When I was training for my first triathlon, I did all kinds of research on what to take to the race. My biggest fear was forgetting something and finding myself either unable to race or too freaked out to enjoy the experience. Overwhelmingly, everything I read boiled down to one important piece of advice:
Make a list!
A triathlon, especially your first, is frightening and vomit-inducing enough. But realizing you have forgotten something 30 minutes before the race starts, something like your running shoes or your bike helmet, can send you into full cardiac arrest. Make it as stress-free as humanly possible by having a list of the gear, equipment, and anything else you will need for race day, following that list as you pack, checking off the list as you pack, and referring to the list as you unpack and prepare your transition area. If you are like me, and just about every other triathlete out there, making lists is second nature to you. What might not be so easy, though, is knowing what to put on that list.
This is a basic list for newbie triathletes, ideal for a sprint distance race. Long course triathlons require an ungodly amount of extra gear, nutrition, clothing, etc., so much so that you might as well pack a sherpa. I've broken the list down by race leg - swim, bike, run - as well as pre- and post-race items that are good to have.
Triathlon Packing List - A Newbie's Guide
Pre-race (transition area setup)
Bucket filled with water or a large bottle of water - this is for your first transition from the swim to the bike (T1). Depending on the race venue and the swim type, you might have grit or sand on your feet and in between your toes. Dip your feet in the water or pour water on your feet before you put your shoes on, or you will be hating life during the run. Some races offer a foot wash, but I find that it doesn't do much good, and I always have water at my transition area anyway.
Towels - Have a dry towel for your feet, have an extra towel for wiping your face.
Nutrition - A sprint triathlon does not require you to lay out a buffet at your transition area like the long distance races. But have water or your favorite hydrating liquid (save the beer for AFTER the race) ready on your bike, and have extra easily reachable in your transition area. Have a gel or something you can tolerate, that won't make you puke, and that YOU HAVE TRIED BEFORE available if you need it. **Cardinal Rule of racing: NEVER try something new on race day or during the race. Bad things, unspeakable things can - and likely will - happen.
Sunscreen - Never neglect your skin! Lather yourself up good before the race, and reapply between the bike and run.
A gear/transition bag - You need something to lug all of your crap in. You can buy triathlon gear bags - they vary in price from moderately pricey to is it going to race for me? expensive. They have way more pockets, pouches, niches, and zippers than they need, but they are fun to carry, in a burden animal sort of way. Use a backpack, a duffel bag, any bag that helps you contain, organize, and tote your triathlon stuff to your transition area and out again. It also gives you a place to safely conceal your car keys, phone, id, and money.
Swimsuit - You will be swimming in the same outfit that you will be biking and running in. The sprint distance doesn't allow time for a wardrobe change. And honestly, nobody likes a naked triathlete in the transition area.
Wetsuit - if the race is wetsuit legal, and you are wearing one, you will want to remember to pack it. Don't be a polar bear if you don't have to be.
Goggles - Race in goggles that you have swum with before (Cardinal Rule). But bring an extra pair! Goggles snap, break, and grow legs and walk away from time to time.
Bike - This should go without saying, but you really should bring your bike. People have been known to forget their bikes.
Shoes - If you have clipless pedals, you must remember your cycling shoes! These are not necessary, of course, and many folks have regular pedals and ride in their running shoes. If you wish, you can put your socks on during T1 and both bike and run in them.
Sunglasses - Proper cycling/running sunglasses will help cut down on glare. Not necessary, but a nice thing to have.
Helmet - You MUST have a properly fitting bike helmet. I can't think of a race that will let you leave the transition area without your helmet on and strapped at the chin. It's the rules.
Running shoes - These are pretty important. Again, people do forget them! So, don't. This should go without saying, but please PLEASE do not wear a brand new pair of shiny running shoes. Ahem, Cardinal Rule...
Socks - Bring 2 pair, and don't wear a pair that you haven't run in before. Again, remember the Cardinal Rule...
Hat/visor - Not a necessity, but nice for keeping the sun off your face, and sweat out of your eyes.
Race belt - This is for attaching your bib to for the run. It is pretty necessary, and they are inexpensive to buy. Have your bib attached to it before the race, and have it set out on top of your running shoes. Also, go for a run wearing it before the race, so you can have it adjusted to your comfort level. Again, CARDINAL RULE!
Change of clothes - Depending on how much you sweat, and how comfortable you want to be during the post-race festivities, you might either want to bring a full change of clothes, or simply bring a t-shirt to wear over your wet and sweaty triathlon ensemble.
Money/i.d. - Bring these for food and drink after the race. You will also have to show your identification when you check in before the race.
This is my starter list for a triathlon newbie. As you gain more race experience, you might find that you need more or less in order to have your perfect race experience. If I've left something off, please don't hesitate to call me out on it...leave your suggestion in the comments!
Make your list, train hard, race harder, and enjoy yourself!