Complete Tri

Triathlon Tops and Singlets

Triathlon tops, or singlets, are a useful part of a triathlon wardrobe.   A good tri top feels great during the race and is easy-to-use in the transitions.  Sure, you can just wear a t-shirt or cycling shirt, but there are some disadvantages which we cover below.

Maybe most importantly for those trying to improve their times, a tri singlet should improve your overall performance because you should spend less effort and time in transitino.

pearl izumi tri singlet
Pearl Izumi

The best triathlon tops are made by the same makers of other quality triathlon gear, such as triathlon shorts or suits.  We recommend sticking with these brands, because they have invested in researching and designing gear that is sport-specific.  The last thing we want you to do is be stuck with a shirt that wasn’t really made for triathlon — that could actually end up being a liability.

Here are our 5 favorite triathlon singlets on the market right now.

Pearl Izumi Elite Singlet

We like everything we use from Pearl Izumi, and this tri singlet is no different.  Like many of the tops listed, it is made of a nylon / elastane blend which gives the top a form-fitting feel while still being breathable.  The flat lock stitching is noticeably smooth against the skin, something that PI has been doing well in their garments for years.

Pocket placement is on the side, toward the rear.  Pockets are easy-to-reach but form-fitting when not being used.  We like that the back of the singlet reaches down a little lower than the front, providing coverage when you are in an aggressive aero position on the bike.

Sugoi Tri Singlet

A 10 inch zipper provides for a large neck hole and venting on the run.  It comes in a couple colors, and PI says it is ideal for temps of 70 to 100 degrees F, making it an excellent choice for those hot summer races.  It runs just a little on the small side, but you want it snug (but not tight — there is a difference).  Find it here on Amazon.

Sugoi RPM Tri Tank

Perhaps the gold standard of tri tops in our opinion, the Sugoi is a quality product and you can feel the excellent construction as soon as you put it on.  Breathable, moisture-wicking fabric is supplemented by mesh vents on either side, nice for those longer races or warmer days.

We find the RPM to be very well-made.  It has great seams and a comfortable fabric.

Pocket placement is in the back, and we like the pocket depth but sometimes prefer them to be a little further up on the side — makes for a little safer reach when cruising along on the bike.

Like many of the others, Sugoi has two rear pockets for your fuel, and we like that the back of the shirt goes down a bit further than the front.  This provide nice coverage on the bike leg when you are in a more aggressive posture.

An ample zipper goes all the way down to the belly button.  Like many of the others here, it comes in a sleeveless form.  Find it here on Amazon.

2XU Perform Tri Shirt

2xu tri singlet

2XU did a nice job with their Perform Tri Singlet Shirt, a sleeveless shirt that wicks moisture well and is very lightweight.  The fabric blend is 83% polyamide, which may sound like a toothpaste but is basically a nylon variation.  We like the three rear pockets, which sit at an angle so thye are easier to access and reach when you need your fuel.  The zipper runs about halfway down the front, to just above the belly, creating enough room for an easy-on even when wet.  We didn’t experience any bunching under the wetsuit.

Overall, what we would expect from 2XU – quality and performance from someone who has been at this for a long time.  Find it here on Amazon.

Zoot Core Tri Top

Zoot upped their game on tri tops last year, addressing a couple issues that we felt they had in the design.  Now, it is on par with some of our favorite tops on the market.

The Zoot has 80% nylon construction which will keep it form-fitting and low-profile, but the mesh on certain parts of the top provides for a more breathable garment overall.  The long zipper comes down to the ribcage, allowing for easy on and off, and cooling on a hot day.  It is a sleeveless top, but the fabric areas have a 50 SPF quality.  Three rear mesh pockets allow for ample storage of gels, etc, although we like the pocket placement on some of the others better — it is all personal preference.   Overall, a good top that we would gladly use.

Like many others on this list, the rear hem is lowered, although not as much as some of the others (we have not measured, this is based on eyeballing them).  Find it here on Amazon

ROKA Tri Singlet

ROKA seems to be making good tri gear right now, and the Aero tri top is definitely a nice garment.  Perhaps inspired a bit more by hardcore cycling jerseys than some of the others, ROKA notes the aerodynamics of the top for the cycling leg.  We like the form-fitting design and positioning of the stretch pockets, more centered in the lower back.  The zipper provides ample ventilation, and the knit fabric is a nice touch compared to the field.

It’s a bit different design, but it performs well.  ROKA does a nice job with their seams, which is always very important for something you are going to be wearing during three different activities.

Note that this one tends to run small, so order a size up if in doubt.

Find it here on Amazon.

What to Look For in a Tri Top

There are a few things to look for when you are selecting a triathlon top or singlet.  Here are the criteria we feel are most important.

  • Fit is key, and everything we have listed above is sleek, form-fitting, and works well.  You don’t want your tri singlet to be loose, because it will bunch up under your wetsuit on the swim (or create drag if you don’t use a wetsuit) and will also create drag on the bike.  Worse, we have seen baggy singlets start to escape from the wetsuit neck area and create a parachute-like effect in the water — not what you want.  These tops are meant to be form-fitting, but not too tight.
  • Construction is also key.  The brands listed above are reliable in this regard.  Be wary of products made by “Johnny-come-lately” manufacturers who have no track record.  They are likely just trying to make a buck, and have not studied the sport of triathlon like 2XU, Pearl Izumi, Zoot, ROKA, etc.  This means you want comfortable, breathable fabric, seams that you don’t notice, and the right shaping to keep the shirt on securely.
  • Design (Zipper and Pockets). Zippers are important on a triathlon singlet for two reasons.  First, unzipping creates a larger neck hole, allowing you to maneuver more easily if you choose to put the top on in T1 (many wear it the entire time, though).  More importantly, it provides important venting, usually on the run, for those races when managing your heat is important.  Pockets are critical as well – and placement/design is probably more important than the number.  You will need pockets for your fuel, and spent fuel packets (don’t litter!)
  • Brand.  As suggested, we like to stick with brands that are part of the triathlon community. Every brand we profile above is trusted in this regard.  Spend a little more on a shirt made by a good tri brand, instead of saving a buck on something that is a wannabee.  Also, note that the term “singlet” is used for track running, marathons, and other sports too.  If you are going to swim and bike with it, you want a triathlon singlet.

Note that we did not say “color” — that is really up to you.  We based our recommendation on the actual garment, not the color of the material.

Can I just wear a regular t-shirt in a triathlon?

Yes, you sure can.  Lots of people do.  If you do, just be sure to have something that is breathable, and won’t be too floppy on the bike ride.  People who wear a regular workout shirt or t-shirt wait until T1 to put it on, whereas you can wear a tri singlet under your wetsuit during the swim.

We would not recommend wearing a cycling shirt — they tend to chafe on the run.  If you use a singlet that is really geared toward marathon-style running, be sure you give it a test first to be sure it is comfortable on the bike.  You also won’t use it in the swim leg.

We did an entire piece on triathlon clothing, here, if you want to get more in-depth.

Is there a difference between men’s and women’s singlets?

Yes.  Women’s singlets are designed to accommodate the chest area, much like a sports bra is.  Men’s singlets are designed with a man’s build in mind.  Be sure to order a gender-specific top, if you don’t you might be disappointed and lose some of the benefits of having the singlet in the first place.

How should I clean or wash a tri singlet?

Most triathlon singlets or tops are machine-washable, but you will want to use the mildest detergent possible.  The makers usually say that if you use a harsh detergent, it could undermine some of the long-term performance by weakening the high-tech fibers in the garment.  If you use your typical “free” or “clear” variation of your favorite detergent brand, you should be OK.

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