What Gear Does My Child Need For a First Triathlon?

Youth triathlon experts share what's required, what's optional, and what to skip altogether. Plus, how to save money on your kid's triathlon gear.

Photo: Joern Pollex/Getty Images

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Bikes and goggles and sneakers, oh my! For most triathletes, race day invokes images of backpacks full of gear—essentials, techy-new toys, and ‘just in case’ items. It’s true, no one loves gear more than multi-sport athletes. But the logistics of keeping up with loads of equipment can be stressful for triathlon’s youngest competitors, and parents of budding multisporters often wonder what they really need to buy for a kids triathlon. After all, children grow quickly, and the thought of replacing all the gear, all the time, sounds like an expensive proposition.

The good news? It doesn’t have to be that way. The equipment list for a youth triathlon is short and made up of things you already likely have in your garage.

Basic gear list for a kids’ triathlon:

  • Swim goggles
  • Bike
  • Bike helmet
  • Running shoes
  • Clothing (a swimsuit and/or athletic shorts and shirt)

That’s it. Here’s what you to know about getting the gear you need for a kids’ triathlon – and saving money along the way.

Use what you have

“Whatever you already have works just fine. You don’t need fancy equipment to get into the sport,” said Dale Sanford, co-founder of BPC Performance Coaching in Germantown, Tennessee. He recommends using items a child is already familiar with, such as the bicycle they regularly ride and their favorite athletic sneakers.

Though most people associate triathlon with spandex suits and moisture-wicking technical fabric from head to toe, the reality is that most kids will probably be just fine wearing whatever athletic wear they use for gym class. A swimsuit and shoes is all that’s truly needed. If your child wants to wear shorts or a t-shirt over their suit during the bike or run, that’s good, too. Use what the child already has and is comfortable wearing. When preparing for the triathlon, be sure to practice putting on the clothing over the swimsuit in the transition from bike to run—make it a fun contest to see who can get out of the pool and onto the bike the fastest.

If you must buy, keep it simple

“Keep to the basics of the basics,” said Andy Johnson, founder of TryKidz Triathlon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Johnson recommends talking over each of the three disciplines with your child and choosing only gear that is essential, such as goggles for the swim, bike and helmet for the bike, and the same pair of shoes for both the bike and the run.

Buy used

Another factor to consider with kids’ triathlon gear is cost. A child’s size, weight, and proportions change rapidly, and spending money on pricey gear doesn’t always make sense for triathlon’s youngest competitors. This is especially true for purchasing a bike, which is usually the biggest expenditure for triathlon. To save money, borrowing or purchasing used gear is a great option for kids beginning in the sport.

“Inexpensive is key,” advises Coach Dana Debardelaben, executive director of Omni Kids Tri in Huntsville, Alabama. “Kids are always growing, so don’t make expensive investments in gear.”

If you don’t already have a bike your child can ride, talk with your friends, neighbors, or fellow parents from your child’s school. Chances are high someone has a bike that their child has outgrown. You can also find affordable used kids’s bikes on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Offerup, or Letgo.

Don’t overthink it

Sanford and Johnson note that focusing on gear can cause young competitors to perseverate too much over the details of their race and add unnecessary stress. “Even talking about equipment can give kids one more thing to overthink,” Sanford said.

“If you have to carry a whole backpack of stuff down to transition, that starts to freak kids out. They already have enough going on figuring out: Where do I go? Where does the bike go? Where’s the start line? Don’t feed into the stress they already have with lots of gear,” Johnson said.

What you must have in a kids triathlon (and what you can skip)

All the experts agree there is only one truly essential piece of gear for youth triathletes: an unexpired helmet certified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Debardelaben recommends letting young triathletes use the gear that makes them happy, even if it’s a faux-hawk or bunny ear-ed fashion helmet, as long as it’s certified and within the expiration date.

There are a few additional pieces of gear that may increase a child’s comfort level, such as a race belt for competitors who prefer not to wear a shirt or otherwise struggle with the race bib, and a water bottle or a towel in the transition area, but experts recommend keeping these add-ons to a bare minimum and only if they increase the child’s comfort level or the child specifically requests them.

A piece of gear experts recommend ditching? Socks. For many young beginners, wearing sneakers without socks might feel funny at first but experts say it isn’t worth the stress of wiggling wet feet into socks after the swim.

Fit matters

Whatever gear young competitors decide to bring to a race, the most important factor is that your kid’s triathlon gear fits well and is as comfortable as possible. “Gear at a young age doesn’t make that big of a difference,” DeBardelaben said. “It’s more important that the child is comfortable.”

All geared up? Get out there and have fun!

Learn more about getting your kids involved in triathlon:

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