How to pack to win an Ironman

My training partners used to make fun of me for overpacking my bags and bringing way too much with me to races all the time. It was a real pain in the neck (and back, and arms, etc) to carry that huge bike box (or sometimes two!), a really big travel bag (or sometimes two!), and a backpack. Mass transportation was a hassle and I used to get into loads of trouble with airline companies because I would get angry when they charged me for extra luggage. On top of that, I would oftentimes experience airlines losing my bags and/or bikes which is a HUGE pain before a race. I can tell you that I have definitely had my fair share of arguments about lost bags with airline personnel–which is not a great way to get into the right mindset a couple of days before a race!

In time I finally realized that with triathlon packing–less is more. I now travel with one bike box and a backpack to most races, and not only is it a lot easier to carry everything, but I also run less of a risk of having an airline lose my bag, or having to pay extra fees to check in my bike (most airlines let you check in one bag free anyway–so they will often count the bike as your one bag).

I have found a packing plan that I can execute in less than 30 minutes (including bike breakdown), which leaves more time for coffee and hanging out.

My Triathlon packing list includes:

1. Nail scissors: Good for cutting nails of course, but more importantly it can be used to fix all kind of stuff ranging from start numbers to cutting tape..

2. Medical tape: This stuff is good for taping items onto my bike in transition, taping up injuries, sticking my ultimate intention statement to the wall (more on that in another post), or fixing random things that are broken. White is best if you can find it. Take with you to transition before the race!

3. Rubber Bands: I always put rubber bands around my bike bottles so I never lose or forget them. They are useful for all kind of things, but most importantly to fix the bike shoes to the bike for a perfect transition (more on that in another post).

4. Travel pump: I take a small one with me to fill up the tires for bike rides before the race. To actually get decent air pressure for race day, I fill tires with a borrowed stand pump as soon as I get a chance.

5. Race nutrition: Vitamins and supplements will depend on the race and race location. Salt tablets are a must when it is humid or hot. I always plan ahead and organize what I will have right after the race in order to speed up recovery (I have at least one Coke, a protein bar, and more salt tablets).

6. Earplugs/eye mask: These come in handy nearly each time I travel, starting from the noisy airport to the flight itself and also in noisy race hotels- especially when some over motivated guys are doing intervals in the hotel lobby the night before the race..(I am sure you have already experienced something funny like this- am I right?)

7. Walkie-Talkies: My wife Alicia goes with me to most of my races and she and I can communicate this way without having to invest in cell phones in each counrty. If we stay a bit further away from the race, on race day I leave with the bike while she tries to get to the race start somehow–in case I forget something important (like my wetsuit or running shoes) it’s a good emergency tool to talk to her if necessary. Check the range before buying and arrange a channel to use, plus a back up channel to switch to if you get bad reception (it hasn’t happened yet–but you never know). When the race has started she gives one of them to a friend and they communicate with one another in order to provide me with information when I am out on the course.

8. Race Gear: The race suit belongs in hand luggage! Depending on the temperature you can take either a one piece or two piece suit. Of course you also need a speed suit or a neoprene wetsuit that you can store in the bike box due to the size. I use the BlueSevety’s Point Zero3 for warm weather and BlueSeventy’s Helix Wetsuit for the cold. I also tend to take my goggles with me on flights and if I have long layovers I even take my running gear/shoes with me. Flying to Asia or Africa for instance, means having some time between connecting flights and some hotels do have cool fitness/wellness areas that make traveling very comfortable. I usually do the research when I am back home in order to see what hotels accept day guests.

9. Timing belt & ankle band: Use your own ankle band and avoid the plasticky velcro ones that rip your foot into pieces when running. Always have safety pins with you in order to fix your race number onto the timing belt if need be.

10. Goggles (2 pairs): It is not easy for me to find the perfect pair of goggles, so I always take two with me just in case something should happen to one pair.

11. Heart rate monitor/SRM: Valuables belong in hand luggage, so that you have it with you at all times and nothing can get lost on the way (use a zip lock bag for the stinky heart rate belt though).

12. Helmet (either aero of road but not both): Yeah, it feels funny as a pro riding around the day before or after the race with my aero helmet on, but who cares! It makes traveling way easier. Lookout because some countries have really strict helmet laws so you should always study the athlete guide before a trip. Anyway, riding a bike without a helmet is like smoking–it might seem cool at the time, but feeling cool is not worth the risk of serious injury or death.

13. Sunscreen and tooth paste: Large bottles are heavy to carry in luggage, so I usually bring the bare minimum so that it is good enough to cover the trip back and forth (I usually pack this stuff in my bike box). For longer travel I prepare an airline approved zip lock with deodorant, tooth brush, toothpaste and other necessary items for over night, or longer layovers.

14. Sunglasses (race & casual): Again, valuables belong in the hand luggage, but have proper cases for them (preferably the soft bags that can be used for cleaning lenses). I brought Oakley Sideways and Oakley Flak with me for this trip.

15. Running cap: Good for very hot/sunny races. You can store ice cubes in there, or just hide out underneath.

16. One set of swim/bike/run training clothes: Check the weather before you leave for the race and pack accordingly. I use training clothes (in a plastic bag to keep them from getting grease all over them) to cushion my bike.

17. Racing bike/run shoes: Bike and race flats go in the bike box–they fit perfectly around the frame.

18. Bike bottles: They also fit around the bike frame in the bike box. One bottle goes in the travel bag to refill with water once you pass the dudes on a power trip at the security check.

19. Cell phone (for alarm clock) with charger for USB: It is always good to be accessible (I take a phone with me on every bike ride) and it is good for emergencies. Watch your roaming charges, depending on the location (3 band cell phones are ok, except Korea and Japan). I use a USB phone charger to avoid having to carry too many converters and I can always charge my phone while I am on my laptop.

20. Pro-Cycling Magazine/ reading material: I usually buy it at the airport to read on my flight. This is my treat., it’s expensive but tons of interesting stuff to read- especially when you are a cycling freak like me- gotta follow my Luxembourgers Schleck and Kirchen on the road…

21. Drink powders/gels/bars: I measure out what I need and only take that with me. Try to use the stuff you are used to or what you train on. Having it with you is better despite the weight, because it saves you the hassle of finding stuff at a busy expo or elsewhere.

22. My mini laptop: I have one of those small and inexpensive laptops that are great for traveling. This is always good for those days leading up to the race when I usually spend my time hanging out on the couch because I want to save energy for the big day. It’s great for emails, surfing the net and doing all free phone calls from Skype.

23. Electric Razor & (normal) Razor: Due to my hair cut and beard I need some clippers for stays over 3 days. I take trvel sized containers for shaving cream that is light weight.

24. Pit Stop bike tools: A must have since Co2’s are sometimes hard to get and they are not allowed on planes. I like to avoid buying them at each race and then leaving them behind. Don’t forget alan keys and pedal keys.

25. Emergency gear: Sometimes you might need raincoats, wind vests, or minor items depending on where the race is.

HINT: When taking your bike apart: use spacers between the forks, unscrew back derailleur, cushion the bike with an old bed sheet (keeps cloths and shoes around it clean) and keeps your frame from getting scratched. Watch out not to bend cables, and don’t forget to mark your position before taking the seat post out, release air pressure in tires, take spare tires with you (also in the morning to the race). Skewers and tools fit perfectly inside the shoes, so do gels and bars/powders.

That should cover 99% of your travel gear.

When my bags are fully packed, they look like this:


Nice small, but efficient and easy to handle from door to door (You may or may not want to take the babydoll in the background with you on the trip).

I strongly suggest using a hard bike case, and cushioned wheel bags to store the wheels inside the bike box. When using a soft bike bag I had my fork broken on the way to Australia once–not a pretty picture.

For your backpack: Bring tickets, some cash, watches, glasses, passport, signature cards/business cards for networking, pen and paper, book/magazine, some food for the travel (especially if they don’t feed us hungry soldiers), cell phone, travel socks, Ziplock bag with personal items, ear plugs/mask, and pictures of the wifey when traveling alone.

So now you are read to go. Use this as a packing list and then you will save tons of time and start standardizing the procedure.

UPDATE:  My training partners have convinced me (after over 20 years of using the hard bike case) to try out another semi-soft case (with wheels). I will let you know how that turns out and whether or not I am going to leave my heavier but tougher hard case behind… we shall see!

2 Comments On “How to pack to win an Ironman”

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. @Carol: Thanks for your comment. I am glad you like it! Good luck with the training, racing (& packing) this year!

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