Triathlon Shorts - A Buyer's Guide
When selecting triathlon shorts, one must consider which tri short qualities will be most beneficial to his or her needs. Among the attributes that one must consider are the following:
- Inseam length
- Type of chamois/padding
- Pockets or no pockets
- Type of leg gripper
- Compression properties
- Fabrics used
When selecting triathlon shorts, the length of the inseam is a key factor. The inseam is measured from the center of the crotch to the end of the leg gripper as seen below:
For women triathletes, short triathlon shorts have an inseam of 3” – 4”. The most common and popular inseam length for women’s triathlon shorts is 6” - 7”. An inseam of 8” - 9” is often the longest for women.
For men’s shorts, a 5” - 6” inseam is considered a short inseam. An inseam length of 7” - 8” is often the most popular length in men’s tri shorts. Triathlon shorts for men with inseams of 9” - 10” are typically the longest available.
A triathlete’s height is an important factor when considering the ideal inseam length. For a shorter person, a shorter inseam may feel more comfortable. For a taller person, a longer inseam length typically would be more suitable.
Important to note, a triathlon short with a longer inseam will provide more support and compression since it will cover more of the quadriceps and hamstrings. As a result, longer inseams tend to be more popular for long distance training and racing.
Type of Chamois
As opposed to cycling shorts which often have a padded foam chamois, triathlon shorts have a chamois that is much thinner. The thinner chamois in a triathlon short minimizes the amount of water retained after the swim which will make for a more comfortable bike leg and it will also allow the triathlete to have a more comfortable run. Triathletes who have used cycling shorts during brick training or during triathlons can empathize with the common used comparison of “running with diapers on” not to mention a squishy feeling while riding the bike.
The two common types of triathlon short chamois are micro fleece chamois and foam padded chamois. Below are the characteristics of both types:
Micro fleece chamois:
- Quick drying
- Streamlined feel
Foam Padded chamois:
- Thicker padding for protection on bike
- Quick drying
- Provide more shock absorption
Different options exist for triathlon shorts when it comes to pockets. Below are the different pocket options and the benefits that they may offer:
2 Side pockets
Ergonomically located so that gels or nutritional items can be accessed on right or left side without muscular strain (see image).
4 Pockets(2 per leg)
Typically 2 pockets are ergonomically located on outer part of each leg (one on upper leg below hip, and one on outer leg by lower quadriceps). 4 pocket triathlon shorts are more appropriate for long distance races (i.e. 70.3 or Ironman distance) and allow triathletes to stash away multiple nutritional gels and other nutritional items (see image).
1 Rear Pocket
The pocket is strategically located to minimize bouncing of nutritional items that are stashed away (see image).
Shorts with no pockets are better suited for sprint or Olympic distance races that are short enough that the triathlete may not need to stash gels or nutritional items. Shorts with no pockets may also be preferred during training sessions that do not necessitate the stashing of gels.
When considering pockets on a pair of triathlon shorts, one should bear in mind that when swimming the swim leg of a triathlon without a wetsuit, some drag and resistance may occur depending on the location of the pockets. Triathlon shorts with pockets located on the hips or on the legs would result in more drag and resistance when compared with triathlon shorts that are constructed with the pockets in the rear. While swimming with a neoprene wetsuit, this would not be a reason for concern.
Another quality of triathlon shorts that triathletes should consider is the type of leg gripper. Most triathlon shorts have either a silicone leg gripper or what is referred to as a gripperless hem. A silicone leg gripper aims to provide a secure grip around the leg encircled by the bottom of the short to minimize or eliminate the chance that the shorts will ride up (or bunch up). Triathletes who complain of discomfort from this type of silicone gripper opt for a gripperless hem which often is considered to be more comfortable.
When considering the type of leg gripper, one should also take into account the size of his or her quadriceps muscles. While most triathlon shorts are sized based on a person’s waist size, some triathletes who are very strong on the bike and have well developed quadriceps muscles may have to size up. Failure to size up can result in the leg gripper being too tight and compromised circulation.
When selecting a suitable pair of triathlon shorts, one should consider compression properties. Triathlon shorts that offer more compression will facilitate blood flow and provide more support to the quads and hamstrings. While this should improve overall performance, some triathletes feel too constricted with too much compression, especially during long distance training and racing when more swelling occurs. In these cases, triathlon shorts that are snug but not actually constructed with compression properties may be a better choice. Triathlon shorts that provide more compression properties often are more expensive.
One should take into consideration the fabrics used to manufacture triathlon shorts when choosing triathlon shorts. Below are some points to consider:
Some fabrics will provide sun and uv protection which can be critical to protect one’s skin from harmful rays.
Some fabrics used in the construction of triathlon shorts also contain technology that can actually cool the body in extremely hot weather.
Some triathletes may have allergies which can be set off by different fabrics, so it is always important to read product labels to determine what the breakdown of fabrics may be (i.e. nylon, polyester, spandex, etc.)
In summary, when selecting the best pair of triathlon shorts, you should be able to choose the right shorts by first determining your needs based on intended use, personal preferences, and budget.