What is the basic gear needed for a triathlon? It is a good question, especially considering the number of equipment choices as you begin the sport.
At any triathlon, you will see a share of $5,000 triathlon bikes, and high-end, $650 wetsuits. The fact, though, is that the vast majority of triathletes are doing the sport using gear they already had, or have invested just a small amount in order to enjoy the triathlon.
Triathletes are welcoming by nature, and triathlon race directors want as much participation as possible – from beginners and elites alike. You can use this useful checklist to make sure you have everything in order for your race day, but you don’t need to overdo it. Here is an overview of the basic gear you will need, leg-by-leg.
The swim leg is the one that many new triathletes get nervous about, but in reality the gear for it is quite straightforward. Most triathletes wear a pair of triathlon shorts (like bike shorts but made for all three tri legs) on the bottom, and females wear a “singlet” on top, while men can wear a singlet or nothing on top. A singlet is a simple triathlon-specific workout top. Some triathletes will opt for a triathlon suit, but you really don’t need to spend that much.
You will want swim goggles, and the race will typically provide you with a swim cap. For warm-water swims, that might be it.
If you are swimming in cooler water – early season, oceans, or northern climates – you may want to consider a wetsuit. You can borrow or rent one, or you can buy one. There is a very wide price range on wetsuits, but usually for about $250 you can get an entry-level triathlon-specific wetsuit. If you aren’t sure if you need one, check with your race director because the answer is often race-specific. Most races we see have some people with wetsuits, and some without.
The bike leg is where you can really go crazy on price, or you can literally spend nothing. It is all about your goals (and your budget!) and how competitive you want to be. In any sprint triathlon, you will see everything when it comes to the bike – people on high-end tri bikes, on good road bikes, on mountain bikes, and on the comfort bike intended to cruise around the neighborhood. There is nothing wrong with using the bike from the back corner of your garage to do your first tri – just be sure the tires are pumped up and that it is in good working order.
If you want to be a bit more competitive though, and see how well you can do in your age group, we recommend using a road or tri bike. The gearing and wheels will be most conducive to having a good, fast bike leg. If you don’t own one, consider borrowing from someone who is about your size, or buying used. In a typical shorter race, we would estimate that 80%+ of riders will be on a road or tri bike. In an Ironman, that figure would probably be 100%.
Don’t forget about a bike helmet – they are usually mandatory – and a good pair of sunglasses to keep bugs and debris out of your eyes. If the bike you are using has clipped or clipless pedals, don’t forget the compatible shoes. As for attire, you will typically just wear the triathlon shorts and top that you wore in the swim (or for men, you may put the top on after the swim).
The run is probably the most straightforward leg of them all. You simply wear the running shoes that you have been training in, and wear the tri shorts and shirt or singlet that you wore on the bike leg. It is as simple as that. Most people don’t have to spend a penny to do the run leg of a race – simply wear what you would at a neighborhood 5K, or on a weekend run.
There you have it. You don’t have to plunk down hundreds of dollars to do a triathlon. If you try it once and get serious about the sport, you can consider investing more. At first, though, it is all about getting out there and having fun!
For additional tips on what to buy and what not to buy, check out The Rookie Triathlon's super helpful blog post, Beginner Triathlon Gear Shopping Check List.
Finally, thank you to Paul from completetri.com for helping out as a guest writer for this blog post. Complete Tri has a wealth of resources including gear reviews, tips, and advice for triathletes of all abilities. All of their information is free, and a portion of their revenues goes back to community triathlon clubs like ours.
Austin Triathlon Club is a 100% volunteer, member-run club launched in October 2017. Austin Tri Club aims to improve the physical fitness and mental well-being of all members of the Austin community through the promotion and encouragement of the sport of triathlon. Click here to read more about our mission and values.
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