While it may be trendy or popular on social media to see an experienced beekeeper manage a swarm of bees without any beekeeping protective clothing. Protective clothing for beekeepers should be at the top of every beekeeper’s supply list. As a new beekeeper, it can be quite intimidating the first time you open a beehive and hear the buzz of bees surrounding you. Proper beekeeping clothing can make you feel more comfortable and confident as you manage your apiary.
Cadilac of Coverage
When it comes to beekeeping protective gear a full suit offers total protection. While no bee suit can totally prevent bee stings, these protective suits offer the most coverage. Full beekeeping suits come in a variety of options and materials. Cotton, nylon, or ventilated fabric. Some beekeeping suits come with attached hoods in a variety of styles. The round hood uses a built in hat that keeps the bee veil away from your face, they provide good visibility and ventilation. Some beekeeping suits come with a fencing veil. The fencing veil looks most like an astronaut hood from a distance. These hoods are popular, as the stiff veil keeps honey bees away from your face however they do limit some visibility. Zippers usually attach the hood to the coveralls, ensuring bees can’t enter.
Some beekeeping suits are a simple pair of heavy coveralls. They must be used with a separate beekeeper’s veil to protect your face. Bee suits have elastic cuffs around the ankles and wrists which prevent bees from entering the suit. Bees down any part of your clothing can be painful and embarrassing if you find yourself striping in the bee yard.
Full suits have lots of pockets for hive tools and other equipment you may want to keep close by for easy access.
Pros: The full coverage ensures the most protection from bees. Full coveralls keep honey off of your clothes. The layers of fabric create additional layers to prevent stings.
Cons: Full suits are much hotter to wear than other options. Heavy duty beekeeping suits may be heavy depending on the type of material they are made from. Most costly option.
An alternative to a full beekeeper’s suit is a bee jacket. Bee jackets offer an attached hood to a long sleeve jacket that provides full protection to your face, arms, and torso. They come with a variety of hoods to fit your preference. Beekeeping jackets also include front pockets and chest pockets to keep tools close by.
Like full beekeeping suits, bee jackets come in a variety of materials. Since we live in the south, we prefer vented bee jackets. They are much cooler than more moderately priced cotton bee jackets. They do cost more but they make a big difference if you spend any length of time in a bee suit in the heat of summer.
When wearing a bee jacket, it’s best to wear loose fitting long pants rather than shorts even in hot weather. Tight clothing makes it easier for bees to sting you since the skin is directly beneath the fabric of your clothes. Loose clothing creates even a small amount of space between your skin and clothing preventing stings. While the bees may sting your clothing but won’t penetrate your skin. Thicker fabrics also create a thicker barrier to prevent stings. Beekeeping trousers paired with a bee jacket are an alternative to a full bee suit.
Good jackets have thumb hooks that ensure your sleeves do not ride up exposing your wrists.
Pros: Cooler to wear in hot climates. More affordable than a full bee suit in a comparable fabric. Compare apples to apples. Easy to put on.
Cons: No protection from bee stings on the lower half of the body. More access points. Loose elastic around the waist welcomes bees inside your jacket. Make sure the cuffs and waist fit snuggly.
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Either a full bee suit or a bee jacket should have a loose fit. You want to create space between the suit itself and your skin. Make sure the fit remains loose while you move, can you squat, bend, twist, and lift heavy boxes while maintianing a proper loose fit. Make sure that the cuffs and elastic around the waist are snug fitting. Bees don’t need a large opening to breech your protective layer.
At a minimum, all beekeepers should always wear a protective veil when working with bees. Not only are bee stings painful to your face, but they can also be extremely dangerous to be stung in sensitive areas. A veil combo might include a hat with an attached veil. These keep bees away from all sensitive parts of your face. Some bees are less aggressive and a veil may provide all the protection you need, choose carefully. I recommend that all new beekeepers have alternative protective clothing on hand if more protection is needed. While a hive may have been more docile, their temperment might change based on the weather or change in queen.
Pros: Easy to work in. Economical.
Cons: Little protection.
Beekeeping gloves are a debated piece of equipment. It is much easier to work in the apiary with bare hands and is personally my preference. However, I really dislike getting stung. Goat skin gloves are much softer than other types of leather gloves. Leather is a better option to prevent stings to your hands, wrists and exposed forearm. However, they can be difficult to work.
We usually wear rubber gloves also known as nitrile gloves. While they don’t offer a thick barrier, the thin barrier does confuse the bees and they sting less than with bare hands. The downside is that your hands sweat in the rubber gloves making pruney fingers after long work sessions in the apiary.
Clothing for Junior Beekeepers
Junior beekeepers should wear a full beekeeper’s suit. When mentoring young beekeepers we want them to have the very best experience possible. Good equipment that provides full coverage to prevent bee stings will ensure the most positive experience in the apiary. Beekeeping suits for kids are sized by age, be sure to get the proper size for the best fit. Make sure that cuffs fit snuggly and that the suit itself is loose fitting. If needed, inexpensive leg straps can be added to make sure there are no entry points for bees. Gloves that fit properly are important as well as boots to provide full coverage to a child’s hands.
Inspect Your Gear
Bee suits and jackets are usually washable, be sure to check the label of your suit to ensure you wash and dry it properly to extend the life of your protective beekeeping clothing. Be mindful of the condition of the elastic in your bee suit or jacket around the wrists, ankles and waist. Loose elastic will allow bees to enter your armor. To extend the life of Philip’s bee jacket I replaced the elastic in the wrists and waist. The jacket itself was in good condition, but the elastic was failing.
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About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.