If you’re training for your first triathlon, then you’ve come to the right place!
Figuring out what triathlon clothing and gear you need is sometimes confusing.
We’re here to help you.
In this well-researched post, you’ll find a basic triathlon gear list that you’re going to need to complete your first triathlon.
We’ve organized the gear list in the order you’ll use it during the triathlon.
Second, we’ll tell you everything about the swim, bike, and run.
Third, we’ll brief you about transition one and two.
Now, let’s get started with what you’ll wear throughout the whole day.
What to Wear in a Triathlon?
Triathlon Suit (Tri Suit)
When it comes to triathlon, most of the time you’re going to have two basic options of what to wear.
You can wear a two-piece or one-piece tri suit.
Triathlon Suit: One-Piece
A one-piece tri suit integrates the top and bottom. The chamois, or the pad in the crotch, is built into it. It’s easy to wear this in the water, on the bike, and on the run.
A one-piece tri suit has pockets in the rear to hold a CO2 cartridge or anything you want to carry throughout the race.
Triathlon Suit: Two-Piece
Two-piece tri suits have separate tops and shorts and are more practical in general for training, while one-piece suits are usually saved for racing and transition training.
The one benefit of going with the two-piece, especially in longer races, is that if you need to go to the washroom it’s really quick to just pull down your tri shorts.
For myself, I don’t care about changing into running clothes at all. I like having the fast transitions and I actually find the tri clothing very comfortable to run in.
The first part of a two-piece tri suit is the triathlon shorts, which have a chamois built into them, just like a bike short, but is thinner and more flexible. This specific design allows you to wear the shorts for the swim, bike, and run.
After the swim, the shorts will drain the water and still give you padding on the bike. The padding is flexible to give you comfort on the run.
The second part of a two-piece tri suit is the top, which is skin-tight and made out of spandex to reduce drag in the water.
All the tri tops that you will look at, most of them will have pockets in the back.
Sleeveless vs Sleeved
Sleeved one-piece suit or tri top is definitely starting to become a trend in triathlon. If it fits you properly, it’s been shown to be a little bit more aerodynamic than going with a typical triathlon suit.
I prefer sleeved tri suits or tri tops in case I forget to apply sunscreen for the race.
Before race day, you need to know whether the race is wetsuit legal or not. Many races will have a sense of what the weather will be based on previous years.
Be sure to buy a wetsuit that is made for triathletes and not wakeboarding.
In the following sections, I’ll discuss sleeved vs sleeveless triathlon wetsuit options.
Sleeved wetsuits are generally faster if you’ve been fitted properly and you can use the extra width of the suit to grab the water.
If you don’t overheat easily and if you’re going to be racing in cold water, a sleeved wetsuit is a good option for you. Or, if you’re more comfortable in it.
Sleeveless wetsuits give your shoulders much more freedom.
If you’ve got a shoulder injury or have had a history, that can be a reason to go with the sleeveless, because it doesn’t have as much load.
If a race is not wetsuit legal, you can race in either your one-piece or two-piece tri suit that we pointed out earlier, and you can also wear a swimskin, which is halfway point between your general tri suit and your wetsuit. It’s made out of a little bit of a different material than a wetsuit that’s very hydrodynamic.
It’s going to give you a little bit more advantage in terms of speed and hydrodynamics, and it’s a great option, though it is a little bit pricey. So, that’s definitely something to take into consideration.
Almost every single race you’ll compete in will provide you with a swim cap. Most of the time, they’re going to be either color-coded or have your number on that cap.
Triathlon Swim Goggles
For the open water swim, you’ll need goggles. A good pair of swim goggles has a nice silicone seal, very comfortable, wide field of vision. Make sure that you’re swimming in goggles that are comfortable for you and that you’ve had plenty of time to practice in.
Upon arriving at transition 1, you’ll want essentials such as a towel, or a transition mat to lay out your things for each transition.
You’re also going to want to have some way to rinse your feet off. That’s not required, but for me, personally, it’s a great way to get whatever you may have picked up on the run from the swim to transition off of your feet. Personally, I like to have a spare water bottle dedicated just to my feet, so that I can spray them off, get my socks on, and get on the bike.
A race belt is needed for triathlons that require you to wear your race number on your bike and run.
Unlike running events that allow you to pin your number on yourself, a triathlon is trickier.
If you need to pin your number for a triathlon, use a race belt. You’ll avoid pins coming loose or poking you.
You can put in on during transition one and leave it there.
Also part of your race day uniform should be a good triathlon watch. Most of the time that device is going to be water-proof. However, in the event that it’s not, go ahead and mount it to your bike so that it’s there when you arrive at transition number one.
Of course, you’re going to need a bike helmet. Make sure that the helmet set up and easy for you to get on. When you get into transition, have the clasp be open so that all you have to do is slip it on your head and clip it.
Now, you don’t need a racing helmet for your first triathlon. Any helmet will do that is approved by the triathlon company.
If you decide to continue training and competing, you can look into racing helmets that are more aerodynamic.
Wearing some type of sunglasses is a good option, no matter the weather conditions. Even if it’s raining or it’s dark out, I’d still recommend getting a clear pair of sunglasses. Whether it be some rain, or a bug, or mud, you just want to keep everything out of your eyes and be safe.
Sunglasses should be set up inside your helmet so that after that helmet goes on, your glasses can go on, and you’re ready to go.
You’ll need cycling shoes with a cleat that will clip into the pedal. If you’re just starting out, then using your running shoes with regular or caged pedals is a good option.
By your second race, you’re going to want to be up there with the big boys playing with the fun gear. There are several different cleat systems out there.
And these are two different types of cycling shoes: triathlon specific cycling shoes and road specific cycling shoes. The biggest difference between these two things is that the triathlon shoes have a velcro closure, which closes toward the inside. This means that if it’s open while you get on the bike, and you put your foot in the shoe with it unlocked, you can easily reach down onto the pedal and cross that Velcro over.
Let’s talk about socks. Before you get those shoes on, you’re going to want to put some socks on most of the time. Now, if you’re comfortable going sockless, fine. Do it. That’s all good.
Once I start getting into anything over an hour and 20 minutes on the run, then I start needing to put socks on.
The bike shoes can be worn without socks and in my opinion, they’re more comfortable without.
Here’s something to remember. A lot of triathletes are going to want to have the fastest, newest, coolest year right off. If you’re doing your first triathlon, especially if it’s a sprint triathlon, don’t worry about getting a triathlon specific bike.
That’s going to be a bike that’s got the aero bars out in front and the bullhorns, and the shifters are on the front, and it’s very, very specific to going fast and straight.
For your first triathlon, I would really, really suggest a road bike. You don’t need all that triathlon stuff, and if you really, really want to have aero bars, you can get clip-on aero bars for any road bike handlebar setup.
On your bike, here’s where you can mount your computer. I’ve got a GPS mounted unit that is all set to go. All I have to do is hit the button, and it’s ready to go.
Again, most likely your first triathlon is going to be a short distance or a sprint race. In that case, if you can’t make it through in one water bottle, then there should be enough water on the course for you to have something. However, if there’s not, again, one water bottle should get you through if you need two, fine, set two up on there.
Make sure the water bottle is in the bike ready to go. You don’t have to mess with adding anything to it.
Make sure that you’ve got a flat kit and know how to change a flat on your bike by race day. Now, some people, if they were to get a flat during a sprint triathlon, would just bow out of the race.
This is your first race, so it’s worth taking the five minutes or so that it’s going to take you to change that tire. Make sure you know how to do it. Make sure you’ve got all the appropriate equipment.
You’ve got a CO2 cartridge, a CO2 inflator, a bike tool an extra tube, and tire levers, if you need them, inside of your bag and ready to go.
Bring a tire pump with you to race day. You’ll want the pressure to be at its optimal amount and the best time is to check when you’re setting up in transition.
The pressure of a tire’s going to be written on the sidewall. Generally speaking, road bike tires are going to be able to handle right about 110 to 120 psi. The harder the tire, the more efficient it’s going to be. It will be a little rougher of a ride, but it’s well worth it on the speed end.
Cycling gloves are not necessary, but some people may want to wear, especially if it’s a longer triathlon. If you’ve not worn them before, don’t worry about it. It’s not a huge deal. However, my suggestion would be to put these on the bike, get rolling, and then put them on once you’re already riding.
When you arrive at transition 2, you should already have your race belt on and ready to go. All you should have to do is spin it around from where your bib will have been on your back during the bike, so your bib is on the front during the run.
After you’ve gotten your cycling shoes off and you’ve got your helmet off, go ahead and slip sunglasses back on so you’re ready to go. Keep the sun out of your eyes and protect your eyes. If it’s a longer race, you’re going to be out there for a while, so if it’s sunny, the last thing you want to be concerned with is how your eyes are feeling.
Also, make sure you’re putting on a hat or a visor. The visor’s going to keep the sun out of your eyes in addition to your glasses, and it’s also going to help channel sweat away from running down into your face. It’s not mandatory, but if the sun’s out it’s definitely going to prevent you from heating up, and you can put things like sponges or ice in there at some of the aid stations and that’ll help cool you down.
The most important part, probably, of transitioning to the run is running shoes. If you’re doing a race that is a road race you want a road shoe.
Most of the shoes I wear are pretty well-vented anyway, but if you really find that you have literal standing water in your shoe, maybe that’s something to consider.
Another thing about buying a triathlon-specific running shoe is sometimes they’re a little bit nice to bare feet. I can wear no socks for basically anything from a half marathon under.
But with the triathlon shoes especially, triathlon-specific runners, they’re a lot kinder to my bare feet than if I had just put on one of my normal pairs of runner shoes.
The final thing you want to be concerned with on the bike, or on the run, is nutrition. Generally speaking, one water bottle with whatever sports drink you want to, is going to get you through the bike. On the run, you can certainly wear a fuel belt, but you’re running a 5K or 10K.
They’re going to have an aid station or two along the way, so chances are, you don’t need a fuel belt. If you don’t do well with what nutrition is on the course, that may be something to take into consideration. If you need a gel or something like that, it’s a good opportunity to take in those gels in transition, so you’re not trying to do it while you’re running.
That’s it, I’m pretty sure that covers all of the basics. So just to review, for all three you’re going to wear either a two-piece tri suit or a one-piece suit.
Then out on the bike, you’re going to wear your helmet or aero helmet, and sunglasses, dark or clear depending on how sunny and what the weather’s doing. Then also, depending on the rules of the race, you’re going to be wearing your race number on the bike or you’re going to leave it in transition with your run stuff. Then some cycling shoes as well for the bike.
Then lastly, onto the run, of course, you’re going to be wearing your running shoes. Now you can either wear a normal pair of running shoes with quick laces in them, or you can buy triathlon-specific shoes which will be a little bit kinder if you want to just nail those transitions, be fast, and maybe run without a sock. Then any sort of accessories that you want to wear on the run, like a hat or a visor, is also another option.
Now, the most enduring piece of equipment that you’re going to need during this entire triathlon is a good finish line pose, so that when you cross the finish line. So, just be sure that when you’re crossing that finish line that you’ve got a great smile going on, a nice cool pose, or dance move, or a nice collapse across the finish line. But just make sure you’re ready for that. This is an exciting time. You will have just finished your first triathlon, and the first thing you do after you take a breath and go, “Man, that was hard,” is you’re going to say, “I can’t wait to do my next one.“