getting started to tri: beginner gear

Triathlon can be super overwhelming. There is all the gear that these crazy people (also known as me) use for not just one, but three (!) sports. How on Earth do you make heads or tails of what you need? I’m hoping to help with what I think can be a very basic list of items to have if you are a beginner testing the waters of triathlon, but extras if you find you really love it.

Swimming: Beginner

  • Swim suit – Go for a quality suit like TYR or Speedo which will last you much longer. It will be cheaper in the end than a cheaper suit which will wear quicker and need to be replaced more often. You can find them at a discount at places like SwimOutlet.com. Buy the suit for the size you are right now. Purchasing a bigger size will cause the suit to drag in the water and actually wear out faster. If you purchase a suit that’s too small or your ideal racing size, yeah, good luck getting that on.
  • Goggles – You want a good, quality pair of goggles. I use the TYR Special Ops. The lens curve means that I don’t have weird corners in open water swims that would happen with flat goggles. Either way, get a good pair. You should be able to press the eyes sockets to your face with light pressure and they should stay on and make a good seal without the use of the strap.
  • Cap – If you are a female or male with hair I’d recommend a swim cap. This helps streamline you and save your hair from all the chlorine damage that will happen. I personally prefer the latex caps over the thicker silicone ones, but find your preference.

Cycling – Beginner

  • Bike – This can be borrowed, a hybrid or something you found on craigslist (seriously). If you are starting off with a sprint and seeing if you like the sport, you don’t have to go and drop $5k on a fancy triathlon bike. A regular road bike will me much easier to ride for triathlon than a mountain or hybrid, but if you are just trying out triathlon, a bike with two wheels can work. Just take whatever you have to your local bike shop or tri shop and get a bike fit. Once you decide you like triathlon, you can invest in a nicer bike in time. But for sprints or shorter distances, if you are just getting into the sport, make sure this is something you are going to enjoy before investing in an expensive bike. On the flip side, if your first triathlon is an Ironman (I don’t kid, I know several people who have done this) buy the tri bike and don’t both with the road bike for now. It will make a huge impact over the longer distance.
  • Helmet – Seems like a no brainer, but this is important. Do not ride your bike, anywhere, without a helmet. I don’t care if you feel uncool, the most important thing you have is your head and you can be seriously injured falling over while standing still or crashing at a very low speed. No exceptions to the helmet rule, okay? That being said find one that’s comfortable, gets good airflow and has a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sticker ensuring it can be used during USAT sanctioned events. I really like my Specialized helmet. I also like bright helmets, it’s much easier to be seen on the road the brighter you are.
  • Saddle – This can make or break your ride experience. Take your time and spend the money on a good saddle for YOU (even if you are borrowing the bike, this is a must as you can always take the saddle with you when you give the bike back.) Find a bike or tri shop that lets you test out saddles and try them out. Yes, ask your friends what they ride, but every butt and sit bone is different, so you may hate your friends saddle. I personally ride ISM but have lots of friends also happy on Cobb and Selle Italia saddles.
  • Bike or Tri Shorts – A good pair of bike or tri shorts can make the difference in the happiness of your ride when paired with the saddle that makes you happy. That being said, I don’t ride anymore in bike shorts, I’m always in tri shorts because I personally want to train in what I race in. Once I started wearing my Coeur Sports tri shorts I literally haven’t worn anything else. Not having a seam along the sides has made a difference in my comfort level. You should check them out! Your ride can also be aided with the use of ride glide or chamois cream, which is sort of a lubricant or paste for your, ahem, parts. Some people are great without it, others are more comfortable with it. I use both Ho Ha Ride Glide and Endurance Shield Chamois Cream (but not together.)
  • Bike Pump – Stop by your local bike store or tri shop for a bike pump. You should check your tires every time before you go out to make sure they are at the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. The pump we have I think is also a Specialized and it’s not super fancy, has kept us going for several years already!
  • Flat Repair Kit – If you are cycling, you should know how to replace a tire tube because at some point you will flat. This should include levers, spare tube, and somehow to inflate the new tube (hand pump or CO2 cartridges.) I also carry a patch kit in case I’ve already replaced my tube and I’m having a very bad luck cycling day. Your local bike or tri shop should easily help you put a kit together! They might also have a free clinic on bike maintenance, it never hurts to ask.

Running – Beginner

  • Running Shoes – Take the time to go to your local running store and get a good pair of running shoes. They should be comfortable and not tight. Yes, you will probably buy a pair that is between half and a full size up from your normal shoes. Your feet will expand and the extra room will make a big difference in your comfort level. That being said they shouldn’t fit like clown shoes. Take the time and get a good pair, don’t just buy what your friends are wearing or the ones you think look pretty. These are a piece of equipment, not just a fashion statement…
  • Running Clothes – Make sure it’s a breathable fabric and you are appropriately dressed. You don’t need to go overboard like my closet, just have a few key pieces that you like and take care of them. Once you get more comfortable with running, expand what you own. The key to running clothes is that you shouldn’t be thinking about them and they shouldn’t distract you from your run. I personally love running gear from Coeur Sports, Oiselle and I wear some Lululemon. I spend a lot of time working out, so my gear becomes an investment. But I also have friends who love their pieces from places like Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sports Authority. Just find gear that makes you happy.
    • Some basic pieces you want to include are shorts, capris and/or pants, tank, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt and lightweight rain jacket, supportive sports bra if you’re female, as well as exercise friendly undies. Remember to think about sweat wicking material, so no cotton. You can really have fun here with colors and patterns.

Triathlon Gear – Beginner

  • Racing Kit – This is something that will make race day easier. For shorter races you don’t get to change between events so you need something that you can swim, bike and run in. You can do a two piece kit or a one piece kit and it’s really up to you what it looks like. There are a lot of companies out there to choose from. I like Coeur Sports, but for women there are other great options like Smashfest Queen, Betty Designs and for both men and women you can do something like Zoot, 2XU, Pearl Izumi, Louis Garneau, etc. Try the kit on and make sure it fits snug but isn’t restricting. This is another important piece that should basically disappear – you don’t want to have to fuss with your outfit while you are out on the course. Make sure you are comfy!

The only additional thing I would recommend is fuel and liquids and how you prefer to carry them. Every time you are exercising you should at least have fluids with you to keep from dehydrating. But how you carry them and what kind of fuel and fluid you carry is completely up to you!

This is pretty much how I started and as I learned I enjoyed the sport I expanded my gear as I went. This is a very basic list to get you started. I’ll follow up with some other gear you can purchase as your enjoyment of the sport grows, as well as how I carry my nutrition for training and racing.

While triathlon can be an expensive sport, you can get into it fairly easily. Stay with the basics and make sure that what you have works for you!

One Comment on “getting started to tri: beginner gear

  1. What a great way to help out beginner triathletes Heidi!! For triathlon gear, I would also recommend a number belt, so the athlete doesn’t have to pin their race number to their kit and have it drag in the water. 🙂

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