What to bring to a triathlon?

By Sara Randolph

The information below is based on my racing and training experiences - many aspects of triathlon are athlete specific but I hope these tips below provide you some guidance as you find what works best for you.


Packing List

  • Instant Oatmeal
  • Bagel
  • Peanut Butter
  • Knife & Spoon
  • 2-3 extra ziplock bags (usually sandwich size and gallon size)
  • Pre-portioned Electrolyte Drink in a ziplock bag
  • Disposable water bottle
  • GPS (Garmin) Watch (if you use this during your race)
  • Timing Chip/Chip Strap (usually provided in your race packet)
  • Safety pin
  • Tri top and tri shorts
  • Women:  Bathing suit (if not wetsuit legal)
  • Flip Flops
  • Sunscreen

Breakfast:  If you are doing a race away from home, try to choose something that’s easy to prepare in a hotel room.  I usually bring instant oatmeal, a bagel, and a travel size peanut butter.  (There are many other options for breakfast but I’ve been eating this oatmeal for about 20 years now before a race.  It’s important to find something that works with your stomach before a race).  I can make the instant oatmeal in the hotel room with water from the sink and usually a disposable cup that’s in the room.  I also make myself a bagel with a little bit of peanut butter on it and end up eating it on the way to the race.  Because of my pre-race jitters, I don’t usually end up finishing the bagel but at least it’s something in my stomach.  I will mix my electrolyte powder with water in my water bottle(s) before leaving the hotel and put them in a large ziplock bag so they don’t leak all over my clothes.   I will also fill my water bottle(s) for my bike and my run water bottle at the hotel.   I will bring along an extra disposable water bottle so I can sip on that before the race begins.

Getting Dressed:  If the race is not wetsuit legal, then I suggest that women wear a bathing suit top and bottom.  You could wear a one-piece bathing suit too.  I choose not to swim in a tri suit top because the pockets in the back create a drag effect in the water.  (I have done an Ironman swim in a sports bra and tri shorts but also found that the sports bra tends to create a drag effect in the water so I prefer a swim top.)  Men can wear their tri shorts for the swim.  I put my timing chip on in the morning when I’m getting dressed because it’s one less thing to worry about in transition.  I put a safety pin on the velcro strap that holds the timing chip just to make sure it doesn’t come off during the race.  If it’s a cool morning, then I’ll put on a sweatshirt/sweatpants or shorts/tshirt and then put
that in my bag before going to the swim. You could also bring a sweatshirt that you can throw away just before the start of the race. If the race is wetsuit legal, then I will put on my tri top and tri shorts in the morning. During my race prep in transition, I will put my wetsuit on over my tri suit.

Transition Set-Up and Race Prep

Packing List

  • Wetsuit
  • Goggles
  • Swim Cap (usually provided in your race packet)
  • Travel Kleenex and hand sanitizer
  • Garmin or Cateye if you use this device on your bike
  • Bike Pump
  • Salt Tabs and Gels for bike
  • Running Visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Race Belt/Race Number Bib (the race belt typically has 2 snaps that will secure your race bib - it also has a buckle to secure around your waist)
  • Bike Shoes
  • Running Shoes
  • Socks (optional)
  • Running water bottle/holder (I use Amphipod brand water bottle 20 ounces - it shapes nicely to my hand and doesn’t fatigue my shoulder)
  • Brightly colored towel
  • Headlamp


A Few Tips for Pre-race and Post-swim

You can put your extra clothes from the morning and any other small items in your wetsuit bag (or small garbage bag if the race is not wetsuit legal) when you head to the swim start.  (Set them next to your bike if you don’t have family/friends at the race to hand the items to before getting in the water for the swim start).  I like to bring a headlamp to set up my things in transition.  It’s helpful when trying to pump up your tires and set things up by your bike. I like to bring my own bike pump but most races have pumps available in transition to borrow.  I have found the line for the bike pumps to be long and that can be a little stressful on race morning.  You can also pump up your tires at your hotel or in your car before going into the transition area on race morning if there is not pre-race bike check in requirement at your race.  I will usually share my bike pump with others so they don’t have to wait in the long line too!  I also bring a little pocket kleenex and hand sanitizer with me … you never know when the port-a-potty might run out!  I think that’s just the mom in me too!

When you are done with the swim, hang your wetsuit on the bike rack bar where your bike was hanging, it will hopefully keep your wetsuit from being trampled in transition.  I also think that the motto of “Less is Better” in transition. Only bring the items that you really need into transition.  The less crowded your transition area is, the more efficient you will be at getting in and out!
Allow enough time before the race starts and transition closes to completely walk through the entire transition process of the race.  Often I will do this the day before the race to save some time in the morning.  Walk through the swim-out area and into the transition area with the bike racks, look for landmarks that will help you identify where your bike is (some events have the race number ranges on the end of the rack).   Then walk through the bike-out area and bike mount line.  Next, go through the bike-in area and try to find where you will rack your bike before beginning the run.  Last, walk through the run out area so that you know where it is.  (if you need to, make note of where the port-a-potty is in the transition area).

Race Day Setup

Race Day 1

Transition setup

To the right is a picture of the setup that I typically use for Sprint, Olympic, and Half-Ironman Distance Triathlons.  It’s pretty basic.  I set my items on a bright towel so I can spot it running through transition - it’s easy to get a little disoriented after the swim.  (you will see many methods of people marking their transition spots - balloons, tape, baby powder trails, chalk but if you walk through the transition area before the race and look for a landmark - that is the best way to mark your spot.  The balloons are a good idea but would be bad if the strings somehow got wrapped around your bike handle bars!).

I choose to wear socks with my bike shoes.  (Many athletes will do triathlons without socks - some might do the bike portion without socks and put socks on for the run).  I basically stack my items in the order that I will use them.  I put my bike shoes closest to me on the towel.  When I get done with the swim, I will put my sunglasses and helmet on first (That way, I know they are on!  Some people will place their helmet on their bike, but I am afraid it might get knocked off accidentally and then I will be searching for my helmet.)  Then I put on my socks and bike shoes.  (Some athletes place their bike shoes on their bike and put them on while getting on their bike - you will need to have pedal clips to do this).  I put my water bottles, Garmin, salt tabs/gels, and Electrolyte drinks on my bike before I start the swim so there’s nothing I need to add to my bike during transition.

After the bike portion is finished, I come in and take off my bike shoes and helmet and put on my running shoes.  I have my running shoes pre-tied so I don’t need to do this during transition.  (Some people will loosen their bike shoes and leave them on their bike).  Then I grab my running water bottle, visor, and race number belt and run out of transition.  I put these items on while I’m running out of transition to save a bit of time.  I keep my sunglasses on for the run.  I will put my gels and salt tabs in the pouch of my water bottlebefore the race begins.  Depending on the distance of the race, I might need a few more gels/salt tabs - then I will put them in a separate ziplock bag and tuck those in the back pocket of my tri top or carry them in my hand for the first part of the run.  Many athletes choose to take water on the course at the aid stations - I prefer to carry my own water bottle with me in instead of getting water at an aid station.  For a longer distance triathlon, I might have to refill my water bottle at an aid station.  For a sprint distance triathlon, you may only need a glass of water at one or two aid stations depending on the race day conditions.

Above is a photo of my gear next to my bike in transition.  I try to keep my transition area items as close to my bike as I can but making sure I can get my bike out without knocking my stuff around on the towel.

Race Day 3Race Day 4I really like the front water bottle holder design on the bike.  There are several designs out there and many configurations to holding the water bottles.  I like having the water bottle right in front of me.  I don’t have to reach down or behind me to get my drink.   I also have a bento box attached to my bike.  There are many styles of bento boxes on the market too - my last bento box had velcro straps that attached to my bike.  During a race and in training, I stock a few key items in my bento box - multi-tool, tire levers, salt tabs, and a gel in case I get hungry or have a flat tire and need to patch the tire (The gel is the same width as the tire and comes in handy if glass punctures the tire).   For a race, I probably wouldn’t carry the multi-tool.  I carry a spare tube in the water bottle cage on the back of my bike, but my old bento box was big enough that I could put the spare tube in there too.  I have a mini tire pump that attaches to the back of my bike but some people prefer to carry CO2 cartridges in case they get a flat.

Post RaceRace Day 5

Packing List

  • Tank top or tshirt
  • Shorts or sweat pants
  • Compression socks/sleeves
  • Snacks/recovery drinks/extra water if you need additional items not provided post race