Finding the best Spartan race running shoes can literally mean the difference between knocking every obstacle out of the park and falling face-first into a mud pit and then having to do 30 burpees to continue.

During a Spartan Race, the last thing you want to worry about is your shoes. However, whether you’ve signed up for a 3-mile sprint course or a full marathon, your standard old road-running sneakers can’t stand up to that kind of abuse.

Your shoes, on top of carrying you and keeping your feet secure, need to be tough enough to handle the wear and tear, have tread that helps you stick to slippery climbing walls, and be lightweight enough that they don’t drag you down.

The last thing you need is to get a blister at mile six, or have to stop and dump water out of your flooded sneakers.

Luckily, there are tons of high-tech trail running shoe options out there. Finding the right one for your running habits and your feet is a critical step toward pre-race-day prep.

To help narrow down your list, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about choosing the best trail running shoe for your Spartan race.

Rankings

RankingProduct NameWeightDrop HeightWarrantyReviewPrice
#1altra timp trailAltra Timp Trail9.9 ozLow (~0mm)No/LimitedRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#2inov 8 terraclawInov-8 Terraclaw9 ozMed (~8mm)No/LimitedRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#3salomon speed crossSolomon Speed-Cross10.5 ozHigh (~10mm)Yes - 90 day exchange even if usedRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#4brooks pure gritBrooks Pure Grit9.6 ozMed (~4mm)No/LimitedRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#5reebok all terrain freedomReebok All Terrain Freedom9.4 ozHigh (~9mm)No/LimitedRead Review
See Price on Amazon
#6newbalance leadvilleNewBalance Leadville20 ozHigh (~8mm)No/LimitedRead Review
See Price on Amazon

Finding Spartan-Race Running Shoes to Meet Your Needs

Finding the right shoe before the big race day can be challenging. There are a lot of shoes out there. There is a lot of science behind the development of shoes which are as lightweight, comfortable, durable, and stylish as possible.

Before you dive into the list, it’s helpful to first consider any unique aspects of your training and competing habits and foot anatomy. For starters:

What kind of training and running do you do?

Are you a year-round trail runner, and plan to run multiple obstacle races in a year? If so, you likely have different needs than someone who typically runs on paved roads or indoors. Someone who is trying out a Spartan race for the first time will also have different needs.

Many of the shoes on this list also work as supportive, lightweight hiking shoes. Some of the lower-profile ones are great for people looking for more transitional shoes. Some of those could work in road-racing scenarios as well.

How many miles do you run in a week, and how long of a race are you training for?

Your running habits and plans will also affect how much you should invest in shoes. If you’re running many miles a week, paying more for expensive shoes will both make your feet happier and likely save you money in the long run.

The type of Spartan race you’re running can also change the best choice for you. Doing it as a one-time challenge? Then looking for a heavier, more stable option might make more sense than going for an ultralight piece of expensive performance gear.

Are you a marathoner, or just planning on doing a lot of events in a row? It’s definitely worth looking into something that will make you as fast as possible, and last as many miles as possible.

Do you have a narrow foot or need a bigger toe box?

Everyone’s feet are different, of course, but some companies make a point of catering to specific foot shapes and issues.

Some companies have roomier toe boxes which can better accommodate orthotics or shaped inserts to let you control the amount of support.

If you have hip or joint issues, sole heels, plantar fasciitis, or any other foot or running-related musculoskeletal condition, it’s definitely worth considering what shoe profile or type will be most effective and comfortable for you long-term.

Some running stores will offer an assessment of your gait. Your doctor can also advise you on the kind of support that will best suit your body.

Even if you don’t have a medical issue, you may find that your feet tend to swell during long races, your toes cramp when your laces hit a certain spot on the bridge of your foot, or that too much arch support just feels bad.

So, if you’ve had problems with any of this, or with your heel slipping or toes feeling cramped in the past, definitely keep this in mind when looking for a new option.

Where does your weight land when you run?

Your specific running gait will also affect what shoe is best for you. For example, if you:

  • Overpronate (roll your feet inwards when you run), or
  • Under-pronate/supinate (roll your feet outwards)

You may want to look for shoes with built-in support or cushioning meant specifically to correct for these weight imbalances. This can make a huge difference both in terms of comfort now and reducing your risk of injury down the road.

How much cushion do you need?

Some manufacturers make a point of building in very “squishy” crash pads in their inserts or soles. These can feel great and make a big difference when you’re running over sharp rocks and the like.

Even if you usually run in minimalist shoes, or run barefoot, it may be worth looking for a thicker tread for the Spartan Race, as the terrain you cover can be quite rough and painful without a thick sole/tread.

However, cushioning does have drawbacks, and isn’t for everyone. One trade-off is in weight and durability; very cushiony shoes tend to lose some of their softness over time. Because their “drop” (difference in height between heel and toe) is greater, they can also feel clunky and hold on to mud more than smaller-profile shoes.

So, if during training you find your feet hurting more while wearing highly cushioned shoes, you might want to try either more minimal profiles with less padding, or a shoe which includes some firmer support instead.

We included a range of styles in this guide and note some shoes which have a higher or lower “drop.”

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How long do trail runners last?

A good rule of thumb for general running shoes is that high-quality, technical running shoes should last between 400 and 500 miles.

Trail runners and spartan-race running shoes see a lot more wear, and tear, however, and you might find that even medium-quality shoes will start to fray or get holes after as little as half of that distance of intense trail running.

Even if those numbers initially sound like a lot, when you break it down, someone running only 20 miles a week would go through multiple pairs of shoes a year. It’s entirely possible for an avid runner to go through shoes in less than four months.

If you’re doing a lot of obstacle course running at high mileage, you likely already know this, but it’s still worth doing some cost-benefit analysis and considering looking into the most durable options possible to maximize your investment.

Another general rule of thumb:

If you see any holes in the upper, the tread on the bottom is visibly worn down, or the removable sole has significant wear, it’s probably time to think about a replacement.

I don’t want to damage my expensive running shoes. Can I get away with wearing my old gym shoes?

Maybe. However, most shoes aren’t designed to withstand being dunked in mud and water repeatedly throughout a Spartan race. Many road-running shoes don’t have as much ankle support either, raising the risk of twisting your ankle on an exposed root or other obstacle.

During short races, you may be fine with a pair of old sneakers and additional ankle gaiters; however, going this route does run the risk that you’ll lose a shoe to a mud pit, have wet, miserable feet, or have your shoes just fall apart halfway through the race.

If you’re going to be training for a Spartan race, it’s almost always worth it to spring for the proper gear.

How broken in do my shoes need to be before the day of the Spartan race?

Don’t run in new shoes; this probably goes without saying, but you’ll want to have trained on the type of terrain you’ll encounter on race day with your shoes multiple times before the big day.

Feet don’t like to be wet, and often something as simple as soaking your shoes in a puddle totally changes the fit and feel of your shoes. Even if they work great for you when dry, you may be in for a nasty surprise as your feet start slipping around on the back side of the course.

So, in addition to putting miles on your shoes before the race day, try to replicate varied conditions and temperatures to see how they feel. Make sure also to wear the same socks and/or gaiters you’ll wear on the day of the race.

What materials should I look for?

Upper:

The “upper” is the top part of the shoe. They are usually made of layers of synthetic fabrics and mesh sewn or glued together.

The material isn’t terribly important in terms of performance here, but for the Spartan race, look for either completely waterproof options or models with mesh panels which improve breathability and allow water to drain after you flood the shoe.

You should also make sure the upper is free of seams or tight spots on your foot; it should conform to your foot and not rub anywhere.

Sole/Tread:

Most soles are made out of rubber or polyurethane composites. Both are durable, flexible, and have excellent wear resistance and slippage-resistance. Look for a “drop” (heel height) which fits your needs as described above, and look for tread which grips terrain without catching and holding debris.

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Selection Criteria: How We Ranked

Shoes are a very personal gear item. You may find that it takes a few tries to find the brands which fit your feet the best, and the shoe that fits you perfectly might not feel that great on someone else’s wide toes or sensitive arches.

However, in making this list, we looked for choices which provide the most reliable features and value for a variety of types of people (also, where possible, we’ll link to both men’s and women’s versions).

More specifically, here are a few of the characteristics we used:

Comfort

Based on reviewer response – that is, does the average user find the shoe comfortable, secure, and consistently functional throughout their race?

Grip & Stability

For most athletes, the point of wearing dedicated trail running shoes is to provide ankle support, cushioning, and tenacious grip even on the most slippery obstacles. We prioritized shoes which feel secure on the foot and resist slipping on obstacles.

Aesthetics

OK, so you’ll be covered in dirt after the first mile, but having cool colors is still a selling point, especially on those dark early morning training runs. Some shoes also include reflective safety colors; we took this into account as a potentially useful feature.

Weight & Profile

Being light is a huge factor in determining how shoes feel, particularly after you’ve been running a while. After enough miles, even a small weight difference can feel large.

During the Spartan race specifically, it’s nice to find a shoe which doesn’t hold on to a lot of heavy mud or water as well. We looked for the lightest models we could find without sacrificing support or performance.

Value

In other words, what you get what you pay for: some shoes may be worth paying more for if they prevent you from getting injured, have many nifty features, or last longer than cheaper options.

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Ratings and Reviews

Many of the characteristics above are contradictory; it’s hard to find a shoe that’s lightweight, inexpensive, durable, water resistant, and attractive all at once, but there are great options out there.

Here’s our best shot at finding the models which combine the best of those features:

  1. Altra Timp Trail
  2. Inov-8 Terraclaw
  3. Salomon Speed-Cross
  4. Brooks Pure Grit
  5. Reebok All Terrain Freedom
  6. NewBalance Leadville

Our #1 Pick: Altra Timp Trail

altra timp trail
  • Drop Height: 0 mm
  • Weight: 9.9 oz.

High points:
Comfortable, stable, suitable for wide feet types, highly durable, lightweight, zero-drop
Low points:
Sizing can be challenging as there’s a big jump between sizes. Zero drop profile doesn’t work for everyone

Why it’s our top pick:

It feels cushioned but has a low, sleek profile, and is great value for your money. It’s also lightweight, fits most foot shapes comfortably, and has great grippy-tread that works well even on mountaineering or long hiking trips.

What the experts think:

This is a cult favorite shoe and a favorite among both casual runners and elite athletes alike. It’s known as a stylish, reliable, and highly functional option. They feel almost like slippers and conform to your feet.

Compared to larger profile shoes, they can wear down faster; the uppers fray before the tread deteriorates. However, they still last a long time compared to many other options and offer one of the most comfortable and reliable trail running options.

Features and considerations

It can be a transition to wear Alta shoes if you are used to shoes with a larger drop; while Alta shoes do have quite a bit of cushioning insulating you from the ground, there is no difference between the heel and toe height.

While there is some scientific evidence that lower-profile shoes change our gait in positive ways, it takes time to get your body adjusted to striking the ground closer to the ball of your foot rather than the heel. For this reason, it’s important to start slow if you typically wear shoes with thick heel cushions.

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The Next-Best: Inov-8 Terraclaw

inov 8 terraclaw
  • Drop-Height: 8 mm
  • Weight: 9 oz.

High points:
Lightweight, fits wide toes and narrow heels comfortably, very comfortable and durable protection against rocks and roots
Low points:
Insole can feel insecure and water drainage isn’t as good as some other models.

Why it’s a top pick:

Inov-8s are another solid choice for any trail running or obstacle course scenarios. They are among the most heavy-duty, durable options on the list, and are also light-weight and come in a range of attractive colors. They have a larger drop than other options on the list, making them a good pick for those who are looking for more heel cushioning than the Alta models provide.

What the experts think:

Inov is another very well-known brand among elite runners and sneakerheads. They are “built like tanks,” with the durability and solid construction to last across multiple races.

While they don’t drain water to the point of feeling dry, reviewers also point out that they hold much less weight in water. Compared to typical sneakers, which soak up water like a sponge, Inov shoes hold only a couple of ounces of water, which can make a big difference during a race.

Features and considerations

These shoes offer great traction, but the tread isn’t as aggressive or cleat-like as some other models.

They also tend to be narrower in profile than other models; their small footprint is part of the reason why water doesn’t drain out that well. They feel very secure on narrower feet, but may feel uncomfortably form fitting on wider feet, particularly when not broken in. It’s possible to drill holes in them before a big race to help facilitate better draining.

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3. Salomon Speed-Cross

salomon speed cross
  • Drop-Height: 10 mm
  • Weight: 10.5 oz.

High points:
Excellent warranty, provides just enough support for a race without anything extra, comes in wide option
Low points:
Run small, has small plastic lace part which can break, a little heavier than other models.

Why it’s a top pick:

Solomon shoes tend to be a little sturdier than other options, which the added advantage of feeling very secure, a solid grippy tread. Though they run a little narrow like other options on this list, Solomon also offers a wide version.

What the experts think:

Solomon shoes are another fan-favorite, and generally known as solid, dependable shoes, even when carrying a heavy waterproof backpack, flipping a heavy tire, or just running up and down hills on rough terrain. They’re a favorite of ultra-lightweight hikers in addition to trail runners.

Some people do report that the sole tends to slide back and forth when the shoe is wet; if these shoes fit you the best, it may be worth gluing the sole down more securely.

The tread is very grippy and secure, and they come in bright, attractive colors.

Features and Considerations:

If you’re looking for a relatively affordable, highly supportive option, this is a great and popular choice. The insole slipping is a relatively mild irritation on an otherwise perfectly functional and well-made shoe which functions in a variety of environments from trail running through long-distance hiking and mountaineering.

They are generally comfortable without any breaking in and do an excellent job draining water through the side mesh openings.

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4. Brooks Pure Grit

brooks pure grit
  • Drop height: 6 mm
  • Weight: 9.6 oz.

High points:
Inexpensive, flexible, comfortable shoe; not much heavier than road shoes, but with slightly more support
Low points:
Runs very small, not as much gripping power as other shoes

Why it’s a top pick:

Brooks shoes are a solid choice for minimalist runners looking for something that will feel like a running shoe they’d use on a road, but with slightly more cushioning and support to work better on trails.

They are relatively inexpensive, durable, and one of the most immediately comfortable options on the list.

What the experts think:

Brooks are a common choice among marathon-distance runners; they are a non-fussy, well-designed option that helps those with sensitive feet, plantar fasciitis, and other podiatry-related issues run comfortably over extended periods of time.

Features and Considerations

These shoes are designed as transitional road-trail runners; they can do the trick on short Spartan courses, and drain water well, but as they aren’t as technical or grippy as other options, if you plan to run many races, it may be worth looking into a shoe that’s closer to a cleat.

Most people should size up at least half a size to account for the brand’s typical sizing, which runs quite small. However, if you find the right fit, these are an excellent and versatile choice.

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5. Reebok All-Terrain Freedom

reebok all terrain freedom
  • Drop Height: 9 mm
  • Weight:  9.4 oz.

High points:
Cheap, lightweight, very comfortable seamless upper.
Low points:
Don’t drain, feel looser when wet & can slip on ankle.

Why it’s a top pick:

This is an inexpensive, accessible option which still gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Reebok’s All-Terrain is a common option in many department stores, but still a technically designed and highly functional shoe for trail racing.

They have a lower, lighter profile than some of the other options, which feels looser and less constrictive.

What the experts think:

These shoes tend to be polarizing; if they work for you, they might be your favorite shoe ever, but if not, you’ll likely hate them.

Many Reebok fans see this shoe, like the Brooks option, as the perfect sweet spot between hiking boot or soccer cleat and minimalist running shoe. It provides more traction and support than a road runner, but doesn’t have the heft or intense tread of a trail runner or boot.

This is great if you like a lighter, less constrictive shoe when you run, but it can be a drawback during very muddy races.

Features and Considerations

There’s no tongue on these shoes, which makes them more comfortable around the ankle, but also makes it a little harder to pull on and to adjust the fit.

When these shoes get soaked, some people report that they feel looser and even start to slip a little on the heel. Their ankle also has slightly less support.

The shoe itself is comfortable and unobtrusive; the upper is smoothly constructed and form-fitting without feeling constrictive. The shoe itself tends loose, and seems to expand after heating up with running. It’s worth sizing down a little or lacing tightly during long races.

Despite this potential issue, this is still a solid, no-frills option.

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6. New Balance Leadville

newbalance leadville
  • Drop Height: 8 mm
  • Weight: 20.4 oz.

High points:
Greta value for price (when on sale, often half price of some others on this list), very supportive, good for long runs
Low points:
Heavy. Not great for those who don’t run with their toes out – it forces a neutral foot position, which is only good if you need that support. Heel back can feel a little too low.

Why it’s a top pick:

If you have any issues at all with over or under pronation, or tend to run with your toes pointed too far out or in, these shoes have enough support to correct this. They feel extremely soft and cushioned.

They’re also stable and effective trail-gripping shoes, with a decent tread and solid footing, and they come in wide size options and are great for high arches.

What the experts think:

These shoes are popular among anyone who has to spend a lot of time on their feet; while they’re designed for trail running, they also do a great job of providing support and stability elsewhere, and they’re comfortable enough to wear on long shifts all the time.

New Balance has a solid following among older runners and those who need more joint support, or who have plantar fasciitis or other issues requiring more arch support or heel cushioning.

Features and considerations

If you’re looking for a dependable shoe which will stay comfortable even after hours on trail, this is a solid option.

They do tend to soak up water; though the drainage panels work well, the shoe material itself tends to hold enough water for a slight squishing feeling. However, they stand up well enough to mud and other trail hazards that they’re still a solid choice, particularly on long races in which comfort takes a priority.

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