A tri-suit is a one-piece garment specifically engineered for triathlon, usually including quick-drying features, padding at the rear and zippers to provide you with a do-it-all suit that you won’t have to change out of while swimming, cycling and running.
It’s unanimous that wearing a tri-suit is preferable to changing in and out of swim/cycle/run-specific clothing between disciplines. First and foremost, you’ll save lots of time in transition by not having to keep changing; and secondly, the demand for tri-specific clothing as the sport has grown means that your tri-suit will most likely be packed with tech and expert know-how to keep you comfortable throughout your race.
Traditionally sleeveless tri-suits are meant to be close-fitting to prevent drag on the swim and run. The legs are cut to a similar length as swimming jammers (above the knee) with men’s suits generally cut a little longer than women’s versions. There’s also a chamois pad at the rear, which is smaller than the padding in cycling shorts and fast-drying so it doesn’t get soggy and weighed down when you start the bike leg.
The leg grippers on a tri-suit will generally be elasticated, so they don’t ride up when you put your wetsuit on. The seams are usually flat-locked or silicon, and there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing which type. What irritates one person may be fine for another, so check what type of seams and stitching each suit you’re thinking of buying has on it. If you’re prone to chafing and rubbing and your skin is sensitive, try using some anti-chafing lubricant to counter this.
Tri-suits will also feature pockets, primarily included for carrying nutrition. Occasionally suits have pockets with zippers, but many simply have fold-over flaps.
An increasingly common sight in triathlons now are suits with half-sleeves – not only is this supposedly more aerodynamic, but it’s also a better option for those who are prone to sunburn. In any case, if you have fair skin it’s best to look for a suit that will offer high SPF and UVA ratings, as it’s possibly to get sunburned through the thin lycra layer of a tri-suit if the fabric doesn’t offer much sun protection.
Tri-suits for women
Women will need to make some extra considerations when buying their first tri suit. Many options on the market now feature an integral bra, and this will be beneficial for many women; however women’s tri suits that don’t have this feature may be very close-fitting, so the support offered by this may still be adequate. If you require more support, then wearing a good quality sports bra underneath your tri suit is your best option.
Buying your first tri-suit
Bear in mind that sizes between brands will vary, so it’s always advisable to try before you buy. Suits engineered for elite triathletes will generally have a tighter fit, as they’re shaped to be optimal for those with athletic builds.
Consider what distances you’re targeting. For sprint-distance triathlons, storage pockets may be less important to you as you won’t be racing for too long. For long-course triathletes pockets are often crucial in the run portion of the race. If you can’t afford to budget for both, look for a suit that will be comfortable, while also having good pockets for storing energy products.
Two-piece options for triathlon
For some triathletes (and in fact a majority for long-distance races) some will instead prefer to wear tri-specific shorts and a top (a sleeveless tri top is known as a singlet). The obvious benefit of a two-piece is that if you find yourself needing to make a toilet stop, it’s easier to get out of the shorts rather than having to unzip a full-length suit. If you can afford to budget for various pieces of tri kit, a one-piece tri suit for shorter races, plus a pair of tri shorts and a top, may be a good selection of kit to have in your arsenal.
If you’re just starting out, remember comfort is key and there’s no need to spend a fortune straight away, and try before you buy. If you are looking to buy any new triathlon kit take a look at our triathlon kit buying guides on everything, from bikes to laces, to find out exactly what works for you!