Laces, energy gels, triathlon watches – a transition bag isn’t a mandatory purchase for your racing endeavours. In the past we’ve seen, and used, holdalls, plastic boxes and bin bags, all with varying degrees of success. However, a tri-specific bag purchase will make your tri life a whole lot easier, so much so that you’ll wonder how you previously survived without one. They can also act as a badge of honour, signalling to fellow multisporters that you’re not only a triathlete in the pool, but also departure lounge and city centre cycle lane. But what should you look for in a triathlon backpack?
What to look for in a triathlon transition bag?
A designated waterproof wetsuit compartment – whether built-in or removable – is ideal for any race involving open-water swimming, preventing your kit and car boot from becoming a soggy mess post-race. Separate pockets for race fuel, admin (entry forms and race licence), tools and water bottles are highly recommended, while comfy straps are ideal for the often long walk (hello Windsor Tri) from the race car park to the transition area.
Also, try to remember that a transition bag doesn’t have to be just for race day, with the majority of the six on test here being versatile enough to use for commuting, the gym and swim sessions. And it’s worth noting airlines’ cabin bag limits if you have international ventures planned post-coronavirus. British Airways’ and Easyjet’s are 56 x 45 x 25cm, for example, while Ryanair’s, naturally, is a tighter 55 x 40 x 20cm, meaning some of the bags tested could be destined for the hold, which will incur extra charges.
HUUB DESIGN TT BAG
The TT (Transition Three) is the most versatile offering here for triathlon, travel and commuting. The latter is down to the rear laptop compartment and shorter 52cm height (it’s 20cm deep and 34cm wide) that makes riding possible, a trio of zipped outer pockets for valuables and a stashable helmet net. And for triathlon race day and travel? The large main compartment is sizeable for shoes and race kit; internal pockets provide space for nutrition; while the three outer mesh pockets do the job for holding water bottles and bananas. It’s easy to wipe the mud of transition from the smooth outer coating, but a protective pouch for eyewear and phones would be a welcome addition both for race day and the crush of the aircraft cabin.
Verdict: the widest everyday appeal, but with race-day capability as well, 90%
MONTANE TRANSITION 95L
Montane’s Transition comes in Narwhal Blue, and that sums up the appeal – and downside – of this cavernous whale-like creation.
At 90L and 78cm x 40cm, it towers over everything on test and, for storing your kit in the boot of the car, camping trips and the weekly shop, it excels. But in actual transition? It’s here you won’t win any friends (either fellow triathlete or marshal) due to its encroaching size, and the lack of internal compartments means you’ll need to buy a separate drybag for swim/soiled kit. There are some handy straps to turn it from holdall to backpack but, although it really shouldn’t matter, we felt like a human turtle when wearing it, not helped by our partner calling us Koopa Troopa when we left the house. montane.com
Verdict: has its uses, but just too gargantuan for triathlon race day, 70%
ROKA UTILITY PACK
This Roka really does scream quality. With its fleece-lined inner pockets and outer utility hook, it covers a range of uses. Especially convenient is the function to fully unzip and lay flat – ideal for organising transition kit within the multiple inner compartments. Another key feature is the water-resistant pocket for wet gear, which can easily be pulled inside-out via an inner tab for quick drying after use. The bag itself kept contents dry even in a heavy downpour. Though 30L, we found the Roka to be a veritable Tardis, easily fitting all our swim-run gear for a brick session, while the back panels with rigid handle make the bag easy to wear and move around. One gripe is the top pocket intended for eyewear would benefit from a more rigid casing, but this isn’t a deal-breaker.
Verdict: premium multi-purpose bag with matching price tag, 92%
OSPREY BIGKIT DUFFEL
With compartments on the sides, back and a large u-zip inner space, we were able to store all of our different sporting gear separately. A stowable helmet hood is a handy addition and we found the sturdy grab handles useful in transit. Optimised for travel, the straps can be unclipped or tucked away in an inner pocket, and the whole bag can be folded up and stowed into a small storage pouch. When packed to capacity, the BigKit needed more body straps to wear comfortably for long durations. There are extra
hooks for a shoulder strap, but this is sold separately. The ventilated lower compartment for storing dirty shoes comes in useful but isn’t waterproof. Overall, this is a useful bag with handy appendages for transporting large quantities of gear. ospreyeurope.com
Verdict: versatile with large capacity for big trips but but not our first choice for tri, 84%
SPEEDO TEAMSTER RUCKSACK
Speedo’s 35L bag is primarily designed for swim-training needs. A wet section at the bottom is practical for stashing used kit, with a smaller ‘dirt bag’ that can be clipped inside or to the outside of the bag. There are smaller side and front pockets for valuables, plus a mesh bottle pocket, but the inside of the bag has no compartments aside from a laptop sleeve, so not perfect for multisport use. Speedo has added a ‘bleacher seat’ removable foam panel zipped in the back of the bag. It’s intended for sitting on, though we found it more useful as back padding. Ergonomic back panelling, waist and chest straps allow for comfortable use even when carrying heavy gear. We like the water-repellent material coating the bottom of the bag, though the exterior shell doesn’t withstand a downpour.
Verdict: Good quality and price, just not for multisport use, 72%
We’ve used previous editions of the 40L Zone3 Transition bag for years and can vouch for its durability. A key change with this new model is a division of the main compartment, enhancing race-day convenience because of the ability to file swim, bike and run kit into different areas (swim kit is stored in the waterproof compartment). The middle section’s ability to open out also makes it adept for lying flat on pool benches or in transition. Neat touches include a phone pocket with earphone outlet, the ability to stand the bag up and a reinforced lid for helmet protection. A downside of the latter, however, is that it adds to the bag’s bulk, which means it’s not ideal for commuting (the split compartment also makes it laptop unfriendly) and a struggle to fit into smaller pool lockers.
Verdict: a stylish classic for race day, edged by Huub and Roka for everyday use, 88%
ZOOT ULTRA TRI BAG
The canvas fabric makes the Ultra Tri stand out from much of the competition and, the bulbous protective helmet compartment aside, it ticks the aesthetic boxes. It also ticks race-day boxes, with an internal checklist of race items, secure bottle storage, multiple mesh pockets, and a sizeable and removable drybag for wet kit. It opens out fully – suitcase style – which is a huge bonus for overseas multisport adventures. The comfy straps and ergonomic back panels also make it ideal for long journeys. Although only 2L bigger than the Zone3 and Huub, at 42L it feels the biggest on test when in use, though the 62cm height could cause issues with the more draconian of airline staff. The lack of suitability for commuting and pool or gym sessions is also worth noting.
Verdict: superior style and function, yet the sizing lacks everyday versatility, 83%