Are you considering entering a triathlon? If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge than running, it’s an excellent way to increase your fitness and add a few types of cross-training to your routine.
If you’re new to the idea of triathlons and aren’t sure what you need, we’ve created a beginner’s guide to triathlon clothing.
Some you can do without, but others are essential.
Read on to round out your stash of gear before you get started!
What Are Must-Have Items in a Triathlon?
Not everything in this article will be essential for you to have. But there are a few things you can’t do without!
Here are the things you’ll definitely need to invest in before getting started. We’ll go into more detail about each one further down.
Your tri suit will be your base layer, and you’ll wear it for the entire duration of the triathlon. They come in either a single-piece design or a top-and-shorts design.
Wetsuits are usually made of neoprene, which is a slippery material that helps you glide through the water like a fish, with very little resistance. A wetsuit is much more aerodynamic than a tri suit and can give you an advantage in the water.
In most races, wearing a swim cap is compulsory. You’ll gain some advantages while wearing one that you won’t get if you go without it.
Obviously, you’ll need a bike for this leg.
But because this is a beginner’s guide to triathlon clothing specifically and not all equipment, you can check out this article to help you choose the right bike!
You can ride in your running shoes or choose a pair of triathlon cycle shoes. If you’re more than an absolute beginner triathlete, we recommend the latter.
The wrong shoes can weigh you down, change your gait, and lead to injury. Ensure that you’re running in the right triathlon shoes for your feet and your needs.
The right socks should work with you and not against you. Choosing the wrong ones can leave you open to chafing and discomfort.
Let’s dig into some of the most important equipment in more detail so you have a good idea of what to look for when shopping.
Tri Suit, Tri Shorts, Tri Top
These special outfits are designed to be aerodynamic and also offer reinforced padding to protect you from the hardness of the bicycle seat. You’ll be able to swim in your tri suit or slip a wetsuit easily over it.
Most tri suits also offer some form of sun protection, moisture-wicking properties, and light muscle compression.
They come in a huge variety of colors and styles. Choose one that you like, but make sure it has features that will be helpful to you during your race.
A one-piece is a popular choice. One of the biggest benefits is that it’s aerodynamic and suitable for use in all three legs.
It’s also super easy to slip a wetsuit over if you want to wear one. There are no loose bits that may catch the wind or irritate you while running, and there’s much less chance of chafing.
A two-piece consists of a top and shorts. Some people may find this more comfortable, but it’s still important to choose the right top and shorts.
The equipment that covers your sensitive bits is one of the most important items, obviously! Make sure the shorts you choose are protective.
They need to be padded to offer comfort and protection on the bike, but not so padded that they hamper you on the run.
They should fit tightly but not uncomfortably. This is to avoid any flapping bits that could slow you down and extra material that could chafe.
Tops or Singlets
Chafing can happen with shirts too, so it’s important to choose one that’s soft and comfortable. It should be made from moisture-wicking and quick-drying materials, to keep you as comfy and dry as possible in hot weather.
A zippered shirt is ideal as it’s easy to get into and out of. It also improves breathability as you can lower the zipper to allow more air in.
Having a shirt that’s separate from your other shirts has some advantages. You can put a dry shirt on after your swim leg so you feel a little less weighed down. You can also choose between a sleeveless or a sleeved shirt, and chop and change throughout the race if necessary.
Some shirts (and shorts) also have small pockets you can slip an energy gel or chew into. Generally, you’ll also have more colors to choose from and can tailor your outfit a bit more to your liking than you can with a full tri suit.
But it’s well worth investing in one upfront. Not only do they give you a bit of buoyancy in the water, but they will also keep you warm when the water’s a little frigid. This helps conserve energy and keeps you swimming strongly.
To give you an idea of what a wetsuit can do for you, research suggests that wearing one can improve your performance by up to 7%! That’s enough to push you ahead of competitors by 50 to 100 meters.
The buoyancy of a wetsuit’s material can also give you that extra bit of help if you’re not a very strong swimmer or you find yourself fatiguing as you get to the end of the swim.
Make sure you understand how to fit a wetsuit before you buy one! Choosing the wrong size can make your swim extremely uncomfortable.
There are two types of goggles: pool goggles and open water goggles. Depending on the type of triathlon you’ll be doing, you’ll need to make sure you get the best pair. Or, get both!
Pool goggles are usually smaller in size and have a darker tint to counteract the reflection of the bright pool bottom and surface.
Open water goggles are usually larger and give a wider scope of vision. They often have a lighter tint and incorporate some form of UV protection.
Choosing an effective pair of goggles will keep debris and dirt from getting in your eyes (or chlorine in a pool). Make sure they’re a good fit and form a good seal around your eyes, and anti-fog properties are also very helpful.
Swim caps make you super aerodynamic in the water. Even if you’re bald, skin is less smooth than a swim cap, so you’ll find yourself cutting through the water much faster.
If you have long hair, a swim cap will prevent you from accidentally hitting yourself in the face with your ponytail. Trust us, it happens!
Your hair/head will also be protected from chlorine (in indoor pools) or debris and dirt in open water. In cold water, it even helps you stay warm.
Latex is the most popular material. If you have allergy issues with latex, you can buy silicone or neoprene.
Helmets are a requirement. Don’t be tempted to spend your money on a fancy triathlon watch or gadgets. You can’t afford to buy a cheap helmet – not when your brain is on the line!
A MIPS helmet (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) is the ideal choice. It’s designed in such a way that it not only protects the head from direct force, but also protects against rotational force and inertia.
It features a system inside that allows for some space between the head and the helmet. That means that when there’s an impact, the shock isn’t transferred straight to the head.
Instead, that force is dispersed in the space between the helmet and the head, which is a highly effective way of preventing damage.
Be aware that MIPS helmets are more expensive than regular ones. And if you are involved in a crash and your helmet is hit, it’s best to replace it and not use the same helmet again as its integrity may be compromised.
Whether you choose MIPS or not, you’ll need to decide between a road helmet or an aero helmet.
Road helmets usually have large gaps in them that allow for great ventilation, while aero helmets are more solid. This gives you an advantage in terms of being aerodynamic, but isn’t as cool and breathable.
You might be tempted to just cycle in your running shoes, but choosing a pair of shoes with cleats can give you a huge advantage.
Not only will you be more stable on your pedals, but you’ll be able to put power into pulling up as well as pushing your pedals down. This gives you more power, which equals more speed.
It will take a bit of getting used to. You also won’t be able to just put your foot down whenever you need to. We advise practicing with these kinds of shoes before your race.
Also, don’t get confused with terminology! A pair of shoes with cleats that you clip into your pedals are called clipless shoes, for some weird reason.
If you choose to get a pair of these shoes, make sure the cleats underneath are compatible with your bike’s pedals. Not every shoe fits on every bike!
You may also need to do a bit of research on how to set up your cleats before riding with them.
Socks (for T1 or T2)
Don’t neglect the importance of choosing the right socks! Strategic compression, arch support, ventilation, moisture-wicking abilities, and seamless toes are excellent features your socks should have.
You’ll also need to choose what length you prefer. Running socks come in a large range of lengths, so you should be able to find something that’s comfortable and supportive enough for you.
You could also invest in compression socks if they work for you, although they’re usually best for recovering after your triathlon.
We advise packing a few pairs of socks into your transition bag so you can switch them out if one gets a bit muggy. Some people wear swim socks, but these are only allowed in certain triathlons when the water is especially cold.
Choose a pair that supports your feet. If you overpronate severely, choose a stability shoe. Mild overpronators could do with stability or guidance shoe. If you don’t pronate at all (or underpronate), a neutral shoe will do.
Decide what your priorities are: do you need extra cushioning? Stiff arch support? A bit of bounce? A lightweight shoe that feels almost barefoot?
If you aren’t totally sure, it’s a good idea to go for more cushion for longer races and lighter, more responsive shoes for shorter races.
Your footwear should also be well-ventilated, quick-drying, have a large foot opening, a pull tab at the back for easy removal, and should be fairly light.
If you want to speed up your transitions, replace your traditional laces with a quick-lacing system!
We advise changing your socks for the last leg of your race.
By now, the ones you’re wearing will probably be a little damp, so a fresh pair could make you feel better and lighter on your feet.