Experienced triathletes will already know this information, however we get asked this question many times by novice athletes facing their first event.
There are clear BTF rules as to when you have to wear a wetsuit and when it is optional but in my experience, you will definitely need a wetsuit for the majority of the UK based open water swims.
You will need to wear a swim cap but often this will be given to you by the race organizer.
There are triathlon specific clothing options available. You can opt for a tri suit or you can go with what you have and race in tri shorts or cycling shorts and a T shirt. On race day you will see people wearing many different combinations. The most important thing for you, as a novice triathlete, is that you are comfortable on the day. The triathlon specific clothing is an additional cost, however it is designed for purpose and so may be worthwhile.
Triathlon specific race clothing will improve your comfort on the day due to the material it’s made from and the padding. There are a range of options available from two piece combination of tri shorts and tri top (the tops can be bra style for women or longer sleeveless vest style for both men and women) to a one piece with a front zip or a back zip. Some have pockets, which are useful for standard distance races and above, and are ideal for storing your gels. Which you choose is very much personal preference, do try a few on before you buy.
You don’t have to use triathlon specific clothing but it will make your day much more comfortable because it is designed to get wet and get dry again very quickly.
Your options if you don’t want to wear tri specific are to swim in a swimsuit under your wetsuit and then put on cycling shorts or triathlon shorts and a T shirt in transition. Triathlon shorts are better than cycling shorts because the padding, while still effective, is much smaller so that you can run comfortably in them.
The last two items are optional extras that are worth mentioning for the more competitive of you out there.
A race belt is an elastic belt that you attach your race number to. This means that you don’t have to pin your number to a t-shirt and then risk the number coming off as you put your t-shirt on. You can just have your number on the belt for the whole of the race, and what some athletes don’t realize is that you can wear your number under your wetsuit. Your number won’t get soggy or get ripped as you take off your wetsuit and it is one less thing to worry about. You just have to remember to turn the number around to the back for the bike and the front for the run.
These are another optional item but are really worthwhile getting. You replace your normal running shoe laces with these purpose made (or you can just use good old fashioned elastic!) laces. This means that you can put your shoes on without undoing the laces. No big deal you may think but when you are full of adrenaline and trying to rush, or maybe your fingers are a little cold from the swim, then doing up laces can take an age! We do strongly suggest you get these but as with everything else mentioned here today you must practice running with them and taking your shoes off and on before race day. Nothing should be new on race day, it should all be tried and tested.