What to wear for a triathlon – beginner guide to race day gear

Gearing up for your first triathlon and not sure what to wear? We talk you through the best options, so you can focus on your race - not your wardrobe woes.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
Last updated -

Getting ready to take on your first triathlon is exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measures. And as you get closer to race day, you might be wondering what your options are when it comes to what to wear for a triathlon.

To help calm those pre-race nerves, we’ve put together a guide that will take you through your options when it comes to race day outfit choices. So you can focus on enjoying your first event – rather than stressing about what to wear.

What to wear for a triathlon swim – do I need a wetsuit for a triathlon?

Deciding what to wear for the swim section of a triathlon will come down to a few factors: whether your race starts in a swimming pool or open water, what the water temperature will be, and your personal race goals. With that in mind, there are a few different options.

Pool-based sprint triathlon

Many small, local sprint or super sprint triathlon races feature a swim leg that starts in the swimming pool. This is a great option for beginners, because it means you haven’t got to worry about learning how to swim in open water. And it also means you don’t need a wetsuit.

If there will be changing facilities in transition at your race, then you can choose to wear your regular swim suit or jammers for the swim section. And then get changed into your cycling gear in the changing tent before you head out of transition. It’s important to note that nudity isn’t allowed in transition, so if there aren’t changing facilities – you’ll have to put your cycling/running gear on over the top of your swim suit.

For this reason, you might choose to get a tri suit. These specially designed multisport suits are designed to be comfortable for swimming, cycling and running. So you won’t have to worry about getting changed.

If you’re participating in a triathlon with an open water swim (i.e. the swimming section takes place in a lake, river, canal or the sea) then it’s highly likely to be ‘wetsuit legal’. This means the water temperature is cool enough that you’re allowed to wear a wetsuit.

Sumarpo Vanguard open water swimming wetsuit
For open water swims, a wetsuit is usually the best option for comfort and speed.

The precise rules on wetsuit use and water temperature vary, but generally if the water is warmer than 14 degrees and not in excess of 22 degrees whether you wear one or not will be optional. However, because of the benefits of wearing a wetsuit including added buoyancy, warmth and more efficient swimming. If you have the choice, we’d always recommend wearing a wetsuit.

Similar to a pool-based triathlon, you can either opt for swimwear underneath your wetsuit and get changed in transition. Or wear a tri suit, so you don’t have to lose time changing.

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Open water triathlon with a non-wetsuit swim

When the water reaches a certain temperature, wetsuits are no longer allowed to be worn by participants in a triathlon due to the risk of overheating. Typically wetsuits will be banned if the water is warmer than 22 degrees Celsius for shorter distance races, like sprint triathlons. And in longer distance racing, such as Ironman, the water would need to be over 24.6 degrees Celsius.

If your race features a non-wetsuit swim, you can just swim in your tri suit. Most good tri suits are designed with hydrodynamic coatings and features to ensure they don’t create energy-sapping drag in the water. However, if you want to be right up at the competitive end of the field you could also wear a swim skin over the top of your tri suit. These are tight fitting all-in-one suits designed to offer enhance streamlining to help you swim faster.

It’s important to note that if you’re racing a triathlon with a non-wetsuit swim, you’re not allowed to wear anything that aids buoyancy – such as neoprene buoyancy shorts. And you’re not allowed to have anything on below the elbows or below the knees. Which means no socks/calf sleeves can be worn during the swim.

RELATED: Triathlon gear guide for beginners

What are the benefits of wearing a tri suit?

When you’re just getting started in triathlon, there’s no issue with choosing to get changed in between each discipline – as long as there are changing facilities available. However, doing so will cost you a lot of time during the race. And it also gives you much more to think about on race day – both in terms of how much gear you need to pack. And what you need to do in transition.

TRI-FIT women's sleeveless tri suit

This is why most triathletes choose to wear a tri suit. Usually an all-in-one design, these suits feature a sewn in chamois pad to keep you comfortable on the bike without getting in your way during the run. They’re also made from materials designed to keep you cool, and some of the premium suits even have high tech features to help you cycle faster! Wearing a triathlon suit will save you a lot of time in transition, and it’s the best option to feel comfortable across all three triathlon disciplines.

Take a look at our tri suit buying guide and our round-up of the best 2024 tri suits for more guidance on finding your perfect tri suit.

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Should I get changed for the run in a triathlon?

In short distance racing such as sprint triathlons, we’d recommend running in your tri suit. Or even your cycling gear if you don’t want to get a triathlon suit quite yet. Because the run is relatively short, you won’t experience too much discomfort even if you’re running in cycling shorts.

But if you’re stepping up to long distance racing such as Ironman, and you’re not worried about getting the fastest finish time you possibly can. You could choose to get changed into specific running kit to take on the marathon section. Ultimately it comes down to what you feel most comfortable wearing. It’s worth noting though, that your tri suit will most likely be made of the best materials to keep you cool. And it has pockets built in to store your gels/nutrition.

Other triathlon gear and accessories to pack for race day

Alongside your wetsuit and tri suit (or choice of swimming/cycling/running gear) there are a few other key bits of gear you need to make sure you have with you. That includes your goggles, cycling helmet, cycling shoes (if you ride clipped in) and running shoes. You might also want to consider getting a race belt, as this is the easiest way to wear your race bib number without having to fiddle with safety pins in transition.

Check out our triathlon race day checklist for a comprehensive list of everything you need to make sure you’ve packed and prepared on race morning.

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Quick recap/FAQs

What to wear for a sprint triathlon?

Unless there are changing facilities, for a sprint triathlon it’s best to wear a tri suit. You’ll also need goggles, a cycling helmet and cycling shoes/running shoes. If you race has an open water swim, you’ll also want to wear a wetsuit.

What should females wear in a triathlon?

For women, a common question is around whether to wear a sports bra or get a tri suit with built-in support. Using a separate sports bra can be the most comfortable option, particularly as the built-in bra available in some tri suits may not offer enough support. Just make sure you practice swimming with your sports bra on to ensure you have enough range of movement. And ideally avoid a sports bra with padded cups as these will absorb too much water and could cause chafing.

What to wear in an Ironman distance triathlon?

Most participants still race in a tri suit for an Ironman/long distance triathlon. However if the weather conditions are bad, you might want to take a lightweight cycling jacket for the bike leg. Some athletes also choose to get changed for the run – but this will cost you time in transition.

What are the wetsuit rules in a triathlon?

The precise rules can vary depending on what country you are racing in. However as a general guide, wetsuits are mandatory when the water is under 14 degrees Celsius for short distance racing and under 16 degrees C for long course. And they are banned when the temperature exceeds 22 degrees C for short course, and 24.6 degrees for long distance. Between those two extremes, wetsuits are optional – but usually recommended as they give you free speed!

Is a tri suit faster?

Yes, wearing a tri suit is the fastest option in a triathlon. You’ll save a lot of time by not having to get changed between each discipline. Tri suits are also designed to be aerodynamic, helping you to ride faster on the bike.

Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has four full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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