Best Tough Mudder Gear

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.

Head Gear

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.

Shirt

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.

Gloves

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.

Pants

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.

Footwear

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.

Final Words

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.

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12 Responses to Best Tough Mudder Gear

  1. Christine May 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    Thanks for the post John! I’m training with a bunch of friends for the Tough Mudder in Wisconsin in July and have been thinking about getting Vibrams. How well (if at all) did they wash up? I did Warrior Dash in an old pair of Nike running shoes and they were toast after that. I don’t want to spend $100-ish bucks on these shoes if I’m just going to have to toss ‘em.

    • John Belkewitch May 25, 2011 at 1:37 am #

      Christine,

      I wore the KSO model and they washed up great. By no means do they look brand new, but they cleaned up very well. I still wear mine often. Keep in mind that the KSO’s are a bit more basic when it comes to the material build compared to some of the newer models, so I won’t say that a pair of white and blue Bikila’s are going to look spiffy after getting mud logged.

      However, the build quality is better on the newer models and the footwear holds up well. The build of my KSOs is in no way compromised from being Mudder’d and washed.

      If you wear regular footwear, you will most likely have to toss those and invest in a new pair of sneakers. That seemed to be the theme after the event, as most people put their junk shoes in the burn pile.

      Also, if you’ve never worn Vibrams, definitely give them a few weeks of trail time before you run them through the Mudder.

  2. Brian Tirado June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    Great post, I’ve been looking for something like this. I’ve also been concerned about footwear as I usually rock the Vibrams as well.

    • John Belkewitch June 22, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

      Brian,

      If you’re used to hitting the trails in your Vibrams, you should have no issue at the Mudder. Both myself and the guys on my team that wore them plan on wearing them again for the next go’round.

  3. Running for 365 Days June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I did Survivor Mud run in my Vibram KSO Trek Sports and they rocked! 2 washings and they wer totally cool! Great traction, ground feel, and they were light and comfortable wet and full of mud. They are a must buy if your serious!

  4. Daniel January 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for the article. This is a huge help for those of us that are new at the TM. Did the Warrior Dash and caught the bug to do something more insane. Can’t wait.

    Can you provide any recommendations for those of us who need some gear that is budget friendly? Don’t get me wrong, I love UA gear, just can’t afford it. What is a brand that makes good quality and similar gear to UA?

    Thanks again!

    • John Belkewitch January 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      Daniel,

      Totally hear you on the UA price tag – definitely high, especially if you’re only going to wear it for a single event, or only several times a year.

      I can’t speak to a full blown cold-gear alternative from actual use, unfortunately.

      I’ve used under UA from Target, which hold up well for the price, but they’re not cold-gear. I’ve heard that people were able to pick up UA gear on the cheap from TJMaxx, but it’s hit or miss. Also, have heard decent things about Nike’s UA mock.

      These guys have an interesting selection, and decent price: http://www.colemans.com/coldweathergear.htm

      or

      http://www.goathleticapparel.com/thermal-base-layers?gclid=CJbl_eOPua0CFYHrKgoddj0p6A&vmcchk=1

      But, again, can’t speak from actual experience. I’ll do some digging and see what I can find – maybe throw up a new post with some gear alternatives.

  5. lane February 4, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Great article. I just did the Tough Mudder in Edna, Tx. a week ago. It was in the low 50’s when I ran with some pretty good wind. I wore an UA cold gear compression top, long bathing suit shorts, new balance minimus shoes with drymax socks, and the original mechanix gloves.
    Unless you wear dive gear, you will get cold regardless. The UA top minimized the cold by wicking away alot of water. I was impressed. The shoes were awesome. Did not collect alot of mud, and dried fast, with great traction. I might try the Injinji socks next time. In between my toes were starting to get raw around 10 miles. The guy I ran it with wore some old, bulky cross training shoes and said he regreted it. They picked up alot of mud, and were heavy after getting wet. I was dissapointed with the mechanics gloves. While they were great for rope events and protection, they were very slick and useless on events such as funky monkey (monkey bars) I’ll give the gloves John suggested a whirl before the next one. The bathing suit worked great as it did not hold any water and stayed light, but my knees took a beating from alot of the tiny pieces of shell that were in the mud from the mud crawl events. IMHO, I think the best thing you can do to prepare yourself and your equipment choices would be to get totally soaked before you run, especially your shoes, and test it out. Try some different combinations in order to try and find what works best for you. All this is personal opinion from a recent Tough Mudder finisher. I hope this helps.

    • John Belkewitch February 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

      Iane,

      Thanks for the imput. Totally agreed: the best thing any of us can do is to be specifically prepared – put your gear on and get it soaked and wet.

  6. Daniella May 14, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Great stuff, John. Here are two more articles on what to wear for Tough Mudder
    – Gloves : http://danielladvargas.com/2011/07/14/gloves-for-tough-mudder/
    -Clothing: http://www.toughestmudder.com/first-compressions-from-head-to-toe/
    -Shoes: http://www.toughestmudder.com/best-shoes-for-tough-mudder/

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