What do I wear for a triathlon?

With three disciplines to dress for, there's more logistics than you may think that go into triathlon racing and training. The right gear can save you precious seconds in transition, and help make you more streamlined on the fly. Here's keen triathlete, Elise Metcalf's top tips for what you need to wear for a triathlon

Credit: Unsplash, Tony Pham

Wearing the right gear for your triathlon race can be a game changer. Not only will it allow you to save time during the transitions, but it’ll help you feel comfortable on the day and focus on what’s important. With so many options, plus the added complication of three disciplines, it can be difficult to know where to start. Elise Metcalf shares an overview of the basic kit you need to be ready for race day.  

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What should I wear for the swim part of a triathlon?

The one piece of kit that is fundamental for a triathlon is a tri-suit. This all-in-one garment consists of shorts and a bib and is specifically designed for racing all three disciplines. It’s made of the same quick-drying fabric used for swimwear, and its flexible and aerodynamic form makes it ideal for the demands of swimming, cycling and running. Whether you’re gliding through the water with long, powerful strokes, spinning out your legs on the bike, or pacing it on the run, it’s lightweight and stretchy material gives you complete freedom of movement. A tri-suit is designed to be worn under a wetsuit for the swim leg. The shorts are slightly padded, supporting comfort on the cycle without prohibiting range of movement or being obstructive on the run.

You’ll also need goggles and a swim hat. Make sure that you’ve worn these a few times in training, as the last thing you want is a poorly fitting pair of goggles on race day. Goggles come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, with lenses for different types of environments, lighting and weather, so it’s worth taking the time to choose the right pair of goggles and figure out what works best for you.

For open water swim triathlons, the use of a wetsuit is usually mandatory. A triathlon specific wetsuit is recommended as these are designed for flexibility, hydrodynamic resistance and ease of removal during the transition. While the wetsuit will help you to keep warm in the water, you may also want to consider a neoprene skullcap, swimming gloves and a pair of swimming socks in very cold conditions.

What should I wear for the bike part of a triathlon?

A tri-suit provides adequate padding to get you through the cycle leg, and its quick drying material will prevent you from shivering through the ride. The cycle is the longest discipline in the race, so if the weather is cold you may also want to consider having some layers waiting in the transition area.  Arm and leg sleeves or gloves are quick and easy to put on and help keep you toasty when the weather is less accommodating. Cycling jackets and windbreakers can also be thrown on quickly during transition and help protect your body from the brunt of the elements.

A cycling helmet is compulsory when racing and must be approved ANSI Z90.4, SNELL B90, EN 1078 or equivalent standard. On race day, triathletes sport a range of helmets, including road, aero road and TT variations. It’s worth training in your helmet ahead of race day to ensure it fits properly and is comfortable.

While pedalling away, you’ll also need something to wear on your feet. The optimal footwear for triathlon races are triathlon bike shoes. These have purpose-built features to aid speedy transitions and comfort ahead of the run. Like other road cycling shoes, they are compatible with cleats and have a stiff outsole. While triathlon shoes may give you an advantage in the transition, road bike shoes, mountain bike shoes and even trainers are all acceptable and you will not be penalised for deviating from the norm.

Another common question for new triathletes is ‘socks or no socks?’. Putting socks on wet feet is no small feat, and takes up valuable time during the transition. That being said, socks offer increased comfort and help prevent blisters- something you will come to appreciate on the run. It’s a personal choice and one that might change as you become more accustomed with triathlons and figure out what works best for you.

What should I wear for the run part of a triathlon?

By the time you get to the last leg of the triathlon, it’s time to throw on your running trainers and head out for the final push. By this point, you may feel like you’re running through cement as your legs are heavy from the previous disciplines. Some triathletes choose to run in more lightweight trainers for race day, finding them a preferable choice than their heavier training shoes. Ultimately, the trainers that you feel most comfortable in are likely the best choice, particularly if you’re new to triathlon and still finding your feet.

Elastic shoe laces are a small investment but offer a sizable advantage during transition. They can be fitted to any trainers and reduce the time it takes to put your shoes on as you don’t need to fumble about with the standard tie-up laces. It’s not recommended that you wear them while training, as they can lessen the shoe’s support so could make you more prone to injury if worn for an extended period.

Is there anything else I need to consider?

Another worthy, and relatively inexpensive, purchase for a triathlon race is a tri-belt. This is a belt that you can pin your race number to, meaning that it doesn’t need to be pinned directly to your tri-suit, potentially damaging the material. The main benefit of a tri-belt is that it can be visible throughout the bike and run leg, with the race number positioned on your back for the cycle, and then swivelled round to the front for the run. This helps save time during the transition.

Many triathletes also wear sunglasses when racing. For the bike and run leg this can be particularly useful in protecting your eyes from the elements- whether that be blazing sunlight or blustering wind. They also prevent things from flicking up into your eye from the road surface or rogue bugs flying into your face. The necessity of eyewear will likely be influenced by the location, time of year and distance of your race.

Need some more triathlon kit inspiration? Check out our gear page for the latest reviews and advice for all of your swim, bike, run needs.

Elise Metcalf is an amateur triathlete with an avid interest in exercise, nutrition and performance. 

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Top image by Unsplash/Tony Pham.