When we decided to become beekeepers, the first purchases we made were bee suits for each of us. They are worth every penny we spent in confidence, peace of mind, and reducing the number of stings we might have gotten.
The essential five pieces you want to have in a beekeeping suit are a hat, a veil, a jacket or full body suit, gloves, and foot gear.
Every beekeeper has an opinion on each of these items, so keep on reading to find out more.
Don’t Lose Your Head – Wear A Hat and Veil
Have you seen those silly videos of people running around, wildly slapping at bees? I did that.
One day when we were walking through the bee yard, a busy worker bee flew into my hair and got stuck by my ear. Despite being calm while tending our bees when I’m in a bee suit, this buzzing in my ear sent me running around the yard like a lunatic, whacking at my hair. You don’t want to do that when you’re working your hives.
Acting panicky around the bees isn’t good for you and it’s upsetting to your bees.
There are several types of headgear for beekeepers.
- Hats and veils that are two separate pieces
- Hats and veils that are attached
- Hats and veils zipped to your suit
- Hats and veils separate from your suit or jacket
- And there are different styles of veil
The key points for a hat and veil are that you want good visibility, you don’t want any openings that bees can find, and you don’t want the mesh of the veil really close to your face.
We recommend you get a hat and veil that are of one piece and they attach to your suit or jacket. Parts won’t get separated and if you are zipped up properly, there is no place for bees to sneak in by accident.
The types of hat and veil combination that are attached and attach to a suit are generally the fencer type of hood and the round hat and veil.
We prefer the round hat and veil combination because it gives the best visibility, is comfortable, and the brim will block the sun. The only drawback to this type is that it can slide around on your head and tip a bit if you lean back (watching a swarm) or lean way over forward. Easily taken care of if you safety-pin a chin strap of elastic inside your hood. This also is great for keeping long stray hair from blowing in front of your face while you’re geared up.
How Cool Do You Want To Look – The Suit
If you want to be stylish, beekeeping gear isn’t the way to go. If you’re going to have beehives, style goes out the window, although I think we look especially dashing in our bee jackets and round hats and veils.
Choices – suit, jacket, or separate hood and a heavy shirt. We recommend that all your bee gear zips together, so a suit and hood or jacket and hood combination is ideal.
A full bee suit has some distinct advantages. It gives you one-piece coverage and keeps your regular clothes clean.
A jacket is just a bit easier to put on than a full suit. A jacket that zips up is easier to get in and out of than the ones that pull over the head.
If you buy it a size or two larger than you usually wear, it will be loose in summer and will fit over a heavy jacket in chilly months. I normally wear a women’s small size, but I have a large size beekeeping jacket. It works fine and isn’t too bulky.
Bee clothing is made of a variety of cotton and cotton blends of light to heavyweight. Some suits and jackets are ventilated.
We like 100% cotton of a medium weight. That works well year-round for us in the Pacific Northwest. Most summers here are moderate. When we get a hot spell, our mentor resorts to spraying down her bee jacket with the garden hose if she gets overheated.
Your climate will determine if you want light weight and vented or not.
Most beekeeper clothing is white in color. Bees don’t seem to mind big white beasts interfering with their hives. It is said that they can get more aggressive with black and dark colors.
The Great Glove Controversy
Always wear gloves. Never wear gloves.
Beekeepers seem to be more rigid in their views on gloves than for any other part of their bee clothing.
Our feeling is this. New beekeepers will feel more confident with gloves. A confident beekeeper is quieter and gentler working with his or her bees.
We wear gloves the majority of the time. Depending on the season and the temperament of our bees, we may take a short look at the girls without gloves. We always wear them for a full hive inspection.
We have used two basic types of gloves:
- Dishwashing gloves or nitrile gloves
Generally, we prefer the precision and dexterity we have when using the nitrile gloves. However, I have been stung through them when I picked up a frame and squashed a bee under my fingers. Dishwashing gloves are similar for dexterity but are a bit sturdier.
We shifted to leather gloves for much of our work when we got two nucs with “Survivor Queens” that had a heavy Russian bee background. These bees are what we call “spicy”, generally more aggressive than our Italians or Carniolan bees.
As you gain more experience, you’ll form your own opinions on whether or not to wear gloves and which type you prefer.
Don’t Wear Sandals
One summer a pair of potential new beekeepers came to the house to help us check our hives. We had veils, jackets and gloves for them to wear, but we couldn’t help them with the rest of their clothes. One was wearing cropped pants and they both wore sandals. Bees don’t stop at your knees!
No matter the weather, I generally wear boots with my pants on the outside. If you let your pants stay on the outside, you risk having a bee crawl up under your pants. If you work mostly from the side and back of your hives, you shouldn’t have many bees at ground level, so you are probably safe.
To be extra safe you can tuck your pants into your boots or wrap an elastic around your pant leg as bicycle riders do.
The Bottom Line
You will find what works best for you, but you’ll speed up the process if you can try on hats, veils, bee suits and gloves before you buy. Mentors and bee club members often are happy to look at or try on their gear. If you have a local beekeeping supplier, you can look and touch before you buy.
Our mentor had spares for us to use when we helped with her hives. We bought what we used there and have been happy ever since.
Warning – When a Bee Suit Won’t Work
1. When you don’t wear it. You may find excuses: it takes to long to gear up; it’s too hot out. Bee gear is a fundamental part of beekeeping safety for both you and the bees. Take the time to put it on.
2. When you put on your gear but don’t take the time to check that it’s zipped up properly. Mike has been casual about zipping up properly a couple of times and has wound up with bees buzzing around inside of his veil. Not fun!
3. If a bee stings your suit or if you get honey on it, you will be a magnet for other bees. The sting will have the girls in defense mode and the honey will have bees flocking to the new chow line. Using the bee smoker on yourself or retiring for a while to do a quick wash of the area can help.
Can you get stung through a bee suit?
Yes, you can get stung through your suit if it’s snug against your bare skin, but if you have a loose suit, it’s unlikely. I have been stung through Levi blue jeans, so a standard heavy fabric is not sting-proof.
What about a bee suit for children?
A full body suit is what you want to buy for children who are helping in the bee yard. It’s a fantastic opportunity to let them see the wonder of bees and the joys of beekeeping. A full body suit will keep them safe and confident when they are around your bees.
Do beekeepers get stung a lot?
I feel safe in saying that beekeepers probably get stung more than non-beekeepers. This is something to consider if you are allergic to bee stings. If you are allergic and a family member has bees in the yard, an EpiPen is something you should have on hand. We also have Caution Beehives signs posted on the fence and gates to our yard.