Triathlon Apparel: How to Gear Up for Triathlon

“Listing down the Triathlon apparel you shouldn’t forget putting on your checklist. Read more now!”

So you want to try a triathlon—a sprint or mini, Olympic or international, half Ironman or even an Ironman. Good for you, and good luck! All triathlons consist of swimming, cycling and running, and one key to a good race is to have the right gear. Here’s an overview to get you started.

Triathlon Apparel

Triathlon Apparel

Clothing for a Triathlon

The basic need for the swimming leg is, not surprisingly, a swimsuit. For shorter triathlons, you may even choose to do the whole race in a swimsuit for quicker transitions. Many other swimmers simply pull on a pair of shorts before jumping on their bike. Still others change at each transition, especially in long races such as an Ironman, where seconds don’t mean as much as comfort.

Popular clothing choices are triathlon-specific shorts, tops and racesuits that work well for all 3 stages of a triathlon. These garments wick away moisture and dry quickly. Many offer enhanced ultraviolet (UV) sun protection. The racesuit and shorts have a chamois pad that is thinner than a regular bike-short chamois so it is more comfortable for the running stage. (As you might imagine, running in regular bike shorts would be really uncomfortable.) In general, tri clothing should fit snugly.

Tri Swimming Gear

The swim is usually the first leg of a triathlon. For this phase, a wetsuit, cap and goggles will make your swim a lot more enjoyable and efficient. If you are a minimalist or if the water temperature is above 84°F (the governing body, USA Triathlon or USAT, doesn’t allow wetsuits over 84°F), your only necessity is a swimsuit.

A wetsuit increases your buoyancy and reduces drag so you can get a faster time in the swim segment. It can also be a necessity if you are swimming in cool conditions. While some water gets inside a wetsuit (hence its name), this quickly gets warmed by your body heat to help insulate you. The main downside of a wetsuit is the time it takes to exit one during the swim-to-bike transition (T1).

What type of wetsuit is best? Your choices include sleeves or no sleeves; shorty style or full length; 1-piece or 2-piece. The air and water temperatures you expect during your swim can help guide you to a suitable style of wetsuit. Keep in mind, too, that the number of zippers on a suit correlates closely to how much water is retained.

While any wetsuit should work OK, triathlon-specific wetsuits are lighter, more efficient and give less resistance while swimming. In a USAT-sanctioned race you’ll need a USAT-approved wetsuit (see this link for a complete list).

Fit: A wetsuit needs to be the right length in the arms, legs and the neck-to-crotch area so these areas do not bulge. Bulges allow water to collect, which slows you down. A wetsuit should fit snugly and have enough stretch to allow good shoulder mobility. It should not be so tight that it’s restrictive and chafes the neck. If you can’t fit into a 1-piece properly, go with a 2-piece model.

Care: After the race, rinse the wetsuit inside and out with fresh water, then lay it flat or hang it to dry. Avoid long exposure to sunlight.

Storage: Lying flat is the best way to store a wetsuit. Fold the arms to the opposite shoulder, fold the legs to the shoulders and fold the waist to the shoulders. If using a hanger, try to use a thick hanger to avoid pressure on the shoulders. Drape the legs over the hanger and you’re done.

Swim Cap
A swim cap is often provided by race organizers. If using your own, there are 3 common materials used: latex, silicone and Lycra® spandex. Those who have a shaved head can go without a swim cap. In some races, though, your race number is written on the cap, so you probably will want to wear one rather than have indelible ink on your noggin.

Tip: If using a latex cap, sprinkle some baby powder in it before storing. It’ll help keep it from sticking together.

To swim comfortably with your eyes open, get a pair of goggles. The curved lenses also enhance your peripheral vision and filter UV rays. Your main consideration should be fit. Even though goggles are adjustable, different brands and models fit faces differently.

Fit tips when trying on goggles:

First, hold the eyepieces to your eye sockets to see if the size of the lenses feels comfortable. Adjust the nosepiece (some don’t have this) to fit accordingly. You can cut off any excess later. The strap should sit just above your ears.
If there are 2 straps, the top one should go over the upper back of your head. Adjust the straps so the goggles fit snugly and have no gaps around the edges. There should be a slight vacuum seal, but they should not fit so tightly that they hurt. Swim-goggle straps can be worn either over or under the cap. Some triathletes put them under the cap to deter someone kicking them off.

Tri Cycling Gear

Most types of bikes—mountain, road or triathlon-specific—are fine to compete in a triathlon. It just depends on your budget and your desire for speed. Of course, your speed also depends mightily on your fitness level.

For maximum versatility: If you want to enjoy all-purpose riding but still have good speed for triathlons, choose a road bike. You can use it for triathlons, road rides, commuting or errands. You can also choose from a huge selection of bikes and pricing. To make a road bike more efficient for triathlons, you can add components like aero bars or bullhorn bars (shown at right) and disc wheels. Your REI bike shop can order parts to upgrade the components. Shop REI’s selection of road bikes.

For maximum speed: If triathlons are going to be regular events for you and you have sufficient budget, consider a triathlon-specific bike. These bikes put you farther forward over the front wheel than other types of bikes. They are more aerodynamic and work your hamstrings more efficiently, which helps your legs in the run phase. The downsides? These bikes are more difficult to maneuver for general cycling, they don’t have drop handlebars, they can be uncomfortable for long rides and their braking is not as convenient. To see REI’s tri-bike selection, search on “triathlon bikes” on

For trail riding: A mountain bike is slowest on the roads, but if your triathlon is on trails it becomes a necessity. For more speed on the road, you can always change out your knobby tires for slick ones.

Bike Shoes
Stiff-soled cycling shoes give you far more power than running shoes do. And so-called “clipless” cycling shoes (those that attach directly to the pedal) provide the most pedaling efficiency. For triathlon use, look for shoes that offer easy on/off for faster transitions. Shoes that have 1 or 2 hook-and-loop strap closures generally allow faster change-outs than shoes with laces. Look for a loop at the top-back of the heel—it helps you pull the shoe on more easily.

Any helmet will do as long as it is approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC)—fortunately, this is true of virtually all helmets sold in the U.S. these days. A mid- to upper-level road bike helmet offers more vents and is more aerodynamic—2 qualities that are useful for triathletes.

Tip: Try on the helmet with your sunglasses to make sure they’re compatible.
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