If you’re new to triathlon, you may be a bit overwhelmed by all the gear and lingo that gets thrown around by the more experienced triathletes, a.k.a. tri-geeks, a.k.a. hardos. But here’s a little secret: You don’t need to spend a lot to race in your first triathlon. If you run, bike or swim already (and you probably do, since they’re mandatory for doing a triathlon) you may have some items already at home. So skip the fastest bike in the wind tunnel, the aero helmets, and the $500 multisport watch. Instead, get the gear to get the job done and worry about upgrading later. From gels and glides to suits and shoes, here’s your race-day packing list on a budget.
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a carbon superbike. In fact, if you’re doing a sprint race you may want to consider renting a road bike for a month from a local shop. This way you can train on a demo bike, use it on race day, and avoid spending big if you decide you don’t like the sport. However, if you’re in the market to purchase a low-cost and high-performance bike, try the Giant-Defy 5. It’s engineered with FluidForm ALUXX SL aluminum tubes, it’s easy to control, and the seat tube is built for vibration damping, which makes it a comfortable ride and ideal for a beginner.
Genuine Innovations Tire Repair Inflation Kit
Whether you’re training for a long-distance tri or a sprint, you’ll need to be able to fix a flat. This kit comes with an easy-to-use CO2 inflator (getting a tire to road-appropriate PSI with a hand pump is tough) that leaves no residue and is one of the lightest on the market, plus a patch kit, two tire levers and a saddlebag.
The Specialized Echelon is an affordable road cycling helmet that’s ergonomically designed for a snug fit with plenty of ventilation. The Headset SL fit system adjusts easily between four height positions with the turn of a dial, while reflective details offer visibility if you’re training at night.
Camel Bak Podium Chill 21
To perform your best you need to stay hydrated. The Camelbak Podium Chill’s double walls prevent water condensation and keep liquids cooler, longer. The spill-proof drinking nozzle generates a solid flow, and the easy-to-grip bottle slides back into your cage without fuss.
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly IV
For the most part, tri shoes are only necessary to shave seconds off your transition time; they close with one or two big Velcro straps, as opposed to two or three straps on road shoes, often with one that ratchets — and they often close in reverse so they can be attached to the pedals in advance and closed while moving on the bike. But more importantly, tri shoes breathe well and are comfortable without socks. Pearl Izumi’s Tri Fly IV is a solid and affordable tri shoe, fully lined with mesh so you can go sock-less, lightweight and comfortable.
ASICS Kayano 21
What the Kayano sacrifices in weight it makes up for with plenty of cushioning. While it’s not the lightest shoe, its roomy toe box helps to avoid blisters and its heel cup is secure. As an everyday trainer for a high-mileage runner, this shoe stands out.
Fuel Belt Race Number Belt
In triathlon you won’t want to mess around with safety pins. A belt holds your bib and gels, and you can take it off and on in transitions with the snap of a buckle — ideal if you decide to change clothes.
Zoot Z Force 1.0
Zoot is the quintessential triathlon brand, and their Z Force 1.0 is a great wetsuit for the price. Its Yamamoto C38 fabric and SCS hydrodynamic finish help you stay buoyant and slip through the water — a huge benefit in any wetsuit-legal race. If you don’t want to drop two Benjamins on a suit, many local tri shops have rental options, or you can go through Xterra Rentals; for $50, you can get a wetsuit for a month, which is plenty of time to practice with it before the race.
2XU G:2 Compression Trisuit
A trisuit isn’t entirely necessary if you don’t mind changing clothes at each transition. But wearing a trisuit means you can swim, bike and run all in the same garment, which many prefer. The 2XU G:2 Compression Trisuit is provides the benefits of compression fabric (better circulation, muscle support), dries quickly and has a cushy chamois for comfort on the bike.
Aqua Sphere K180
The Aqua Sphere K180 is an ideal goggle for a comfortable fit with a wide field of view. The lenses offer 100 percent UV protection and are designed for 180-degree visibility. Three different nose bridge sizes make them highly adjustable, and the smoke lenses are great for sunny open-water swims.
Speedo Silicone Cap
Most races provide you with a latex swim cap. But for training purposes, Speedo’s silicone caps are superior: an elastomeric fit allows the cap to slip on easily, and it boasts a soft texture, whereas latex usually pulls at the hair and can tear easily.
During training you’ll experience chafing, blisters and difficulty putting on and taking off your wetsuit and shoes during transitions. To prevent all these miseries, invest in Body Glide. Odor- and petroleum-free and long-lasting, this stuff is gold on race day. Alternatively, some people have been known to use cooking spray; just be sure to avoid butter.
It goes without saying that you need to replenish electrolytes during long races. Nuun does so without sugar, something other sports drinks can’t claim. Each tablet makes a 16-ounce drink, has 8 calories, less than 1 gram of carbs, and plenty of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium to replace what you lose. Some flavors, like Kona Cola, have caffeine for a gentle lift when you’re getting tired.
It might seem like an “extra”, but sunglasses are absolutely essential for a triathlon. Aside from the obvious — sun protection — they also keep out airborne debris while you’re on your bike. If you wear prescription glasses or contacts, SportRx offers a good value for a wide variety of frames, like the very affordable Tifosi Vogel, which sports shatterproof lenses and a nylon frame with sweat-detecting grips.