triathlon clothing - what to wear on race day
beginner first triathlon race checklist

What to wear in a Triathlon Race

Triathlon Clothing: What to Wear in a Triathlon

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The first thing you notice at any Triathlon is the vast array of gear people are wearing.

Some very simple, some very bright and some downright mad looking.

My first triathlon kit was the most basic I could find as I wasn’t sure if I would stick with the sport.

Roll on a few years and I’ve had my fair share of good and bad choices.

This post is designed to highlight what I’ve learned over the years and what I look for every time I am in the market for a new piece of triathlon gear, or maybe some new clothes for training. 

You may ask why go to the trouble of writing this – can’t I just wear whatever I want, like a pair of cycling shorts and a running top.

Yes, you definitely can but there are some fundamental differences in Triathlon specific clothing that we are going to highlight here that you need to be aware of.

We are going to break down our clothing list into each section of the race.

This is the easiest way to explain what to wear in a triathlon race.


Short on time? Our recommendations for what you wear in a triathlon

We cover everything in a lot more detail below but if you are short on time check out what to wear for your first triathlon race on a budget:

Swim

For the swim, you are going to need a wetsuit (water temperature dependent) a pair of goggles and most likely a swimming hat.

The wetsuit we recommend is the Xterra Volt triathlon wetsuit. This is a great wetsuit with all the features you would expect in a much more expensive suit. 

Next up is a decent pair of Goggles. The Aegend swim goggles are superb. Comfortable, easy to adjust and have a great anti-fog coating so you can always see where you are going.

You might need a swim hat. Most triathlon races bags supply a color-coded hat to match whatever wave of the race you are competing in but no harm to have a spare. We always wear speedo hats.

Bike

First up you must wear a bike helmet when racing. Our top choice is the Giro Savant Helmet. Whilst no a competition aero helmet it is perfect for tri racing and quality and build are perfect.

Tri suit choices are endless. All in one or separates. We cover this in more detail down the post but for us, it has to be an all in one triathlon suit and we always wear the De Soto Sport Forza trisuit.

Shoes are another complete minefield. We cover everything you need to know in this triathlon shoe review so check it out. Weight, comfort and fastening systems are all a factor.

Run

You could spend all day looking at kit for the running section of a triathlon. We have our favorites and things we cant do without. Here they are in no particular order of importance:

Runners – unless you are going to run in your bare feet you need to be wearing Asics Gel Nimbus shoes. Lightweight and ultra comfortable. 

Quick Tip: Invest in a pair of lock laces for your runners. It will help you save precious time in transition

As mentioned above we wear a full triathlon suit on race day but if you wanted to wear separate shorts and a top then check out our tri shorts review here. Zoot continues to be our favorite shorts. This pair of shorts are simply awesome.

Last on the list is a pair of running sunglasses. While not essential they really help reduce wind in your eyes on the bike and blindness from the sun on a bright day. No need to spend a fortune here just go for this pair from Rivbos. Comfortable, inexpensive and perfect for race day.


Triathlon Swimming Gear

what to wear triathlon swimming

I was never the strongest swimmer in the world, certainly not when I started out racing.

Sure I could swim the breaststroke no problem but my front craw left a lot to be desired.

It’s not uncommon for triathletes, especially when starting out to say they are bad swimmers.

Luckily you can use your tri gear to your advantage here and get yourself a wetsuit.

But do I need a wetsuit for a triathlon?

The answer here is, it depends on the water temperature.

USAT state the following in their guidelines around wearing a wetsuit:

  • If the water is between 50 to 65 degrees you are advised to wear a wetsuit.
  • At 65-78 degrees it is still advisable to wear a wetsuit but the race director may give swimmers the option to swim without one. A sleeveless suit may come into play here. You get the advantages of wetsuit buoyancy without restricting your swim stroke.
  • Anything over 78 degrees it is again up to the race director.

Check the local rules before you pack your kit for race day.

For example: In Ireland, you have to wear a wetsuit for every race regardless of water temperature. Mind you, I’ve never been in the water in Ireland when it felt warm anyways 🙂

Wetsuit reviews – I am just starting out so which one should I pick?

Because of the sheer amount of wetsuits on the market we get this question all the time.

You can spend anything from $120 up to well over $1000 for a wetsuit.

If you are just starting out then you cant go wrong with the Xterra we mentioned in our summary at the top of the page or check out our full review of entry-level wetsuits for much more information and some great deals. 

You are looking for something with that all-important buoyancy but enough freedom of movement to have a smooth fluid swim stroke.

The wetsuit should be a snug fit but not so tight that you can’t stand up properly. 

Make sure to wrap your hands and feet in something like a plastic bag when you put the suit on.

This provides two advantages straight away:

  1. Your hands slide into the suit much quicker and you have less chance of pulling or straining yourself.
  2. The bags help protect the inside of the suit from your finger and toenails. You don’t want to rip your new suit, do you?

You often see triathletes using bodyglide or oils to help them get their suits on. For the very small investment, it may be worth you trying this out to see if it helps you…

Triathlon Swimming Goggles

Choosing swim goggles for triathlon is another minefield of options.

You have two clear choices here:

Do you want larger mask style goggles that give you improved sight and are more likely to stay put when you launch yourself into the water with another 99 brave souls to start your swim?

If so then a pair of the Aegend goggles mentioned above or a pair of Aquasphere Kayenne goggles are perfect for you.

The other option is to opt for a sleeker aerodynamic pair of goggles and for that we recommend the Vanquisher goggles from Speedo.

The come with mirrored lenses that help reduce glare on bright days and their anti-fog protection helps keep you going the right direction.

Whatever style you go for make sure they have an anti-fog coating on the lenses.

This really helps you when racing.

There is enough going on without having to worry about fogged up goggles. Jaws quick spit is the most popular brand out there but we review a few more anti-fog sprays here if you want to check it out.


Triathlon Cycling Gear

what to wear triathlon cycling

Once you leave the water and get through transition its time for the bike – my favorite part of every race.

Apart from your bike itself, there are really on a few decisions on gear needed here.

Bike helmet:

A must for every race your helmet can actually make a nice difference in overall time on the bike.

Opt for something as aero as possible from the outset but if you are a weekend warrior then something like the Giro Savant mentioned earlier is perfect because you can use it for normal cycling as well.

When you get more competitive and start looking for additional advantages on race day then you are going to start exploring full aero helmets – you know the ones you see with the pointy ends that look a bit like something out of the alien movies.

These style helmets, combined with a set of aerobars on your bike give you maximum aero flow through the air and help shave precious seconds of your split times.

If we were to pick just one aero helmet that’s solid value and feature rich then it would be the Bell Javelin

It comes with a built-in removal visor so no need for sunnies when you wear it, and at only 380 grams in weight, it’s as light as you can get for something this safe.

Cycling Shoes:

A good pair of cycling shoes should definitely be part of your kit list for your first race. 

With these comes a bit of added expense in the form of special pedals for your bike but it’s worth every cent of the investment.

Go online and you could spend days investigating cycling shoes.

Our favorites are the Louis Garneau Tri X-Lite shoes.

We wrote a detailed review of these shoes a while ago and still stand over them as the best value triathlon shoes out there.

Sturdy but comfortable and well ventilated so no need to worry about overheating feet and nasty blisters that have the potential to ruin your run.


Triathlon Running Gear

what to wear triathlon running

Next on our list is the essential kit you need for the run section of your triathlon race.

A lot of personal preference comes into play here:

Do I need a Trisuit?

Will you wear a full triathlon suit throughout the race or opt for separate tri shorts, a running top or a tri singlet. The choice for your triathlon outfit is endless and it’s really up to you which direction you choose.

As mentioned earlier we prefer a tri suit. 

Because you are wearing everything for your race under your wetsuit from the starting whistle you want to make sure everything stays in place.

A good quality tri suit with ample padding for the bike but not too much that it hampers your run performance is the key here.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the best tri suit is the De Soto Sport. In terms of quality and affordability, it’s right up there with the more expensive kit online but you get all the features you need without the huge dent in your bank account.

Some features to look out for when choosing a tri suit are the material its made of.

  • Is it breathable?
  • How are the seams held together – stitched, seamless or glued? 
  • What is the padding like?

Remember you have to wear this one the bike as well as for the run so make sure it’s not over padded or you will end up waddling down the road…

What Runners do I need?

Another great question and one with as many answers are there are choices out there.

For us, it comes down to a few basic things.

Weight – We always look for something lightweight and breathable. For sprint distances this isn’t so much of a problem but when you start working your way up to longer distance races weight and breathability really come into play. 

Fit  – There was a trend that started some time ago in running circles that the runner itself should feel like part of your foot. This is still the case and having a sturdy shoe with a snug – but not over tight fit is essential.

Ease of use – By this, we mean how easy is it to get the shoes on. Remember you are coming off the bike and will already have sweaty feet so you need something you can quickly glide your feet into and get back out racing.

 

We wrote a review on elastic laces (sometimes called speed laces) a short while ago and the difference they made to our transition times so go check that out.

As far as we are concerned these type of elasticated laces are a must for any serious competitor.  Fand for the very small investment, you would be mad not to get yourself some.

If we were to pick just one pair of runners for our triathlon races we would go straight for the Asics Gel Nimbus. Once you buy a pair of these there is nothing else out there that can compare.

Socks for Triathlon

Another question we get a lot is from beginners who aren’t sure if they should wear socks or not for a triathlon.

Again this comes down to personal preference.

We don’t tend to bother anymore but when we started out we always wore them. It takes a bit of getting used to cycling and running without socks and we suggest you use them when you start and gradually move on.

One of the first challenges you get with socks on race day is trying to get your wet feet into them after the swim.

Adrenaline is already pumping through your veins, your hands are most likely cold and numb from the water. Struggling with a pair of socks drains precious seconds from your overall race time that can be avoided.

For longer races, you may look at the option of wearing compression socks to help with circulation. You will see a very wide variety of these on Olympic distances races and up to half and full Ironman races.

If you are a sock person then get something dry with like these ones from Fox River


Wrapping Up

We could talk all day about what to wear in a triathlon race but hopefully, we have covered the essentials here.

You will see all sorts of kit and style on race day but before you go out and buy any of it have a serious think about how it can help you get closer to or beat your personal best.

Try to avoid the shiny object syndrome because the chances are you won’t need the kit anyway.

There is no point in looking cool if you are going slower than your previous race.

Try everything out a few times before race day to break the gear in a bit. Get yourself a decent triathlon bag to put everything in and get out there racing…


I competed in my first sprint distance race with a borrowed bike and helmet, a cheap wetsuit designed for surfing but didn’t have any goggles, old runners and a pair of mismatched shorts and a t-shirt. 

I didn’t break any world records and couldn’t swim properly but I had the best time and have never looked back.

Sure, my times have improved, my kit has changed numerous times and everything I own is as aero as it can possibly be – except for maybe myself 🙂 but I love to tri and always will…

Cheers