A common question and worth spending a bit of time contemplating. When you think about it they are a critical piece of kit. Not only in regard to performance but also how enjoyable, or not, your tri experience will be. Discomfort, chafing, etc. can all put a pretty big dampener on things. The goal should be to put on your shorts and not think about them again until till you take them off. If so job done.
The aim in writing this is not to try and tell you which are the best tri shorts, but rather provide some thoughts and suggestions re how to go about evaluating and choosing the best triathlon shorts for you. So the question should really be:
What are the best triathlon shorts for me?
Or even better
How do I choose the best triathlon shorts for me?
Triathlon shorts by their very nature are a challenge. You have a single piece of clothing which is looking to perform equally well across 3 different sports (swim / bike / run), each with very different design requirements. Technically quite challenging.
Suggest the following two primary objectives when evaluating. That said the two are intrinsically linked. You could argue that comfort is an element of performance i.e. hard to perform when you’re not comfortable.
Comfort– Without a doubt the most important and the longer the distance i.e. time in them, the more important.
Performance – In short helping you to be as fast as you can. Two key points here. Firstly it must be performance across all 3 sports. For example no good having a pair of tri shorts which are brilliant for cycling but no good to run or swim. Secondly, performance must be considered within the context of the first, and primary, objective of comfort. For example no good having a piece of kit which claims to be the newest and best but is uncomfortable, or going back to the first point does not perform equally well in swim and run. Your overall performance and experience will suffer.
While we would all like to have the time and budget to test lots of different triathlon shorts for most it’s not practical. So the following are some suggested criteria for consideration as part of evaluating against the comfort and performance objectives. By no means should this be viewed as being a full and complete list, rather it’s a place to start. Suggest you think about, and establish your own criteria according to your particular wants and needs.
Specifically referring to how snug the shorts fit. In general I advocate as firm / snug as you can go, but not uncomfortable. Why? A few reasons. Firstly it minimises the risk of chafing. Having a nice firm and snug fit helps minimise movement and friction, leading to chafing. Secondly it helps hold the shorts where they should be i.e. no sliding down / riding up. Thirdly it helps reduce drag (refer below). Finally it offers the opportunity to include compression technology and the associated benefits i.e. reduced muscle vibration and aiding recovery, if you want it.
Note: Given body sizes and shapes can vary so much fit can be very case by case. Consider this when buying, especially online i.e. exchange / return policy and cost / timeframe to exchange if overseas.
Think about high v low waist. A personal choice however re high waist shorts, particularly within the context of a snug fit, be aware it can mean pressure on the stomach and the potential for discomfort. Particularly when considering long course and taking on fluid and nutrition.
This one can vary significantly and is very much a personal choice, but one worth thinking about.
How? In general an overall firm fit with no excess fabric. Additionally a fast drying fabric which does not retain moisture. A quality fabric which retains its elasticity over time is important (refer durability below).
Fabric Breathability / Cooling
An important one for those in Australia and other warm climates. Firstly a breathable fabric promotes moisture transfer, keeping you dry, which in turn contributes significantly to providing sustained comfort. Secondly a breathable fabric allows for, or facilitates, the evaporative cooling effect i.e. the body’s natural cooling mechanism. For warm / hot climates look for a highly breathable fabric. On the flip side those in cooler / more mild climates might want to look for more of temperature regulating fabric.
Undoubtedly a key component and one you should consider carefully. Particularly thinking cycling into running. Generally triathlon shorts will have a lower profile (thinner) chamois than you will have in your cycling shorts. Try running in your cycling shorts and you’ll understand why – think running in a nappy! If racing short course then most people are ok with a bit less padding given less time in the saddle. In regard to long course most people remain ok with a triathlon short, but quality and performance becomes all the more important. That said if you are a person who likes a well-padded chamois and you’re racing long (e.g. ironman) then you might want to consider wearing dedicated cycling shorts for the bike leg and changing for the run (make sure you check out the provision of change facilities in transition first). Obviously the amount of padding in the chamois also varies from brand to brand.
Having a chamois that works well and is comfortable across bike to run is key.
The other important aspect of the chamois is that it is obviously in an area of significant movement and hence at risk of chafing. Chamois features such as a high flexibility and dual independent layering can help with this.
The quality and type of stitching goes to durability (refer below) but also significantly to comfort. Internal seams and stitching which protrude outwards and into the skin, particularly around the crotch and inner leg, have the potential to cause significant discomfort. Look for flatlock stitching. As the name suggests the stitching / seam is flat. Refer adjacent image for an example.
Perhaps harder to evaluate upfront but an important one. No one wants a sag to start developing after a couple of wears / washes, or see stitching starting to come away. Absolutely look for reviews, word of mouth, etc, however you can also try to get an understanding of the quality of materials used (fabric and stitching) and the manufacturing itself.
Triathlon shorts sometimes come with additional features such as pockets. For example side Energy Pockets on the FUSION TRI PWR Band Shorts. You may want to consider your needs for these features. For example nutrition if racing long course.
Price v Value
Obviously price is always a factor as it should be. That said I would simply suggest when evaluating you consider value not just price i.e. balancing price and quality. Also exchange / return policies as referenced above in Fit.
Personal choice. Enough said!
Hopefully the above helps, or at least provides a starting point in evaluating and deciding the best triathlon shorts for you. Also hope you’ll consider FUSION triathlon shorts in the mix. Namely the TRI PWR Band Shorts which have a strong track record as one of Europe’s most popular.
Thanks for having a read.