For some, beekeeping with a quality bee suit can make the difference between an anxiety-inducing chore and an enjoyable, Zen-like experience. This is particularly true for a beginner beekeeper. While your first few hive encounters will inevitably get your heart rate up, having the protection of a full body beekeeper suit will give you peace of mind while tending to your bees.
A bee suit is simply a veil with the addition of coveralls, providing head-to-toe protection from bee stings. Although the basic purpose remains the same throughout styles and brands, there are a few things you’ll want to consider while shopping for one. And, as is the case with any product, you get what you pay for. So loosening the purse strings for a decent quality suit will definitely pay off in the long run.
Not surprisingly, the veil is the most important part of a bee suit. A bee sting around the eye or neck area can be a rather uncomfortable (and sometimes dangerous) experience, so it’s important to maintain a certain level of protection around your head.
Bees are also curious creatures, so even if they have no intentions of stinging you, they might try to venture into the dark canals of your ears and nostrils. Not the most pleasant feeling.
As far as bee suits are concerned, there are three types of veils to choose from: round, square and fencing. For the most part, choosing between these is a matter of preference, but we’ll provide some information to give you a more informed decision. We go into more detail in our post about veils, but here’s the basic rundown.
A round beekeeping veil provides the most amount of visibility. The large brim maintains ample space between your face and the protective mesh, ensuring bees don’t get close enough to sting you. The main concern with a round veil is slippage. If your suit is too tight, the veil tends to pull back on your head. Likewise, if the elastic around your head is too loose, the veil will sometimes shift forward, obstructing your view.
Square veils offer a reasonable amount of visibility, especially if they feature mesh side panels. Their boxed structure allows for them to collapse inwards, making it easy to store when not in use.
The Sheriffs veil, also known as a “hood veil” or “fencing veil”, is somewhat of a modern adaptation of the square veil. Its wire frame props the fabric up, eliminating the need for a helmet. As a result, you’re able to move your head freely. Peripheral vision can be an issue though, as the sides aren’t typically made of mesh. Some suggest that wearing a baseball cap with a Sheriffs veil helps to keep the mesh from getting too close to their face.
- Find a suit that uses a zipper to connect the veil to the coveralls. This provides better protection and ensures they don’t come apart during use.
- Take note of the quality of the zipper. With continued use, zippers are prone to breaking, so make sure yours is heavy-duty.
- Mesh doesn’t really offer much protection from the sun. Be sure to wear sunscreen!
This is the body portion of your bee suit. Along with the added benefit of keeping your clothes clean, coveralls will help prevent your arms, legs and torso from being stung.
Worn over clothing, coveralls should extend down to your wrists and ankles. Most include elastic around the ends of the sleeves and legs to prevent bees from entering your suit.
If you can find one that includes elastic straps, even better. The straps loop around your hands and feet to ensure the fabric doesn’t ride up and expose any skin.
One of the biggest factors in finding a quality bee suit is ventilation. This is especially true for those of you in hotter climates. A well-ventilated suit will keep you cool and collected while working with your bees. It will also prevent you from sweating profusely, which is known to aggravate bees.
Most coveralls are made from a cotton and polyester blend. Cotton is a lot more breathable, so find a suit that offers equal or higher cotton content.
For maximum cooling, check out some of the fully aerated suits currently on the market. These bee suits are made with three layers of ventilated mesh, allowing air to freely circulate. Their thickness and crisscross pattern are what prevent you from being stung.
As you’ll most likely be carrying a hive tool and other personal belongings, find a suit that includes pockets. Some beekeeper suits provide slits to access your pants, but we recommend against this. Bees have a knack for finding open areas to crawl into. There’s nothing quite as alarming as realizing you have a bee or two sharing the inside of your suit.
It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to find a bee suit that fits. Too tight and not only will you have a hard time getting inside, you’ll also run the risk of being stung through the fabric. Too loose and you’ll feel like the Pillsbury doughboy—awkward and clumsy.
One key measurement to look out for is the distance between the head and the crotch. If this area is too tight, well, you won’t want to be in it for long. And as mentioned previously, if you’re wearing a round veil, you might experience slipping as your coveralls pull in various directions.
Lastly, be sure to regularly wash your suit and veil, especially if they’ve been stung. Bees leave an alarm pheromone when they sting, which can cause other bees to go into defence mode. If your garments have this on them, you’ll want to wash it off before heading back to the hive.
While there are tons of patterns and colors to choose from, try to go for one that isn’t too dark.
Bees are less likely to attack you if you’re wearing light-color garments, and it’s easy to see why. Since they’re hardwired to defend their hive against predators like bears and skunks, it’s not surprising that they might get aggressive when you approach them in a large black or brown suit.
Not only that, if you’re working in the sun, a white or beige suit will retain a lot less heat.
Gloves are probably the least favored item in a beekeeper’s wardrobe. While they help keep your hands from being stung, you’re more likely to aggravate your bees by wearing them. The extra padding and inability to feel what you’re doing often leads to fumbling frames and crushing your black and yellow friends.
That being said, there’s no shame in wearing gloves if it makes you feel more comfortable. For those just starting out, they can take the edge off while working with a hive. If you’re going to wear gloves, be sure to find a pair that fit snugly. While this does increase the risk of getting stung, it provides you with a lot more dexterity.
No Bee suit?
If you decide not to wear a bee suit, we do recommend you take a few precautions to help prevent getting stung.
- Wear a loose-sfitting long-sleeve shirt and pants
- Opt for light-colored materials
- Wear boots that go past your ankles
- Tuck your pants into your boots.
- Use Velcro straps or elastic to secure clothing around your wrists and ankles. Tape also works!
It’s also highly recommended that you still wear a veil. A few stings on your body is one thing. A face covered in bee stings can be quite dangerous!