With both a limited budget and a desire to be a serious competitor, I scour eBay, Craigslist, and scores of online sights to make sure every dollar I spend on triathlon gear counts. Usually, I can great used gear that gets the job done but isn’t necessarily anything I’d buy new or recommend to others. However, some gear I’ve acquired stands out as game-changers worth every penny. Below are a few of my absolute favorite picks for tri gear in 2018. If any of these items that I own broke, I would buy another at full price right away, which is my criteria for recommending gear to others.
Swim Gear Top Picks
Orca Killa 180 Goggles – I read a review in Triathlete magazine that said these goggles never fog up. Well, it’s true – and that feature means more to me than pretty much any other feature goggles could have. Sighting in open water is so much easier when I can see as clearly as wearing nothing at all. Two caveats – they only come in one wider fit size, and they’re hard to find online. I eventually found a pair on Amazon, although you might need to buy direct from Orca. The width took a while to get used to, but overall, a killa pair of goggles for sure.
Finis Swim Paddles – These are much easier to use than the ones with straps, and they’ve helped me better position my hands when they enter the water. They’re simple, effective, and don’t cost much at all.
Bike Gear Top Picks
Profile Design Aero Water bottle – Having a straw right in front of my mouth while riding in aero is critical for me to stay fueled during races and workouts. I love this aero water bottle, it’s both simple and durable, and it’s simple to install between your handlebars. I was also able to set up my Garmin so that it fits perfectly on top of the water bottle. As an added bonus, Profile Design has excellent customer service. About a year after I bought the bottle, I had a minor crash, and the bottle holder cracked. I kept it together with electrical tape, but then I thought I’d try contacting Profile Design. When I showed them a picture of my broken bottle holder, they sent me a replacement holder completely free. That earned my loyalty.
ISM PS 1.0 Saddle – This saddle is a lifesaver – and a butt saver. The worst part of my first Ironman was how much I wanted to get off my saddle I was using at the time (a Cobb Gen 2 – great saddle, but as I learned, not my long-ride cup of tea). With the ISM saddle, I can easily go 5 hours or more with little derriere fatigue. I was hesitant to drop $200+, but it was sooooo worth it. It took a couple months for my nether regions to adjust to the new saddle, but now I’m golden. I just love it. I believe they have a saddle trial program through the ISM site – but when talking with my bike fitter, he said that 90% of people prefer this model after trying several different options. And speaking of a bike fit…
A Bike Fit – Here’s an investment that every book I read listed as a must-do. “Really though?” I wondered, “Is it worth $200-300?” Yes, definitely. It is worth it – I promise. In the Atlanta area, I’d highly recommend All3Sports – they spent two hours with me honing in on an awesome, comfortable aero position. Without the bike fit, I would have been in a world of hurt. Not only is it more comfortable, but I’m able to push out more watts in an optimized position. The only downside to the All3Sport fit is that it’s only available during the week – not weekends, so I had to figure out a two-hour lunch break.
Zwift, an Indoor Trainer, and a Power Meter – I don’t have a specific recommendation for brands, but my power meter and fluid indoor trainer (a nice $70 Craigslist find) have completely changed my training. Not the least because I can use Zwift. I love Zwift. It makes bike training so much easier, quicker, and entertaining. I love riding outside, but the real improvements for me come from focused indoor workouts. It’s also a ton safer, which my wife greatly appreciates.
Run Gear Top Picks
Brooks Glycerin, Defyance, and Ghost Shoes – Brooks are definitely my go-to shoes. I’ve tried several other brands, but I keep coming back because they help me stay injury free and have a long lifespan. My advice is to get a professional fit in a good tri or shoe store, and then buy additional pairs of the same model later over and over online until you can’t find them anymore. I can usually find the shoe model I love a year later for around $80 or less – down from $120-150.
ONSON Touch Screen Gloves – Despite living in the South, I am always surprised by the number of cold mornings we have each winter. These gloves keep my hands toasty. Originally I got them for cycling, but I find myself using them just as much for running. They work well by themselves down into the 40 degree range. But – if you put a cheap pair of dollar-store gloves underneath, then they work down to 10 degrees or so (I haven’t tried them colder than that yet). More expensive options are probably just as good, but for the price, this is a solid option.
Other Top Picks
Garmin 920xt – I love my Garmin watch. Someday I’ll upgrade to a newer model, but the 920xt is solid. You can find it on Craigslist or eBay for a won’t-break-the-bank price of well under $200 – often closer to $100. It doesn’t have the wrist-based HRM, but unless you have a bigger budget, it’s my strong recommendation. The next step up would be the 735 or XXX. No matter the watch, definitely consider the quick release kit. I love the ability to easily switch my watch to my bike after the swim to keep track of power in a race. Then, in T2, I pop it back onto my wrist for the run. My two must-haves for a GPS watch (1) actual buttons (rather than just touchscreen), since they are less likely to be bumped during a race, and (2) the ability to work with an Ant+ power meter. I previously used the Vivoactive, but it can’t handle power meters very well.
TrainingPeaks Premium – I went a long time using the free version of TrainingPeaks, as well as the Google chrome add-in StravistiX for Strava. Together, they did a pretty good job, but I was still having trouble tracking my training like I wanted to. I used every TrainingPeaks free trial code I could find (and they have a ton, I got at least 4 free trials) until I finally realized that it was worth the investment. If you are a USAT annual member, you can get 20% off any time of the year. However, the best discount is on Black Friday (or sometime that weekend), where you get 25% off. To get free trials, sign up for their newsletter and then click on the link to the articles in the newsletter. TrainingPeaks will often send a free trial code a few days later. Searching online will help you find them as well.
That wraps up my top recommendations for 2018 – although I could probably talk for hours about other pieces of gear you may be considering. If you have questions or suggestions for other top picks, please leave a comment below.