WHAT TYPE OF BEE SUIT SHOULD I BUY?

Posted November 2, 2015
by Hilary

Like everything in beekeeping, there are several options to consider before you buy a bee suit. So, what should you look for in a bee suit? Which brands and type 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 the large brim is 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 spin around on my head.

The hood veil can be annoying to some beekeepers because if the design is off, the hood may hang too 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 alternatives, 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.

Ventilated suits are made from several layers of mesh and they allow for air to pass through.

Traditionally, suits are made from a heavy cotton canvas, but now there are ventilated suits. 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 around $250. Many beekeeping retailers have since copied this design and come up with their own version for an economical price; however, the extra details and features on the original still merit the extra cost in my mind.

2014-04-09 14.13.40

What you wear on your hands and feet matters

Ankles and wrists tend to be a vulnerable place for stings. I recommend wearing boots that cover your ankles because 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. Others, including myself, prefer nitrile gloves because they are thin and relatively sting proof. Read about my switch to nitrile gloves here.

I used to prefer goat skin gloves because I live in an Africanized bee zone, and I do a lot of bee removals. I found 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. As an example, I often wear a size XS 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.

Need a kids’ bee suit?

I got you covered. These suits are now available in my shop! Click here.

Photo Jul 21, 11 21 47 AM

16 Comments

  1. 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….?

    Reply
    • 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. 😉

      Reply
      • Susan T Rudnicki

        I guess the plastic suits me, as my skin is dry as the desert!

        Reply
  2. 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)

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • Tea

      Buy at least one size larger than you normally wear. Remember you will be bending and squatting when working. If your suit is tight you will end up feeling as if you are being cut in half the wrong direction. If you suit lays taunt against your skin it is easier for stingers to penetrate your skin. They are sting resistant.

      Reply
    • Hilary

      I am a fan of ventilated suits.

      Reply
  3. Serena Scott

    i’m a pretty new beekeeper (got my first bees about a month and a half ago!) but my dad went dutch on the bee suit and got me a $10 tyvek painter’s suit. surprisingly enough, that combined with some leather gloves and the veiled hat that came with the flow hive hood have kept me from getting stung thus far. it’s not very breathable, but the material’s still relatively thin, so wearing it even in florida isn’t as bad as a thicker suit probably would be. of course the hood doesn’t zip to the suit, I just tuck it under the elastic of the neckline/hood thing, but if you had a sewing machine and some spare zippers, altering one so it did zip wouldn’t be too hard. considering bee suits seem to cost upwards of $80, it seems like a cheap, workable alternative.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I used those for awhile in my first year. They mostly worked, but they sure are hot!

      Reply
  4. teslanomaly

    Does anyone actually sell suits in a women’s cut? That is, a suit cut so that the crotch doesn’t sit halfway to my knees? I get that if a suit doesn’t offer you mobility, that’s a problem. But I ordered the smallest suit I can, and it still feels like I’m doing the penguin shuffle. Can I belt it? Maybe put in a drawstring? I’m 5’5″, not especially short, but I always seem to have this problem with outdoor gear in male-dominated fields (see also: trying to buy chest waders).

    Reply
    • Hilary

      What brand of suit did you buy?

      Reply
  5. Angie

    I am 5’6″/ and 130 lbs so I purchased a small Ultrabreeze- which fits really good except the legs are too short (I have a 31″ inseam and short torso). The good news is that I contacted Ultrabreeze and they said they can custom make me a small with longer legs. The only downside is that it’s a final purchase/non-returnable. I haven’t received it yet, but i’ll update once I do and let you all know what I think. In the meantime, I’ve borrowed a Kelley Ventilated suit which is also a small. It fits great and the legs are much longer (I measured 24″ UB vs 34″ Kelley crotch to cuff) but I definitely prefer the elastic legs and full zips of the ultra breeze over the velcro closures on the Kelley. On the flip side, the arms on the Kelley are elastic with thumb loops:) while UB has velcro:(
    By the way, Kelley also sells a pair of women’s gloves which I borrowed along with the suit and love them so much that i’m ordering a pair for myself. For reference, I have a pair of Dadant goatskin M with canvas that fit ok except the palm is too wide and the pinky finger too long. The Kelley mediums I borrowed truly fit like a glove;)

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Oh man! I am totally going to email Ultra Breeze about that. I have the same issue. The small fits me best, but the legs are too short! Yes, I prefer Kelley goatskin gloves. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Emma

    I just purchased an Ultra Breeze suit size Large (5’5″/175 lbs). Not enough room in places I need space in, and too much space in places I don’t. I’m sure it is designed for a man, and doesn’t allow room for wide hips, etc. So I decided to look up beekeeping blogs to see what women are buying, optimistically found this article, but then saw that Ultra Breeze was your suggestion. Maybe this is the best that it will get? Looking forward to the day I can actually find one designed for women.

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Hi Emma, did you try sizing up?

      Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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