If you’ve decided to train for your first Ironman, there’s a strong chance you’ve quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of gear that you’ll need.
It’s not as simple as grabbing some shoes, borrowing a bike, and slapping some goggles on. There are dozens (hundreds?) of different things to consider, and it’s made all the more complicated by the fact that most of us don’t have an endless supply of money.
Triathlon is an expensive sport. From races that cost $750 to register for, to bikes that can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, there’s a lot to invest in.
This guide aims to recommend the best triathlon gear for beginners, without having to break the bank.
Here we’ll cover all 3 sports plus some nutrition favorites to help get you across the finish line!
The best gear for the Ironman swim
Key gear for the swim includes:
- Swim cap
- Wetsuit OR swim skin
As you’ll shortly find out, I’m a huge fan of Roka’s swim gear. After trying what felt like dozens of pairs of goggles (lots from TYR, Speedo, etc.) the Roka R1 goggles finally won me over.
The main benefits were the fog resistance (it actually worked AND worked for long distance swims), adjustable fit/comfort, and something they call RAPIDSIGHT. Since there are no lane lines to follow in open water, the ability to quickly get your head out of the water and see where you’re going is imperative to any kind of success (including not wandering off the course!). Their RAPIDSIGHT gives you extra field of vision out of the top of the goggle so you don’t have to get your head out of the water as far as you would with a comparable goggle to see where you’re going.
They also last. I trained with 1 pair for over a year and never felt the need to ‘get new ones’. They held off scratches & normal ‘abuse’ quite well.
For those races where you’re fortunate to experience wetsuit legal water temperatures (below 76.1*F, 24.5*C), a wetsuit can significantly cut time off of your full length swim.
Roka (again) does a great job here for the price. It’s commonly known that a full sleeve wetsuit is considered faster than a sleeveless mainly because of the reduced ability for water to penetrate the suit. Roka specifically makes the sleeves on their wetsuits some of the thinnest parts, along with the torso, leaving much of the thick/buoyant parts to the hips/legs.
So your legs float to the top of the water, without restricting your arms from pulling through the water. This results in an ideal (and fast) swim position with MUCH less effort required compared to swimming without one.
The other benefit is on those colder swims (Lake Placid anyone?) you’ll stay nice and warm, keeping your body temperature regulated.
Like all companies, Roka makes a mens and womans specific suit (linked above) to match the body figure of the swimmer.
For those of you not able to participate in a wetsuit legal race (or one where the water just creeps above the limit), consider a swim skin.
Swim skins are textile material, so they meet the Ironman standards for allowable swimwear in non-wetsuit-legal races, but they’re also hydrophobic.
They may not help you float, but they will help you slide through the water with relative ease compared to just swimming in your trisuit, or something similar.
They also fit nicely over a trikit, so you can simply get out of the water, flip this off and be off on the bike!
The best gear for the Ironman bike
This is where costs start to get a little crazy. You could easily (if you so wanted to) spend $30,000 on a bike. But that’s not what we’re going to recommend. Here are the bike-related pieces of gear that’ll get you across the finish line without breaking the bank!
The main reasons I’ve chosen to feature only the B14, is that it’s the same price as the 105, it’s carbon fiber (where as the Cannondale is aluminum) and it comes with the Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, vs the Shimano 105 series, which is a slight upgrade..
Brand new, this bike costs somewhere around $2,000. That said, I strongly encourage you to look online for used/previous year models to save a few hundred bucks. This is by far the largest investment you’ll have to make, so do what you can to find a deal or two.
Now that you’ve got a bike, let’s talk about all the stuff you should put on it!
Having easy access to hydration on the bike course is super important. Both from an aerodynamic standpoint (not having to get up and move around to grab something to drink) and a comfort standpoint.
One of the most accessible places to have hydration is between your arms on the aero bars.
There are hundreds of solutions for this, but the XLAB Torpedo is by far one of the best for the money. You can save a few grams of weight by going with some ultra-carbon-fiber solution, but there’s no need to spend hundreds of dollars on a water bottle. Grab this guy, strap it to your aero bars, and you’re off! Simple, easy, effective.
One bottle though, isn’t going to be enough.
Having a few extra bottles on hand is going to be a luxury when you’re on the full distance Ironman bike course. Having them out of the way of the wind (you know, to save those precious seconds) is key too. The under the saddle bottle mount both keeps 2 bottles on the bike, but also keeps you nice and aerodynamic.
Now, I personally tried about 10 of these, and 9 of them resulted in what I affectionately call bottle-rockets. Thats where you hit the smallest of bumps in the road, and your water bottles go catapulting off the bike into the air never to be seen again.
The Profile Designs mount was the ONLY one that was able to hold a normal size water bottle over even rough roads, so when you reach back to grab your hydration.. you know it’s still going to be there.
You spend a lot of time on 3 contact points, your butt and your two arms. It’s only reasonable to find a way to make each of those points more enjoyable, for your 5-7 hour bike ride!
First, the arm pads.
All triathlon bikes (or snap on aero bars) will come with arm pads, but most of them are super thin and rock hard. Enter Cee Gees.
These are like the Tempurpedic of arm pads. They’re almost memory-foam like, and they mold to your arms without fully compressing down to the metal.
They stay cool, dry, and are pretty darn slip resistant, not to mention makes it feel like you’re leaning on a pillow the whole ride. Well worth the upgrade.
99.99% of all bike saddles that come on entry level bikes are, well, terrible.
Triathlon bikes (even if you’re using a road bike with snap on aero bars) put you in a unique position, different from a normal road bike.
You’re often shifted further forward over the aero bars, adding more pressure to your sensitive bottom during your rides.
Cut-out and 2 prong saddles like this ISM help relieve that pressure to keep you comfortable (and keep your legs from falling asleep) during those long rides.
Shoes & helmet
Shoes and helmets are extremely personal items, so I’ll leave those individual choices to you.
Just make sure of the following:
- They’re comfortable. Like, really comfortable.
- The helmet meets all of the newest, greatest safety regulations
- They’re easy to get on and off (you’ll be rushing through transition after all)
- They’re easily adjustable (so you can adjust before AND during wearing each of them)
The best gear for the Ironman marathon
Ah the run. You’ve survived the swim and the bike and it’s time for that quick little cool-down run called a marathon.
Luckily for you, the run is where you’ll need the least amount of ‘stuff’. You’ll need:
- Race belt
- Tri-suit (which you can wear all day long)
There are hundreds (thousands?) of different running shoes, and it’s super important to try a lot and figure out what’s best for you.
Regardless of what you ultimately pick, Altra shoes should be on your list to try.
Altra shoes are really popular amongst Ultra runners (hence the name) and have some unique characteristics:
- They’re 0mm drop shoes (so your foot can stand as it would naturally)
- They’re well cushioned for those long runs (like this one)
- They have a wide toe box to compensate for the inevitable swelling of your feed
- They’re crazy breathable to keep your feet cool & dry
You’ll need a bib, and probably want to carry your own gels (especially if you don’t like the Cliff brand ones they serve on the course), so what easier way than to prepack a belt, snap it on and run?
The most convenient $12 you’ll ever spend is on this little guy. Snap it on and go, no fumbling with safety pins and all that jazz in transition.
One of the most common questions about an Ironman is “what do you wear on race day?”
Luckily, there’s an easy answer to that – a triathlon kit!
A tri kit is basically a onzie that can be worn under the wetsuit/swim skin on the swim, on the bike (it comes complete with a thin, quick drying chamois for comfort) and on the run (since the chamois is small, it doesn’t get in the way on the run).
Pearl iZUMi is one of the most decorated names in cycling, so it makes sense that they’d be a popular choice for tri kits too.
There are cheaper options, but do your homework. Some have thick chamois that’ll chafe on the run, or that don’t dry quickly after the swim. Sometimes a trusted name, is the way to go.
The best race day nutrition
Ok, so you’re going to do a race for 10-17 hours… what on earth do you eat?
Well, the two most popular answers to this are energy gels and electrolyte tablets.
There are a few brands, but MANY flavors, so be sure to try a variety pack or two to narrow down your favorites.
On the course they’ll serve Cliff energy gels. In my opinion, they tend to be quite A.) big, and B.) chewy. Not necessairily the thing you want when slogging through the run course.
GU energy gels have the same amount of nutrients as the Cliff variants, but they come in a smaller, less chewy package with (personal opinion) better flavor.
The downside, is they are slightly more expensive than the Cliff variants, but they’re worth it to keep you satisfied with what you’re eating on that long day on the course.
Nuun is simply the best here. Hands down.
Flavor, price, package, ease of use and preplanning (i.e. setting your bottles the night before the race), Nuun has it all.
The most common flavor here is lemon/lime (i.e. citrus), but they do have dozens of others too should your palate prefer it.
The only thing to note (and this is true with all tablets, not just Nuun) is that if you put them in a bottle and close it, your first few sips will be quite carbonated. To avoid extra bubbles in your gut during the race, let them sit in an open bottle to get all the fizz out before closing. That way there are no surprises!
There you have it!
Yes, there are other things you can buy, other accessories for the bike, but if you’re just looking for the best triathlon gear for beginners getting started, this is it! Good luck, enjoy your race, and I hope this gets you started!