A bag is a bag is a bag, right? I’ve seen people using garbage bags to haul their gear in and out of transition. Not the worst thing, right? It’s waterproof, it’s got lots of storage, and it’s cheap! There’s your answer: The best triathlon bag is a garbage bag. You’re welcome.
But no, there’s way more to it than that—because unless you want a giant sopping mess that might or might not have everything you wanted to bring with you on race day and you’ve got like three hours to spare fumbling around in transition, you might want to shell out more than 10 cents on something better.
With that said, you probably don’t need to spend as much as a new wetsuit just to schlep around race day or training day stuff, but a little bit of specialized organization can go a long way towards making your training and racing a little less spastic. And though not even remotely as technical as learning about the wild world of triathlon tires, there’s a little learning involved. Let’s first check out some of the important things to look for in the best triathlon bag for you before getting to our quick list of what’s out there:
What is a triathlon bag, anyway?
The line between a tri bag and a regular backpack can often be a little blurry. A bag big enough (see below for more on size) can often function just fine for tri, but you’ll end up making a few compromises. It’s just a matter of living with those compromises. The best triathlon bags are ones that have tons of organization so you can not only get everything in and out quickly (remember race day and early-morning training sessions can be hectic!), but more importantly if there’s a spot for everything, it’s WAY easier to notice when something is missing. A great time to remember that left shoe? As you’re packing. The worst time? When you’re sprinting into T1 after the best swim of your entire life.
The other big selling point for the best triathlon bags is a separate compartment for wet gear. There’s nothing as annoying (and as stinky) as having a bag full of soaked stuff because you’ve got a wet wetsuit dumping water into your gear all day post-race or while you’re at work. The best triathlon bags also have some fun extras like multiple water bottle holders, helmet holders, tough zippers (ok, you’ve got a waterproof compartment, but think about what corrosion does to wimpy zippers), lots of entry points, exterior waterproofing, and way more. Regular backpacks sometimes have a few of these things, regular duffel/workout bags generally have less. While triathlon bags are often called “transition bags,” I’ve used my tri bag just as much—if not more—for training rather than racing.
What’s the best size bag for triathletes?
Yes, the garbage bag works. So does a simple duffel bag. However, believe me when I say that anything the size of your kid’s school backpack or smaller might not quite do it. A shoe bag? No. An old purse? Bold move, but no.
It’s easy to say, “Oh, yeah, I’ll put some of my stuff in the bag, then carry the rest.” But don’t forget, you’ll be using this bag usually in the earrrrrrly hours of the morning when your eyes (and your brain) can barely function. You don’t want errant tri gear flipping around, sliding under car seats, falling off of your bike, and so on. You need to imagine your bag will be the temporary home for all of the gear you need: Running shoes, cycling shoes, helmet (probably), socks, wetsuit, lotions, creams, sunscreens, warmup wear, podium wear (think big!), race belt, pre-race/workout nutrition/hydration, post-race/workout nutrition/hydration, tools, and the list goes on and on.
For me, 35 liters is about the bare minimum for my giant cargo of tri junk. For long-course racers, you’ll probably want more. For sprint triathletes, you might be able to go as low as 30 liters, but below that, you’ll probably have stuff hanging off, teetering above oblivion. Triathletes can go as high as 65 liters, but anything above that starts to look a little bit more Everest-expedition-y. If the pack is too big, your stuff will get lost in a bottomless chasm, it might be hard to actually carry, AND oftentimes it won’t fit very well when not fully stuffed.
Why can’t I just use my gym bag for triathlon?
You can! Just be sure it’s big enough (above) and you’re ok with a few compromises. I’m certainly not saying everyone needs to rush out and buy a triathlon-specific bag, but it’s one of those things you never hear anyone saying, “I really wish I hadn’t bought this tri bag. I wish I had my old Jansport from when I was in middle school or my gym bag from high school.”
While the best triathlon bag won’t necessarily make you faster on race day, it will absolutely lessen some race-morning anxiety and make organizing your busy training/work day much much easier. It’s also more likely you’ll be comfortable both before and after your race or workout because you’ll have everything you need, neatly organized. You won’t have to make that all-too-common compromise like, “Oh, I don’t need another pair of shoes for after the race tomorrow, I’ll just wear the ones I ran in.” That’s great if you like wearing a bloody, soaked pair of shoes with elastics to brunch, but you do you.
So what’s out there?
The Best Triathlon Bag for Minimalists
2XU Transition Bag
$115, 35L, Amazon.com
Definitely one of the smaller bags in our rundown, the 2XU bag boasts a larger top load compartment, smaller zippered compartments all around, and a separate zippered wet space on the bottom. Though it has far fewer bells and whistles than other transition bags, the low-key styling does a better job of disguising your multisport identity if you’re a self-loathing triathlete. (Want to blend in even more? Scroll down.) Despite the minimal amount of organization, this bag still carries well with ample padding on the shoulder and waist straps as well as simple mesh pockets around the outside.
The Best Triathlon Bag for Maximalists
TYR Elite Convoy Transition Backpack
$180, 75L, Amazon.com
This bag is absolutely huge. Almost ridiculously huge. Seventy-five liters is a lot of space, so think about the Elite Convoy if you’re not only putting your race-day gear in here, but also everything you’d need to pack for a weekend…hiking Kilimanjaro. Though it’s hard to ignore this bag’s expedition size or styling, it also provides an excellent amount of organization with three mesh dividers that open up to keep swim/bike/run separate, a removable wet bag, and a silly amount of pockets for nutrition and small things. The good news about slinging all of this organization and gear around is that the Convoy has a metal frame—just like a hiking bag—and lots of padding, support straps, and compression.
The Best Triathlon Bag for Organizers
Elite Tri Box
$190, ~40L, Amazon.com
Ok, this one definitely won’t fly under the radar as a regular backpack or duffel bag, as it looks more like a soft beach cooler than a tri bag. But the beauty of this weird beast is a super customizable and modular setup that allows you to take as much or as little as you like without tons of extra space knocking around. It has a foldable transition mat, a nice spot to lay out your shoes, and incredible organization. In fact, this is probably the only option for actually putting your racing stuff in while you race, as it gets compact enough to leave under your bike and not start a fistfight in transition.
The Best Triathlon Bag for Rainy Places
DeSoto Triathlon Transition Pack 8
$150, 65L (including expanding helmet holder), Swimoutlet.com
This transition bag could easily fall into the maximalist category above, but this is also one of the best bags for wet areas, thanks to its outer TPU coating and well-sealed seams. DeSoto has consistently been a leader in the triathlon bag world for well over a decade, and this is definitely a kitchen sink situation: Bottom-entry wetsuit compartment, nylon zippers, big straps, external helmet holder, top load, transition rack strap to hang it, soft pocket for sunglasses, and wayyyy more than we want to list here. This is definitely a monstrous bag, so keep that in mind if you like something a little more sleek.
The Best Triathlon Bag for Not Looking Like A Triathlete
Roka Transition Pack
$275, 38L, Swimoutlet.com
Just like the rest of Roka’s gear, this is an incredibly sleek-looking piece of gear. Clearly created with design in mind, this pack looks absolutely nothing like other transition bags—in a good way. Boasting customization with removable velcro walls, tons of organization, a removable wet/dry pouch, and more, this (super) pricey option is all bells-and-whistles that won’t set off the Triathlete Detector Alarm when going through fashion security. We also really like that the padded walls provide fragile items with a slight buffer, and that a side-access laptop compartment makes this ok for the office.