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How to Choose the Best Triathlon Apparel

Triathlons are intense athletic competitions broken up into three parts – a swimming competition, a cycling competition, and a running competition. Unlike sports like marathon running, there is no specific triathlon distance. Many types of triathlon have different distances. People first began this sport in the 1920s in France, but the first modern triathlon in the United States was held in San Diego, California in 1974. Since its conception in France, the sport has changed very little, but many facets of playing it have, including the apparel that one wears during the competition.

It is possible to complete a triathlon without buying a lot of expensive gear. You can get by with a simple swimsuit, shorts, running shoes, and a bike helmet. However, in general, a triathlon is much easier and more comfortable with the addition of some simple gear. Depending on what you buy, you can either change your clothing at each leg of the race or wear the same thing the whole time.

Triathlon Suit – One or Two Piece

A one-piece triathlon suit is a full suit with a front or back zipper. A two-piece is a triathlon kit with a top and bottom made of a moisture-wicking material. Both the one-piece and two-piece suit have small pads for the cycling portion of the race. The pad is not as thick as cycling shorts, enabling it to dry quickly after the swimming leg. The cool thing about triathlon suits is that you don’t have to change between legs of the race unless you want to wear a wetsuit for the swimming portion. However, wetsuits can also just be worn over the triathlon suit, so all you have to do is take it off before you cycle.

Generally, a one-piece suit is tighter all around, which ultimately helps finish times by making you more aerodynamic and more hydrodynamic. However, many opt for the two-piece kit so that bathroom breaks are easier and so that they can train in the outfit beforehand. One-pieces may be hotter, depending on the material they are made of. Sometimes, triathletes choose based on the length of the race – a one-piece for short races, and a two-piece for long ones. If you decide to race in a triathlon suit, there are many factors to consider based on your situation and personal preference.

However, you could even opt not to use a triathlon suit and simply change during different legs of the race. Different equipment would be needed for this.

Wetsuit or Swimsuit

A wetsuit or swimsuit is absolutely necessary during the swimming portion of the race, the only exception being if you are using a triathlon suit. You do not necessarily need to wear a wetsuit if you’re using a triathlon suit, but you can. The benefits of a wetsuit are enormous. Aside from staying warm in the cool water, wetsuits keep you afloat easier and help decrease your finish time. This is because they reduce drag on your body while you swim.

By insulating and warming the water touching your body, wetsuits help you stay warm in areas where the water may be too cold to swim in. However, they should fit tightly enough so that there are no pockets of water that could slow you down. Like triathlon suits, they can be either one or two-piece. There are even wetsuits that are made specifically for triathlons. The biggest downside is that it is slow to remove them before the cycling portion.

A good swimsuit is also acceptable for the swimming portion, especially if you live in an area with warmer waters or want to reduce the time it takes to change into your biking gear. It’s best to train in one beforehand, however, just to make sure that the swimsuit is appropriate for such a high-intense race. If you use a one-piece swimsuit that you intend to wear for the whole race, make sure to immediately count out anything that causes chafing.

Bike Shorts

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A good pair of bike shorts can make all the difference in the cycling portion. If you don’t mind changing clothing throughout the race, bike shorts will keep you comfortable and aerodynamic during the cycling section. They are more padded than triathlon shorts, however, so it is a bad idea to do the swim section in them because they will take longer to dry. You may also find that a pair of tri shorts are better to run in.


Your biggest concern with goggles should be fit. When you have properly adjusted the head strap (and in some cases nose strap), there should be a vacuum seal so that water and debris cannot get into your eyes. However, this seal should not be uncomfortable or too tight. The straps on the sides should sit above the ears while the back straps should sit on the portion of the back of your head.

There are many different lenses for goggles depending on what your visual needs are. However, for the swimming portion of the triathlon, goggles with only a light tint or hardly any at all should be used. If you select a pair of goggles with a light blue tint, this will enable you to see well in the water and increase visibility in bright light. With a tinted pair, you can easily replace the need for sunglasses, so long as you can still see while swimming.

Bike Helmet

A bike helmet is an absolute necessity for a triathlon. In fact, races will not let you bicycle without one. It doesn’t matter if you choose a helmet that is aerodynamic or not – any helmet approved by the Consumer Products Safety Commission will do. The biggest concern with the bike helmet is protecting your head if you fall. Many triathletes will choose a helmet specifically designed for a triathlon, but this is not necessary.

Running and Cycling Shoes

For the running portion, your focus should be on an outfit that is comfortable to run in and does not chafe, and a good pair of running shoes. Styles of running shoes vary widely depending on foot size, arches, comfort level, and more, but the number one thing is that you don’t show up for the running second wearing hiking boots. A pair of cycling shoes will definitely help during the bike portion of the race, but if you only invest in one pair of shoes for a triathlon, running shoes are the way to go.

Swim Cap

Most races will distribute a swim cap for triathletes to wear. These often have your number on the top. The benefits of a swim cap include keeping your hair out of your face while you swim, reducing drag, and preventing goggles from tugging on your hair.

The most important thing when choosing triathlon apparel is choosing something you are comfortable wearing and something that fits your circumstances. If you want to change as little as possible, consider investing in a triathlon suit or kit for convenience. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a triathlon suit, you can just find a good swimsuit or wetsuit, a pair of bike shorts, and running shoes, plus a few pieces of additional equipment listed above. There is no single way to dress for a triathlon and many people will find different combinations efficient.