure to wear waterproof sports sunscreen, and have fun. A little bit of preparation prior to the event will result in a great experience, no matter if it is your first or fiftieth.