Beekeeping Clothing – A Complete Guide

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For anyone new to the world of beekeeping, choosing appropriate beekeeping protective clothing is a must. Is it a requirement to have fancy beekeeping attire? No, but you do need something to protect yourself – especially your face. While the traditional suits and jackets are popular options, there are other kinds of beekeeping clothing to consider.

Two beekeepers wearing proper protective beekeeping clothing in an apiary.

For many beginning beekeepers the fear of experiencing stings is a real concern. This is a normal response so don’t feel bad. While most of us do get stung at some time – you can minimize the occurrence.

Beekeeping Protective Clothing: It’s Okay to Wear It

Are you one of those maverick beekeepers who like to work honey bees without any bee protective gear? That’s cool – maybe. But, while this may be very comfortable (especially on a hot day) it is risky.  A sting to the eye could result in blindness. Why take the chance?

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 protective jacket and veil with gloves.

Proper Gear Protects Beekeepers

First and foremost, wearing proper beekeeping attire 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 after installing my bees. 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. 

You will move equipment in a confident calm manner-if you feel protected. Wearing proper protective clothing gives you a sense of peaceThis allows you to work slowly and think about something other than getting stung.

Honey bees can sense tension. They don’t really want to sting you – but bees sting to defend the hive. They are not aware of your good intentions.

Hat and veil combo beekeeper outfit for head protection laying in grass.

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 beekeeping wear to buy even more difficult.

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. I think I have 5 different types of veils.

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

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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. 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 for you.

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

A hat/veil combo like this is also great taking photos or 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 protective gear.

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.

Available in a variety of materials, a beekeeper can buy beekeeping clothing in cotton, nylon or a special ventilated fabric. 

Cotton

Cotton suits (polycotton) are the old standby that have been used for years. Personally, I love my cotton suits.

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.

Nylon

Some beekeepers say nylon bee suits are cooler than cotton. They are more lightweight and easier for the beekeeper to store with equipment in the off season.

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 needs to fit properly – not too tight!

Kids dressed in protective bee clothing image.

Ventilated

Recently ventilated beekeeping suits have become popular. Especially here in the South. It gets HOT in a bee suit in South Carolina – beekeeping is no fun in hot weather.

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 any 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 beekeeping suit guide .

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

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

Gloves are usually made of leather or goat hide. (You can make a natural beeswax leather polish to keep them soft).

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.

Even heavier beekeeping gloves may have a place in your wardrobe of 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.

For the beginner, gloves add confidence. So, it is a good idea to have some – even if you don’t wear them all the time.

When purchasing, 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.

Bee Attire 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 comes to beekeeping clothing a sweatband would rank near the top for me.

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 investment for beekeepers 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), they keep bees from crawling up your leg.

We must avoid disrobing in the bee yard except under the most dire circumstances. However, leg bands are something that you can do without.

When I can’t find mine, I wrap the leg of my jeans shut with painters masking tape! It 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 I enjoy wearing them but I don’t feel they are necessary. Still, if it makes you smile, no harm in having a pair.

A Final Word

Each individual has to decide what type of beekeeping protective clothing they want to wear. 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.

Even if you start out using a full bee suit and gloves, you may later choose to wear less. That’s okay too. But, don’t let others shame you into feeling unprotected in your apiary. It is your beekeeping journey- not theirs.