WHAT KIND OF BEE SUIT SHOULD I BUY?

Veil GraphicsLike everything in beekeeping, there are several options when it comes to selecting a bee suit. So, what should you look for? Which brands are the best? What’s most affordable? Read on to find out what you need to know before purchasing and I’ll share my personal favorite.  

The biggest variation between bee suits is the style of the veil. In the image above I have broken down the three main shapes. Which shape is best comes down to personal preference. The only way to find out which you prefer is to try them on and see. This should be easy if you have a local beekeeping supply store. If not you may have to take a guess and order online. I find that the round veil gives the most visibility, but I the large brim cumbersome and awkward. The square veil is often the most economical choice. It consists of two pieces, a hardhat and mesh veil which are sold separately. To save a bit of cash, you can just buy the veil and then use any old hat that works. I have seen people use lifeguard hats, for example. Personally, I dislike the square veils that come in two pieces because they are less secure and tend to spine around on my head. The hood veil can be annoying to some beekeepers because if the design is off, the hood may hang to low and make it difficult to see. The peripheral vision is also poor with this design. Despite that, this is the veil that I wear. Unfortunately, all bee suits are somewhat uncomfortable, but you get used it after awhile.

No matter what style veil you go with, my recommendation is to select a suit where the veil zippers to the body of the bee suit. Zippers are much more secure than the elastic and strings alternative, plus you can put them on and take them off much more quickly. Getting a bee in your veil is probably one of the most unnerving things that can happen to a new beek! Keeping you zen while beekeeping is an important skill and it’s made a whole lot easier when you are in a secure bee suit. For basic, affordable  suits that meet this requirement check out the selection from Dadant. 

Materials are also something to consider when purchasing your suit. There is a huge variation in the quality of the screen used on different veils. In general, the finer the mesh, the easier it will be to see through it. If you wear glasses, be sure to test your bee suit while wearing them. Sometimes the screen quality combined with certain prescriptions can really hinder your sight. There is also now an option when it comes to the material used for the body of your suit. Traditionally, suits are made from a heavy cotton canvas, but now there ventilated suits. Ventilated suits are made from several layers of mesh and they allow for air to pass through. This can make a huge difference in your comfort level because bee suits are notoriously hot. Even in ventilated suits, I am often drenched in sweat on a warm day. I love that during a heat wave, I can wear only a sports bra and yoga shorts under my Ultra Breeze bee suit without fear of stings! I consider the Ultra Breeze to be the best suit on the market, but the price tag certainly reflects that. A full suit will run you $259. Many beekeeping retailers have since copied this design and come up with their own version for a economical price however, the extra details and features on the original still merit the extra cost in my mind.

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Moving on to your appendages, what you wear on your hands and feet matter because ankles and wrists tend to be a vulnerable place for stings. I recommend wearing boots that cover your ankles for example. Low tennis shoes often leave ankles exposed. For hands, there are so many opinions among beekeepers I am hesitant to even post about it. Most beekeepers prefer not to wear gloves. Once you have some experience handling your bees and if you have a gentle colony this is probably an achievable goal. Other prefer nitrile gloves because they are thin and relatively sting proof. I prefer goat skin gloves because I live in an Africanized bee zone and I do a lot of bee removals. I find that goat skin gloves are more comfortable than the cow hide and I would not even consider the padded cotton gloves. They are like winter mittens! I don’t know how anyone uses them. Regardless of which gloves you choose, make sure you consider the fit. I regularly work with women beekeeping students who bought gloves that are just too big and they really struggle through inspections. Keep in mind most gloves are sized for men. I wear a size XS from Kelley Beekeeping and I don’t have especially small hands for a woman. The tighter your gloves, the more dexterity you will have, but with that comes a slightly higher risk of bee stings through the glove. 

 

7 Comments

Susan T Rudnicki

I always wear plastic mitted gloves with the canvas gauntlet. (you did not list these) First, I do not use leather, for ethical reasons regarding animal slaughter. The plastic mitts of the gloves are much easier to rinse when doing cutouts because your hands can get thick with honey. Leather tends to soak through. Leather is also stiffer, from what I can see. On small cutouts I will sometimes not wear gloves, making handling brood comb and rubber bands easier, but the larger colonies are usually more disturbed by the process and show their anger about it. The use of gloves is sometimes dismissed as a excuse for being rough in handling bees, the reasoning being the bees will more readily sting if the keeper is sloppy. Maybe some rely on them like that. One thing I have noticed—-my male helpers and students are always paid much more attention from circling bees during inspections and harvest. I wonder if bees dislike a stronger male odor….?

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Hilary

I have some plastic coated gloves as well, but they aren’t very comfortable. I think they are useful for honey rich cut-outs, but not for every day inspections. They don’t have as much dexterity in my opinion. What I usually do for cutouts is wear my regular gloves with latex ones over them so I can rinse the honey off, as you say. I suppose I’m not really writing these articles with bee removals in mind, since most beginners don’t attempt them and anyone who does them frequently knows what they are doing and has their preference. 😉

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Paula

Great article Hilary, I was already sold on the Ultrabreeze suits, but my main problem is trying to figure out which size will fit. I purchased a large, but will have to exchange as its too big. Now, yes I think I made a mistake ordering the large in the first place. But I’m above average height at 5′ 7″ to 5′ 8″ and vary from 175-185 pounds, so its tricky to choose based on their size chart. I definitely need to go smaller, but the question is how much – down to a medium or a small? My question to you is roughly what size do you wear and what are your thoughts about choosing an ultrabreeze suit size as a woman, cheers Paula (Australia)

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Hilary

Hi Paula, I ordered a medium when I bought my first one, but I found it was too baggy. I exchanged it for a small. However, the inseam is a little shorter than I would like. I am 5’5″ and I have to wear tall boots to cover my ankles. It fits everywhere else though. Just because of your height, you might be happier with a medium. Someone gave me a medium one and I wear it pretty frequently even though it does not fit as well as the small.

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