“Superhero” is what you deserve to be called if you are or decide to become a triathlete. Triathlons are some of the most intense challenges an athlete will ever undertake. There’s the Ironman, the half Ironman, the sprint, the international, the mini and the Olympic style. All of which will push your body to the brink of exhaustion, and challenge your mental and physical being in ways you never knew possible.
In the end, you’ll gain more physical and mental strength, respect, admiration and so much more. Yet, none of this is possible without proper preparation, which includes training and having the proper gear for the challenging events ahead. Gear for a triathlon may not seem like such a big deal, but it’s actually a major component to your success. Triathlons are made up of swimming, cycling and running events, and you’ll need gear for all three of them.
Essential Swimming Gear
Generally, the swim is the first leg of a triathlon. For this leg, you’ll need a wetsuit or swimsuit, goggles, and a cap. All of these vital pieces of equipment will make your swim faster and more efficient. However, swimsuits are only necessary if the water temperature is above 84°F.
The USA Triathlon(USAT) doesn’t allow wetsuits in water that is above 84°F. On the other hand, if you like the simplicity of a swimsuit, then you can wear one all you like. Just bear in mind that wetsuits are the recommended choice because of their efficiency.
Wetsuits make swims faster and more efficient by reducing drag and increasing buoyancy. They’re a necessity and come in quite handy when swimming in cool water. Water may get inside of the suit, but it’s quickly warmed by the body, thus providing ultimate insulation.
There are various types of wetsuits to choose from, including:
The suit you choose to wear will depend on water and air temperatures. However, there are some tips that might help guide your decision as well.
- The zippers on the suit correlate to how much water it’ll retain.
- Choose a USAT-approved wetsuit, which has less resistance and are lighter and more efficient
- It should fit snugly and have enough stretch for shoulder mobility.
- The suit should be snug, but not so snug that it’s restrictive and causes chafing.
- It should be the right length for your arms and legs.
- It should be the right length from the neck to the crotch area. These areas should not bulge. Suit bulges allow water to collect, which slows you down.
- If a one-piece doesn’t fit you well, then opt for the two-piece
Most people find it more efficient and comforting to swim with their eyes open. To do this, you’ll need swim goggles. Goggles make swimming with your eyes open more comfortable and the curved lenses filter UV rays and enhance peripheral vision.
There are many goggle types to choose from, such as clear, mirrored, smoke, blue, yellow/orange/red, but the number one consideration is fit. It doesn’t matter that goggles are adjustable and that different brands fit differently. There are still some things that you can do to make your goggles fit even better, including:
- If your goggles have a nose piece, adjust it so it fits snugly to your face. Cut off the excess later.
- Make sure the strap sits above your ears.
- Adjust the straps so that the goggles fit snugly without any gaps around the edges. It will feel like a vacuum, but it shouldn’t hurt.
- Get the most comfortable lenses by holding the eyepieces to your eye sockets.
- If you want to prevent them from slipping or being kicked off, then wear them underneath your cap.
Goggles are an added convenience during your swim, but you can be extra ‘geared-up’ by bringing an additional pair with you. The extra pair of goggles, preferably in different shades, will come in handy during a sunny day.
Best Swim Goggles:
|Aqua Sphere Kayenne Swim Goggle|
|TYR Sport Special Ops 2.0 Polarized Swimming Goggle|
|Aegend Clear Triathlon Swim Goggles|
Protective Swim Cap
Swim caps are a necessity during the triathlon. Not only do they decrease drag and protect your hair, they may also display your race number. People with shaved heads are allowed to swim without the caps, but not if the race number is displayed on the cap. In fact, most race organizers provide swim caps, so it’s more than possible that yours will have a number on it.
However, you’re allowed to bring your own. Just be cautious about what material type you choose. There are three common material types: lycra, silicone, and latex.
Lycra caps are made of swimsuit material, won’t pull your hair, resists sticking, won’t keep your hair dry, have more drag and are the most durable. Silicone is thick, resists sticking, will pull your hair and keep it dry, has less drag, is less durable than lycra and is warmer than latex.
Latex is thin and the least durable. It comes in the most colors, tends stick, has less drag and is the coolest. If you use a latex cap, then use baby powder to prevent the sticking.
Best Swim Caps:
|TYR Wrinkle Free Silicone Cap|
|Speedo Elastomeric Solid Silicone Swim Cap|
|TYR Patriot Swim Cap|
Essential Running Gear
Essential running gear includes running shoes, a fitness monitor, a hat and a hydration pack (running pack).
Proper Running Shoes
The type of running shoe you use will depend on the length of the triathlon. Flats are fine for sprint triathlons and minis, but comfortable, cushiony, supportive trainers are better for half Ironmans, Ironmans, and Olympic-style. You can use stretch or toggle laces to take seconds off of your time.
Stretch laces are elastic and have toggles. They stretch to allow your shoes to slip on and off easily, and you can tighten the toggle to keep them secure on your feet.
Toggles are designed to cinch shoelaces tightly. You can cut your laces shorter or secure them to a lower section of the shoe once the toggle is in place. This will prevent your shoestrings from flopping around while you’re running.
Best Triathlon Running Shoes
|ASICS Men’s GEL-Noosa Tri 10 Running Shoe|
|ASICS Men’s GEL Hyper Tri 2 Running Shoe|
|Pearl Izumi Men’s EM Tri N2 v2 Running Shoe|
You’ll need a hat or visor to protect your face from the sun. A hat or visor will also shield your eyes from rain and sun rays. Finally, they’re handy tools for keeping the sweat out of your eyes. Try a lightweight, nylon hat like the 2XU Run Cap.
A fitness monitor can help you assess your race strategy and body energy during the race. However, it can be used for training as well. There are three types of fitness monitors to choose from: the speed and distance monitor, a heart-rate monitor and a chronograph watch.
- Speed and distance monitors help determine how far you’ve run and how fast you’re going.
- Heart-rate monitors let you chose your heart-rate exercise zone and alerts you when you’re outside of the zone.
- Chronograph watches monitor your overall time and splits.
Best Triathlon Watches
|Garmin vívoactive Black|
|Timex Men’s Ironman Classic 30 Full-Size Watch|
|Garmin Forerunner 910XT GPS-Enabled Sport Watch|
Hydration Belt or Running Pack
If you want control over what you drink, then you should consider using a hydration belt or running pack. Running packs usually resemble heavy vests, but come in a wide variety of styles. The packs are lightweight and runner-friendly but contain flasks and bottles.
Best Triathlon Hydration Belts
|Hydration Running Belt by Camden Gear|
|Hydration Belt by X Fit Factor|
|Nathan Trail Mix Hydration Running Belt|
Essential Cycling Gear
Obviously, for the cycling portion of the race, you’ll need a bike. However, you’ll need other gear as well, such as a helmet, bike shoes, socks, tools, cycling gloves, nutrition, sunglasses and a race belt.
A triathlon-specific, road or mountain bike are all permitted for use during a triathlon. Triathlon-specific bikes are the fastest. They’re designed to put you further over the front wheel than regular bikes and are more aerodynamic.
Your hamstrings will work more efficiently on these bikes, which will help you doing the run phase of the race. However, triathlon-specific bikes are difficult to maneuver, are uncomfortable on long rides, don’t have drop handlebars and braking can be difficult.
Road bikes are the most versatile of all three choices. They provide a good speed, which can be increased even more by adding bullhorn or aero bars and disc wheels.
Mountain bikes are slow on the roads but perfect for trail riding. A mountain bike is a good choice only if your triathlon includes a trail ride. However, you can increase the speed of a mountain bike by changing the tires from knobby to slick.
Helmets of all types are allowed as long as they’re approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission(CPSC). Fortunately, almost every helmet on the market is CPSC-approved. However, the most efficient helmet for a triathlon is a mid to upper-level road bike helmet that offers more vents and is, therefore, more aerodynamic.
Efficient Bike Shoes
Stiff soled, clipless bike shoes that attach directly to the pedal are the most appropriate for a triathlon. The stiff soles give you power while the clipless design gives you the most pedaling efficiency. Just remember to use shoes that are easy to slip on and off for a faster transition. This can be found in shoes that have one or two hook and loop strap closures instead of laces and a loop at the top back of the heel.
Socks or No Socks
If you want a faster transition, you should ride without socks. However, the best strategy is to practice riding “sockless” before the day of the race. Moisture, heat, and friction can cause painful blisters on the feet.
Blisters can of course cause bleeding and soreness, which can greatly hinder your ability to run. A great tip for preventing blisters is to put lubricant, powder and/or duct tape on any hotspots in your shoes.
If you do opt to wear socks, then wear socks that are made of moisture wicking materials, such as synthetics and merino wool. It doesn’t matter how thick your socks are, however. Thickness is all about personal preference.
Helpful Triathlon Tools
No matter how short the cycling leg of your race is, you must come prepared for a flat. Some triathlons have bike support along the course, but you won’t have to wait for help if you have your own tools. The tools you should have are:
- A hand pump and/or CO2 cartridge
- Two extra tubes
- A bike multi tool
- Two or three tire levers
Gloves or No Gloves
Cycling gloves aren’t a necessity during a triathlon. However, if it’s more comfortable for you to wear them, then you should wear them. Just a tip: Attach your cycling gloves to one of your handlebars with a hook and loop strap before the race. It’ll be much easier to put them on after you’ve hit the road.
Race organizers always provide free nutrition, such as cereal products, cookies, water, sports drinks, bananas, and energy or protein bars. However, if you choose to bring your own food, a bike, and/or cycling jersey is the most efficient way to carry it.
Snacks can be stored in the rear pockets of a cycling jersey. They can also be taped to handlebars or attached with hook and loop holders. Beverages can be stored in triathlon-specific water bottles with straws for hands-free sipping while riding and mesh plugs for faster refilling. A water bottle can be attached to your handlebar with special brackets or slip into the aero bars.
Sunglasses aren’t a must, but they will block UV rays, glare and wind. For triathletes, glasses with photochromic lenses are the best choice. Photochromic sunglasses automatically transition and adjust to light or dark conditions. Interchangeable lenses can also be used for transitioning between light and dark environments.
A race number belt can shave seconds off of your time. They’re the preferred way of attaching race numbers during the cycling leg. Attaching a number using one of these elastic belts is much faster than using a safety pin.
Other Important Gear
Swimming, running, and cycling gear are all essential, but there’s more gear every triathlete most have. This gear includes a first aid kit, lube, sleeves, compression clothing, sunscreen and ear and nose plugs.
First Aid Kits
First-aid stations are always available, but there’s nothing wrong with having your own small kit. You can use your kit to take care of minor cuts, bruises and blisters along the course. A mini-sized tube of antiseptic and bandages can even be attached to your hydration belt.
Lube or an anti-chafing product can be used to increase your comfort during the race. You can lube up your arms and legs to make it easier to slip into your wetsuit or use an anti-chafing product on your bike seat, thighs, and shorts to reduce friction.
Lube also increases mobility in the shoulders, neck, arms and thighs during the swim. It can be used on the nipples and bra line before the run. And finally, shoes can be lubed before running or cycling.
Waterproof sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher should be worn to protect you from harmful UV rays. Apply it at least 30 minutes before the triathlon to create a layer of protection. Apply more before the swim, and reapply between each phase of the triathlon.
Thermal sleeves can be worn in warm and cool conditions. In warm conditions, they’ll protect your skin from the sun. In cool conditions, they’ll provide insulation and warm you up.
Compression clothing designed for triathlons facilitate faster muscle recovery and reduce muscle fatigue. This clothing flushes lactic acid rapidly and increases blood flow and circulation to enhance recovery.
Earplugs and Nose Plugs
A soft silicone pair of earplugs and nose plugs will keep water out of your ears and nose during the swim. This goes a long way towards increasing your comfort and decreasing your chances of getting vertigo or some other unpleasant side effect of getting water in orifices.
However, you choose to use, wear or change your gear during the race is solely up to you. Some athletes do the entire race in their swimsuit for faster transitions from one event to the next while others change at every transition. Some people choose to travel light and come with as little as possible while others bring an excess of everything.
No matter how you wear your gear or what you do with it, it’s an essential part of the recipe for triathlon success. So, don’t leave home without every single thing on this list.