Finding the right clothes for a triathlon can have a major impact on your comfort and performance in the race. There is not a standard “uniform” that racers wear – you will see competitors dressed in all types of gear. Some very competitive racers will invest in one-piece tri suits that are made from some of the best performance technology available today. Others will basically throw on what they would for a casual run. The key concept to remember is that the more comfortable you are, the better you will perform against your goals. There is nothing worse than developing a blister, or a chafe, or being damp when that all could have been prevented through better clothing selection.
Because there is no absolute, hard rule on what to wear when training or racing in your triathlon, it might be better to simply look at three useful rules of triathlon clothing to help guide your decisions. Keeping these in mind will help you get more bang for your buck, and enable you to perform at your best on race day.
Determine your goals – to participate? Or to win?
If your goals are to compete with the racers who will finish at the top of the race results, you may want to consider a triathlon-specific tri suit. A tri suit comes in one or two pieces, and is intended to be worn for the entire race without a single change or adjustment. A good tri suit can wet in the swim, dry quickly on the bike while providing some basic seat padding, and is comfortable on the run. These suits can cost $100 to $200, but are comfortable and minimize transition time.
For the rest of us, the potential combinations are many. A standard piece of gear is a pair of triathlon shorts, which resemble bike shorts but are faster drying and have a more modest seat pad so you can run more comfortably in them. The tri shorts would be worn throughout the entire race. For men, a high-quality workout shirt can be thrown on after the swim to complete the outfit for the final two legs. For women, a support top can be used for all three legs of the race, with the option of a shirt for the final two legs. Finally, many tri gear makers produce a “singlet”, which is a tri-specific top (gender neutral) meant to be used from the swim to the run.
Focus on Comfort; Specifically, stay dry and don’t chafe
A key goal of any triathlete should be to stay comfortable during the race. This means that investing in moisture-wicking fabrics is key, as they will reduce moisture and allow you to run in a dryer garment throughout the race. Most shorts and tops made by known triathlon gear makers have at least some basic moisture-wicking technology, with more expensive models usually excelling at this. It is also critical to be sure your clothing will not chafe during a long training day or a race. Be sure seams on your clothing are flat and smooth, and consider investing in garments that actually advertise reinforced seams with reduced friction against your skin.
Maximize your value and your investment
Our motto has always been that in the long run, you save money by buying quality. Instead of going to a big box discount store to buy your race gear, invest in some high quality garments from manufacturers like TYR, Orca, 2XU, or others. These makers understand the sport of triathlon, and the extra dollars you spend will prevent you from having to buy more gear after your clothing quickly wears out. Finally, know that most tri gear is not meant to be used in chlorinated pools. For pool swims, use your regular swimsuit or jammers. Doing so will increase the life of your tri-specific apparel.