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. While shopping for needed beekeeping supplies, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
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 one to buy even more difficult.
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Available in many different styles and materials, look for a bee suit or veil that fits your style and desired comfort level. Of course, you must also consider your budget.
It’s Okay to Wear Beekeeping Protective Gear
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, 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.
How Proper Gear Protect Beekeepers
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.
First and foremost, wearing a beekeeping suit or beekeeper jacket greatly reduces the number of stings you receive. Honestly, every beekeeper should wear a hat/veil to protect their face and eyes.
Provides Sense of Security
But, protective bee clothing is about more than just preventing stings. Especially for newer beekeepers, the security of a beekeeping suit-instills confidence.
The first time you open a hive of 40,000 stinging insects it can be a little unnerving. I remember the first time I opened my hive I thought “what have I gotten myself into?”
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.
Bees really don’t want to sting you – bees sting to defend the hive. However, when they sting humans – they usually die afterward. Wearing a beekeeping clothing can actually save some bee lives.
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. Every beekeeper should own a hat and bee veil.
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.
Beekeepers who teach without wearing a 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.
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. One piece hat and veil combinations are also popular.
I like the soft one piece combo for quick inspections and picture taking. But it is rather flimsy for rough use.
An inexpensive hat/veil combo is great for quick inspections, taking photos, letting a friend wear to enjoy watching bees.
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 a 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.
This beekeeping suit can be washed and is not too heavy and has a lot of handy pockets to put things in. Most cotton suits also have a hive tool pocket on the leg.
You can also find cotton beekeeping suits with round hat/veil combo or the European style dome hood. Many beekeeper 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 much lighter weight and easier to store. The slick outside of the nylon bee suit prevents the bees from grabbing fabric and stinging.
Nylon suits can be a bit stiff and sometimes the sizes run smaller. Being stylish is okay but your bee suits and protective clothing items need to fit properly – not too tight!
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 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 12 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. My Best Beekeeping Suit guide article will give you some more ideas too!
Jackets are a Good Option for Beekeepers
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 pants.
A beekeeping jacket with zip on hat/veil is light weight and easy to get on and off. Available in cotton, nylon and ventilated, a bee jacket is a good investment as a second jacket (suit).
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. If you choose to forego the full beekeeping suit, I suggest that you need a jacket.
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.
Gloves Protect Your Hands
Beekeeping gloves are the piece of beekeeping clothing that is subject to the most debate. There is not doubt that you can manipulate frames better with bare hands. And, you may choose that method.
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.
Yet, 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. Beekeeping gloves are something you want – even if you don’t wear them all the time.
Whether you choose cow leather or goat hide you want a good fit. Not too tight but snug enough to give good grip control.
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.
For routine inspections I use Great Lengths disposable gloves from Playtex. I bought my last pack from Amazon but sometimes you can find them at Walmart.
They have longer cuffs to protect my wrists. I never get stung through them unless I squeeze a bee. They do sweat inside a lot but that’s better than stings to me.
Beekeeping Clothing Accessories
Beyond the basic beekeeping clothing, there are some other items that make bee life much more enjoyable. Consider adding some of these to your closet.
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 bee protective clothing will help you if a bee crawls up inside your pants!
Boots for the Bee Yard
Beekeeping Boots can 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. Beekeeping boots you can live without. Still, if it makes you smile, no harm in having a pair.
Sweatbands are a Must
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.
Beekeeper Clothes Decisions
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 of gear if you wish. The most important thing is that you feel at ease while you are enjoying your bees.
There you have it fellow beekeepers. Bee clothing ideas that you need, want and can do without. Also, it is perfectly okay to have several of each kind. I do.