Jesse Thomas’ Tips For Packing For A Triathlon

Make packing for a race (otherwise known as ‘hell on earth’) less stressful with a few simple tips.

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Make packing for a race (otherwise known as ‘hell on earth’) less stressful with a few simple tips.

I promised myself last time that this would never happen again. But sure enough, I’ve done it again. It’s 1 a.m. and I’m still awake. I’ve got a 5 a.m. shuttle to the airport, and all I want to do is go to bed. My clothes are strewn everywhere, the laundry is running, my bag is in the middle of my room, opened and half full. My head is sore from anxious hair pulling. I’m sweaty, hungry and have bloodshot eyes. No, I’m not in a drug-induced bender—I’m four hours into packing for my triathlon. I’m in hell on earth.

Packing is by far my least favorite part of triathlon. I hate it even more than swimming. In fact, I hate it even more than swimming with a band around my ankles! I know that’s extreme, but it’s true. I really hate packing.

I sorely miss my good ol’ running days when I could just put my spikes and jersey in my carry-on and know I’d be able to race, regardless of what happened. With triathlon, there’s so much stuff to remember that even a well-planned packing session can leave you so flabbergasted that you use the word “flabbergasted.” Plus, you almost always have the pressure of an early wake-up the next morning compounded with the intense desire to just rest and relax because, after all, you are trying to race in a day or two.

I won’t pretend to know how to make packing awesome. Personally, I think it’s impossible. It’s kind of like moving—it’s the worst day ever. And, it happens before every single race! But, in the past four years, I’ve raced about 30 times all over the country and internationally, and in that time I’ve gotten better than I used to be at packing. I wouldn’t say I’m good at it, but I suck a lot less, and because of that, it sucks a lot less than it used to. So to help you guys avoid late-night packing binges, here are some tips I’ve come up with:

Make a list. OK, I know this one is pretty obvious, but it’s a crucial step that I still think I can bypass, only to regret it at 1 a.m. in a sleep-deprived state while I ask myself, “Did I remember my chamois butter?” So on Monday the week of my race, I make a list of all the stuff I need to pack. Why so early? Because I’m a dork. Also, because I usually realize that something needs to be put in the laundry, or I lent my race wheels to Billy Bob and they’re still at his house. This gives me a day or two to gather all that stuff and avoid late-night freak-out calls to my friends.

Take everything off the list that you don’t need. Hi, my name is Jesse, and I’m an overpacker. I always start by adding my pillow, a “nice” outfit, my DVD collection and my Walkman. Then at 1 a.m., I’m feverishly yanking stuff out of my bag to get it to 49.5 pounds. There’s so much stuff you need for triathlon that it’s best to keep the add-ons to a minimum. Remember that many items can be interchanged between swimming, biking and running (you are a triathlete, after all) so you might not need to bring stuff specifically for everything. Pretend you’re one of those hipster dudes who can travel with just one trendy man purse.

Pack the day before you need to pack. OK, OK, this is clearly far along the tri-nerd scale, but packing the day before you actually need to pack is sooo much better. Energy expenditure will be less on your mind, and you’ll feel ahead of the game, so the packing experience itself is less stressful.

RELATED: Packing Tips For Your Next Destination Triathlon

Keep it low. Speaking of stress, “keep it low” is a general pre-race mantra that my wife came up with for me to ensure that I would stay calm during the stressful packing/traveling/whatever times that come up before a race. Keeping it low refers to keeping my cortisol levels low, which basically means staying relaxed. Again, I pretend I’m Mr. Smooth with the man purse, and I’m, like, so cool I don’t care about anything, so nothing bothers me at all. Can’t find my socks? No big deal—I’ll just get some at the expo. Baby ate my watch? No sweat—I’ll take him to the doctor real quick and race without one. That’s what keeping it low is all about.

Give yourself a packing deadline. The only problem with Mr. Smooth is that sometimes he’s so chill he loses concentration and before you know it he’s gone from packing his toothbrush to cleaning his bathroom drawer of expired toothpaste and vitamins. That’s why it’s important to give Mr. Smooth a deadline. It doesn’t have to be rushed, but it should give him (you) a sense of pacing, so you stay on task to get this stuff done. Then you can move on to the next thing. I usually try to say I’m going to be done by 9 p.m., and it has nothing to do with when “Glee” starts.

Listen to some tunes. No matter how efficient you are, you’re going to be packing for a while, so put on an awesome playlist to jam to while you pack. Even better is if you make a playlist that is the exact amount of time you have allotted for yourself to pack. OMG, amazing!

Ship your bike (and wetsuit and nutrition). I hate crazy bike fees on airlines and I also hate carrying my bike through the airport when all I want to do is use as little energy as possible. So most of the time, I ship my bike. I use a service called, which buys labels from FedEx using prepopulated dimensions based on your specific bike box or bag. It’s super simple, and almost always cheaper than flying, usually less than $100 for a ground shipment, which gets there in 2–3 days. Since you don’t need to drop it off until the afternoon, that means I can do my last TT prep ride on Tuesday morning, ship my bike that afternoon and have it at the hotel when I arrive on Thursday or Friday. Plus, you can ship up to 100 pounds, so I put my nutrition and wetsuit in there, and I also ship my CO2 cartridges. I’ve also found my bike is less likely to get damaged by FedEx than TSA.

That’s it, folks. I hope this helps you keep it low in prep for your next big race. Let me know what you think—I’m particularly interested in any great packing songs.

Jesse Thomas (@jessemthomas) is a three-time Wildflower Long Course champion and the CEO of Picky Bars (

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