One of the top questions I get regarding the Tough Mudder is “So, what should I wear?”
And, of course, the answer is always “Well, that depends.”
While all Tough Mudders are similar in design, they’re not all equal in actualization.
The biggest determinant of gear is going to be the elements. Is your event in the dead pan heat of August? The whipping chill of November? Perhaps an April downpour?
Temperature, wetness, terrain, chaos and support should all factor into gear choice.
You’ll be getting wet often and early. Body temperature will fluctuate as a result of how wet you are, how much the wind is whipping, how hot/cold it is, and how hard you’re working. Being wet will weigh you down, as will the mud (there’s a lot of that). Wire will be stinging and biting at you, and you’ll be getting banged around quite a bit, unless you wait off to the side to move through an obstacle a lot less crowded. .
Wait a minute… why are you doing this again?
Right… you’re just a little bit crazy.
Aren’t we all…
Below are a few recommendations, from top to bottom, based off of my team’s experience and the elements we had to endure. As a frame of reference, our Tri State event was just before Thanksgiving on a cold, windy, and often times sunless morning.
I chose to go with a hooded gator. I’ve trained plenty in the cold and one of the issues I have had in the past is a rough and raw throat from sucking in bitter cold air as training intensity rises. The last thing I wanted was to have to slow down halfway through the Mudder due to a stinging throat or chest.
The nice thing about the hooded gator is that it’s convertible. I can easily drop the hood, drop the gator or drop both. It kept airflow warm and the heat in. I though I’d be taking it off at some point, especially once I got wet, but I kept it on, ninja style throughout the event.
This was possibly the best gear choice I made.
An overwhelming amount of participants, my team included, went with some form of Under Armor. If you decide to oblige, just check to make sure you’re picking up a type that suits your elements best. In my case, I went with long sleeves, cold gear, compression fit.
It did a good job of keeping the moisture to a minimum. Whereas a regular t-shirt would have been bogged with water, the material of the under armor shirt allowed for wicking. The cold gear, compression fit also did a decent job of keeping in some warmth. I think the only alternative above this would have been a full on wet suit.
Had we run the event in a warmer climate, I still would have went with under armor, though it would certainly have been short sleeves and may not have been a compression fit.
I knew I wouldn’t be picking up gloves to keep my hands warm. Figured that would result in too bulky an accessory. Decided to go with the glove for gripping purposes. Mud and butter (supposedly) on the monkey bars and other wet, damp obstacles swayed my decision to go with gloves. Also barbed wire, and wooden obstacles increase the chance of cuts and splinters.
Figured I’d go with a bit more protection and more assured purchase.
I chose a pair of Mad Grips. They’re dirt cheep at just under ten bucks, dexterous, have a nice rubber gripping surface and the rest of the glove is woven with a very light and breathable nylon type material. I like a bit more tactility in my grip so I cut the tips off to expose my fingers a bit.
This was the toughest decision over all. I wanted to stay as warm as possible, as light as possible and as mobile as possible. In the end, I went, as did many, with Under Armor – compression briefs and long compression pants.
I also wanted something to overlay to help protect a bit more against the wind and abrasions. So, I went with a Columbia convertible pant. Very light weight and unobtrusive. Convertible pants are also advantageous in a warmer climate – they allow for abrasion protection, and are light and loose enough to allow for a good deal of air flow. If it gets too hot, you can convert them to shorts and stuff the lower pant leg portion into your cargo pockets.
This was an interesting choice. I had to weigh in the attributes of support, durability, dexterity and sloppy, rugged terrain.
My initial choices were between Nike Frees, hiking boots and Vibram Five Fingers.
The Nike Frees and Hiking Boots had the traction I was looking for. The Nike Frees were also lighter and more dexterous than the hiking boots. However, neither the hiking boots or the Nike Frees had the sensitivity to the ground that I was looking for – I’ve been rocking Vibrams for a long time and am not a fan of swapping them out with something more engineered, no matter what the occasion. Also, the Vibrams would fair much better against water log, thus keep me lighter for the event.
My concern with the Vibrams was that I’d either lose them in the mud, would get irritated by the insoles over a long distance, or be uncomfortable depending on how rugged the terrain was.
In the end, it came down to comfort, and I went with my Vibram KSO’s. I fatigue much less, and have less overall discomfort when running in my Vibrams than any other footwear choice. In an 12 plus mile event, fatigue management is a key factor.
Going with the Vibrams (and crew Injini socks underneath) wound up being a great choice. Ran great in them during the Mudder, even though the cold rendered my feet almost numb – no matter what type of footwear you went with on that day, your feet would be wet and freezing.
I saw a ton of people piling up their mud whipped and battered running shoes, boots and clothes after the event as garbage. My Vibrams and Under Armor gear cleaned off with one washing. While, I may not have purchased the cheapest gear for the event, I will get repeated use out of it.
One big recommendation: train in your gear BEFORE the Tough Mudder.
Get a feel for it. Make sure it ‘suits’ you well. Is it too restrictive, too loose? Is it uncomfortable or chaffing? Does it stand up to the beating you’ll be putting it through? The last thing you want to do is get to the event and run into wardrobe malfunctions.
In the end, you can choose to wear almost nothing at all, as some participants did. If so, you’re a bit crazier than most. Good for you. And if going commando is your intention, then gear choice is certainly not in question and you’re most likely NOT reading this blog post.