With swim, bike and run, triathlon requires quite a bit of gear. From wetsuits to bikes, running shoes and apparel, we take you through the beginner’s triathlon kit for when you’re starting out.
Triathlon is one of the most exhilarating, satisfying and addictive endurance sports you could choose, but with three disciplines to consider, there’s no denying that it takes a lot more gear to get started than when just taking up swimming, cycling or running.
In fact, the need for equipment from your very first race can be common triathlon barrier to overcome, but whether you’re on a budget or want to splash out, these are the things you’ll need to get started in the sport.
Essential beginner’s triathlon kit
Here are the things that you absolutely can’t do without for racing triathlon and are the must-haves for your beginner’s triathlon kit.
If you’re racing in open water – which means every Ironman or Ironman 70.3 event – and the water temperature is anything less than positively tropical, you’ll need a swimming wetsuit for insulation. It’s not just about helping you acclimatise to cold water swimming though, you’ll also get the benefit of added buoyancy, which will help you swim faster.
The thermal effects of a triathlon wetsuit work in just the same way as ones designed for other sports – the neoprene material traps a thin layer of water between the skin and the suit which is warmed by your body heat. Unlike a surfing or watersports wetsuit, a triathlon wetsuit is made of much stretchier and often thinner rubber, chosen to help promote a natural swim stroke.
Most triathlon wetsuits also feature a slick rubber outer coating that aids hydrodynamics by reducing drag and decreasing water absorption, so you’re not held back by unnecessary weight. There will also be thicker, more buoyant areas that aid your swimming position and thinner areas for increased freedom of movement.
Prices vary massively from simple entry-level suits that will do the job to extremely expensive high-performance suits that feel like a second skin. Follow our guide to fitting your wetsuit properly to ensure you’re getting the maximum benefit from wearing your wetsuit.
A good pair of goggles is essential for any triathlon. If possible, try on a few in your local sports store to find the pair that best suits the shape of your eye sockets. A good fitting tip is to press them against your face without using the strap – if they stay put without too much uncomfortable suction, you’ve found a good match.
If you’re swimming in open water, a wide field of vision will help to sight while tinted or polarised lenses will help reduce glare on the water. Zoggs Predator Flex has been our go-to pair for the last 10 years.
For pool-based triathlons, you might want something that fits a little closer – similar in looks and shape to the ‘socket’ type used by Olympic swimmers, which are less likely to flip up when pushing hard off the end of the pool.
While some local events may allow the use of mountain bikes, for the majority of triathlons you’ll either need a road bike or a triathlon/time trial bike, both of which have narrow fast-rolling tyres, so you get the maximum speed for the effort you put in.
A road bike will usually have curved ‘drop’ handlebars with combined gear/brake levers and a comfortable upright position created by a more relaxed geometry. Road bikes are light, handle well and are also suitable for a range of cycling activities outside of triathlon competition such as group rides or sportives. You can also add some clip-on tribars, which will allow you to adopt a more aerodynamic position for triathlon races.
A triathlon/time trial bike features an aerodynamically optimised frame with a more aggressive, set-forward geometry and slim cockpit with tri extensions that provide comfort in the ‘aero tuck’ position adopted during triathlons. Unless you’re investing in electronic gearing, the brake levers will be located on the outer ‘bullhorn’ section of the bars while gear changes will be taken care of via shifters on the end of the extensions. Tri bikes tend to be heavier and have poorer handling than road bikes but can’t be beaten for flat-out speed.
Whichever you choose, the prices range from affordable to out-of-this-world expensive. Be careful at both ends of the spectrum – if you don’t invest enough, you’ll get poor performance and/or durability and need to upgrade pretty quickly. If you’re shopping in the upper end of the market, you’ll find that the performance differences between models become quite slim while the price can vary significantly.
We advocate the use of a bike helmet for every single ride, and while that’s a choice in training, it’s a must-have for triathlon competition. In fact, you could be disqualified if you even touch your bike in transition before doing up your helmet.
While helmet choice used to be limited to ‘open’ designs with lots of venting or teardrop-shaped time trial helmets, there’s a growing market of ‘aero road’ designs that are perhaps most suitable for triathlon thanks to a good balance of comfort, aerodynamics and airflow. The HJC Furion, Bontrager Ballista, Specialized Evade and Giro Vanquish are all examples of this helmet sub-genre.
If you’re determined to favour aerodynamics over rider comfort, a full aero helmet could be the choice for you. Traditionally identified by a visor at the front and a long, pointed tail at the rear, there is now a selection of different shapes out there – such as the stubby Kask Bambino – which suit different riders’ aero positions on the bike. The only problem is, you might actually be adding drag if you pick a time trial helmet without careful consideration of your riding position and how its shape will interact with the contours of your body.
Bike spares kit
With your bike and helmet chosen, you’ll need a few supplies to keep yourself on the road. A spares pack is essential and – provided you’re using a regular clincher or tubeless tyre setup – it’ll need to include a spare inner tube, puncture patches and tyre levers.
You’ll also need something to re-inflate your tyres in case of a flat – a mini pump is perfect for training and we’d recommend it for racing too, though many athletes pack just a one-use CO2 canister for race day. A small multitool with a selection of hex keys is also a great idea in case any bolts loosen while out riding.
Drinks and nutrition carriers
Some top-end triathlon bikes come with built-in reservoirs for drink and storage boxes for both nutrition and spares. For the rest of us, having somewhere to carry fluid is a must. This can be as simple as a couple of bottle cages with regular drinks bottles, which are convenient but do create more drag, or a more aerodynamic Between The Arms (BTA) option such as those from Xlab, Torhans or Profile Design.
If you’re racing longer than sprint distance triathlon, you’ll definitely need somewhere to store your gels, energy bars or whatever other nutrition you want to carry. A top-tube nutrition bag – sometimes referred to as a bento box – is ideal for this, giving easy access while riding.
A good pair of running shoes is essential for triathlon’s final discipline but selecting something that’s so simple on the face of things can be incredibly tough due to the sheer number of manufacturers and models, each with performance and comfort claims.
Whether you opt for a minimalist pair or something with plenty of cushioning, a good fit is of paramount importance. Trying on shoes towards the end of the day or after a long bike ride will simulate the swelling that your feet will go through during your triathlon, giving you a more accurate sense of sizing.
Check out our How To Pick The Right Triathlon Running Shoes guide to narrow the search in finding what might work best for you.
Great to have beginner’s triathlon kit
These items aren’t strictly necessary for you to complete a triathlon – so you don’t have to rush out and buy them for your beginner’s triathlon kit bag – but they’ll certainly make the process more comfortable and efficient.
A tri suit is something of a hybrid between swimming, cycling and running kit, designed to be slippery in the water, offer some padding on the bike and be comfortable and supportive enough for running. While you could use discipline-specific apparel during your race – and should certainly have them in your kit drawer for training – a tri suit means quicker transitions, an easier race day all round and of course, you’ll look the part too.
There are various designs on offer with different sleeve lengths and zip placements to allow extra airflow. Tri suits with short sleeves have become more popular than sleeveless types in recent years and bring the dual benefits of improved aerodynamics and protection from the sun.
Not only does a pair of sunglasses reduce squinting into the sun, but they also protect your eyes from grit, road spray and bugs. Many cycling sunglasses come with interchangeable lenses including clear for darker days, red for low light and mirrored for sunny conditions. There are also adaptive, photochromic transition lenses available if you want to remove pre-ride guesswork.
When it comes to the style of the glasses, a rimless design will maximise vision while bendable arms will mean you can get a snug fit for your head shape. Some styles also feature vents in the lenses to help reduce the likelihood of the glasses steaming up.
Bike shoes and clipless pedals
There’s nothing wrong with equipping your bike with flat pedals and cycling in a pair of trainers during your event but investing clipless pedals and bike shoes can improve bike handling, safety, comfort and – when you’re really working hard – increase power transfer.
In a clipless system, a plastic cleat is bolted to the sole of the shoe, which securely clips-in to the pedal, keeping your feet locked in place until you twist each foot to release it. This means your feet can’t slip off the pedals in the wet or when going over bumps. It also means that if you concentrate on pulling back and up with your feet – such as when climbing out the saddle – you’re able to drive the bike forward as your foot moves upward as well as downward.
When it comes to the shoes themselves, there are plenty of road-orientated models on the market with all manner of retention systems. Triathlon-specific shoes will tend to be simpler, featuring a Velcro strap that can be held in the open position as well as a heel-loop – both of which aid a speedy transition – while some might have more venting or drainage holes to help dry wet feet after the swim.