The night before my first ever triathlon, I collected all my triathlon gear I thought I might need for the race and started shoving it into a school backpack that I had found lying around in the closet. After I had stuffed about half my gear into the backpack, there was no more room.
So I did what any enterprising young triathlete would do. I grabbed a kitchen-sized trash bag from the kitchen cabinet, shoved all my crap inside, slung it over my shoulder like Santa Claus in spandex, and headed off to the race.
When I arrived, I unhooked the bike from the car rack, grabbed my trash bag, and mounted the bike. Then I realized how bad of an idea that was. There I was, trying to clip in my shoes and holding my trash bag in one hand to keep it from getting caught in the front wheel or the chain, all while riding up a slow incline.
It was after I got to the transition area that I saw that triathletes were using all sorts of items to carry their gear. Those items could be categorized into one of three things:
The Triathlon Bucket
The most popular transition “bags” I saw were actually those 5-gallon buckets you can buy at your local home improvement store. All their gear was stuffed inside and they used the handle to either carry the bucket while walking with the bike or while riding.
You can get these buckets for under $5, which easily makes it the cheapest triathlon “backpack” you’ll find.
What’s great about the triathlon bucket is that as you lay out your transition area, you can turn the bucket upside down and use it as a stool when you come out of the water and need a place to sit as you take your wetsuit off.
The only downfall of the bucket is that you’re not going to be able to fit your wetsuit in the bucket. To get the suit to the race, you’ll have to drape the suit over your shoulders, or perform some other acrobatics to keep it from getting caught in the spokes or chain.
Big Duffel Bag
The next most popular type of bag I saw at the triathlon were huge duffel bags stuffed with triathlon gear. Everyone has one of these types of bags lying around their house, so they’re pretty easy to come by. These duffel bags can even be strapped on your back while riding your bike, which makes it much easier to steer.
The one unfortunate thing about this type of bag is that there aren’t usually enough compartments to separate your gear. This makes it pretty easy to lose your goggles or wallet in with all your other gear, which can be a little frustrating if you’re trying to set up your transition area and all of a sudden can’t find your race belt that’s mixed in with everything else.
Also, these triathlon bags don’t have a separate compartment for your wet gear, like your wetsuit and/or towel. If you don’t care if your tri gear gets soaked, this won’t matter too much, but if you don’t want to have to dry out your triathlon bike shoes, or your running shoes after every race, it might be worth it to fork up the dough for the third type of triathlon backpack.
The Triathlon-Specific Backpack
If a bucket or big duffel bag isn’t your thing, you can always look into purchasing a triathlon backpack.
Nothing strikes as much fear into your competition as when they see you riding towards the transition area before the race, both hands on the bike, wearing your awesome transition bag (and not crashing into parked cars).
Besides all the questions you’ll be asked by new triathletes when they see you’re a seasoned pro with your triathlon backpack, you will definitely feel more organized.
When I finally decided to take the plunge after doing triathlons for a few years and bought a transition bag, it was nice to have everything contained within one bag, including my wetsuit.
I didn’t have to search like crazy through my bag, hoping against all hope that I didn’t forget my goggles, my running shoes, or my race packet. Instead, I knew what compartment everything was in so not only could I find it easily once I showed up at the race site, I could pack things so much easier.