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One of the most common questions among triathlon beginners is “what do I wear?” The short answer is a triathlon suit (or some version of one.)
Triathlon suits, otherwise known as “tri suits,” are popular garments that are made specifically for multisport events. But what makes tri suits so special? And do you need one?
If you’re looking for a new tri suit, see our product recommendations for the best triathlon suits by gender or learn more about what to look for below.
What is a Triathlon Suit?
A triathlon suit is a specialized type of apparel that’s designed to be worn throughout the swim, bike, and run. A must-have for competitive triathletes, tri suits are an investment that delivers on performance, utility, and comfort.
You can get away with basic swimwear and cycling gear for your first few triathlons. But as you progress in the sport, a triathlon suit can pay dividends in improving your overall experience.
Available in one and two-piece configurations, tri suits are specially engineered garments that accommodate all three disciplines of triathlon, The perfect balance of low-drag, quick-drying swimwear, minimalist cycling shorts, and aerodynamic race suit.
What Qualities Make the Best Tri Suits?
The best triathlon suits are performance-minded, form-fitting cuts made from high-tech materials. Key features include:
- Compressive, aerodynamic race fit
- Premium, fast-drying material
- UPF-rated sun protection fabric
- Low-profile chamois pad for cycling
- Pockets to hold gels and fuel
While some athletes prefer a one-piece tri suit for their aerodynamic, high-performance features, two-piece tri suits (consisting of tri shorts and a tri top) are a popular alternative. Many triathletes will have both options for training and race-day apparel.
What are the Best Tri Suit Brands?
Whether you opt for a one or two-piece tri suit, this is one type of apparel that you avoid budget options. In short, you’ll get what you pay for in terms of quality and fit.
To help narrow your choices, here are some of the best triathlon suit brands that we recommend:
These are all reputable name brands that are well-known for producing high-quality triathlon apparel.
What’s the Difference Between a Triathlon Wetsuit and Tri Suit?
While the name is often confused with a triathlon wetsuit, a tri suit is a different type of garment that’s intended to be worn underneath a wetsuit.
Triathlon wetsuits, which are only used for the swim leg of a triathlon, are made from a thermogenic neoprene layer that provides greater warmth and buoyancy. As a triathlon base layer of sorts, tri suits are designed to be worn all throughout the triathlon, including the bike and run leg.
In events that don’t allow wetsuits, triathlon suits may be worn on their own or with a skinsuit, which is a swim-specific garment that’s not as thick as a wetsuit but has a similarly smooth surface that glides through the water.
This leads us to the advantages and benefits of triathlon suits for race day performance.
What are the Benefits of Triathlon Suits?
When upgrading from swim jammers, cycling jerseys, and other ad-hoc triathlon wear, a new tri suit can be transformative. But not just for speed and performance, but also for utility, convenience, and comfort.
With the latest advancements in triathlon suits, the overall drag coefficient can be significantly improved with a tight fit that forms to the athlete’s body. This helps maximize aerodynamics on the bike as well as hydrodynamics in the water.
Studies have shown that body suits that cover the torso and legs can reduce drag and improve the performance of swimmers. To what degree depends on many variables. Because many tri suits have pockets for cycling and running fuel, certain tri suits have features that can ultimately compromise swim speed.
Another major reason you don’t want to go cheap on a tri suit is the material quality and how it factors into wind resistance on the bike. Well-made triathlon suits use quality fabric and race cuts that minimizes wind resistance while cycling and running.
Also, because tri suits cover the torso, men don’t have to worry about chest and back hair contributing to drag. This can be beneficial from both a swimming and cycling point of view.
Depending on your current gear setup, a tri-suit can dramatically improve your transition efficiency by eliminating extra steps in gearing up for the bike or run.
For instance, if you’re having to slip on a cycling jersey after the swim or a pair of shorts over your swim bottoms, a triathlon suit upgrade can help shave time off your transitions.
Triathlon suits are rated by Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), which is similar to SPF but specific to the fabric. This metric indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) the suit allows to reach your skin – the higher the more protective.
Most performance tri suits are rated between UPF 30 and UPF 50. The difference is minimal, as a UPF 50 tri suit will block 98% of UV radiation from the sun while UPF 30 will block out 97% of UV rays.
It’s the small details that make tri suits ideal for triathlon events. In addition to the drag-reducing, aerodynamic features mention above, tri suits have minimalist chamois pads for cycling comfort.
Compared to a typical cycling short, the chamois is smaller and faster drying, making it suitable for both cycling and running. Additionally, well-made triathlon suits are engineered with a gentle, taped edge that minimizes any tightness or sausage-like effect around the arms and thighs.
Tri suits are often tailored with a couple of small fuel pockets to store gels, chews, and other nutrition needed for the bike and the run. These pockets provide added utility for long-course races and are often positioned around the mid-back area.
Because these features can influence drag and aerodynamics, triathlon suit designers have made these pockets more discrete and less obtrusive against air or water.
Do You Have More Triathlon Suit Questions?
If you have additional questions about triathlon suits or a favorite product that you recommend, let us know and submit our contact form. We’re glad to receive input from the triathlon community, whether it be from beginners or elite athletes.
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 Mollendorf JC, Termin AC 2nd, Oppenheim E, Pendergast DR. Effect of swim suit design on passive drag. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004 Jun;36(6):1029-35. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000128179.02306.57. PMID: 15179173.
Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler