This review was written about Obstacle Armour, which has since been rebranded as XTR for the UK market (due to an existing trade mark). The product is exactly the same, so keen an eye out for XTR - it's being sold exclusively by Obstacle Kit Ltd.
I've been considering wearing knee pads at obstacle races for a while now. Regardless of the event, you’re bound to be spending a fair bit of time on your knees – whether it’s crawls under cargo nets and barbed wire or even just scrambling up the sides of river banks – if you’re running in shorts, your knees are exposed to a lot of abuse.
So when I heard that some clever Australians had developed knee and elbow pads specifically for obstacle racing, I was quite excited…
In my mind, to be OCR-proof, they would have to meet two important requirements: They would have to be tough enough to withstand the battering that they'd undoubtedly get and they would have to be non-restrictive so that you could still run freely.
When my samples arrived, I wasn't totally convinced that they’d be up to the job. On first inspection they seemed a bit thin and flimsy to offer any real protection… But they had come all the way from Australia, so the least I could do was try them out. It's a good job I did because I was certainly proved wrong.
Even though they appear very thin, they’re actually super-tough – this is how XTR describe their products:
“XTR has a strong outer layer made from the tough fabric used in motorcycle gear called CORDURA. This acts as a strong barrier to the elements, and can take a beating! With a comfortable compression layer on the inside next to your skin, and 3mm of EVA foam padding these will protect you from even the toughest grazing! “
I've now worn them at two fairly gruelling races, as well as a couple of training sessions and I can honestly say that they do the job well!
The toughness test
Let me put it this way… I've worn them at both the Nuts Challenge and Dirty Dozen and have come away from both completely unscathed. Anyone who attended either of those events will no doubt be impressed by that. The day after Nuts, my facebook feed was filled with pictures of wounded runners' knees - all scratched to pieces and bruised beyond belief. After Dirty Dozen, all I could hear everyone talking about in the event village was how evil the barbed wire crawl over rock solid ground was, yet I really wasn't feeling it. This was a sign of fantastic protection.
More than just being unscathed, I would say that wearing them made me use my knees more and, being safe in the knowledge that they were well protected, gave me more movement options in some situations (such as climbing out of the river onto a bank covered in stinging nettles at Dirty Dozen!)
The running test
It's important that anything you wear at OCRs doesn't restrict your running potential and I'm pleased to report that these don’t in the slightest. They’re nice and tight when you put them on to stop them slipping down, and they don’t feel any worse than a knee support or compression sleeves. Once running, I completely forget I was wearing them.
On the occasions I've worn them over tights, the tops of them have slipped down a bit meaning I’ve had to pause to pull them up a bit a couple of times but it’s not a big issue and I didn't have to do it at all when I was wearing them onto bare skin.
Knees or Elbows
So far I've mainly been extolling the virtues of the knee pads and have barely touched on the elbow pads that I got in the same kit. I think, if truth be told, protecting your elbows is less important than protecting your knees because they don’t quite see the same action. They are great for commando crawls but other than they really just help to protection you from the odd knock.
As Summer sets in, I’ll be looking to wear less to avoid overheating, so will probably drop the elbow pads. I'll bring them back into my kit list again in Winter though to save ripping up expensive base layers.
All in all XTR's protection is absolutely fantastic and I don’t think I’ll go to an obstacle race again without wearing the knee pads. I’d recommend them to everyone who regularly runs an obstacle race. The best news of all is that Obstacle Kit Ltd have just announced that they will be stocking XTR Gear in the UK, so keep an eye out on their store over the next couple of weeks.
Win a set of XTR protection before they hit the UK!
XTR have very kindly given us two full sets of knee and elbow pads (one male and one female) to give away to our Mudstacle members. To be in with a chance of winning, simply fill out the form below. We'll be drawing and announcing the winner on 30th April 2014, so make sure you get in there before then!
Read competition terms and conditions here.