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Beekeeping Clothing – A Complete Guide

In addition to all the other things you need for your new bees, you must do some planning for yourself. Do you need to buy a beekeeper’s suit in order to keep honey bees?  Not necessarily, but you may want to. A suit is the most popular type of beekeeping clothing-but there are many other options to consider.

It’s Okay to Wear Beekeeping Protective Gear

Two beekeepers wearing proper beekeeping clothing in an apiary image.

Are you one of those maverick beekeepers who like to work honey bees without any bee protective gear? That’s cool – maybe..

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But, while this may be very comfortable, it is risky.  A sting to the eye could result in blindness. Why take the chance?

If you are happy with it, good for you.  But, don’t be hard on people who want to wear beekeeping clothing – everyone needs to be able to enjoy the hobby.

It’s true that some people choose to go to the bee yard “nudie rudie” (well almost) – or with minimal gear. But, there are a couple of good reasons that beekeepers need to wear protective clothing.

Beekeeper wearing beekeeping jacket with veil and bee gloves image.

How Proper Gear Protect Beekeepers

First and foremost, wearing a beekeeping suit, or jacket greatly reduces the number of stings you receive. Honestly, every beekeeper should wear a hat/veil to protect their face and eyes.

The first time you open a hive of 40,000 stinging insects it can be a little unnerving.  I remember my first hive inspection. The first time I opened my hive I thought “what have I gotten myself into?”

Provides Sense of Security

Protective bee clothing is about more than just preventing stings. Especially for newer beekeepers, the security of a beekeeping suit-instills confidence. 

Honey bees can sense tension. You will move equipment in a confident calm manner if you feel protected.

Wearing proper protective clothing (at minimum-a beekeepers hat and veil),  gives you a sense of peace.   This allows you to work slowly and think about something other than getting stung. They don’t really want to sting you – but bees sting to defend the hive.

Hat and veil combo for beekeeper laying in grass image.

Bee Protective Clothing Options

With the increased popularity of honey bees in the last few years, even more options are out there. That makes the task of choosing which type of bee suit or jacket to buy even more difficult.

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Available in many different styles and materials, look over each one and choose something that fits your style and desired comfort level.

Of course, you must also consider your budget. And, you may have to buy a couple before finding one that you really love.

Beekeeper protective hat and veil combination used while in bee yard.

Beekeeper’s Hat And Veil

Can you simply wear a beekeeper’s hat with veil?  Sure.  In fact, you should have one even if it is used as a spare.

That sweet docile hive of honey bees you manage may be having a bad day during your next inspection. Honey bee colony temperament can change quickly and your hive may become aggressive (or defensive).

Beekeeper hats and veils come in many different styles and combinations. You can get a veil that attaches to a helmet (plastic or fiber) with a zipper or tie downs. These are great quality – you normally buy the hat separately and have a couple of styles to choose from.

Beekeeping veils come in different shapes such as round veils and square ones. They all work well – it is just your personal preference as to which is the best type of veil for you.

One piece hat and veil combinations are also popular. I like the soft one piece combo for quick inspections and picture taking. They are rather inexpensive but it is rather flimsy for rough use.

An inexpensive hat/veil combo like this is great for quick inspections, taking photos, letting a friend wear to enjoy watching bees. Choose something sturdier if you want it to last for years.

Beekeepers who teach without wearing a bee veil are putting new beekeepers in a dangerous situation. Stings on the nose, lips or ears are extremely painful. 

Beyond the fear of a painful sting, a bee sting to the eye could result in a permanent loss of vision. It’s not worth the risk for me. The choice is yours.

Beekeeper in apiary in full white bee suit image.

Beekeeping Suits – Cotton, Nylon, Ventilated

Full beekeeping suits are the “Cadillacs” of protective wear for beekeepers. Coveralls (complete with long sleeves and long pant legs) are attached with zippers to a hat/veil combo.

They are available in a variety of materials. Today, a beekeeper can buy bee clothing in cotton, nylon or a special ventilated fabric. 

Cotton suits (polycotton) are the old standby that have been used for years. Personally, I love my cotton suit. They are not too heavy and have a lot of handy pockets to put things in. The arm and leg openings have elastic to help keep them in place.

Most cotton suits also have a hive tool pocket on the leg. This is a blessing for someone like me who keeps loosing it while in the bee yard. These beekeeping suits can be washed with a little care.

You can also find cotton beekeeping suits with round hat/veil combo or the European style dome hood (also called a fencing veil). Many beekeepers prefer the dome hood as it has better visibility and it does not sit on your head.

Some beekeepers say nylon bee suits are cooler than cotton. They are more lightweight and easier to store. The slick outside of the nylon prevents the bees from grabbing fabric and stinging.

Keep in mind that Nylon suits can be a bit stiff and sometimes the sizes run smaller.  Being stylish is okay but your protective clothing need to fit properly – not too tight!

Kids dressed in protective bee clothing image.

Recently ventilated beekeeping suits have become popular. Especially here in the South. It gets HOT in a bee suit in South Carolina during summer.

The premise of the ventilated suits is that they consist of 3 layers of fabric with a special waffle or mesh layer. This gives the fabric a depth that is too thick for a bee stinger to reach your skin.

The many holes in the fabric allows the beekeepers to benefit from an breeze that is around. I have an American made Ultra Breeze Jacket. I definitely do not want to be without it. Over 14 years of use and still going strong.

All of the ventilated suits are a little heavy. Mine is very high quality. I have had it for years and expect it to last for many more. If you are truly interested in full suits be sure to check out my Best Beekeeping Suit article .

Man inspecting bee colony wearing white beekeepers jacket image.

Jackets are Another Good Option

If you don’t want a full length beekeeping suit, a beekeeping jacket is a great alternative. They can be worn with jeans or cotton light-colored long pants. I often use white hospital scrubs.

A bee jacket with zip on hat/veil is light weight and easy to get on and off. Available in cotton, nylon and ventilated, it is a good investment as a second piece of protective wear.

If a friend comes to visit and asks to see the bees, I often let the friend wear my full suit and I wear the jacket.

Person wearing a pair of white beekeeping clothes image.

Beekeeping Gloves

Beekeeping gloves are the piece of beekeeping clothing that is subject to the most debate. There is no doubt that you can manipulate frames better with bare hands. And, you may choose to forego gloves.

Gloves are usually made of leather or goat hide. Goat hide gloves are softer and easier to use. But, even the more supple gloves can make your hive work clumsier. Without the fine motor control of the bare hands, you are more likely to drop a frame of bees.

Whether you choose cow leather or goat hide you want a good fit. Not too tight but snug enough to give good grip control.

Beekeeping gloves have a place in your wardrobe protective gear. I have a pair of cowhide gloves that I rarely wear but if I have an aggressive hive of bees, I can use them.

Also, for the beginner beekeeper, gloves add confidence to the process. It is a good idea to have some – even if you don’t wear them all the time.

If you decide to purchase regular beekeeping gloves, consider quality. Look closely at image pics. Insist on vented sections to help cool your arms.

With gloves, you sometimes get what you pay for so consider the quality when you are looking at prices. You might choose a better gloves that will last for years or a more economical version that you can replace in a few years.

Even if you start out using a full bee suit and gloves, you may later choose to wear less.  Perhaps you will only want to wear a beekeeper’s hat and veil.

That’s okay too.  But, don’t let others shame you into feeling unprotected in your apiary. It is your beekeeping journey- not theirs.

Beekeeping Clothing Accessories

Beyond the basic beekeeping clothing, there are some other items that make the hobby much more enjoyable. Consider adding some of these to your closet.

Sweatbands

Sweatbands are essential for the southern beekeeper. In fact when it come to beekeeping clothing a sweatband would rank near the top.

It is the very rare individual who is not drenched in sweat while working bees in July. A good sweatband or 2 or 3 are a very worthwhile invest for any beekeeper living in a warm climate.

Leg Bands Protect Your Legs & Modesty

Having to come out of your pants in the bee yard is no fun and can be rather embarrassing too. If you are wearing regular pants in the bee yard, leg bands are a good idea.

Leg Bands are cotton bands with Velcro attachments. Wrapped tightly around the legs of your jeans (or other non beekeeping pants), leg bands keep bees from crawling up your leg.

We must avoid disrobing in the bee yard except under the most dire circumstances. It is really nice to have a pair of regular beekeeping leg bands. However, leg bands are something that you can do without.

When I cant find mine, I wrap the leg of my jeans shut with painters masking tape! No amount of protective wear will help you if a bee crawls up inside your pants! It also helps hold down the leg to protect your ankles. A pair of white socks is also a good idea.

Boots

Beekeeping boots are available in a variety of beautiful designs. From pure white to those with cute bee designs, you will find a pair to suit any style.

These are fun and enjoy wearing them but I don’t feel they are necessary. Still, if it makes you smile, no harm in having a pair.

Designing Your Beekeeper Outfit

Each beekeeper has to decide what type of protective gear they want to wear. While a hat and veil is the required minimum, add other pieces if you wish. Your outfit may look very different than other beekeepers that you know – and that is just fine.

The most important thing is that you feel at ease while you are enjoying your bees. Also, it is perfectly okay to have several of each kind.  I do.

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6 Comments

  1. Edward kirby says:

    Charlotte I was at the bee boot camp just wanted to say I enjoyed the class you and Kerry put on .I learned a supper bunch of information would recommend it to any new want to be beekeeper thanks again.Ed.

  2. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    Thanks Ed. There’s alot of learn in the beginning. So glad you enjoyed it !

  3. Hello, I am just wondering, is a bee keeping suit supposed to be worn with layers underneath?

  4. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    In general, no you dont have to. No bee suit is 100% sting proof. However, I rarely get stung when wearing my suit unless a squeeze a bee in the bend of my arm etc. If I was working a very aggressive colony, some layers would add protection. Here it is so hot, I wear as little as possible. Not really into “naked beekeeping” but short pants and a sports bra under the suit = yea in July thats about it !

  5. Peter Murless says:

    Can one make ones own ventilated suit?

  6. Beekeeper Charlotte says:

    I am sure you could. You would want it to be roomy. They consist of several layers of vented material – thicker than a bees stinger.

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