Choosing Shoes for GORUCK Challenge
I get asked at least once a week for advice on the best shoes to wear for doing a GORUCK Challenge. I've worn and tested a lot of different shoes and boots for trail running and backpacking over the years and have discovered what works for my feet and my way of hiking, running, and walking.
I may not be the authority on footwear or on doing the GORUCK Challenge, but I can tell you what worked for me and why I chose the shoes I wore. My hope is that by sharing this information it will help others to make the most informed footwear choices for their individual needs. Just know that there is no one perfect pair of shoes or boots.
Understand Your Feet
This may seem like a stupidly obvious thing to say, but the most important thing you need to know about choosing footwear for an endurance or long distance event is how your feet react under those circumstances. For example; you need to know how your feet respond to long distant hikes over varying types of terrain. How your feet react when running for extended periods of time, when walking, and most importantly for a GORUCK Challenge - when carrying a heavy pack. This ain't no ultralight hiking trip.
Carrying heavy weight on your back changes your posture which in turn effects your technique which also has an impact on your cadence, foot strike, and form. You will also need to have a good understanding of how well (or not) you feet withstand being wet during these types of activities.
When you understand your feet you will know what to look for in a pair of shoes and you will be able to spot the warning signs for hot spots, blisters, nail issues, or more serious injuries.
Don't Ignore Socks
Any advice on footwear would be incomplete without mentioning socks. The right socks will let your feet breath, stop them from sweating, minimize friction and the resulting blisters, and help them to dry out if they get wet. I would recommend choosing a quality pair of wool or synthetic socks that are breathable and moisture wicking.
I wore EMS fast mountain coolmax synthetic socks that have ventilation panels to let my feel cool down and flat toe seams to avoid causing blisters. Don't wear cotton socks! The GORUCK site now sells Darn Tough Merino wool socks that are perfect for doing Challenges. Protip: Carry a spare pair of socks in a dry bag or ziploc bag so that you have the opportunity of changing them if you get a break - if!
The ultimate decision on what footwear to buy for a GORUCK Challenge or any event will come down to personal preference. Some people prefer boots for ankle support (no one wants to roll an ankle) and others prefer cross trainers or running shoes. If you know that you have weak ankles consider choosing boots, if not then running shoes may be right for you. Whether you decide to go with boots or shoes you'll want to take the following characteristics into consideration:
Make sure that the shoes you have chosen are the right size. Just buying the same size you've always bought isn't good enough. Some shoes run bigger than others, some run small, and widths vary. For example; I find that all of the Inov-8 trail shoes that I have ever worn run small and narrow, so I know to order a size bigger than I would normally. Toebox shape and space is another fit consideration. Shoes like the Altra Lone Peak trail runners (below) have a wide toe box that provide room for your toes to spread naturally, this reduces heat and friction.
It's almost a guarantee that every GORUCK Challenge will include a period of time where you are submerged in water. As a result you will need footwear with a grip that can handle slick and slippery surfaces. The type of outer sole rubber can make all the difference, look for footwear with a softer rubber. Some trail running shoes now include a special form of grip that works well in wet conditions called razor sipping. It's a series of almost invisible cut marks in the sole that grip wet surfaces by expanding under pressure. It's clever and it works.
as mentioned above, your feet are going to get wet during a Challenge. Not just wet but completely submerged in muddy water. You don't want boots or shoes that are water proof or coated with a product designed to keep water from getting into your shoes from the outside. That protective coating is actually going to keep the water *in* your boots or shoes and make matters worse. You want footwear that can drain.
Believe it or not footwear manufacturers now make trail running shoes that have been specifically designed and engineered to allow water to drain out of the shoes. Rather than stop water from getting in, they have taken the approach of allowing the water to drain easily and be "forced" out by your feet as you begin moving. I attribute this new "drainage" technology to the success of my Challenge, in particular to the lack of blisters on my feet.
I wore a pair of Columbia Drainmakers that let the water drain out in seconds - it's amazing to see and experience. IMHO there are no other shoes on the market that drain like these. The Drainmakers also have razor sipping for grip in wet and slipper conditions and a soft outer sole. They worked extremely well for me, but you have to pick the footwear that works best for your feet and your situation.
Popular Choices for GORUCK Challenge
Here are a couple of other footwear options that have proven to be tough enough to withstand heavy abuse and have become popular among people doing GORUCK Challenge events.
Salomon XA Pro 3Ds: Salomon make awesome cross trainers. These are said to be the footwear choice of many Special Forces operatives and Navy SEALs. I know a lot of friends and GRT who have used Salomon XA Pros or Speedcross shoes for multiple challenges and were extremely happy with them.
Inov-8 TrailRoc 245 or 255: Lightweight trail runner that has great arch support and drains reasonably well. Probably one of the best pairs of trail running shoes out there. As a rule Inov-8 shoes run one size small and can be too narrow if you have flat feet.
Scarpa Epic: These have been my "go-to" trail runners for a few years now. I'm on my third pair, not because they wear out quickly, just because I tend to wear them casually with shorts throughout the summer as they are so comfortable. Can't say enough good things about Scarpa shoes. They run true to size, but don't drain water as fast as some of the other options here.
If you've completed a GORUCK Challenge wearing any of the footwear listed, or something completely different, leave a comment on how well they performed for you. If you have suggestions for anyone looking to pick the right shoes for a Challenge leave a comment for that too - any good advice is welcome.
What is the GORUCK Challenge?
There is a route, but you won't know it, Through the middle of town, eventually, The best of a city, All the postcard shots, and a little time to reflect, Inspired by Special Forces Training, Led by Green Berets, ..but 15-20 miles don't disappear on their own and 8-10 hours can feel like a lifetime. Welcome to our version of Good Livin' This is the GORUCK Challenge!
Update: Kelvin Lomboy just pointed out these Reebok All Terrain shoes designed for the Spartan (obstacle) Race crowd. Anyone have any experience with them? They have drainage ports, great looking grip and might be perfect for a GORUCK Challenge?