It feels great to look photo-ready at an obstacle course racing event, but that’s only one of the many benefits of investing in the right gear. Choosing the appropriate racing gear that’s best suited for you can enhance your performance and help you overcome the obstacles more quickly and efficiently.
When you put together your race day outfit, what you don’t include is just as important as what you do include. For example, you definitely don’t want to be carrying extra weight or bulk as you fight your way through the obstacles, because it would get in the way and slow you down. The best way to figure out what you should and shouldn’t take with you is just to try it out. While you train, as much as possible, use the same gear that you plan to use for the actual event.
Here are some specific things to consider when getting your head-to-toe outfit ready for obstacle course racing.
What to look for in your gear
What you wear on top should be whatever you feel most comfortable moving in. However, keep in mind that your top won’t just be stretched out from moving. It will also get wet and muddy. Some racers opt to go topless. If you would prefer to be clothed, you can wear a t-shirt, a sleeveless shirt, or a sports bra. In extremely cold weather, you might be most comfortable in a wetsuit or rash guard. Whichever one you choose, your best bet is a dri-fit top, because it allows for ventilation and dries quickly.
On the other hand, you should completely avoid anything cotton. This is because it will feel cool and fresh at the beginning of the race, but as soon as it comes in contact with moisture (water, mud, or even just sweat), it will absorb the wetness and become sticky and uncomfortable.
As with tops, your bottoms should be made of dri-fit material. Ditch the cotton shorts. The worst case scenario is that they will feel diaper-like and might slip off while you move around, so it’s better not to risk it. You won’t have to worry about this with dri-fit bottoms, and they’ll also save you from the discomfort of chafing between your thighs. If the OCR event is taking place on a chilly day or you just want your legs to have an extra layer of protection from the sun, you can wear longer tights instead of shorts.
Some first-timers think they should wear their oldest, most worn-out pair of shoes to an OCR event because they’re going to get dirty anyway - but this is not a good idea. The top deciding factors for your shoes should be drainage and weight. If you notice that your shoes retain water when they get wet, then those shoes aren’t ideal for obstacle course racing. Neither are heavy, bulky shoes.
If you’re serious about investing in your gear, don’t be afraid to get your brand new, lightweight, high-traction shoes muddy. Standard grip will do for a relatively dry course, while high traction is more suitable to wet, muddy, steep courses that require you to go up and down hills. No matter how filthy your shoes get, you can easily give them a good cleaning after they’ve done their job. And in case you haven’t noticed the pattern yet, your socks should ideally be dri-fit, too.
Wearing gloves is a divisive topic among OCR buffs. Some swear off them and use their bare hands from training to finish line. Others insist that they need them, especially for hanging obstacles. It all comes down to personal preference. Belaying gloves or bike gloves can give your hand grip a decent boost, especially if you tend to sweat a lot. Standard neoprene gloves will keep your hands warm in a cold environment, but don’t offer the same grip as belaying gloves and biking gloves.
Keep in mind that if it takes you a while to put your gloves on and take them off, this can eat into your race time and disrupt your momentum. Some gloves are easy to get on and off when dry but tend to stick when they get wet, so it’s a good idea to test them out before deciding to make them a part of your race day outfit.
Staying hydrated is an absolute necessity in day-to-day life, and even more so when you’re doing obstacle course racing because of the strain it puts on your body. You should be drinking a lot of water in the days and hours leading up to the race, and you will also need some during the race itself. There are many hydration bottles and bags on the market. No need to complicate it - just go for something lightweight and sturdy. Many organizers will make sure there are a few water points scattered along the course, but just in case there aren’t any, or there are too few, you should have your own water supply at the ready.
There are a few basic things to remember when assembling your outfit for the big day. Don’t wear anything that restrains your movements, feels uncomfortable, or will become restrictive or uncomfortable when wet. Anything bulky or hanging (like oversized shoes or loose, baggy t-shirts, for example) should be a “hard pass” for both training and racing. Dri-fit is your friend; cotton is not, unless you’re only planning on putting it on after the race proper to keep warm.
Don’t feel overwhelmed or discouraged by these suggestions. OCR gear doesn’t have to be expensive or top-of-the-line. It’s a worthwhile investment, particularly if you’re planning on doing a lot more OCR in the future, but the most important thing is simply that your gear is comfortable and doesn’t put you in danger of getting injured while you enjoy the race.