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It doesn’t have to cost a ton of money to race triathlon, but if you want your performances to keep improving, eventually you’re going to need better equipment. We surveyed four pro triathletes to find out which pieces of swim, bike, and run gear they upgraded first when they were just starting out in tri. We also have a few specific triathlon gear upgrade recommendations in each category for last-minute holiday gifts or treats for the upcoming season.
Triathlon Gear Upgrade: Swim
Upgrade to: A good wetsuit
“I did my first Ironman with a worn-down wetsuit that I borrowed from a friend. It actually got torn by a competitor grabbing me at one point. I bought my own for Ironman number two.” – Jocelyn McCauley
Editor’s Pick: Xterra Vortex Fullsuit ($500, amazon.com)
There are plenty of brands out there that make better top-end wetsuits than Xterra, but for 20 years, no one has come close when it comes to bang for your buck with mid-tier offerings.
Upgrade to: A portable pace clock
“It took me a long time to realize that you have to train with intervals in the pool. I used to just show up and swim. Now I do everything by the clock.” – Angela Naeth
Editor’s pick: BTBSIGN LED Interval Time ($70, amazon.com)
A lot of public pools don’t have their own pace clocks, and a watch doesn’t do much good if you’re swimming with a group. This portable and programmable pace clock is a bargain at only $70.
Triathlon Gear Upgrade: Bike
Upgrade to: Real cycling bib shorts
“I came from a swimming background, so when I first started out, I did all of my racing and training in a swim jammer because that’s what I had. Once I got my first pair of bibs to train in, it changed everything. – Andrew Starykowicz
Editor’s pick: Castelli Free Aero Race 4 Bibshort ($200, competitivecyclist.com)
If you’re putting in big miles, you don’t want to go cheap when it comes to bibs. These Castelli bibs are among the best on the market and they’re half the price of some of other, overpriced offerings.
Upgrade to: A power meter
“My first power meter triggered a major revelation: Much of the training I’d been doing to pad my ego wasn’t all that effective. A power meter completely changed how I planned, executed, and tracked my training. I consider it the single most indispensable piece of equipment I own.” – Cody Beals
Editor’s pick: Garmin Vector 3 Power Meter Pedals ($1,000, rei.com)
There are a lot of benefits to having your power meter inside your pedals. It makes it easy to establish left/right balance in your pedal stroke, and they transfer from bike to bike way easier than any other power meter on the market.
Related: Ask A Gear Guru’s answer to: What Are the Best Power Meters for Triathletes? and our *Active Pass Member Exclusive* Guide to different types of power meters
Triathlon Gear Upgrade: Run
Upgrade to: Real race nutrition
“I did my first Ironman using nothing but jelly beans. That made for a tough day on the run. I quickly realized that well formulated nutrition makes it possible to actually race an Ironman marathon.” – Jocelyn McCauley
Editor’s pick: Infinit Nutrition Custom Fuel Blend ($60 for 24 servings, infinitnutrition.us)
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to performance nutrition. Infinit’s custom program lets you tailor how much of how little you want when it comes to calories, protein, flavor, and electrolytes. They even have real-life nutritionists on call to help you dial in your formula based on what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past.
Related: *Active Pass Member Exclusive* Matt Dixon’s practical guidelines for fueling and nutrition
Upgrade to: A lighted running vest
“This time of year, if I’m running after 4pm, I’m running in the dark. I finally got my first lighted running vest, so I know I’m safe on the roads no matter how late I’m out there.” – Andrew Starykowicz
Editor’s pick: Noxgear Tracer360 ($50, amazon.com)
This ultra-lightweight vest straps around your torso and provides 360-degree visibility from up to a quarter mile away.
Related: Check out our Ask A Gear Guru’s answer to: What Do I Need For Running In Low Light?