Buying Your First Tri Gear

The time has come for me to buy new tri gear. This weekend, I am planning to venture out to my nearest multi-sport store to squeeze into some pricey spandex while simultaneously managing a toddler who abhors being restrained in a stroller. 

I’m hoping to save some money on last season’s clothing, which should make this a good time for shopping. If you’ve just completed your first summer of racing and want to splurge, here’s what you should know. 

First, if you’ve never raced before, you don’t need new clothes. Close out of this page and come see me next year when you’re hooked. If you’re considering your first sprint tri, start the race in a swim suit, then pop shorts and a tank top over it for the bike and run. Spend your money when you’ve experienced a race and want to do it again. 

With that caveat, let’s talk about tri-specific clothing. Tri clothing (or kit) is generally made out of quick-drying material. You’ll realize how important this is as soon as you emerge like Swamp Thing from the muck of a freshwater lake (or like a mermaid from a salty ocean). It is NOT fun to be soggy for the rest of the race. 

Many women’s tri tops have a built-in bra. On the current top I wear, it is just an extra layer of cloth with elastic around the rib cage. Since the top is pretty snug, that’s enough. At most races, you’ll see some ladies wearing an extra sports bra under their tri top. If you feel you need a little extra, that’s an option, but make sure the bra is fairly light, and not cotton (see above re: sogginess). There are tri-specific bras available. 

Tri shorts contain a light padding in the crotch for biking. If you’ve ever worn padded bike shorts, the padding on the tri shorts is barely noticeable in comparison. It is enough to keep you comfortable on the bike, but you won’t feel it at all while running. 

Tri kit is available in one-piece or two-piece. Because I am disproportionately smaller on the top and have a long torso, my current gear is two piece. (And, admittedly, I also find one-piece suits kind of funny looking. Think an adult romper.) On my upcoming shopping trip, I’m planning to put aside my vanity and try both. I’ll report back. Besides reducing the wind resistance, one-pieces don’t ride up. (And – vanity again – I admit I’ve had some pretty unflattering race photos featuring a migrating top and bare midriff.) If shaving seconds off on the bike is not a concern for you, try both types and see what is more comfortable for you. 

You may will see women in sport bikinis at your race. I claim no expertise in that area and will not attempt to offer advice. 

If you have a multi-sport store anywhere in the area, go there first. You will be able to see the brands and fits that are right for you, and the staff may be able to answer any questions you have. Don’t be shy about asking; they all were newbies once. If the store has a match for you, buy local! Otherwise, look for an online shop with a good return policy. 

If there is a local tri club (ask at your gym or search online or on Facebook), find out if they ever do group buys. Show your colors and maybe get a good deal. 

The bottom line (the lightly-padded bottom line) is that there are lots of options, so shop around and find what works for you.

Happy shopping!


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