When you arrive at the triathlon venue to pick up your packet, you may be amazed at the swirl of activity as people line up to get their essentials from the race organizers. There are race numbers (bibs) for you to wear and put on your bicycle, a swim cap with your race number on it, and a computer chip if your race will be timed that way. Your may also receive a goody bag with coupons, samples, and other giveaways.
A typical large race will also feature an expo, where myriad products are on display and for sale — from shoes to biking gear to energy bars and gels. Just about anything you might need for a triathlon, and plenty of stuff you don't need, will be available. The expo is usually very busy. You could find it overwhelming and confusing. You won't even be thinking about all the stuff you need for your race.
That's why you did your homework before you left home for the race by going over your equipment checklist. That's the easy way to make sure you brought everything you need to compete. Here are your lists, separated by sports:
Swim trunks or swimsuit
Triathlon suit if preferred. The tri suit is a one-piece outfit you can wear in all three sports without having to change. These things have zippers, so carry a backup tri suit or regular swimsuit in case the zipper breaks (it's been known to happen).
Plastic garbage bag. Can have many uses.
Two pairs of goggles (normal lens and dark lens)
Wetsuit if needed (for water temperatures 78°F or lower)
A lubricant (but not petroleum jelly) for the neck and underarms if a wetsuit is worn. You need this to prevent chafing. Spray-on cooking oil will work, but the expo will have wax-based lubricants that are easier to carry around.
Swim cap. The race organizers will provide one, but you are permitted to wear your own underneath to keep out the cold if temperatures are unexpectedly low.
The plastic garbage bag is handy in case of rain. Put it over your running shoes and socks while you are riding so that you don't have to pour the water out of your shoes after the ride, then put on wet socks before you even get going.
Water bottle. Look for a specially designed bottle that attaches to your bicycle's aerobars and comes with a straw so that you can lean forward for a drink instead of having to grab a bottle from a holder.
Cage to hold the bottle if you use a plain bottle
Two helmets. You never know when you or another triathlete might need one.
Energy source. Best is a gel that you can tape to the handlebars.
Electrolyte tablets. These are very useful in warm weather.
Pump for the bike tires
Flat repair kit, including an extra tube
A large towel for laying out and organizing your bicycle and run gear and for drying your feet after the swim
Take care in inflating your bicycle tires the morning of the race. If the temperature rises significantly that morning, the tire pressure will increase. It's not uncommon to hear several ominous pops on race morning as overinflated tires blow out while still in the racks.
You can save a few seconds in transition by not wearing socks with your running shoes, but unless you have experience running sockless, don't do it. You will almost certainly get blisters. It's not worth the few seconds you might save.
Race number belt, best for displaying your race number in the run. You can grab it and put it around your waist as you go.
Hat or visor in case of bright sunlight