Triathlon Essentials

I am sure this post has been done multiple times by a hundred other bloggers, but I have had several questions lately (both IRL and on-line) from people who are thinking about a triathlon or are getting ready to compete in their first tri. So, I thought I would put my own spin on the absolute must have equipment for a triathlon.

It is a little long, so happily skim along or maybe even reference back as needed?!


  • Goggles – Non-negotiable. You must have goggles if you want to see in the water. I use the Speedo Women’s Vanquisher that I got from a local tri shop for about $20. You can get the same pair at right now for $12.
  • Swim Cap – Unless you have no hair, I can’t imagine ANY swim workout, without a swim cap. Gentlemen, you may not need a cap for training, but most races will require both men & women to wear a cap in an open water swim. In that case, they will typically give you a cap in the color of your wave. You can also pick up cheap swim caps from any tri shop or sporting good store for less than $10. I am not picky about the style or color of my cap and usually train in recycled caps from past races. Tip: I keep my *dry* swim caps in a plastic baggie with a little baby powder in it. This makes caps last longer and not so sticky so its not as likely to pull your hair when you put it on!
  • Swim Optionals: Fins – I have this pair, also from Swim Outlet. We use them a lot in Master’s swim and you can really FLY with them on. Other swim optionals: paddles (for pulling…I have a pair that I never use), kick board (most pools  have these) and pull buoys (again, most pools have them for everyone’s use).


  • A bike – Um, obviously. But I want to talk a little about this because I think many people are intimidated by triathlons because they think they need to buy an expensive bike to be able to compete. I know, because this is what I thought! My friends talked me into a race before I had a “race” bike and my first summer (3 sprint distance races) I used my mountain bike. I did change the mountain bike tires to “slicks” so that I wouldn’t have so much traction on the road and I put cages on the pedals (similar to what is on a spin bike) so that I could slide my feet in with running shoes on and still get some upward pull. At most sprint tri’s you will see wide range of bikes, from $5000+ time trial/tri bikes to $100 bikes from a local big box discount store. After that first summer, I did buy a road bike, which I eventually upgraded with new components and aero bars.I ordered my bike from a local bike shop, after test-riding it in Charlotte, at the closest location it was in inventory. This was an ideal option for me because I got free service there for a year after buying it. There are many other options for buying new bikes or even used bikes, like E-bay or Craigslist.
  • Helmet – Again, absolutely NON-NEGOTIABLE. Even if you “don’t ride that fast” or “aren’t going that far”, you should always, always, always wear a helmet. You never know when you will fall because you hit a curb, get a flat or get buzzed by a car. A helmet is the difference between life and death if you hit your head. They are required in all races and you can even get a time penalty for riding from your car to transition helmet-less. My first helmet (pink one above) was less than $30 from a local bike shop, but I recently ordered a nicer (read: more expensive), but much more comfortable helmet (Cannondale Radius) from REI for $60.I took off the visor thing because I think it looks silly on me, but I love the helmet because it matches my bike and hopefully won’t be on crooked for an entire 56 miles like my last one :)!
  • Pedals/Shoes – If you have cages, then you don’t need special pedals or shoes, but if you are ready to starting “clipping in” then you will. There is a lot to be said about the different styles of pedals and I won’t go into the benefits or downsides of each. I will just tell you that I opted for Speedplay pedals and am very happy with them. I also love my Shimano tri shoes, but they are the only pair I have ever used so I don’t have a great deal of reference.I love the one strap velcro because it is quick and easy to get in and out of at races, but many people find traditional bike shoes to be more comfortable for longer rides. Oddly enough, when you buy a road bike, it does not come with pedals! The pedals and shoes can cost an additional $200 – $300 or more, depending on the type that you select. The good news is that I have been using the same shoes for 2 years and the only reason I have new pedals is because mine were in an unfortunate accident last year.
  • Other bike “stuff” Water bottles: It was like a whole new world when I finally invested in a couple insulated water bottles. In hot South Carolina summers, the water gets warm very quickly and the insulated bottles keep my Nuun nice and cool for much, much longer. Bento Box: This is a little pouch that velcros on the frame of the bike to keep “stuff” in. It is easily accessible so I mostly keep fuel (Gu, Bonk Bars, Stingers) in mine for races. I usually will keep a route sheet or my phone in it for training rides. Bike Computer: Definitely not a “must have” but for me it is definitely a nice-to-have. Think – running with vs. running without your Garmin. I love data and love to keep track of pace, distance, elevation, etc. so I can’t imagine not having it. I have the Garmin Edge 500, but there are tons with less bells and whistles (less cost!) or you could even switch a running GPS watch to bike mode (if it has it…my Garmin 405 does) and strap it to the handle bars. Gloves: I sweat. A lot. So on longer rides in the summer, gloves are a must for me to keep my hands from sliding all over the handle bars. I don’t wear them in short races, but I did wear them at my 70.3 last year. I have a couple of pairs, but my favorite is the Tessa Glove by Giro.


Since many of the questions I have gotten are from runners that are transitioning to tri’s, I won’t go into details on “regular” run gear, that is not specific to triathlon.

  • Speed laces – Unless you want to try to tie your running shoes with shaky, rushed hands, I highly recommend speed laces. You can get them at most sporting good stores or even some local running stores for less than $10 and they make slipping into shoes extremely easy.
  • Race Number Belt – I had one of these from running that I never actually put my number on until I started doing tri’s. Most races require you to have your number attached to you, at least for the run (for the bike as well, on some courses). Obviously you can’t pin your number to your tri suit and expect it to hold up after the swim, so a number belt is a good option that you can quickly grab and snap-on in transition.


  • Tri Kits – Last, but not least, let’s talk about what to wear in a tri. In my opinion, this is very similar to bikes, because you really will see a little bit of everything. Some people prefer full tri bibs/suits, but I have seen people swim in a regular swim suit then throw on a jersey and shorts after the swim. I have also seen a {really fast} woman race the whole triathlon in a swim suit. I prefer to wear a tri top with tri shorts (tri shorts = some, but very little padding/chamois). Right now, I have a Zoot top (belowfrom 2011 – can’t find online) and Pearl Izumi INRCOOL Ella Shorts (new this season and LOVE the looser leg holes!). The top has easily accessible pockets and is tight enough that I don’t have to wear anything under it. What I would really, really like is a true tri kit like these AWESOME Soas Racing kits, but I am not sure if I am ready to shell out $185 for one yet. I purchased my original tri top/shorts on heavy clearance from Sierra Trading Post.
  • Socks – These are optional, depending if you want to take the time to put them on in transition. My feet sweat a ton and risking blisters is not worth the extra 20 seconds to me, so I always wear socks.
  • Visor – Again, personal preference, but I almost always throw one on because my hair is usually still so wet from the swim, that the sweat has nowhere else to go but down my face :). I have a couple of dry-fit Nike visors, but have heard great things about the Headsweats visors that are sold at various places, including most Ironman Brand races.

Whew! Is anyone tired yet? Or are you still reading? If so, does your wallet feel lighter just thinking about all of the things to buy?

I think I covered everything, but it is highly likely that I left off something that YOU see as a must-have! Tell me, are there any tri essentials that I have missed that you can’t race without?

About Corey

I am a 30-something swim, bike, run addict married to my best friend and in love with my two schnoodle doggies.
This entry was posted in bike, Races, running, swimming, training, triathlon, workout clothes. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Triathlon Essentials

  1. bearrunner says:

    They put me in those same Shimano tri shoes when I recently purchased my road bike.. Maybe the guys model though haha… I have had no complaints

    • Corey says:

      I am not sure if mine are women’s or not, actually! They are in European sizing so they may be gender neutral? Glad you like them! I definitely do.

  2. Jocelyn says:

    Love this post! I am actually in the market for a new pair of goggles….

    Do you use your fins a lot?

    • Corey says:

      I have to say I am not in love with these goggles. They are okay, but kind of hurt my face. I use the fins quite a bit…but I hate kicking so I use them anytime they have us kick! They make you go SOOOO fast!!

  3. Perfect timing- and a super helpful post! Thanks, Corey! I’m thankful I could borrow many items for my first tri experiment this weekend, but I have a feeling I might be purchasing more of these soon… 🙂

    • Corey says:

      It is awesome that you were able to borrow so much stuff! Definitely nice to see how you like it before you commit and make all the investments! Can’t wait to read about the race!!

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