- What is a tri suit?
- Tri suits vs. wetsuits
- Is a tri suit necessary for a triathlon?
- How to choose a tri suit
- Common materials used in making tri suits
- Different tri suit designs
- Endurance sport-based factors to consider when choosing a tri suit
How to Choose the Right Tri Suit
As a demanding endurance sport, Triathlon will require serious investments of time, effort, and resources. And part of the latter is the right tri suit, the main apparel that can help you survive the race and lead you to the finish line.
Choosing the right tri suit involves careful considerations. In this guide, we’ll help you understand what a tri suit really is, how it differs from a wetsuit, and how to choose the right tri suit based on your needs, athletic skill level, triathlon event, and preferences.
What is a Tri Suit?
A triathlon suit or tri suit is a special suit designed to meet all the physical requirements of a triathlon and ultimately enhance athletic performance. Tri suits are made of special fabrics similar to swimwear fabric, such as nylon, elastane, and polyester. These special fabrics and materials offer several benefits, mainly comfort and performance enhancement, and come in multiple designs for males and females.
Triathlon is a demanding endurance sport that combines the elements of swimming, cycling, and running, so a tri suit that only carries the best clothing features would make movements and transitions easier in an actual triathlon race. They are meant to be worn for the entire duration of the triathlon race.
Tri Suits vs. Wetsuits
Many athletes, especially beginners, find it challenging to identify the difference between tri suits and regular wetsuits. Although both work for triathlon events, a tri suit is a sports clothing that can be worn throughout a triathlon race without sacrificing the individual’s cycling, swimming, and running performance. That’s why they are mostly made of thin and breathable materials.
Wetsuits, meanwhile, are only recommended for swimming. They can’t be an alternative to biking shorts or running clothes. They are often crafted from neoprene materials, synthetic rubbers that are less sensitive to temperature changes. Hence, wetsuits are made to be buoyant in the water and survive moderate to extreme water conditions.
Is a Tri Suit Necessary for Triathlon?
No. Competitions and training don’t require tri suits. However, some organizations require athletes to wear the approved tri suit or wetsuit of the designated governing body. Some even require uniforms. External suits or other changes of clothes must also comply with the specifications given by the organization.
You can always opt to bring a set of triathlon clothes with wetsuits, a pair of cycling shorts, and running clothes for race day if you want to optimize your performance for each endurance sport. However, a tri suit can offer comfort, reduce your baggage, improve your race transitions, and maximize your time.
How to Choose a Tri Suit
Choosing a tri suit is quite difficult for new or amateur triathletes. Many elite and professional triathletes have already identified their favorites or preferences through years of competing. But for beginners, the selection is endless and overwhelming.
Despite the challenges involved in the selection process, one should be critical in choosing the right tri suit, as the right one can influence performance. “In some cases, their performance overall is similar, however, when individual zones are evaluated, differences in performance become more apparent, indicating that garment design, construction, and fabric differences have an influence on the performance of the suits in particular zones,” confirmed a published study by researchers at RMIT University in Australia.
To aid you in choosing the best tri suit that can offer the most benefits, here are some tips in assessing a tri suit’s features and characteristics:
Study the Main Material and Product Quality
Tri suits are usually made of fabric and materials that are very similar to swimwear fabrics. Still, they are much lighter and looser as not to hinder the individual’s cycling and running performance. The most common materials used in the market are combinations of polyester, elastane (spandex), and polyamide (nylon). The back part of most tri suits is mostly made with polyester for water resistance, while the main suit, including the lower part, is made of nylon and spandex.
Many manufacturers experiment on adding more fabric and materials to their tri suits to improve their water resistance, sweat absorption, and sun protection features. If you want to find the most comfortable tri suit that can also enhance your performance, look for tri suits with the aforementioned features and watch out for emerging ones. There are tri suits today that offer compression and hydrophobic features and new fabric technology.
Now to ensure that your chosen tri suit would last long, check the overall quality of the tri suit—how it was made. Check the cuts and seams, and inspect if they are made with expert hands. Tri suits with excellent cuts and seams can survive many triathlons.
Observe the Environmental Conditions
Know the weather conditions, water temperature, and other environmental conditions that will affect the race. Your entire triathlon outfit should provide comfort throughout the race, regardless of the environmental conditions in the venue.
See if there are dedicated tri suits that can handle hot, moderate, or cold weather conditions. It would be best to have a tri suit with sun protection and cooling features for hot, sunny days—something that blocks UVB and UVA rays.
On the contrary, look for a tri suit with thick yet light fabric that can stand cold temperatures for cold races. The trick is to check the entire garment design, especially the stomach and back panel zones. “It is recommended that garment design features of all suits should be assessed, such as the stomach and back panel zones, to determine whether design changes can improve thermal regulation and breathability performance,” advised an RMIT University study published in the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPPI).
You’ll likely need a wetsuit if the open-water swimming part of the race is too cold for a tri suit to handle. Again, remember that most tri suits don’t have advanced features that offer increased speed and temperature changes in open water. However, if the water is warm enough, you won’t need to change into a wetsuit or put your wetsuit over your tri suit. Instead, you’re free to look for tri suits with special swimming features like increased buoyancy, light-wear, quick-absorption, and drag reduction. You can wear those ones throughout the race.
Carefully Consider Your Size
Fit is critical. Most generic tri suits are free sizes, while others have standard sizes for small, medium, and large frames. Make sure to choose a tri suit that perfectly hugs your frame but is not too small. A large tri suit will make running and swimming difficult, while a too-small tri suit can cause chafing and skin irritation during running and cycling. On top of that, they can also cause blood circulation problems and restrict your range of motion.
Measure your size and weight at home before you purchase a tri suit. If the store allows it, try on your options and choose the one with a snug, close fit that comfortably hugs your body—like how traditional rashguards fit. While wearing them, stretch your body and feel the material. See if they’re comfortable enough, especially on the leg, butt, shoulder, and underarm areas—the most sensitive areas prone to chafing.
Think of Your Preferred Design
Your preferred design will pit one-piece and two-piece tri suits and sleeveless and short-sleeved tri suits against each other. The options generally depend on personal preferences but know that each design has its own pros and cons.
One-Piece vs. Two-Piece Tri Suit
One-piece tri suits generally offer more aerodynamics than a two-piece tri suit because of their compressed design. They also contain fewer seams, minimizing the risk of rubbing and chaffing. Two-piece tri suits, meanwhile, are more flexible in sizing and transitions. You can mix and match two-piece tri suits from different brands or with different sizes—whichever combination makes you comfortable. For transitions during long-distance triathlons, you can expedite your bathroom breaks or change into your wetsuit when the water condition has become too cold.
Sleeveless vs. Short-Sleeved Tri Suit
Sleeveless tri suits provide more flexibility in the shoulder area, ideal for the cycling and swimming part of the triathlon. On the other hand, a short-sleeved tri suit can provide basic sun protection for your shoulder when the weather condition is hot.
Aside from your design preferences, also consider the guidelines given by the event’s organizer before you opt for a one-piece, two-piece, sleeveless, or short-sleeved tri suit. Some triathlons have specific guidelines for tri suit designs.
Inspect the Level of Padding
Ensure that your chosen tri suit has a moderate to excellent level of padding in the posterior region; you’ll need this for cycling. Look for tri suits with suitable padding. Alternatively, you can also opt for tri suits that offer extra, detachable padding.
Some tri suits automatically come with a chamois or a tri pad for extra padding during cycling. The chamois is attached to the tri suit at the crotch area, the main region that will be in contact with the bike seat. Some chamois pads are lighter than the others, so they won’t affect the athlete’s swimming or running performance. Thin or reduced padding makes running and swimming easier.
Aside from the thickness of the padding, also consider its structure and design. Choose tri suits with chamois sections that have specific designs for male and female athletes. Gender-specific tri suit designs provide a better fit and padding design than unisex tri suits.
Check for Pockets and Other Useful Features
Pockets are arguably the most convenient and ingenious clothing feature in the world, and they can absolutely aid you during triathlons and races by simply carrying your essentials.
Look for tri suits that come with aerodynamic and convenient back or side pockets. The pockets can carry your gels, snack bars, keys, smartphones, MP3 players, and other essentials that you’ll need while constantly moving. Opt for tri suits with deep pockets on strategic locations. You don’t necessarily have to choose a tri suit with many pockets.
Other features you may want to consider are zip-able fronts or back fasteners, which improve transitions and expedite bathroom breaks. Female athletes can benefit from a tri suit that has a suspended sports bra with a back-fastener. The choices are endless; you can even customize a store-bought tri suit to add some features that you think may aid you during the race.
Consider Your Race Distance
Tri suits are indeed made to be worn throughout a triathlon race, but not all tri suits are made the same. Choose a tri suit with quality and material that can survive the race you want to compete in—sprint, super sprint, Olympic, Ironman. Choose a tri suit made with distance in mind, one that carries features based on the distance they are suited for.
Super sprint, sprint, and Olympic triathlons should be paired with tri suits that come with at least one lower-back pocket, graduated compression features, and front zippers. Meanwhile, Olympic, 70.3, and Ironman challenges should require tri suits with Teflon coating, soft-touch AeroForce Technology, front-zip for men and back-zip for women, flat-lock stitching, and at least two large pockets on the rear or lower legs.
Weigh the Endurance Sport-Based Factors
If you really want to maximize your overall triathlon performance for each endurance sport—running, cycling, and swimming, weigh the different factors that will affect your individual performance in each category.
In a nutshell, here are the endurance sport-based factors you should consider when choosing a tri suit:
|Endurance Sport||Things to Consider|
|Running||Chafing, irritation, temperature control, pockets and other storage design features, compression|
|Cycling||Saddle comfort, aerodynamics, chafing, irritation|
|Swimming||Drag, buoyancy, core support, compression, temperature control|
Strategically look for most or all of these factors in one tri suit. Although it’s time-consuming, you’ll see the benefits of an all-inclusive tri suit in your actual performance. Research all the tri suit’s features and list down how each feature will affect your swimming, running, and cycling performance.
Again, when choosing a tri suit, you have to consider lots of factors on top of your personal needs and preferences. The goal is to enhance your performance and make your triathlon experience as safe and comfortable as possible. It’s best to purchase two or more tri suits if you wish to compete in multiple races with different venues, race categories, rules, and environmental conditions. Your best tri suit for sprint races may not be suitable for an Ironman. Finding the perfect tri suit involves the combination of all tips mentioned above and a meticulous eye.