Veteran triathletes swear by some seriously weird non-triathlon-specific gear. These picks can improve your chances of killing it in the race or feeling better at the end, and most of them won’t break the bank.
There’s no question that triathlon can be a pricey, gear-heavy sport. It can be tempting to drop a ton of cash on everything from the perfect wetsuit to the most baller bike. But you don’t have to in order to win.
Check out these useful, cheap triathlon gear selections you wouldn’t normally think of.
PAM or Deodorant: From $1
Wetsuit chafing can make a whole race feel terrible. And the only thing more annoying than that is getting stuck in your wetsuit in transition, flopping around like a mermaid on dry land as you try to wriggle your way out of it.
A few spritzes of PAM or swipes of deodorant on primary contact areas — neck, wrists, and ankles — can fight friction in the swim and make wetsuit removal a lot smoother.
Stand out in transition by marking your territory with a super-loud towel with your gear laying on top. You used to be able to attach a balloon to the bike rack, but most races have banned that in the rules, so you have to get creative.
This towel can be customized with your name, or maybe even an encouraging message for yourself! If you need even more help, Michael Friesen recommends adding a bit of Day-Glo yellow surveying tape to your bike handlebars — or even using a brightly colored handlebar tape to make them stand out on the rack.
Changing Skirt: $25
Yep, this one goes for the guys out there too. Pre- or post-race, having a changing skirt can help avoid the “oh no, I just flashed the guy next to me” moments. Just pull it on over your tri suit, and then you can drop your shorts and pull on your clean, dry clothes post-race.
It avoids you standing around in your gross, soggy tri-suit, which in turn helps prevent saddle sores and other fun skin issues. This one is a unisex poncho, but you could also just grab any elastic-waisted skirt or maxidress to use instead.
Plastic Basin: $13
If you have picky feet that are prone to blisters or are a princess-and-the-pea type runner who will notice every tiny rock that gets in your shoe, you may want to have a plastic basin in your transition area to rinse your feet when you get in from the swim and the sandy run to your spot.
This basin costs only $13 and collapses down so it won’t take up much space in your bag.
Emergency Bag: Free!
You can rummage around your medicine cabinet, junk drawers, and toolboxes to pull together a small emergency kit with everything you might need in a pinch.
Jody Fath, a seasoned triathlete who’s competed in World Triathlon ITU World Championships, always has dental floss on hand in case she needs to sew a rip in shorts, or for use as a temporary shoelace!
Pro racer Kate Zaferes never leaves home without her small ziplock baggy packed with extra goggles, rubber bands, extra hair ties, tampons, electrical tape, and a spare gel.
Fellow pro Sarah Piampiano keeps electrical tape, scissors, Allen wrenches, and a headlamp in hers. Add a few Band-Aids and pieces of moleskin, and you’re ready for anything!
Anti-Chafing Cream: $10
Wherever you chafe, apply chafing cream. For some people, this is inner thighs. For others, armpits become a problem. Wherever you end up with red, irritated skin by the end of the race, a bit of Body Glide will make you a lot happier.
“I don’t know how I lived before chafing cream, dealing with the post-race pain,” said racer Cait Foisy. (Apply before the start, as Body Glide can last through the swim!)
Baby Food: $8 per 5-pack
Nervous eater on race mornings? Try baby food. It sounds crazy, but Katie Zaferes often packs the fruit squeezes you can find in the baby food aisle of any grocery store and eats them before or after the race.
Look for ones that contain foods you would normally love to chow down on but might have a hard time getting through on a morning when you’re freaking out or in too much of a rush to make a real breakfast.
Something like Sprout Organic Baby Food Pouches Stage 2 Baby Food in Sweet Potato White Bean with Cinnamon can be delicious and easy to swallow!
Plastic Bags: Free!
Before you put on your wetsuit, pull disposable plastic bags onto your feet and hands. “Plastic grocery bags over hands and feet help when putting a wetsuit on,” said coach Heath Dotson. “It helps you slip it on but also prevents nail tears to your wetsuit!”
And if you do end up in a rainy race, those same bags are also great for covering your gear in transition in the event of sudden downpours. There’s nothing worse than pulling on wet shoes to start your run.
Johnson’s Baby Shampoo: $10 per 3-pack
Need emergency anti-fog solution for your goggles? Pro racer Sarah Piampiano always has a travel-sized bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, which she calls “the perfect anti-fog solution for goggles.”
Just rub a tiny, tiny amount on the inside, and you’ll be fog-free. Bonus: You can also use the shampoo post-race to handwash your delicate gear, like your tri-suit and your wetsuit, rather than running them through a tough wash cycle in the machine.
ChapStick: $15 per 6 sticks
Jody Fath swears by ChapStick in a pinch, for dealing with a stuck zipper on a cycling jacket, wetsuit, or triathlon singlet.
And, of course, it’s also great on hot or windy days if you have a second to smear some on in transition to avoid seriously chapped lips by the finish line. Those Gatorade cups at aid stations can start to burn your lips if they’re dry enough to crack!
1-Gallon Sprayer: $13
If you’re racing Xterra, this is a no-brainer. But even those racing triathlons on the road will be thankful for a post-race hose-down (of racer and bike!).
Get the sweat and grime off of your legs, the spit and sunscreen off of your face, and the sticky energy gel off of your hands by using a small pressure-pump sprayer to hose down.
Lacrosse Ball: $6
Not just for tossing around in a game, triathletes can turn this super-cheap ball into an all-body massage tool that travels in any carry-on bag.
Pro triathlete Gregory Billington always has a lacrosse ball on hand for post-race self-massage, whether it’s a tight quad, glute, calf, or even shoulder or back muscle that needs a little TLC.
The lacrosse ball can be used pretty much anywhere on the body. And because it takes up next to no space in your bag, you can pack it a lot easier than packing a full-size foam roller.
OK, this one isn’t cheap. But triathletes do love a good splurge-worthy item, and pro racer Sarah Piampiano swears by her HALO Neural Primer Headphones to get in the zone ahead of race time.
For warmups, pop on these headphones and pull up the corresponding app to activate your motor cortex and put your brain into a state of hyper-learning.
Not into the neural prep hype? Alternatively, grab a cheap pair of headphones and pre-set the ultimate pump-up playlist on your phone and just rock out for a few minutes during warmup to the same set of songs guaranteed to get your heart rate up.