For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Talk is cheap; triathlon isn’t. While nearly every triathlon product is marketed as being a great buy, not every piece of gear is created equal when it comes to value. Some gear is expensive because it makes you substantially faster or more comfortable or stronger than the cheaper version (that’s a good thing). Some gear is just expensive because it’s pretty or hard to make (that’s not so good).
If you’ve already got the tri basics, then the trick is finding upgrades that’ll pack the most bang for your buck—whether that means spending a little more to get a something a bit better or spending a lot more for something way nicer that’ll last a lifetime (if you’re lucky). We’ve rounded up six triathlon upgrades that pack plenty of dollar punch, whether you’re just getting started and are on a tight budget, or you’re looking to invest in an heirloom item that will last a triathlon lifetime.
In each category of swim, bike, and run, you’ll find a budget upgrade first, then a treat-yourself upgrade:
Budget Triathlon Upgrade for the Swim
MP Focus Swim Snorkel
Whether you’re working on your freestyle or you’re a bona fide fish in the water, every triathlete needs a front-mount snorkel. If you’re using it for technique work, or to lessen stress on the neck and lower back during kick sets, a snorkel should be in your swim bag for nearly every session. This version from Michael Phelps’ line stands out due to the shape of the tube, which is more hydrodynamic and makes it easier to steady your head position. Phelps was an early adopter of the front-mount snorkel, and he long loathed the feel of round tubes in the water.
Bigger Bucks Triathlon Upgrade for the Swim
Magic 5 Goggles
You don’t need custom goggles, but if you’ve had trouble finding a pair that fits your facial features just right (or you want custom everything), Magic 5 goggles might be worth the extra investment. Using advanced 3D printing and crazy-cool camera phone software technology, Magic 5 is able to scan your face and create a custom pair of goggles in as little as one week. Their proprietary technology creates a 3D scan of your face (most importantly the eye sockets) and then builds custom gaskets that fit snugly in your eye sockets with almost no suction needed. Once properly set up with the included nose bridge, the goggles are leak proof and offer incredible vision in the open water. The only drawback is that they take a little getting used to for fans of bigger goggles and might cause a slight pain in the eye sockets during the first few uses (similar to Swedish setups).
Budget Triathlon Upgrade for the Bike
Knog Plus Twin Pack Lights
Bike safety is one of the most important parts of tri training, but you probably don’t want to furnish your fancy tri rig with a bunch of bulky lights. No one packs big bike lights into small packages better than Australia-based Knog, and the Plus lights are smaller and lighter than anything else on the market. The USB-chargeable front and rear lights fit in your jersey pocket and attach easily to small, magnetic clips on your handlebars and seatpost (or wherever you choose to put them)—you can even wear the lights with the included silicone bands while you run or ride. And $35 for an incredibly versatile front and rear is a screaming deal.
Bigger Bucks Triathlon Upgrade for the Bike
Thule Roundtrip Bike Case
With more and more U.S.-based airlines slashing bike fees (thank you American and Delta!) there’s less of a need for minimalist cases that might usurp extra charges. If convenience is what you seek when you fly with your ride, look no further than the Thule Roundtrip.
The genius of the Roundtrip is in the locking mechanism, which is essentially a tray that locks into a binding on the bottom of the case. When you get to your destination, the tray easily slides out, and you can prop your bike on the built-in bike stand for reassembly and tune-up. Best of all, the only components you need to remove for packing are the handlebars, seatpost, and wheels.
Budget Triathlon Upgrade for the Run
While running shoes are starting to look far less minimal, one thing that will never stray away from minimalism is storage on the run. The goal on any run is to carry as little as possible, but sometimes you can’t get away from bringing along a phone, keys, and a credit card. The stretchy and ultra-flat pockets of the Flipbelt fit an impressive amount of essentials snugly against your waist, with minimal bouncing and maximum comfort—if you’ve been running with your phone in an armband, you’ll immediately feel a big difference.
Bigger Bucks Triathlon Upgrade for the Run
Inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 5 Vest
The Race Ultra Pro Vest from Inov-8 is one of the lightest hydration vests on the market, but it allows you to carry up to three liters of water, as well as any other gear you might need on a long run. With a harness-style fastening mechanism and an ultra-close fit, it’s the least cumbersome way to carry a lot of liquid and gear for runs of 20 miles or more. Mountain bikers will love the hands-free hydration and substantial storage as well.