Although humans have ‘kept’ bees for a very long time, they are still wild insects that will sting you if they feel threatened. Therefore, you need to protect yourself by wearing some form of comfortable clothing that helps prevent stings from penetrating your skin.
You have two main choices when it comes to protective clothing. One is a full length beekeeping suit including hood; the other is a beekeeping jacket, also with hood. Let’s discuss both options to work out which one might suit you best.
Remember everyone is different, but we all want to wear the most comfortable and protective clothing we can find.
A beekeeping suit is the most expensive option but it does give you the most protection.
The more traditional suit is made from cotton, or a blend of cotton and polyester, and comes with elasticized ankle and wrist cuffs that are firm enough to prevent bees from crawling inside. It also comes with an attached hood that is secured with zips and has black mesh on the front.
The hood comes off so you can launder your suit in the washing machine. Wash the hood by hand but only if it’s really dirty.
Sometimes a loop of elastic is attached to each wrist so you can put your thumb through and not have your sleeves push up when putting on the gloves.
A pair of leather beekeeping gloves with gauntlets are worn over the suit. They usually are sold separately.
In recent times newer aerated suits have become available. These types of suits have areas on it made with lightweight polyester mesh. The fabric has two or three interwoven layers that prevent bee stings from getting through.
Pros And Cons Of A Beekeeping Suit
A full length beekeeping suit was my first choice when I became interested in keeping bees because it provided (and still does provide) the most complete protection against stings. It gave me confidence to work with the bees. For that reason, a full length suit is still the most popular choice for beekeepers.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of a beekeeping suit.
It covers you completely – there’s one major benefit of a full suit, but it’s a considerable one. A full suit covers you from head to toe giving you complete body protection. When you are starting out, you need to learn about your bees so you are bound to be a bit clumsy, make mistakes and get stung. Wearing a full suit gives you confidence because you know that every inch is covered and you can concentrate fully on inspecting the hive.
It’s the most expensive – a full beekeeping suit is the most expensive option when choosing protective clothing. Work out what you can afford to spend. You want to get the most protection and comfort for your money.
It’s tricky to get in and out of – a full suit takes more time to get on and off and is trickier to get over your existing clothes. There are more zips and fasteners to deal with too, but with practice you’ll get quicker.
It’s hot in the warm weather – you heat up fairly quickly ina full suit in the warm weather, especially if have long pants and a long sleeved top on underneath. You’ll be even hotter if you have to spend some time examining your hive.
It’s difficult to move around in – the full suit is designed not to fit too snugly so that the bees can’t easily sting you through it. If it’s tight against the skin, then the sting will more likely penetrate the material and your skin. A full sized baggy suit is more difficult to walk and move around in, but is made that way for a reason.
Limited vision – the full suit I own has a fencing style hood attached, but suits now have different hood options. The fencing style hood has excellent forward vision, but limited peripheral vision, so you sometimes miss things that are going on either side of you. It’s more than once I have cracked my head on an overhanging branch that I didn’t see because it was obscured by my hood.
Beekeeping Jacket With Veil
A beekeeping jacket with the built in veil is a less expensive option than a full sized suit, but this option doesn’t give you as much protection. The jackets usually have two styles of hood to choose from, the first has a round hood and the second has a fencing style hood.
Jackets can be made from cotton or a mix of cotton and polyester. Many are made of layers of mesh that allow ventilation that sit away from the skin to reduce the chance of sting penetration.
Most jackets come with a zipper up the front, and where the zippers from the hood and the body intersect a Velcro patch fits over them to ensure there are no gaps where a bee could enter.
The hood is detachable so the jacket can be laundered in the washing machine. The hood can occasionally be hand washed if really necessary, or not at all.
The elastic at the bottom fits you snugly and leaves no gaps where a bee may enter. Some jackets may have elastic loops attached to the cuffs. These hook over the thumbs and prevent the sleeves of the jacket riding up when putting on protective gloves.
Pros And Cons Of A Beekeeping Jacket
A beekeeping jacket is a less expensive and more comfortable protective option than a full suit, but it doesn’t protect your legs! Now I’ve got a bit more experience and confidence around bees I decided it was an investment I should make, so I could make a comparison between a jacket and a suit.
Here’s an outline of the pros and cons of a beekeeping jacket.
It’s cheaper than a full suit – a jacket with a hood is a less expensive choice than a full suit. You have to work out what you can afford to pay for protective clothing. Some of the jacket options are cheaper than others or less expensive if you buy more than one (enlist a beekeeping buddy).
It’s easier to take on and off – a jacket with a hood doesn’t take as long to put on or remove as a full suit, so it’s ideal if you are undertaking a job near the hive that won’t take long. Sometimes if I have to cut the grass around the hive it’s easier to don the jacket for protection.
It’s easier to move around in – because your legs are not encumbered by a suit you’re more flexible and efficient moving around the hive, so the jacket and hood are perfect for jobs that don’t require too much hands on bee management.
Good vision – beekeeping jackets usually come with an attached, veiled round hood which allows you 360 degree vision and excellent ventilation.
It doesn’t protect your legs – although it has several advantages, the beekeeping jacket won’t completely protect you from being stung. If you are looking for protection over comfort then the jacket with veil may not be for you.
Want to buy a beekeeping jacket? Then check out this article for some recommendations.
Full Length Bee Suit Vs Bee Jacket – Which Is Right For You?
The best protective clothing for you depends on the situation you find yourself in.
If you’re a complete beginner then you will likely want a full length suit that protects you from head to toe. At first you will be learning to get to know your bees and you’ll be making errors along the way that might result in a few stings. A full suit gives you confidence to persevere with learning how to handle your new hive.
Even though a full length suit takes longer to put on, is hotter in Summer, and gives you less maneuverability, it’s definitely the option to go for when first starting out.
Once you have gained some experience in working with your bees then you would consider wearing a beekeeping jacket. The jacket, when you team it with thick denim jeans and suitable footwear, can be used during short inspections, or for maintenance jobs around the hive.
For example, I wear the jacket when I am going to remove long vegetation from near the hive, or if I need to mow around the hive. The jacket protects you but allows you freedom of movement.
In the warmer Summer months the beekeeping jacket is cooler than wearing a full length suit. The modern jackets are often made from a light weight mesh that is strong but gives excellent ventilation. The mesh is made from three layers of interwoven fabric that sit loosely above the skin, making it more difficult for bee stings to penetrate.
If you’re a bit more experienced and feel confident, you can wear the jacket during hive inspections in Summer, it allows you ease of movement and superior ventilation. Just be sure you wear thick loose fitting pants and have good shoes and ankle protection.
In the Winter you don’t conduct many hive inspections because the weather is too cold for your bees. If you do need to inspect your hive, you would only do so on a warm sunny day just to see if they have enough honey stored up.
If you’re feeling confident, you could certainly wear your beekeeping jacket during these quick inspections. Just wear some warmer layers underneath and once again be sure to protect your legs, ankles and feet.
If I have an aggressive hive of bees, I’d definitely wear a full length beekeeping suit because I know I’m completely covered. Before inspection I’d make sure all the zips and Velcro were securely in place so no bee could find her way in.
You need secure footwear (I’ve got a pair of gumboots) and ankle protection. You also need gloves that have long gauntlets and no holes in the fingertips. Because you use your hands all the time this is the most likely place you’ll be stung.
A full suit is the perfect protection for you if you have aggressive bees. It doesn’t mean the bees won’t try to sting you. If your suit is loose then it’s harder for bees to sting but they will still try to.
A Final Piece of Advice
Whatever protective clothing you wear, you must make sure that you wear it correctly. Before you go out to the hive make sure all zips are secure and the Velcro is in place. If you can, get someone else to look you over to see if you have left any gaps for bees to get in. Protective clothing works only when you wear it properly.
Make sure the zips are all working perfectly and the Velcro is not gummed up with dirt or hair so much that it won’t do its job. Keep your jacket or suit laundered, remove the hood before you wash it and follow the cleaning instructions on the label. Hang it on the line to air dry if possible.
Don’t wash the hood in your washing machine as it will get ruined. Keeping the suit clean removes bee pheromones that may be irritating to some bees.
Personally I own both a full length suit and jacket. I simply choose the protective clothing that best suits the job I’m doing.
If It’s a full hive inspection I prefer the full suit as I know I’m more fully protected. If it’s a short hive inspection or a job that involves a lot of moving and working around the hive, then I choose the jacket with hood.
The clothing you choose must give you the confidence to work with your bees, and at the same time you must be comfortable and able to move around to conduct your inspections properly.
Whether you are a beginner beekeeper or a more experienced one, you should wear the protective clothing that gives you the most peace of mind.