You’re running your first obstacle race and want to know what you should wear? This guide will help you select the best and most appropriate garments. However, don’t be fooled by marketing and a need for the best gear, the most important thing in an OCR is your physical preparation before the race and your attitude. If you have these two bases covered, clothing will just make things more comfortable for you. If you haven’t prepared adequately, be prepared to see runners in ridiculous fancy dress overtaking you seemingly at ease despite how inappropriate their outfit is! Your clothing more than likely will not make you go faster, but you can at least choose stuff which won’t make you slower.
The best clothing will be made from synthetic technical fabric, you can read more about how to choose this at our guide here. For the best comfort and to prevent chafing, it’s best to have something as form fitting as possible. There’s almost nothing more distracting as wet clothes flapping about. Here are things to consider:
Clothing covers your skin to provide protection against minor abrasions. There’s some contention here as some runners will argue that skin will self repair, whereas clothing won’t. Also for some, long sleeves and leggings can seem restrictive and heavy when wet.
When it’s hot.
Sun burn is very real and sun cream will very quickly wash off. You need to stay covered up to prevent this. Compression gear made from Lycra, Spandex, Elastane or similar fabrics help the body cool down by increasing surface area of the skin so sweat can evaporate more efficiently and provides warmth in the winter by providing another layer. It’s doesn’t become sodden with sweat like cotton and its light weight and form hugging cut prevents chafing and friction. You can learn more about how compression gear helps to keep you cool here.
When it’s cold.
A lot of races feature in the winter when it’s cold. In fact one of the selling points is the weather because there’s absolutely more kudos to be scored completing in the cold! Just remember that you’re going to get wet on the course. Being wet on and cold is a pretty miserable feeling. The single most important thing you can do to help yourself is to keep moving and keep the wind off you.
Sometimes though, you will encounter a bottleneck obstacle and have to wait to traverse it. Layer up your garments to create a barrier against the wind. In the past Fierce Edge has used a Fourth Element Thermocline Vest on the Winter Tough Guy when it was snowing and the air temp was -5C. This is usually worn under a wetsuit and is neoprene with some fleecing on the inside. The neoprene reduces the "cold rush" feeling of water obstacles and provides some thermal insulation. By no stretch of any imagination were we remotely anywhere near warm, but no doubt it did keep us from being pulled off the course from hypothermia.
Remember then terrible phase when mankinis were all the rage?
Up to 50% of heat is lost through your head right? Sort of… This statistic was a conclusion made in error from a US Army Study which looked at Arctic Survival Suits. The participants lost so much heat from their heads because that was the only part of their body not covered. At Fierce Edge, specifically for OCR, we prefer to leave hats and caps at home because it’s just another thing to worry about not losing and also having a freezing wet hat on our heads is pretty unappealing! Having said that, lightweight caps are a great way to keep rain, sleet, snow and sand out of your eyes – just don’t let it blow off or lose it in the water!
For us, these are a must. There’s a ton of obstacles to climb and gloves will protect our indoors office hands from splinters and debris while providing, more grip on wet metal. Again look for synthetic materials. Wool might be great to keep your hands warm, they’re going to be rubbish at providing grip. We really like the MacWet Tactical Gloves. They have enough insulation to stop your hands freezing but the material on the palm and fingers provide great non-slip tactile feedback for climbing.
Well, you’re going to be crawling and maybe using your knees to scramble up high banks and other obstacles. You shouldn’t really be impacting on your knees unless you’ve done something wrong and if you land hard enough to need knee pads you’ve done catastrophically wrong. We’ve taken volleyball knee pads out before for Tough Guy, Total Warrior and Tough Mudder. For the limited protection they give in very specific situations, knee pads really aren’t worth it. They get uncomfortable after a while when running, and while there’s the option to push them to around your ankles and then pull them up when you need them – it’s an obstacle run, and they’ll get wet. Having two big sponges covered in heavy durable fabric soaking up a ton of water around your ankles becomes really annoying in a very short time!
We get it, you want to look the part. You’ve seen contestants wear cool gear on obstacle courses on TV. Much like the knee pads – avoid! They’ll get uncomfortable and you’re planning for a catastrophe which shouldn’t happen if you’re careful. By the same logic you may as well bring a helmet or stay off the course altogether.
Items you really really shouldn’t take!
1) Water proof gloves, jackets, socks, anything!
You’re going to get wet. Accept this fact. What you need to be focussing on is trying to be as comfortable being wet as possible rather than avoiding it. The only way you’re going to stay dry is wearing a dry-suit and that is going to be a challenge all on it’s own!
2) Hydration pack. You might have seen these packs which carry liquid on your back, perfect for soldiers patrolling and cyclists on long trails. Absolutely not suitable for OCR or most any other running event though. If your run is long enough to warrant rehydration, the course organiser is going to have water or sponsored hydration readily available. Otherwise, you’re just investing in extra weight to carry on your back and you’re going to be sipping on something covered in mud and muck – not hygienic at all!
Hydration packs, do yourself a favour and leave these on the shelf.
The race is over and you're cold, wet and covered in dirt. Let's hope you brought a change of clothes with you. Our favourite thing is to bring a big old bathrobe with us so we can strip down and towel off. Sometimes it's just easier to wrap yourself in layers of thick cotton huddled in your car with a hot drink until you're warm again. You did remember to bring a towel and a bin bag for your soiled gear didn't you?!
When you finally get home, we recommend that you hose off all your equipment in the garden before washing it to make sure you don't block up your washing machine or drains.
Did this help you? Check out our first Adventure Running Guide which helps you to choose the best shoes for Obstacle Course Racing.