Triathlon Clothing Part 1:  The Five F's Of Triathlon Clothing

It's easier when you break it down!

Fabric, Features & Functionality, Fit & Feel and Fashion (how it looks matters to a lot of us):  it doesn't have to be difficult!


Ok, so doing a little research won't hurt so you might as well start here.  Work through your needs adn priorities in each of these categories and you'll be able to find the gear that best suits you.




Lycra is the name of the game in the world of cycling & triathlon clothing but what many don't consider is that not all lycra is created the same.  Fibre thickness and density and knit tension will all affect the elasticity and opacity of the fabric.  More elastic material will have more stretch and the level of expansion will be greater when the garment is wet.  You want a fabric that will stretch enough to allow full range of movement but not so much that the overall garment no longer fits snugly.  Two key indicators of the quality of the fabric are the fibre content and the fabric weight.  Look for Lycra or Spandex or the generic name for those fibers, elastane, contents of 14% or more. Fabric weight is expressed in "gsm" or "grams per square meters".  Unfortunately, this isn't always quoted on garments but you can do your own test of the garment for opacity when stretched.  It's not a perfect substitute test but it will tell you what you need to know.  Hold the fabric firmly in your hand and stretch it around your fist or your wrist. If you can see  all the details on any rings on your fingers or if you can read your watch, the fabric might be thinner than you want.  


Features & Functionality


Features are things like pockets, waistbands, pad and leg banding that vary for each garment and differentiate them from each other.  Identify what you need each of your shorts and tops to do for you based on the features.   


Whether you need pockets on your short and top and how many and how deep the pockets should be dependent on the events you're doing and your need for the event. If you need to carry a lot of your own stuff (nutrition, epi-pen, asthma inhaler, lip balm), consider the number and volume as well as the placement of the pockets. Remember that full pockets can be kind of bouncy so test them out in the change room.  

If the pockets carry enough stuff but are tough to get to, make sure they are convenient to reach and will keep your gear secure.  A gel tucked away in a pocket in transition that falls out when you get tucked into aero position (it's happened to me) isn't going to offer much sustenance when you need it.



There are only a few types of pads you'll come across. The most basic are those made out of some variation of a polyester fleece. Most times, it's just one layer but sometimes you'll see two layers with one of them being smaller and just placed where you need more cushioning.  These are typically the most economical pads but you will still see them in some higher end shorts


Then you'll see pads made our of some type of foam covered with a soft finish, moisture wicking material.  Within this group, you'll find variations in terms of thickness and density of the pad.  The higher the density of the pad, the more protection it will provide when compressed (ie when you're using it).  Here, you really are going to be happiest with a higher density cushion.  

You will also see variations in thickness and size.  Here's where bigger isn't always better.   There was once a Canadian brand that featured a pretty beefy pad in their long distance short.  That was a lot of bulk to wear for 26.2 miles!  We've never seen anything quite that big since and no one has been looking too desperately for it.  A good example of how a thicker pad is done right is the DeSoto Riviera short which features the thickest zone at 7mm only long the center and rest of the pad is 5mm.  Another good example is the ZEROD long distance short which features a gel insert in the key center zone where more cushioning is useful.


Waist Finish

You will find self fabric bands or elastic band waist finishes. And for either, you will find drawstring options -some have them, some don't.  

A self fabric band might be more comfortable but it needs to fit just right to prevent riding down or over-tightness.

Elastic is easier to fit as it is more elastic. I don't think there's any better way to say that one!  Look for drawstring on elastic waistbands to ensure secure fit for non-wetsuit swims and for aggressive wetsuit stripping. 


Leg Band

Here's a tough one to get right. And everyone is going to have a different preference.  You'll find everything from elastic and silicone grippers, to self-fabric or silicone infused bands and various combinations of all of those.  The best thing you can do is try them on and see how and where they hit you in order to see if it all makes you happy. I can confirm that no one likes what is universally called the "sausage leg" effect and manufacturers and suppliers are definitely listening. The worst offender for this is the elastic trim and it has pretty much disappeared from use among all the suppliers we deal with.  

There are still some strong preferences and there is no short cut to trying them on.  


Fit & Feel


If it doesn't fit you, you're wasting your money.  If it's too big and expands and floats around you in the water during a non-wetsuit swim, you will have lost the hydrodynamic benefits of wearing the suit. And onto the bike and run, a too big suit will  move against your skin causing chafing and bunching when the last thing you need to feel during a race is more discomfort.  And a too small kit can limit your range of movement and cause irritation. Again, discomfort from your clothing is an added distraction you don't need on race day.  


Feel is a more intangible sensation. Whether you are looking for compression support or if you want just straight up comfort, feel will be to your own persona choice. If you are shopping in person at the store, that is the best way to make sure you get the fit and feel you are looking for. If you are shopping online, customer reviews might help but you can always email or call us with your own specific questions and we can help you get the piece that best suits your needs.




This might not be your top priority but it might be to someone else.  There is no doubt that you will feel better when you are happy with what you are wearing and if you feel better, you might just swim, bike and run a little faster.  Not everyone places a high priority of how their kit looks but enough of us do that it warrants mention.  And this is a race factor you can control so you might as well put some thought into it.  So much of what happens on race day is beyond your control so with your race kit, you have the opportunity to have something working in your favour on race day.  So, pick something that makes you happy.  




Prices on triathlon clothing can vary but, for the most part, you really do get what you pay for.  Most clothing brands will have 2 or 3 or 4 price levels and the most expensive pieces will come with the most advanced technical features and fabrics.  The priorities you put on the Fit & Functionality will put you in a price range relative to the level of quality and technology you are looking for.  Look for triathlon shorts to range from $50 to $150, triathlon tops $60 to $160 and trisuits $99 to $399.  




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