Triathlon – what on earth should I wear!

In the lead up to my first triathlon I had lots of concerns. Can I swim 400m in open water without drowning? What do I eat for breakfast? Will my dodgy hip get through the 5k run (or rather walk, in my case).

But the one thing that worried me most was the all important question – What am I going to wear!

What I wore for my 1st triathlon

This was a sprint distance. I wasn’t sure if I would do another so I didn’t want to buy lots of expensive kit. One look at the price of tri suits and I decided to make do with what I had.

In the end I went for:

  • Wetsuit
  • Running shorts
  • Running vest
  • Sports bra
  • Socks
  • Trainers

My one big purchase was the wetsuit. With an open water swim (even if it was only 400m), I wanted the security and warmth. Plus, I loved the open water swimming so was sure I would use it again.

For the rest I just used my running kit. With a 20k bike leg on a hybrid there was no issue with lack of padding on the shorts. I wouldn’t do this on a road bike or a longer distance.

kit for a first triathlon

What I wear now

Having firmly caught the triathlon bug, I’ve now upgraded my kit somewhat. But I still try to keep it simple.

I now use:

  • Wetsuit (love my Orca Equip)
  • Tri shorts from Castelli
  • Tri vest top
  • Sports bra
  • Socks (I have sensitive feet so really don’t like going without)
  • Bike shoes with cleats
  • Running shoes

I like to wear separates. I did try on a tri suit once and it looked horrific.

Now I don’t have a problem with the elasticated waist on tri shorts, but some people find it uncomfortable, especially on the bike.

One thing a tri suit should have is pockets for your nutrition. I miss this with separates. Next year I might treat myself and look for a one-piece that suits me better.

Make sure the shorts are triathlon specific and not cycling shorts. The padding is thinner and will dry out much quicker. Cycling and running with a soggy bottom isn’t good.

entry level men's tri suit
Simon chose an entry level tri suit by dhb for his first triathlon

Women's Issues

Bouncing uncomfortably during the run is something none of us need!

Some ladies tri suits have built in bras, but if you’re bigger than a B cup these probably won’t offer enough support.

In which case you want to find a quick drying sports bra and a top which doesn’t have anything built in. This all adds an extra layer for chafing unfortunately, so do use lubricating balm like Body Glide to minimise this.

Pool Swims

If your first tri is a pool swim you could opt for swim wear and then change before the bike, but this has its own issues.

There’s no nudity allowed in transition so changing is complicated. I’ve never mastered the under towel change! Also putting a top and shorts onto a wet body is not easy.

For my pool swim triathlons I’ve always stuck with swimming in my tri kit. Just make sure your top (if you use separates) is well fitted to reduce drag.

pool swim at triathlon event
Tri kit is fine for a pool based triathlon swim

Buying Tri Kit

There’s a dazzling amount of choice when it comes to Tri kit. From basic and affordable options to sky’s the limit designer gear. My tip – go for whatever makes you feel good.

When buying kit (especially online) note that nearly all tri kit is sized with the slim athletic body in mind. If that isn’t you, be prepared to go up at least one size from your usual. I’m a UK size 10 but quite curvy so usually need to go for “Large” when buying kit.


Finally, it’s important to practice with any new kit before race day. You want to discover those chafe points well in advance. If this means jumping in the shower in your tri kit before going for a ride or run, then do it!


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