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Triathlete’s Guide to Buying Gear

Triathlon isn’t cheap, and the upside/downside is that there’s a lot of stuff that could help you get from the water’s edge to the finish line banner. We break down what you should get with the funds you’ve got...and when.


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Not every triathlete needs everything! We’ve grouped gear needs into experience levels—beginner, seasoned, and veteran—to help you shop for the perfect setup.

Also be sure to check out our annual gear guide for complete reviews from every category.

Photo: MIKE REISEL

The Beginner

You’ve never done a tri, but you’ve probably swum or biked or run before. Here, we assume you already have a bike of some sort (new to tri? any bike will do), a pair of running shoes, goggles, a helmet, and the cash for your first race entry fee.

Here’s what you should get from there:

I can spend… $300
First get:

A WETSUIT
Why: Not only will a wetsuit keep you warm—increasing your comfort factor and conserving valuable energy—but it’ll help make you more buoyant and faster.
What to look for: Fit is key. The neck should feel very snug, and there should be no air anywhere between you and the suit.
Pay more for: Lighter (but also more delicate) neoprene for more movement in areas that need it, like your shoulders; more buoyancy in areas that don’t.
From: $250
We like: Synergy Endorphin (available at amazon.com)
ANTI-CHAFING BALM
Why: If you get a wetsuit (or even if you don’t), you’ll need this magic little stick to help keep chafing at bay while swimming, biking, and running.
What to look for: Anything non-petroleum-based; don’t use food-use items either!
Pay more for: More natural ingredients, larger sizes
From: $8
We like: Body Glide (available at amazon.com)

I can spend… $500
Then also get:

CYCLING SHORTS
Why: While a tri kit is great for race day, you’ll want something with more padding that’s more comfortable for bike training.
What to look for: A good-sized pad with minimal seams, and bib shorts (cycling shorts with straps) if you’re into them
Pay more for: More panels of fabric can compress or manage heat better; a better pad for moisture wicking
From: $80
We like: Pearl Izumi Attack Shorts (available at rei.com)
A TRI KIT
Why: Wear the entire outfit from start to finish—saving time in transition—and be more comfortable in the process.
What to look for: A medium chamois pad (not bulky) and legs that don’t feel too tight
Pay more for: More panels of fabric, a better fit, and features like water repellency, heat management, and aerodynamics.
From: $70
We like: Decathlon Aptonia LD Trisuit (available at decathlon.com)

I can spend… $700
Then also get:

CLIP-ON AEROBARS
Why: Assuming you don’t already have a tri bike (which should be an upgrade later down the line), these will help you be more relaxed, faster, and put you in a better position.
What to look for: Something that fits your road bars and is adjustable enough for a decent tri position
Pay more for: Carbon bars that are lighter and dampen road vibrations considerably
From: $120
We like: Zipp Vuka Clip (available at backcountry.com)
A RACE BELT
Why: Rather than keeping your race number on the entire time, you can pin it to an easy-to-attach belt and put it on for the run (or on bike, if required).
What to look for: Something that will hold your number and some nutrition (gels, chews, etc.)
Pay more for: A belt with more pockets and/or fancy clasps like magnets
From: $7
We like: T1 Pro Magnetic Race Belt (available at amazon.com)

I can spend… $900
Then also get:

BIKE HYDRATING SYSTEM
Why: It doesn’t matter if you’re fast or not—everyone needs to hydrate. The easier it is to do while biking, the more you’ll do it.
What to look for: A system that fits your bike and is easy to fill and drink from on the go.
Pay more for: More capacity and space, and intelligent design to add items like a cycling computer.
From: $60
We like: Profile HSF/Aero HC 800+
Photo: MIKE REISEL

The Seasoned Multisporter

You’ve done a year or two of tri, and you’d like to either get faster/stronger, go longer, or get more comfortable (or all of the above). Here, we assume you have all of the gear that The Beginner has.

A FOAM ROLLER
Why: Triathletes train a lot. We get hurt (or get close to it) a lot. One of the best at-home tools for both recovery and injury prevention is arguably a foam roller.
What to look for: A roller you’ll actually use often and hits the spots you need (legs, back, shoulders, hips, etc.)
Pay more for: Portability, cool features like vibration or textured surfaces with varying density
From: $20
We like: TriggerPoint MB Vibe (available at triggerpoint.com)
GPS WATCH WITH HEART-RATE MONITOR
Why: Not only will a GPS watch and heart-rate monitor (either built into the watch or via a chest strap that syncs with your watch) help you push yourself or control yourself while training—based on training zones for workouts—but it can also help you pace yourself on race day.
What to look for: Something that does open-water swimming, cycling, running, and tri
Pay more for: Things like music, more battery life, touchless payments, a touchscreen, advanced training tools
From: $200
We like: Coros Pace 2 (available at amazon.com)
TRI BIKE
Why: A tri bike or a time trial (TT) bike not only makes you more aerodynamic (this is huge), but it also puts you in a more powerful position that allows you to run faster off the bike.
What to look for: Something that fits (get a professional fit!)
Pay more for: A more aerodynamic ride, smoother/more responsive carbon, and/or integrated nutrition and hydration
From: $2,500
We like: Canyon Speedmax CF 7 Disc (available at canyon.com)
INDOOR TRAINER
Why: While an indoor trainer can be essential for winter riding, trainer workouts are also time-efficient and safer, allowing you to focus fully on your workout without having to worry about traffic or other distractions.
What to look for: A trainer that fits your space and has “smart” functions if you want to train virtually
Pay more for: A connected smart trainer with power and virtual feedback, wheel-off design for noise reduction, and higher power/grade ceilings and accuracy
From: $200
We like: Tacx Flow Smart Trainer ($370, available at amazon.com)
CLIP-IN SHOES AND PEDALS
Why: If you're riding with cages or flat pedals, you’re losing a lot of power and giving up comfort. Being clipped in is a must-have for any seasoned cyclist or triathlete.
What to look for: Tri-specific shoes that open and close quickly, and also drain well; pedals that allow some “float” or lateral movement
Pay more for: Lighter and stiffer shoes and pedals
From: $200 (Shoes), $60 (Pedals)
We like: Shimano TR5W (available at backcountry.com)
Look Keo Classic 3 pedals (available at amazon.com)
TRANSITION BAG
Why: If you can’t tell yet, triathletes use a lot of gear just to get to the start line. The best way to keep everything organized so you can quickly get ready on race day and not (gasp!) forget something is with a dedicated transition bag.
What to look for: A bag that has pockets for everything and segregated space for wet gear after the race
Pay more for: Larger capacity, more organization, waterproofing, better shoulder straps
From: $100
We like: Zoot Ultra Tri Bag (available at amazon.com)
Photo: MIKE REISEL

The Veteran

You’ve been doing tri for a while, and you’re ready to take things to the next level. Here, we assume you have almost everything from the previous two categories and are looking to squeeze every last drop out of your training and racing dollars.

SUPERBIKE
Why: Today’s superbikes are aerodynamically superior, allow you to store nutrition and hydration in an integrated way, and their setups tend to allow for an easier bike fit.
What to look for: Something that fits (get a professional fit!); a superbike that will still be fast when loaded down with nutrition and hydration
Pay more for: A lighter bike with precision parts and race-ready carbon wheels
From: $8,000
We like: Scott Plasma 6 (available at Scott-sports.com)
AERO CARBON WHEELS
Why: A deeper set of wheels has far more aerodynamic properties than a shallow set at most wind angles; a carbon set of wheels will also ride more comfortably than an aluminum pair.
What to look for: A good middle ground between price and weight
Pay more for: Lighter wheels, more durable bearings/ hubs
From: $1,500
We like: Enve Foundation 45 wheels (available at enve.com)
AERO HELMET
Why: Regular road helmets are not designed to be as fast as possible, but with a specifically aerodynamic shape, your dome will cut a smaller hole through the air as you ride.
What to look for: A helmet that you can wear in the aero position for as long as your bike leg, but won’t overheat you; adequate ventilation is key in a triathlon aero helmet
Pay more for: Integrated visors, lighter weight, more unique shapes
From: $300
We like: Smith Podium TT (available at competitivecyclist.com)
COMPRESSION BOOTS
Why: Using targeted compression, this recovery tool prevents lactic acid from pooling in your limbs and helps circulate fluids to the muscles that need them most.
What to look for: Boots that you’ll actually use (quiet/compact enough for your situation)in a triathlon aero helmet
Pay more for: Greater coverage across more limbs, advanced features like Bluetooth connectivity and programmability
From: $700
We like: Normatec Pulse Pro 2.0 (available at hyperice.com)
CYCLING POWER METER
Why: Power is the best purely quantitative way to measure output on the bike for optimal training and well-paced racing.
What to look for: A device (crank-based, pedal- based, wheel-based, etc.) that you can use on whatever bike or bikes you train and race on
Pay more for: Greater accuracy, left- and right-leg measurement, pedaling dynamics
From: $300
We like: 4iiii Precision (available at 4iii.com)
RUNNING POWER METER/strong>
Why: If you’re training on trails or hilly areas, you need help pacing, or if you want to become more efficient, a smartwatch or footpod with running power is important.
What to look for: A smartwatch that displays what you need and outputs good post-run data; a footpod that you’ll remember to set up each session
Pay more for: More battery life, advanced tools like, recovery, sleep data, and more
From: $200
We like: Polar Grit X (available at amazon.com)
AERO CARBON WHEELS
Why: Today’s superbikes are aerodynamically superior, allow you to store nutrition and hydration in an integrated way, and their setups tend to allow for an easier bike fit.
What to look for: Something that fits (get a professional fit!); a superbike that will still be fast when loaded down with nutrition and hydration
Pay more for: A lighter bike with precision parts and race-ready carbon wheels
From: $8,000
We like: Scott Plasma 6 (available at Scott-sports.com)