Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Are you overwhelmed by all the different clothing and equipment that triathletes have? Are you new to the sport and wondering what is absolutely required vs what is a nice to have?
This guide will help you purchase what is absolutely required, and then give you ideas of other nice-to-have items that can make training and racing more helpful/fun/easy.
It should be obvious, but there are only 3-5 items that you need for swimming. First, there are the swim suits. Women need a 1-piece suit, and men require some tight jammers. Men, let's not scare people by getting into the skimpy Speedo. ;-p You should get a nice pair of goggles that will stick to your face without putting the strap over your head. Depending on where you will be swimming pick a lens tint that is most appropriate. Finally, you will need some sort of sandals/flip flops.
Once you have the required items, you can add training aids and other items to make your swimming experience more helpful and enjoyable. Here's a list that will help you swim better.
Kickboard - Kickboards are found at most public pools (at least in the US). These are used to work on your kicking form and strength.
Pull Buoy - You put this between your thighs. This allows you to have better posture in the water - i.e. more horizontal. Poor swimmers' legs will drop down adding drag and slowing you down. Because this raises your legs, you can build muscle memory of what it's like to have better posture.
Fins - You can use these when doing drills working on your stroke. It allows you to remove the kicking from your mind. They can also be used in conjunction with the kickboard to working on your kicking form and strength.
Snorkel - This allows the swimmer to remove breathing from your mind when you are working on your swim form.
Mesh Bag - This obviously carries all your extra swim tools to/from the pool deck.
Tempo Trainer - You put this under swim cap or the strap of your goggles. This can be set to a consistent beat so that you can make sure you stroke on every beat. Many times swimmers' strokes are out of sync. This will allow you to balance your stroke out.
Swim Parka - This is one of our favorite items. It keeps you nice and toasty going to/from the pool deck during those colder months. It can also be used when getting ready for those cold early morning rides.
Paddles - These are used to help correct your swim stroke. They come in different shapes to work on a different aspect of your stroke. Be careful when buying these to make sure you buy the correct size for your hands. If they are too big, they will put stress on your shoulders.
The bike requires the most equipment and the most expensive equipment. The good news is that once you have it you won't need to replace it for a very long time. There are obvious items and not so obvious ones. The obvious items are the bike itself, a bike helmet, gloves, water bottle, sunglasses, bike jersey and bike shorts (or bib shorts pictured), and socks. The maybe less obvious items include bike shoes, saddle bag that holds your spare tubes, tire irons, CO2 inflator and spare CO2 cartridges, and a floor pump. We recommend going with the CO2 inflator and cartridges over the mini pump because you can inflate tires to the correct pressure easily. Of course, having a mini pump with you is a wise idea also.
Do you have questions about buying your first bike or upgrading it? Check out our Bike Buying Guide.
Please note the bike shoes will require cleats that match the pedal system you have on your bike. Any bike shop can help you with all of these items.
Once you have the required items above, then there are many other items to make you more comfortable on your bike ride. Let's take a look at some of them.
Shoe Covers - When it gets cold or wet, these half or full covers can keep your feet dry and warm.
Warmers - When it gets a little cold these arm/knee/leg warmers are amazing! If you're in the shade, then extend them. If you're in the hot sun, then roll them up. It enables you to stay the right temperature on those in between weather days.
Full Finger Gloves - Another great item for when it gets cold. There are also waterproof full finger gloves.
Vest - This is a great item to wear when it's slightly chilly or windy. It allows you to keep your chest warm when the wind picks up. Or, you have a long descent.
Winter Jersey - When it's too cold for just a vest, the winter jersey is a great item to wear. It's thicker than a regular bike jersey and sometimes has a wind protection layer in the front.
Chamois Cream - This is an amazing product! You use it on your parts that sit on the saddle. You use it to prevent chafing and saddle sores. There are many different vendors and there are even formulas designed for women.
Bike Computer - This is great for keeping track of your speed, average speed, distance, elevation gain and many other stats. You can get cheap models for $20 or expensive ones that can even notify loved ones in case of an accident for $500+.
As we mentioned, this is not a complete list. As the weather gets colder or wetter there are always more clothing options to buy.
Another great item for really cold days is a smart bike trainer. They can also be used after dark so you can still get your ride in. The trainers hook up to your computer/iPad and allow you to ride a course or a specific interval workout. As the workout gets harder, the trainer will make it harder to pedal. Amazing, huh?
Like swimming, the run does not require much clothing. Additionally, there isn't a lot extra items beyond warmer clothing. So, what's required? Obviously, you need a shirt, shorts, socks and some shoes. And, for those sunnier days a hat and sunglasses. That's it! Ok, you can also wear something under run shorts if you experience chafing. Maybe tight spandex. Never ever wear cotton when running. All items should be a polyester/sport specific blend.
One product that should be included in the required is Body Glide. This is mostly only needed for men on their nipples. It can also be used on both sexes anytime there is chafing. This product is a non-oil based product that allows skin to rub smoothly over other skin or material.
Ok, so what do you wear when it's colder? Gloves and long sleeve shirts or running jackets. Maybe some running pants or the leg warmers from your bike clothing.
There are only a couple items that are specific to triathlon that aren't used in the individual sports normally. Every triathlete needs a tri top and tri shorts. These are made from special materials so they dry quickly after the swim. Most importantly you don't need to change clothes throughout your event.
The wetsuit is the first item that triathletes should have after everything else required. If you will be swimming in colder lakes/rivers/oceans, then you should get a wetsuit. Some shops will allow you to rent them so you can try them out. You must swim in them to really know if they will feel ok. The other item to consider is the tri suit. This would replace the tri top and shorts. This is not needed but sometimes more comfortable.
The one major item that is needed to help you get through your races is the race number belt. Since you are wearing your tri top or suit during the swim, you won't be able to put on a shirt for the run. Therefore, you can't pin your number on to your shirt. This allows you to put it on in transition as you are starting your run.
If you're serious about pacing and monitoring your progress, then you definitely want to get a nice watch and heart rate monitor. One of the most popular ones is the Garmin 930xt. It's designed for triathletes and connects automatically to your Garmin account. It will show you more data than you can imagine.
One item that might speed up your transitions is speed laces. This allows you to put your run shoes on quickly without needing to tie them.
Hopefully, you're clear on what you need to have and what would be some extra nice things to pick up to make your training and racing more comfortable or easy.
Tell us what items you think are required or nice to have that we've missed....