What To Wear For Any Triathlon? A Brief & Complete Guide


When you think about what triathlon gear you need to purchase, you automatically think about the obvious ones; goggles, bike, and running shoes. But what about the clothing that you need to complete a triathlon comfortably? 

The first apparel purchase for the committed triathlete is most likely to be the Tri-Suit. An all-in-one piece of clothing that you can use comfortably for the swim, bike, and run, a Tri-Suit allows you to cut down on transition times significantly. With the exception of a wetsuit for cold water events, you don’t need anything more than this to complete a triathlon.  

On a side note, do not waste your money on useless gear purchases and check out my Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budgeting Gear

Which Tri-Suit Should I Buy?

There is a vast array of options when it comes to Tri-Suits from one-piece to two-piece, and from entry-level to an expert so let’s take a look at some of the options available, and what makes them different. Be advised that this is not a product review of Tri-Suits but rather a guide for understanding the piece of the kit itself.

One-Piece Vs Two-Piece

The advantage that a two-piece Tri-Suit has over a one-piece is very practical; they allow for faster bathroom breaks. If you have ever been caught short in a race in a one-piece then you will know that the process can be rather challenging. If you are racing up to Olympic distances then toilet breaks are less of an issue, but for half and full-Ironman distances a two-piece may be the more practical option.

Also, check out How Much Does a Triathlon Suit Cost? Options, alternatives, and what to look for

Entry Level Tri-Suit

As a newbie triathlete it is exciting to buy your first Tri-Suit. It is almost like a uniform that makes you part of the pack. The good news is that you do not need to spend a fortune on your first Tri-Suit. Aptonia is Decathlon’s triathlon brand and they have a great long-distance suit for under $70. This suit is not just for beginners as it will comfortably do you for a full Ironman race.

Enthusiast Level Tri-Suit

As an enthusiast who wants a little more than just the practicality of a Tri-Suit, you may want to look at products with a higher focus on aerodynamics. Something like the Stolen Goat Tri-Suit which claims the sleeves alone will save you 16-20 watts on the bike leg and will cost $230

Expert Level Tri-Suit

Huub claims that ‘the world’s fastest Tri-Suit just got faster with the Anemoi, and at over $400 let’s hope it is worth it!  The difference in price is due to the technology used which is focused on pure speed. Bonded seams, aero pockets, and ‘trip panels’ combine to enable you to save six to eight minutes over the course of a full Ironman (source)

Check out our recommended Triathlon suit pick listed in our Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budget Gear

 What Is A Triathlon Wetsuit?

A triathlon wetsuit is different from a surfing or diving wetsuit in that it is designed for speed and comfort over warmth, as well as being quick to take off in transition. They will likely have a smooth outer coating designed to allow you to slipe through the water more easily. Some feature air pockets that increase buoyancy, which in turn reduces drag, making you faster. Keep in mind that wetsuits are only allowed in events with water colder than 78°F (25.5°C). 

Which Triathlon Wet Suit Should I Buy?

Triathlon wetsuits can be expensive purchases because you are paying for advanced features and technologies.

Also check out Triathlon Vs Surfing Vs Diving Wetsuit; Can They All Be Used in Triathlon? How To Pick One

The table below gives an idea of the expectations in terms of costs and features for entry-level, enthusiast and expert triathlon wetsuits.

 Triathlete LevelModelCostFeatures
Entry-levelBlue 70 Sprint$70Easy out ankles for a faster transition.Hydrophobic barrier for increased durability and speed
Enthusiast3.8 2018 Orca Men’s Full-sleeve Wetsuit  $420Stabilizes core with rigid abdomen. Buoyancy pockets throughout, and specifically in the elbow to aid proper stroke positioning. High elasticity materials mean less strength is needed to move freely.
ExpertXterra Vengeance Full Suit$799Advanced buoyancy design places you in the perfect swimming position to reduce drag. Capri-cut for fast transition. Anatomically-correct arms/shoulder panels to allow better mobility.
Triathlon Westuit Vs triathlete Level Buyer Guide

Check out our recommended Triathlon wet suit pick listed in our Best Triathlon Battle-Tested Budget Gear

What Should I Wear Under A Triathlon Wetsuit?

If you have a Tri-Suit, then you can wear this directly under your wetsuit as it is designed to get wet and will dry quickly once you are on the bike.

If you are opting to do the rest of the race in triathlon shorts and a standard running top then it would be best to just wear the shorts under the wetsuit and throw on your t-shirt during the transition in order to keep it dry. Just remain aware of the rules on nudity in transition areas, because failure to adhere to these could see you disqualified.

Another thing to mention is that you never wear underwear under your Tri-Suit. The padding in the Tri-Suit is specifically designed to be used without underwear. Doing so will create chaffing which will be incredibly uncomfortable, both during and after the event.

Do You Change Clothes During Transition In A Triathlon?

If you have a Tri-Suit then there is no need to change clothes during the transition, you simply need to don your socks, shoes and helmet and you are ready to go. If, however, you are using separate outfits for the swim, bike and run then you will be changing clothes.

Factor this into your overall target time. Depending on the size of the transition area, a good transition time is under 2 minutes, changing clothes for each leg could see this rise to over 8 minutes meaning a difference of 12 minutes over the event.

If changing clothes then consider also that there will be specific areas that you have to go to in order to change. Public nudity is taken very seriously and will likely lead to disqualification. Check the rules for your event because, in some cases, these rules even apply if you are male and want to do a shirt change.

What Is The Additional Optional Apparel For A Triathlon?

Once you have the basics, there are other items that you may want to consider adding to your triathlon wardrobe. This is especially true if you will be racing in very hot, or cold, environments.

Hat

Cyclists often wear caps under their helmets in order to soak up excess sweat, you can also use this on the run or swap it for a sun visor during the transition.

Glasses

Another helpful addition for the bike in order to reduce the glare of the sun, but also helps in protecting your eyes against dust or stray bugs. If it is a wet weather race then you will most certainly want a pair of glasses.

Compression socks

These have been popular with ultra-marathon runners for some time and are now working their way into triathlon too. In theory, compression socks are supposed to decrease muscle fatigue during the race and speed up recovery. However, evidence suggests that this is not proven in reality (source).

Rain Jacket

If you know it will be cold and wet then a rain jacket is an absolute must in order to make the event as bearable as possible. Read our article on ‘How To Dress For A Rainy And Cold Triathlon’ for an in-depth guide on triathlon-specific rain jackets and other apparel.

Buff

This is a relatively cheap addition to your kit and can serve a multitude of functions. Use as a hat to keep your head warm or covered from the sun, a neck warmer, over the nose to keep dust out of your lungs or even just to mop up the sweat.  

Race Belt

This is another inexpensive piece of kit that allows you to easily spin your race number from back to front when moving from the bike to the run. They also come with handy gel holders so you can grab your gels easily during the race and you don’t need to fumble around with bulky pockets.

What To Wear In A Cold And Rainy Triathlon?

For more on this, check out our post How To Dress For A Rainy And Cold Triathlon?

Final Thoughts

In the world of triathlon, it is unavoidable that there is a certain culture of ‘coolness’ to the apparel. From the intimidating pro-level wetsuits to the bright neon compression socks, the wrap-around clear cycling glasses to the unmissable multi-colored Tri-Suits, a triathlete in all the gear just looks cool.

But remember that you certainly do not need to buy all these extra add-ons; a simple Tri-Suit will get you through many races and you can have fun slowly adding to your wardrobe as you move along your own journey as a triathlete.

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