One of the most common questions that Obstacle Course Racers have is: “What are the best shoes for an Obstacle Course Race?” In my opinion, there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the best shoes and there are so many factors to take into consideration to find the best shoe for you. I hope to provide you with some of my personal experiences and other insights when choosing your own shoe and help you figure out the best shoes for you!
When I first saw the new Under Armour Fat Tire shoe I was honestly pretty excited. It looked like an incredibly comfortable shoe and I really wanted to try it out. Though, I had not worn a big thick soled running shoe before so this was definitely going to be a different experience. I have tried to Altra running shoes which had a pretty thick sole but I hadn’t actually worn them that much. The UA Fat Tires looked like a little more of an OCR compatible shoe even though they are pretty unorthodox.
Other shoes I have worn left my feet, knees and hips in pain after any longer race because of the lack of cushion. Some other shoes that are supposedly made specifically for an OCR but they never seem to last very long and they let in a ton of junk. I’m hoping the UA Fat Tire has what I am looking for. I should mention that they do have an OCR specific shoe but I was looking for something with more cushion like the UA Fat Tire.
My first impression when I pulled them out of the box was that they were actually lighter than I expected they would be given their size. When I slipped them on for the first time I knew I was going to enjoy them, they were extremely comfortable. It was like walking on a memory foam mattress. I wore them around the house and stuff for about a week just to break them in a bit and get used to them. My right ankle bone seemed to rub funny on the top of the shoe but once I broke them in a bit that went away and never caused me any problems.
When I first strapped on the UA Fat Tires and went out for a run I felt great. I was so impressed with how light and comfortable my feet felt. I was still really impressed with how light they were considering how thick the the sole was. The cushioning was actually sort of springy and definitely put some spring in my step, I felt like I was bouncing with each step. It was actually a great feeling!
Some of the characteristics of the UA Fat Tire:
- Specs – They are inspired by the “Fat Bikes” that are designed to run on lower PSI and bounce over tough terrain and that is really what it felt like. They are heavier than other “minimalist” type shoes weighing in at about 368 grams.
- Upper – UA created a high-performance outdoor material with bonded abrasion panels to provide stability and protection. I found the upper material very tough and showed no signs of wear even against sharp rocks. It is also fairly slick and doesn’t let mud cling to it. With a little more cushion they were also a much more comfortable shoe than most minimal shoes.
- Toe protection – The UA Fat Tire has coating on the toe to help protect it from wear but it isn’t much to protect your toes from rocks or tree roots. Although the sole is thicker and does seem to protect the front of your toes from stubbing them on anything.
- Fit – They fit my foot like most shoes the same size, they weren’t big or small for the size which was nice. The toe box wasn’t very big though, it didn’t squish my toes but it wasn’t like they were swimming inside my shoe either. The extra cushioning inside the shoe also meant that when I snugged up the laces it really locked my foot in place but wasn’t uncomfortable. My feet are wider but I had no issues in the Fat Tires. I had enough room to be comfortable and also keep my toes from smashing on the downhills.
- Lacing system – The lacing system goes through some fabric loops rather than holes like most shoes. This allows for you to really lock the laces down and keep your foot secure in the shoe. You can configure the laces in any configuration to help with different issues like heel slip. Like mentioned the mix of lacing system and cushioning in the shoe made for an extremely comfortable and secure fit.
- Traction – When you first look at the shoes traction it doesn’t look like you would have a ton of traction. Most shoes have huge lugs on them and the UA Fat Tires don’t. In my experience though there aren’t many situations where you really need huge lugs on your shoes. In fact in the more than 20 races I have run only one was so wet and muddy that I needed shoes with big lugs. For the majority of races you are running on clean dirt trails or grass and a trail shoe with decent lugs will have great traction on the trails. These do fantastic in normal conditions but if you are running in extremely wet and muddy conditions then these aren’t going to be ideal.
One test I like to do for trail and OCR shoes I wear is a water retention test. I weigh the shoe dry, then put it on walk through the water for about 10 steps, then walk on dry land for about 10 steps and weigh them again wet. Here are the results:
Dry Weight: 396 grams
Wet Weight: 500 grams
Water Retention: 104 grams (for a size 11.5 US shoe)
For me comfort and water retention are a constant trade off. The more comfortable a shoe is the more water it tends to retain and the less water a shoe retains the less comfortable it is. So finding that balance for what you want is key. I tend to prefer more comfort. I’m not a Ferrari racing for first place, I’m more like a Ford F-150 so comfort is a little more important to me.
The only thing that I’m not a big fan of is the slight instability because of the size and shape of the sole. It took me a while to get used to and develop stronger ankles but once I did had no issues.
Some of my favourite aspects of the UA Fat Tire are the incredible amount of cushion. The mix of cushion and high rebound foam they use makes them extremely comfortable to run in and makes them light for their size as well. I also really liked the traction. Even though the lugs weren’t really big there were lots of them and they provided tons of traction on the steep dirt trails.
I would highly recommend these shoes to anyone that is looking for something more comfortable and is fine compromising on weight for that extra comfort and support. I’m a little on the “bigger” side compared to most elite runners so I really like having a shoe that has more cushioning to it like the UA Fat Tire.
Tanner Farenik is a husband, father of two girls, avid OCR athlete, blogger, product reviewer and contributor to 3-Seconds.com