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How to Build Your First Triathlon Gear Closet

triathlon gear for beginners

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Some athletes are intimidated by triathlon solely for the amount of equipment and gear they need to acquire to compete in the sport, and that is even before they start adding up the cost! Sure, there are those out there that spend thousands of dollars on the best and latest equipment, however, many beginner athletes are not ready to make that type of investment. 

If you have been to any triathlon race before, you have likely seen all types of gear setups – from those wearing a swimsuit on a mountain bike to those in a tri suit on an aero bike. It demonstrates that this sport can be done with any number of different equipment setups, but where to start?

Jump to: Swim Gear | Bike Gear | Run Gear

This guide is designed for beginner triathletes and is a guide to only the gear necessary to complete your first race on any budget! It is important to note, most gear in this sport is based on personal preference. If you find something that works for you or makes you comfortable and is race legal, use it! 

Triathlon Swim Gear

Triathlon Swim Gear for Beginners

Pool Training Must Haves

Goggles

Any pair of swim goggles will do as you are getting started. Most will come with a few different nose pieces so you can adjust the fit to your face. 

Swimsuit

A tighter training swimsuit like a jammer or speedo for men, or a one-piece swimsuit for women is recommended for swim training. Go to a local swim/tri store and try a few on to get the correct fit if you can, otherwise if ordering online consider sizing down slightly for a more aerodynamic fit. 

Optional Pool Swim Gear

Most pools will have these items available for free use, so no need to buy or bring your own!

Fins

Fins can be used for kick drills or to work on your kick technique while swimming. No need to invest in these if you are just getting started. 

Pull Buoy

A lot of triathlon training plans will incorporate pulling drills or intervals into training. This tool helps keep your legs high in the water, and allows you to focus on arm strength and technique. Most pools will have these available for use, however if you want to BYOB (bring your own buoy), here is a great option.

Kickboard

Kickboards are another great tool for improving your kick on the swim. Most pools will have these available for use, otherwise check out the option below. 

Open Water Swim Gear

Goggles

Consider a tinted or mirrored version of the goggles you like for the pool. This can help with sighting on sunny swim days. See a couple of recommendations below or check out more goggles for open-water swimming.

Wetsuit

One of the most asked questions and difficult decisions – the wetsuit. Wetsuits are not required to race (unless the water temperature is too cold), although most athletes like to wear them for the buoyancy advantages they offer in the swim, especially in longer distance races like the 70.3 and 140.6. Here are a couple of recommendations when choosing a triathlon wetsuit.

  1. Try it on – many bike/tri shops offer samples to try on. Call around or head over to a local shop to see if they offer this service – it will give you a better idea of what feels good and what size to order.
  2. Go sleeveless – Unless you are planning on cold water swimming (<60 degrees F), I highly recommend a short sleeve or sleeveless wetsuit. You will get the most use out of it for training and racing, and they are less constrictive and will help you avoid overheating. 
  3. Consider a used wetsuit – Check out your local Facebook groups, marketplace, or Craigslist. Many people buy wetsuits thinking they will use them and end up selling them after a few uses. This is a great way to save money – just make sure the seller guarantees they never peed in it 😉

Swim Cap

They are all the same – literally. Buy a bright color for safety when open water swimming!

Safety Buoy

Another safety measure for open-water swimming that should not go overlooked is having a safety buoy for open water swimming. Most of these have a dry pocket for your keys and personal things so you don’t have to leave them on the shore while swimming. 

Triathlon Bike Gear

Triathlon Bike Gear for Beginners

Bike Must Haves

Pedals

Most bikes will come equipped with flat (non-clipless) pedals attached – which is also the best option for beginner triathletes for a few reasons.

  1. No need to buy new shoes/cleats and learn how to use them
  2. You save time changing shoes in T2
  3. You likely already have a pair of shoes that will work (run/cross-training shoes)

If you are familiar with clipless pedals or want to invest in some, below are some popular options for beginner triathletes. 

Cycling Shoes

The most important trait of a triathlon cycling shoe is comfort (not that the shoe color matches your bike). Try on your first pair of cycling shoes, and spend time training in whatever shoe you plan to race in to ensure that it is comfortable for the length of your race. 

Also, make sure your shoe is compatible with the types of clipless pedal cleats you will be installing if you choose to. Bike shoes can be as simple as a pair of running shoes used with flat pedals to triathlon-specific bike shoes that are easy to take on/off as you are pedaling for faster transitions. 

Bike Clothing

Depending on how much cycling you are doing, a breathable pair of shorts and a t-shirt can work for training and short races. For longer distances, you will want to get a pair of bike shorts or bibs with a chamois and a cycling jersey with pockets to carry nutrition and personal items on longer rides. 

Helmet

All helmets you find at a bike store, and most you can find online, will be race legal and have the latest safety technology. To start out, I recommend a basic cycling helmet so that you can use it for training, casual rides, and racing. 

As you advance into the sport, consider an aerodynamic helmet to help improve your speed on the bike leg. Always replace a helmet after a crash or every 5 years to ensure it maintains its integrity. 

Extra tubes, inflation, patches, etc.

Depending on the type of bike tires you are using (tube/tubeless), you will need to carry a variety of tools in case of a flat tire during training or racing. The tools you bring will depend more on personal preference and what you are comfortable using. Here are a few options to get you started:

Inflator: Carrying C02 and an inflator is faster and will weigh less, but may take some getting used to for new riders. Otherwise, a small bike pump works great!

Tubes: Make sure you check the side of your tire for the correct size tube if you are not using tubeless tires. 

Patches: A cheap and easy option that works great! Example: Skabs

Make sure you know how to change your tire. I repeat, make sure you know how to change your tire. Practice this before training rides and race day – below is a video to help if you are learning!

Bike tire changing video I learned from years ago!

Other considerations

What type of bike

For your first race, any type of bike that is in good shape will do, especially if you are racing a shorter distance (sprint/Olympic). For longer races, a road bike or tri bike is highly recommended. Get your bike checked out by a mechanic for safety, and/or get it tuned up before any race.

Bottle cages & water bottles

Be sure to attach enough water bottle cages and bring enough water bottles for your race distance, unless nutrition is offered on the bike course and you plan to use it. When you are starting out, you will likely not realize much speed benefit by reducing the water/cage weight on your bike, so any will do.

Nutrition storage

Have a plan on how to carry enough nutrition (gels/bars/etc.) while on the bike course. Since you should be practicing your race nutrition plan in training, this is also a good time to practice where it will be held on your bike. This can be as simple as placing the nutrition in your bike jersey pocket, carrying it in a box in your bike frame, or attaching it to your bike with tape or straps. 

Triathlon Run Gear

Triathlon Run Gear for Beginners

Run Must Haves

Shoes

A good pair of running shoes is a must for any distance race. Don’t guess on running shoes – the best advice I have is to go to a local running-specific store to have them examine your gait and foot size, and tell them a bit about your training/racing plan to get a few recommended options. 

This is typically free at running-specific stores, and I have never received a bad running shoe recommendation with this method. Another good addition to any pair of running shoes for a triathlete is bungee laces – these will save you valuable time in transition. 

Clothing

Any comfortable workout clothing you have can work for run training – no need to invest in anything too fancy when you are just starting out. As you finish more races, you will also acquire a great collection of training t-shirts from them!

Optional Run Gear

Number belt

Most new triathletes choose to use the pins provided to pin their race number to the shirt they plan to run in. A number belt is another option that may be a bit more comfortable and save time depending on your race day clothing plan. This is one place you can choose the color to match your outfit – they are all pretty much the same.

Run Hat

This is another place to choose a color that suits you and your outfit. You will likely want a run hat for race day to keep you cool. 

Other Triathlon Gear

Tri Suits

Many beginner triathletes will choose to wear their training gear (swimsuit, bike shorts, t-shirt, etc.) for their first race. Removing all clothing to change mid-race is not legal, so a tri suit is a great alternative that can help with comfort and time savings while racing. 

They come in many colors and span a large price range; so like with the wetsuit, go try a few on before making a purchase. Also, if you are a member of a tri club, they will often offer a club-branded option throughout the season. If you still have no idea where to start – check out these options.

Tech: Watches/Heart Rate Monitors/Bike Computers/Power Meters

Although these items are definitely not necessary for a first-time triathlete, they can be useful training and racing tools that will help you progress over time. Some triathlon coaches may require these items for their training methodology, however, it is certainly possible to train for and complete your first race without any of these. 

A more in-depth review of tech is a topic for another article. Below are a couple of items for a beginner triathlete who wants to record their workouts and learn from their metrics:

Fitness Watch Option: Garmin Forerunner 265

Heart Rate Monitor Option: Wahoo Tickr

Bike Computer Option: Garmin Edge 130 

Most advanced watches have similar functionality to bike computers. Consider getting a multisport watch that does everything you want to save on cost here. 

Power Meter: Power meters can be expensive and bike-specific, so it is recommended you complete a few races and lock in your training/racing bike choice for the long term before looking for one! Power pedals are another great option for beginner/intermediate triathletes so you combine the pedal and power meter cost into one.

My Gear Setup as a 7-Season Triathlete

Triathlon Gear for Beginners by Ryan Grange

Note: None of the brands or gear in this article are sponsored, these are recommendations based on years of trying different things! All items posted above are either gender neutral or have both a men’s and women’s version you can find with a quick Google search!

Ryan Grange Triathlon Endurance Coach
Ryan Grange
Triathlon Coach at Z2 Endurance Coaching | Website

Ryan Grange is a USAT-certified triathlon coach and the owner of Z2 Endurance Coaching. He has been racing for over 10 years and coaching beginner triathletes for 2 years. He is passionate about training and getting new people into the sport of triathlon, and even more passionate about making his run shoes match his outfits.