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The Essential Triathlon Gear List For Beginners

Finding the right running gear for your goals can be confusing enough. When you decide you are ready to tackle your first triathlon, the decisions can verge on overwhelming. It’s no longer just about shoes and shorts.

You have to worry about bikes, tires, swim goggles, wetsuits, and how all your gear is going to help you get through transition. Hopefully, this list will make your life easier because we’ll cover all the gear items you need as well as those that are nice to have too.

We’ll discuss what each item is, what it’s used for, and why it’s needed (or why you might want to have it if it’s a nice-to-have). By the end of the article, you’ll know exactly what you need to purchase before your first triathlon.

Must Haves

Most of these items go without saying if you want to participate in a triathlon (like a swimsuit and a bike, for example!), but we’re also discussing why they are important so that you have a better idea of the significance of particular gear.

Swim

This is the gear you’ll need to start the first triathlon event: the swim.

Goggles

You need goggles so that you’re able to see underwater well without water getting in your eyes. And you might even want to have two to be prepared for any condition race day. For example, clear/light tint goggles are great for indoor pools or cloudy days.

However, having a smoke-tinted pair of goggles is helpful for very sunny days. You can use them like sunglasses, and have less difficulties spotting buoys when it’s bright out. Since you don’t know what weather race day will bring, better to have two pairs.

Swimsuit

Obviously for swimming, you won’t be jumping into the water into your street clothes, so you’ll need a swimsuit of some sort. If this is your first triathlon, you can use anything that you have at home.

But if you’re planning to make triathlons a more permanent part of your life, you might want to purchase a wetsuit. Make sure it is one for swimming. The surfing or diving versions could slow you down! More on wetsuits later.

Swim Cap

To help you swim faster, you’ll want a swim cap. They reduce drag and friction. You might also get the added benefit of warmth if it’s a particularly cold day. Swim caps are also good for visibility if you pick one that is a bright color.

Towel

You want a towel so that you can dry off quickly, and then use it to stand on as you put on your cycling shoes and get ready for the bike leg.

Bike

Now that you’ve made it through the first section of the triathlon, let’s go over what’s needed for the second.

Bike

Obviously, you’re not going anywhere without a bike. But don’t feel like you need a really fancy one, especially for your first triathlon. If you have never shopped for a really good carbon-fiber race bike, you might be scandalized by the prices. Skip those for now. Any decent road bike or mountain bike will work just fine.

However, if you want to participate in triathlons more regularly, then you will want to consider a multisport bike. They are designed specifically for the kind of riding in triathlons, and will allow you to go a lot faster with improved aerodynamics and efficiency. Like, a lot faster.

If you’re not ready to level up to a tri bike, you can add accessories to your road bike that will help you go faster, like clip-on aero bars (fairly cheap) or disc wheels (more expensive).

Helmet

Growing up, your mom probably told you that you had to wear a helmet when you rode your bike. Well, even though you’re an adult now, you still must wear a helmet in order to participate in a triathlon.

 

If you’re just going to be participating in shorter triathlons, a road helmet will be just fine, so you can probably use what you have at home. However, if you have a tri bike that puts you in an aero position, you probably will want an aero helmet.

Flat Tire Repair Kit

Getting a flat tire is the last thing that you want to happen. But it does happen, and it’s important to be prepared. Some races will have flat tire repair kits you can use in the case of a flat tire on the course, but you don’t want to have to rely on that.

Just make sure that you know how to change a tube before race day. You definitely don’t want to be learning on the spot! You might want to watch this video and any others that you need to in order to be prepared. And practice! You don’t want race day to be the first time you are changing a tube.

Finally, when you’re putting together or purchasing a flat tire repair kit, make sure that it has two spare tubes, two tire levers, a Co2 cartridge and adapter or a hand pump, a bike multi-tool, and a saddlebag to store all of the above items.

Water Bottle

Staying hydrated is important for any sport, and cycling is one of the sports where it is easy to carry a water bottle with you without having to hold it in your hand. So you might as well do that.

If it’s a really hot day, you’ll be able to use that water bottle both for drinking as well as throwing water on yourself to stay cool. When it’s easy to slip a water bottle into the holder on your bike, there isn’t any reason to do it. Take a look, too, at triathlon-specific water bottles that mount between aero bars (if you’re using them). With this option, you don’t even have to reach down to your down tube to grab a bottle…your water is right there, with a straw to sip from easily.

Run

You made it to the last section! As a runner, you are right in your wheelhouse now. And you now this leg requires the least amount of gear that is absolutely necessary!

Shoes

All you really need for a triathlon is a pair of good running shoes. If you’re a runner who has transitioned to running triathlons as well, you’re good to use the running shoes that you already have. You just might want to put speed laces on your shoes so you get them on quicker.

Another option is wearing specially designed running shoes for triathlons. These are designed to let you run barefoot, with no seams inside, so that you can switch from the bike to the run without having to worry about socks.

Water Bottle

Depending on how long the run is and where the aid stations are, you may or may not want to bring a water bottle. Of course, you can always use a handheld water bottle, but you might prefer a hydration belt so that it is more comfortable when you run.

Just figure out what works for you and your hydration needs. What are you realistically going to be able to carry after the swim and the bike portions of the triathlon, when you’re fatigued and still have to run?

Nice-to-Haves

If you don’t want to purchase a lot of gear for your first triathlon, stop here. You now know everything that you need to purchase if you don’t already have it. However, if you want to see what will make the triathlon more comfortable, read on.

Swim

We’re back to the first part of the triathlon again.

Wetsuit

While a swimsuit will work just fine for your first couple tries, you’ll be a lot more comfortable in a wetsuit. But wetsuits do require some shopping around. You want to make sure that it’s just tight enough so that you can get the benefits of reduced drag and increased buoyancy.

A wetsuit is supposed to fit really tight. In a sense, it’s almost like a second skin. Try different brands to see what fits you and your body type. Remember that they are very fragile and need to be treated with care.

Wetsuit Anti-Chafing Lube

Even if you get a wetsuit that is the right size for you, it’s possible that you could still deal with chafing. That’s why you’ll want to use an anti-chafing lube like Bodyglide or Trislide to avoid that uncomfortable feeling and the possibility of blisters.

Apply liberally around your neck and around the armholes if you’re wearing a sleeveless wetsuit. You can also use the lube to remove the wetsuit more easily by applying it to your wrists and ankles.

Transition Mat

A transition mat can make things more comfortable as you’re changing into your shoes for the cycling portion of the triathlon, giving you something cushiony to stand on. It will also help you avoid getting sand and dirt in your clothing.

Bike

Now we’ve reached the second leg of the triathlon—the bike.

Tri Suit

If you’re going to participate in a lot of triathlons, you’ll want a tri suit. This piece of kit somewhat resembles a cycling skinsuit, but takes into consideration that you have to also swim and run in it. Not having to change from a swimsuit to cycling kit to running clothes means that you’ll spend much less time during your transitions. Quicker transitions mean your time will be faster.

Cycling Shoes

Virtually all serious road cyclists and triathletes ride with “clipless” pedals. It’s a bit of a misnomer (although there is a good technical reason for the name). In short, your shoes clip mechanically to your pedals, not unlike a ski binding attaches boot to ski. To do this, you need the clipless pedals, and shoes that can accommodate the cleat. While you don’t need special shoes and pedals for the bike section of a triathlon, cycling shoes will make you go a lot faster. They have a rigid sole that makes pedaling more efficient, and the fact that they are attached to the pedal means you can put power into the bike on the upstroke, not just the downstroke. That means more power, and power = speed.

There are cycling-specific shoes, and there are cycling tri shoes. You’ll probably want the latter because they are easier to take off and you can wear them without socks if you so desire because they are seamless inside. Watch a professional triathlon closely, and you’ll see that most athletes leave their shoes attached to the pedals. They mount the bike, start pedaling, and get their feet into the shoes once they’re moving. So much easier with tri shoes.

Race Belt

A race belt can be useful because then you don’t have to use safety pins to attach your number to your clothing. With the race belt, you’ll have already attached your number to it so you can snap on the belt quickly to go into the bike or run portions.

This also will keep your clothing in better condition because you won’t have to put safety pins through really nice technical gear and potentially ruin it.

Sunglasses

Depending on where you live, sunglasses might actually be must-haves. Plus, the other benefit of sunglasses is that they can protect your eyes from debris and wind when you’re flying down the course and in training.

Just make sure that you select sunglasses that will fit with your bike helmet. If you’re thinking about changing up your helmet, make sure that your sunglasses will fit with the new helmet, or get a new pair of shades.

You might even want to consider purchasing sport sunglasses with light frames and that come with photochromatic lenses, which will change tint as needed to adjust for different light conditions. This could be very useful for longer triathlons.

Run

At last you’ve come to the end of the triathlon and the running section. Here are some things that might make the run easier.

Running Hat

If you’re going to be running when it’s raining or it’s really sunny outside, you might want to have a running hat to keep you protected from the elements. Plus, running hats are made of nice breathable material, so you won’t really even know that it’s there.

You might even want to purchase a running hat that has a built-in sweatband to help keep sweat out of your eyes if you’re especially prone to sweating or you just don’t want to have to keep wiping the sweat away.

Elastic Laces

As mentioned above, speed laces or elastic laces can help you get running shoes on much faster, which will just make things less stressful during the transition. Plus, it will be easier to slip on those shoes and go for a run any time.

Other Gear

There are a lot of other things you can purchase for a triathlon, like a transition bag, arm and knee warmers, arm coolers, compression clothing, and so forth. If any of that sounds interesting to you, then you might want to look into it.

However, while all of those things are useful if you’re going to be participating in a lot of triathlons, something that will be beneficial if you just want to stay physically active and/or if you’re a runner is a GPS watch.

GPS or Waterproof Watch

A GPS or waterproof watch will help you track your distances, paces, and training. You also could receive information about your heart rate and how hard of a workout you’re putting in. This is key for helping you train and be the best athlete you can be. Most manufacturers of GPS watches make models designed for multisport athletes. Mostly, this boils down to being able to track a full triathlon as a single activity. You press the lap button at the end of each leg, and again at the beginning of the next leg. You get the splits for each separate leg, as well as for the two transitions.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this is an exciting time because you’re getting into a new sport and a new event. While it can seem a little overwhelming, knowing the gear that you need takes one thing off your back.

By making sure that you’re prepared for the event with your gear, you can be sure that your first triathlon will go well and you might just find yourself participating in a lot more. Good luck!

The Wired Runner