ESSENTIAL TRIATHLON GEAR AND CLOTHING GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Triathlon

Congratulations. If you’re reading this, you must have signed up for one of the biggest adventures of your life – racing a Triathlon. Or looking at attempting one. Or just inspired by a friend or colleague and have embarked on the journey to understand more about this endurance sport.

Check out our post – Introduction to the Sport of Triathlon – to understand the basics of this exciting endurance sport that’s growing steadily in India.

While training for each of the 3 sports is critical, the gear you would use for this endurance event is equally important. Training and racing with the correct equipment give the athlete performance gains, and more importantly prevent injuries and also ensure the athlete is comfortable over the hours of running, riding and swimming.

As with most investments – having clarity on your racing goals is critical to ensure you invest correctly. Looking to race more than a few triathlons or an Ironman? You’re ar better off investing in some good quality high-end gear from reputable brands right from the start. Looking to attempt your first Tri event to test the waters? Don’t spend quite as much! Get the basic minimal equipment and gradually upgrade over time as you get hooked like the rest of us!

Triathlon transition
Athletes in a Transition Zone T1 – Swimming => Cycling.

Triathlon gear comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and designs. At any given triathlon, you will see a bunch of people wearing all different kinds of apparel combinations. While there are no hard and fast rules about what you need to wear for a triathlon there are of course some basic requirements such as a good helmet, an efficient bike, and some good running shoes to ensure you perform well.

While there is Tri Specific gear at every level (e.g – aerodynamic triathlon water bottles!) not everyone might need this level of equipment. Having said that, it never hurts to have the good tri-specific gear and is an immediate boost on these long endurance events.

Check out our list of Top Triathlon Events in India thru 2020. We will be keeping this list updated thru 2020. Do keep visiting it and signing up for events you think you could challenge yourself with!

TRIATHLON GEAR CHECKLIST

Whether you’re a pro or beginner triathlete, these are the 10 pieces of kit every athlete needs when taking part in a triathlon.

  1. Triathlon Suit
  2. Swim Cap
  3. Goggles
  4. Helmet
  5. Cycling Shoes
  6. Bike
  7. Running Shoes
  8. Energy Bars/Gel
  9. Hydration
  10. Triathlon Multi-Sport Watch

A PRIMER ON TRIATHLON SPECIFIC FEATURES

You’ve decided on investing in some tri gear – the standard question we get is “what should I look for?“. With all the choices available in the market, its critical to have a basic understanding of tri-specific features to make a more informed decision on your purchase.

1. COMPRESSION ZONES

Tri suit with compression bands

Compression zones create a graduated compression directed towards the heart, very similar to how carbon fiber lay-up is done to build a carbon bike. This is done primarily to improve blood flow and ensure circulation to all muscles and extremities.

The material is “tighter” than non-compression clothing and also provides adequate muscle support to help reduce fatigue on long, hot rides.

2. HYDROPHOBIC TECHNOLOGY

Hydrophobic tri-suit

Hydrophobic technology on clothing basically repels water. If you pour water over the fabric, the water just rolls off without being absorbed. A fantastic feature when you get out of your swim leg and start off on the bike leg. Your apparel is a lot more comfortable, helps you warm up faster and also ensures your apparel is lightweight as water can weigh you down significantly.

Hydrophobic technology in the triathlon apparel world isn’t new tech but it’s an area that’s constantly seeing improvement. Initially, tri suits with hydrophobic tech had issues with ventilation but nowadays, to overcome this hurdle, manufacturers have employed the use of durable, hard-wearing nanocoating on the fabric surface that allows for good ventilation and water-resistant properties.

3. TRI-SPECIFIC CHAMOIS

Tri Chamois padding

Athletes spend a long time riding their bike, typically in an aerodynamic position that can put undue pressure on soft tissue and compress sensitive nerve endings and cause numbness over time. Chamois is the light padding in cycling shorts that prevent this.

Every tri-suit should ideally have a chamois that is comfortable, lightweight, and water-resistant if not waterproof. Traditional cycling shorts have slightly wider and heavier chamois that would rub against the triathlete’s inner thighs and cause chaffing. Tri-suits and tri-shorts have narrower chamois that do not interfere with your thighs.

4. AERODYNAMIC GEAR

Aerodynamics is an important aspect for every triathlete as drag and resistance are the biggest factors that slow down athletes during the swim and bike stages and are major buying factors when it comes to tri-apparel.

New fabric technology for a competitive edge has been developed by multiple manufacturers in the tri-suit industry. They all try to achieve a common goal of reducing drag and increasing efficiency wherever possible.

5. OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

U.V protection and heat management are also key features to look out for as the endurance event can span multiple hours, in scorching heat and searing temperates – both of which can be detrimental to athlete performance.

Zippers help keep you cool under the sun. You can get both front and rear zippers that are easy to put on and take off. Moisture-wicking fabrics help maintain optimal body temperature in both hot and cold conditions. In hot conditions, it facilitates the absorption and evaporation of sweat which maintains bodily temperature. In cold conditions, it pulls cold moisture away from the body, reducing the amount of energy required to stay warm.

TRIATHLON GEAR

1. TRIATHLON SUITS

A tri-suit is a multi-purpose item of clothing that you’ll wear throughout the triathlon and comes in either a two-piece or one-piece variety.

  • Fabric is similar to spandex – tight but with enough give to be snug fitting and comfortable.
  • Breathable, quick-drying & stretchable
  • Designed to dry off quickly after the swim
  • Provide cushioning for the cycle, and keep you moving freely during the run
  • Minimize friction areas by using flat stitched seams or laser stitched seams to prevent chafing.
  • Quick to put on and remove to help you breeze through transitions
  • Compression materials to lend your muscles a helping hand

As with most items, the more you pay the greater is the quality and feature set offered.

One-Piece Triathlon Suit

One-piece tri-suits are a great option when you are looking for the least amount of drag and for maximum comfort while on the bike. The two-piece alternative is a good choice if you’re just stepping into the sport or are budget constrained. Two pieces are sometimes prone to bunching up somewhat, which can be a bit less comfortable.

Tri-shorts look like cycling shorts but are designed to be quick-drying, and have a thinner lighter chamois. This is uber important as riding on wet chamois is a recipe for chafing.

SLEEVES VS SLEEVELESS

These suits come in half-sleeved and sleeveless versions. There’s no right or wrong here. It’s all up to your own comfort levels with each type.

The main benefit of wearing sleeves is sun protection on your shoulders and a certain degree of support. However, sleeveless tri suits offer more flexibility in the shoulders, especially during the swim. Some athletes also find that the seams on a sleeveless tri suit can cause chaffing – this is the main reason some athletes prefer a sleeveless tri suit.

FIT AND SUPPORT

Just like cycling apparel. Your tri suit should be on the tighter side rather than loose. Apart from the fact that all tri clothing will stretch over time, the best tri suits will be designed with strategically-located compression around the core and hips for maximum engagement.

You will find that this ‘holds you in’ and supports the engagement of your core specifically, which increases hip drive and therefore reduces fatigue over the course of the swimming leg where energy conservation is key.

DRAG AND BUOYANCY

Since the athlete spends a lot of time exposed to the Sun and harmful U.V Radiation, having suits which have inbuilt U.V protection is a definite positive to look for.

Contrary to popular belief, tri suits aren’t all that smooth. It’s similar to the surface of a golf ball (small dimples all around). Why’s that? A smooth fabric allows air or water to attach to it at a molecular level, which creates a dragging effect on the fabric which causes a turbulent flow around the surface; increasing resistance.

A slightly rougher (well-engineered) surface however, induces a very thin, controlled layer of turbulent flow immediately over the surface, which acts as a super-slick surface for the bulk of the air/water flow to move over smoothly.

Some events may have a wetsuit compulsory for the swim leg. Wetsuits increase buoyancy in the water and help you swim fast (great for beginners). They also keep you warm in cold waters. Look for a wetsuit that fits tightly without reducing the range of motion of your shoulders and legs. Wetsuits are worn over a tri-suit.

2. TRIATHLON SHORTS & JERSEYS

A good pair of triathlon shorts and a jersey will go a long way when it comes to on-course comfort and performance.

TRI SHORTS

Investing in a good pair of triathlon shorts can be a good way to get into the sport of triathlon without dropping a ton of money on higher-end gear, and a way to simplify the race because you won’t have to worry about ever changing your bottoms.  Even in cases where you may choose to race in a tri suit, having a good pair of tri shorts will be useful for your training and open water swims.

Tri-shorts
Two-Piece Triathlon Shorts

FABRIC – You might consider using your cycling shorts for the triathlon. That’s not a good idea at all – here’s why.

The material in your shorts needs to be breathable on the bike and run, quick-drying out of the water. Most manufacturers create great fabric blends that are good during the swim but will essentially be dry by the time you get on the bike.

CHAMOIS – A good pair of tri shorts also provide a decent level of padding for cycling, but at a level that doesn’t impede the run by causing chafing or discomfort. It’s essential that this chamois doesn’t absorb too much water as that can discomforting.

SEAMS – Most budget tri shorts don’t pay head to comfort in this department but then again, you get what you pay for. This is a very crucial feature that you should definately look out for.

Seams in a triathlon short need to be flat enough so you don’t even know they are there, yet strong enough so they are durable. Seams that can be felt will cause discomfort over the course of a long run or ride.

TRI TOPS/JERSEYS

A good tri jersey should always be paired with some tri shorts otherwise you loose out on the key benefits. Sure you could just wear a regular sports t-shirt, many people do, but they’re terribly uncomfortable and cause an avoidable wastage of time during the transition.

FIT – Sleek and form fitting works the best. A loose jersey will bunch up under your wetsuit on the swim (or create drag if you don’t use a wetsuit) and will also create drag on the bike. In a sport where times matter a lot, it’s something that’s avoidable. Don’t go too far with this either – too tight is not a good idea either.

CONSTRUCTION – A full zipper jersey with a minimum of three pockets at the back is the benchmark here.

Unzipping provides important ventilation, usually on the run, for those races when managing your heat is important. Pockets are also just as critical – and placement/design is probably more important than the number.  You will need pockets for your fuel, goggle case, and spent fuel packets.

3. TRIATHLON CYCLING HELMETS

Triathlon specific cycling helmets aim at providing superior protection, whilst still being lightweight, aerodynamic, and efficient at cooling. Aero-savvy riders realized that, with some clever shaping, a strategically covered head could be faster through the air than a bare and heavily ventilated one. You could use any type of cycling helmet for a triathlon but there are a few crucial advantages that tri-helmets give you.

For such a relatively inexpensive piece of kit (compared to other tri gear), an aero helmet is potentially the best bang for your buck in terms of aero gains. 

TT/Tri cycling helmet
Aerodynamic Triathlon Helmet

1. FIT

As with a bike, proper fitting is super critical. The head mold must perfectly “cup” the rider’s head and the tail of the helmet should transition smoothly to the rider’s back, with as small a gap as possible. If this isn’t the case or you tend to move your head a lot as you ride, your flashy aero helmet could actually be slowing you down. This especially applies to long-course triathletes whose head position may change due to fatigue.

2. WEIGHT

Everyone knows that when you make something aerodynamic (bikes especially) you face a weight penalty. This is more or less true when it comes to tri-helmets too. Which is why it’s worth opting for lightweight aero helmets.

When riding on your aerobars in a triathlon, your head is forced into a very awkward position. You have to look straight ahead when your body is parallel to the ground. This can lead to neck pain, fatigue or even cramping in the neck region.

3. VENTILATION

The next factor to consider is cooling. An aero helmet will always be hotter to ride in and, for an Ironman bike leg in hot conditions, overheating can easily cost you more time than the helmet will save.

Overheating can severely affect your energy levels and overall timings on the bike.

4. TRIATHLON CYCLING SHOES

Tri shoes often have better ventilation and quick-drying properties than normal road cycling shoes. Other than that, tri-shoes also feature heel loops that help you pull your shoes on and off much faster.

Tri specific cycling shoes have dials to adjust the tension on the fly and a modified tongue for an easier and faster ON/OFF action. Small features like these end up saving a lot of time.

Tri-specific cycling shoes

CLOSURE SYSTEM – A good triathlon specific cyling shoe will usually have a very simple construction. A single large velcro strap that is used to secure your foot in the shoe. This makes it easy to adjust and undo the strap whilst you are on the bike; a key part of transition during a triathlon.

Another helpful feature to look out for is loops on the heel, which allow you to pull the shoe on quickly during the transition. We’ve seen many triathletes keep their shoes clipped into their pedals – they simply run along with the bike and then hop onto it and slide in their feet after crossing the “mounting line”.

VENTILATION – Super important for triathletes as many prefer to ride sock-less to save time on transitions – it can be quite frustrating to put on socks when your feet are wet.

Look out for shoes with mesh panels that will help airflow over the foot, and keep you comfortable during your time on the bike.

5. SWIMMING GOGGLES

Goggles are essential to not only ensure you can see underwater but to also keep water out of your eyes during your swim.

Swimming goggles

Fit is important as incorrectly fitting goggles will be filled with water as soon as you start your swim and will slow you down. Tinted goggles ensure you can see clearly on a bright race day even with the sun reflecting off the water.

Nifty features like anti-fog technology, men and women-specific fits and seal technology for a leak-free, comfortable fit, and reduced marks around the eyes are all important aspects while choosing the correct pair.

MISCELLANEOUS GEAR

A good pair of sunglasses is essential for safety and comfort for both your run and bike leg. More than just keeping the sun out of your eyes, a good pair of sun-glasses ensure wind, dust, and insects don’t find a way into your eyes. A good pair of sunglasses allow you to keep your vision clear and allow you to focus on racing.

Hydration is critical for any endurance event. Lightweight leakproof water bottles attached to your bike and a good race belt are great investments. Hydration solutions are important to avoid cramping, replenish salts lost while perspiring and stay in peak performance thru the event.

Energy gels and energy bars are important to fuel on the ride. Bananas are a good source of fuel, but end up being bulky. It’s important to have tested your digestive system with the hydration solution and the gels well before the event day to prevent last-minute issues.

Carrying a small bike pump or Co2 inflators and a puncture patch kit in a tight saddlebag on the bike is important. Make sure you keep weight to a minimum.


That’s all folks! We hope that we covered all the doubts you may have had about triathlon clothing and gear. If you feel that we’ve missed out on something please do let us know.

Happy riding!

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