Beekeepers wear bee suits because they frequently get up close and personal with thousands of stinging insects – it is really that simple. While honey bees are well known for their essential placidity (being some of the least aggressive stinging insects around) they do have, as an essential biological function, a tendency to attack if their hive is threatened. As a beekeeper’s job involves opening up a hive to perform all sorts of invasive beekeeping duties, the beekeeping suit has become commonplace. Stings hurt.
Yet, as anyone who has so much as checked out a few beekeeping tutorial videos on YouTube will be aware, there are beekeepers out there who, with an almost Zen-like aura, manage to get in about their hives with bare hands, uncovered faces and all sorts of skimpy coverings that strike the novice as brave, mad or both. So do you actually need a bee suit?
The short answer is yes. While some beekeepers might well, after weeks studying the behavior of their hive, feel comfortable going in without much protection, these same beekeepers will always have a suit set aside. The behavior of bees can change and there exist all manner of unexpected events that could lead to the swarm turning aggressive. For beginner beekeepers who do not have any of this intimate knowledge with their bees, neglecting to wear a suit is asking for trouble.
A bee suit will normally consist of five components. These are (from top to bottom):
- jacket or a full body suit
- foot gear.
The most essential parts here are the face protection and the gloves, for the simple reason that your face is vulnerable, and you will be using your hands to go about your beekeeping duties. Even these expert unprotected beekeepers will have – you can be certain – a pair of gloves very close to hand.
The face covering is also the part of the bee suit that will vary most (split between hood, square, and round shapes) and the shape of the face covering will tend to define the whole suit.
So far, so obvious. But as we move on to what actually makes a good beekeeping suit, things get a little more complicated. This is for the simple reason that, much like almost every other topic within the world of beekeeping, beekeepers themselves do not tend to agree on what, precisely, makes a good beekeeping suit. Of course, there are a few fundamentals, but the debate is a hot one. Certain beekeepers also simply tend to have individual priorities. There is much to consider.
Drawing on as much beekeeping wisdom as possible then, I have tried to represent the best beekeeping suits on the market. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, of course, and it is worth keeping in mind that the main principle when purchasing a bee suit is to get one that best suits your needs.
Read on, then, for my countdown of 15 of the best beekeeping suits for 2021 (in reverse order).
From Forest beekeeping, this is a suit that will need to be zipped together upon first purchase but will offer a fine protection once put together. Do remember, however, to make everything is secure. A bee getting inside the suit is certainly no fun.
This suit is composed of white cotton and features a round-shaped veil, which is removable just like the other components. The advantage here – as is the case with all round veiled suits – is that the beekeeper retains maximum peripheral vision. Composed of fair sturdy mesh, this veil certainly does the job of keeping the bees well clear of your face.
Perhaps the best thing about this suit though is its comfort. It’s a very foolish beekeeper that prioritizes comfort over protection but, if you regularly work for hours at a time, getting a suit that doesn’t leave you clammy and sweat-soaked is actually a major bonus. Made of breathable cotton, this bee suit is up to the job.
For this same reason, this is a great bee suit for more professional beekeepers who manage larger apiaries and therefore have longer working hours. It is also the ideal suit for those working in warmer climates. If you are a beekeeper who keeps long hours and works in a warm climate, this might actually be your top priority.
Coming in khaki, this is straightaway one of the more distinctive bee suits out there – if only for the color. It is not certain if there is any practical benefit to this; blending in to resemble the natural foliage might seem like a prudent move, but most bee suits don’t bother because it isn’t really sight that guides bees in their comb building, foraging, pollinating or – important for you – attacking endeavors. Bees make sense of the world around them mainly through smell, touch, and taste, each concentrated in their antenna. Bees can see and can distinguish edges pretty well, but chances are the khaki isn’t going to do much good. It looks cool though!
Beyond just the color then, this bee suit from Natural Apiary also makes a selling point of its non-flammable veil mesh. This can be useful in the event of, as they put it, “flash flames from your smoker.” This is no imagined danger. The wide surface and thinness of a bee suit mesh means that a single flash flame could instantly burn a hole in it, which is not ideal if the bees you are in the process of calming aren’t quite fully calm yet. Many beekeepers might well appreciate this feature.
Almost as if it’s trying to stand out, this oddly colored bee suit also comes with two head coverings, one a hood and one round. It must be said that it’s hard to see what the point of the hooded covering is if the wider mesh on the round veil is as indestructible as they say, but some beekeepers will welcome the choice.
No – before you ask, a fencing sword will not deal with angry bees as effectively as a smoker, so best not to go too far down that route. The so-called “fencing hood” that makes this suit stand out is little more than the typical hood veil that we are all familiar with. That said, it does collapse very elegantly for storage. When it is actually on your head however, there is little to it as special as that name would suggest.
Nevertheless, this is a fine beekeeping suit that prioritizes protection and comfort. The elastic that encloses the end is tight and durable, preventing any slackness that could amount to entry for a particularly adventurous bee. Made of a 50/50 cotton-synthetic blend, it is claimed that this offers some special protection against bee stings. That it may do, but it makes the suit a little more uncomfortable than fully cotton suits. That said, all bee suits are uncomfortable – and that is something the beekeeper just has to get used to.
The so-called fencing veil also comes with some minor problems of its own. For example, it has a tendency to fold back up into its collapsed position, leading to a slightly ill positioned face covering. It does, though, offer solid protection from bees and a good visibility. The whole thing also comes with a protective case (which is a nice luxury) and the company Humble Bee donate 10% of their profits to not-for-profit organizations that support local beekeeping initiatives.
As I’ve already noted, beekeeping suits are simply destined to be uncomfortable. The level of maneuverability and protection required rather trump comfort in the list of priorities. Some people, however, do not take no for an answer.
This particular suit from Oz Armour is a good example of a suit for beekeepers chasing that elusive comfort. Oz Armour make a real selling point of the fact that this suit is ventilated so as to prevent that buildup of heat that can make extended periods at the apiary a bit uncomfortable.
The suit is composed of three layers of so-called “fabric mesh” which, we are told, “allows air to circulate around your body while also protecting against bee stings.” This is indeed something of an innovation on traditional cotton suits, which are composed of a solid fabric, albeit one that allows air to pass through.
The Oz Armour suit is indeed better ventilated, but the fairly uncommon design goes beyond that in terms of efficacy. The three layer composition actually offers additional protection, simply because the spaces between the different layers are wide enough that a bee just cannot sting through them. It is certainly somewhat impressive that the very design feature that brings the ventilation also brings the protection!
Beyond its innovative composition, the other components of the suit are fairly standard and even, in the case of the zipper, a little substandard. The problem with the zipper on this suit is that it is simply not heavy enough. It is also composed of plastic, which is surprising given how commonplace the more durable brass zippers are these days.
When all is said and done though this is a suit that genuinely offers the innovation it boasts about. If comfort is really that important to you, this is the one to get.
After a string of specialist entries on my list, this is a beekeeping suit that would best be described as a “good all-rounder.” What typifies many of the beekeeping suits making a selling point of this or that feature is that they tend to therefore attract the beekeepers seeking precisely that feature. If a beekeeper works in a hot climate, he/she might really require ventilation; if a beekeeper has to dispose of an aggressive colony, or is allergic, protection might be the order of the day.
But in fact, the great majority of beekeepers are hobbyists or beginners, not specialists seeking a particular trait. Moreover, a great many beekeepers, out of beginner’s ignorance, simply do not know what they need. If this is you, then you need that “good all-rounder.”
Coming with square shaped veil – which offers a sweet spot between protection and visibility – this suit from Pest Mall prioritizes a little bit of everything. The material is thick and durable, the beekeeper can move relatively freely inside it and, to prove they are covering all bases, there’s a set of long sleeved gloves included.
By keeping things broad, this suit naturally has a few minor shortcomings. For one thing, there are no stretchable loops around the bottom of the pants. A beekeeper’s feet are hardly the most at-risk part of their body, but this does amount to a slight chink in the armor. The net piece of the square veil can also be slightly awkward to attach, although once on it is thankfully secure. At this price and with such an all-rounder suit, these niggles are all but inevitable.
Yet another suit that claims to marry the twin values of protection and comfort. As I have insisted and will insist throughout this article, it is not really worth expecting a great deal of comfort out of a bee suit. Some, through some impressive innovation, might manage something like it (see entry 12 above) but, generally speaking, beekeepers don’t really care much about maximum comfort.
Nevertheless, the material of which this suit is composed is certainly up to the job. Durable and dependable, it is composed of a 60-40 proportion of cotton and polyester. This is one of the most common fabric compositions for beekeeping suits, simply because so many beekeeping gear companies insist on providing this union of comfort and ventilations (the cotton) and protection from stings (the polyester).
The suit comes with the full set of components, meaning the jackets, pants, veil, and the gloves (which very often have to be purchased separately). Some beekeepers with experience of suits might notice that the fabric feels a little thin, but it is tough and should block each and every sting. In fact, that it is a little on the thin side, yet perfectly resilient, speaks to the quality of the material. None of this is rocket science, and this dependable suit from MTH does the job.
One issue with this bee suit happens to be size. For the larger specimens among us, this suit – even when purchased in the correct size – is pretty badly proportioned. This is actually quite a major drawback and, if I’m honest, it’s worth giving this suit a miss if you normally purchase in XL. The crotch of the suit will be somewhere between your knees than where it should be, leading to pretty serious movement problems.
This (not insignificant) drawback aside, this is a dependable suit that will last for years – in the smaller sizes.
Another suit billed as something of a complete package, this offering from Natural Apiary does actually offer excellence in more than one area, boasting a few stand-out design features, each of which would by themselves make for a selling point.
For one thing, the suit is composed of 100% cotton but, unlike some others on my list, this doesn’t represent the sacrificing of protection for breathing and comfort. Although cotton fabrics are lighter and thinner than those of polycotton hybrids, this suit gets around any protection issues simply by making the fabric thicker. The result? A fully cotton suit – with all the comfort this implies – that will also be near impossible for a bee to sting through.
And that is not the only area in which this suit attempts to have it all. This suit actually comes with two veils – one hood and one round – and is another to feature a nonflammable mesh. Furthermore, the veil prioritizes, and achieves, a high degree of visibility. It might seem like an anti-sting veil (which would need to be dense) and a high visibility veil (which would have wider spaces) would be in contradiction but no, this suit manages it.
Add to this the fact that the suit is also very well tailored and it really looks like Natural Apiary are on to a winner. There are, inevitably, some drawbacks. A major one would have to be that the veil does rest a little close to the face. The veil isn’t touching, and this seems to only be a problem for those with a slightly bigger head but – regardless – this is a shame considering how well made and innovative the veil fabric is. If you can set this issue aside though, this really is a suit that offers a lot.
Generally speaking, going cheap and cutting corners when investing in your beekeeping suit is a very ill advised move. All it takes is an intrusion inside the suit to lead to a situation unpleasant to even the most experienced beekeepers. That said, with the rise of amateur and hobby beekeeping, there is certainly room on my list for a budget model. For one thing, beekeeping needs to be tried before anyone can be sure it’s for them. Making a major investment right at the start hardly makes sense.
So what makes a good economy beekeeping suit? Well, protection is paramount, obviously, and should never be sacrificed for any type of comfort. Put another way, the suit needs to work. This suit – composed of a cotton-polyester hybrid in 60-40 proportion – does the job. The material is effective at keeping out stings and the elasticated loops on the arms and the trousers are secure.
As you might expect, you will have to purchase the gloves separately, but it is perfectly possible to get an effective pair and continue to keep costs low. Not only are the zippers also secure but they are augmented with a Velcro closing strap for a little extra security. The suit might not be the most comfortable (again, beekeeping suits rarely are) but it certainly works.
The drawbacks are also to be expected. For one thing, it is not the most expertly tailored and people of larger body sizes might have considerable trouble with it. The veil will also take some maneuvering to ensure it doesn’t press against the wearer’s face and open them up to stings through the mesh, which isn’t of the highest quality either. This is the type of product that allows beginners to test out beekeeping, however. In that capacity, it will not let you down.
Another offering from Humble Bee, this round-veiled suit makes my list for its innovative composition. The majority of the suit is composed for the usual combination of materials (cotton and polyester) but in a slightly different proportion (50-50). Combined with the thickness of the material, this amounts to a really excellent protection and an impressive degree of comfort. What makes the suit stand out however is the ventilation panels, which are of synthetic material and reasonably sting proof. This makes for a very well ventilated suit.
The suit also boasts a good amount of the little design features that really make a suit stand out – from double-stitched pockets for holding sharp equipment to cushioned kneepads for a little more comfort as you kneel to work on a hive. Combined with the great and innovative ventilation, this makes for a suit that will impress those beekeepers working long hours or in hot conditions.
The suit is also very well-tailored, coming in several sizes and fitting well in all of them. The brass zippers are properly durable and the whole thing comes with a neat carrying case. This last feature is not so much a nice accessory but actually very useful. Bee suits are wide loose things that tend to get quite dirty – having this to keep them in is certainly an advantage.
The downsides of this particular suit are, however, a bit of a shame. The veil material, although durable and flame proof when new, has actually been reported to develop holes after a number of years. Veils can be replaced but with a suit that performs so well elsewhere, it is a shame that it’s let down a little here.
Overall, though, this is one of the best suits on my list for those beekeepers, serious about their craft and looking for quality.
Did I say there’s room for a budget option on my list? Well, there’s room for two actually. It is a great state of affairs for modern beekeeping that beginners can try their hand at the craft before making a substantial investment. Competent and effective suits like this offering from Xgunion are all part of that.
The first thing to note is that, for the price, this is actually a well-tailored suit. Fitting snugly, it offers ease of movement in all of the sizes in which it comes. The ventilation, admittedly, is not particularly good but, at the price, this should only put off those working in hot climates. Otherwise, it is scarcely a problem for the beginner beekeeper.
In terms of protection, the suit does the job. All but cases of dense and aggressive swarming, the suit will protect you from being stung. The round veil also offers very decent flammability protection and fits very well. It doesn’t touch the wearer’s face either, something which even some of the expensive suits on my list do. Worn with thick clothes underneath, the beekeeper is fully protected. Although, again, in hot climates this combination of poor ventilation and heavy clothes might be pretty much intolerable.
This is however an excellent beginner’s suit, which suggests that, when it comes to suits, things have really never been better for amateurs. And there aren’t many elements of beekeeping that you can say that about!
Humble Bee again, and for good reason. For those of us with any sense of the crises that face modern beekeeping, Humble Bee’s pledge to donate 10% of their profits to organizations that encourage sustainable beekeeping operations is a massive incentive to opt for them when picking a beekeeping suit. There is also the small matter that their suits are excellent.
This is another one featuring the fancifully dubbed “fencing veil,” which is a good one for portability and protection, with its natural shape keeping the mesh well away from your face. The whole suit, in fact, follows this cue in terms of protection, with a pretty much sting-proof 50-50 cotton-synthetic composition (which is impressively hard wearing) and brass zippers that hold secure. Far too many suits are let down in precisely this area, so that is a major feather in Humble Bee’s cap.
The suit is impressively tailored into the bargain, managing to fit equally well in all of its sizes, whether worn by men or women. It is no small feat to pull off a unisex suit that does that, and this versatility is reflected across its design. This might have a great deal to do with the elastic waistband, keeping the suit firm and snug while also loose and ventilated. This is seriously impressive.
Bizarrely, the size designations of each of these suits manages to be a little small. This could well be an error, or could perhaps reflect Humble Bee trying to make the suit a snug fit for all. In any case, when buying it is advisable to order a size up to avoid any trouble here. It comes with a carrier case as well.
This bizarre inaccuracy in the sizes aside, this really is one of the best suits on the market, from one of the most committed beekeeping brands.
What is the point in a suit being particularly large? My previous entry seemed to prioritize a snug fit (leading to an inaccuracy in the size designations) but this offering from The Ultra Breeze seems to think that plenty of space on the inside between the beekeeper and the bee suit will lead to better ventilation. Oddly enough, this is actually true.
This suit is composed of polyester and vinyl, lacking the cotton that is normally added specifically for the purposes of ventilation and comfort. The company really does seem to be relying on the shape rather than the material to chase down that elusive comfortable beekeeping suit. A good amount of room inside and an open mesh synthetic fiber, however, would seem to do the trick. This is an impressively comfortable suit.
The zippers on the suit are annoyingly small and the accessories are basically non-existent. There is no carry case and you will need to shell out for a pair of gloves should you wish to keep your hands protected. If you take the time to do this though, you will be rewarded with a solid protection. Even the vented patches on the suit are very sting resistant. This is one of the benefits of using 100% synthetic material.
Durability is also an issue with this suit as the material (as sting resistant and surprisingly comfortable as it may be) does tend to get damaged by the smoker, and the small zippers have a habit of snagging on things. At the very reasonable price for which it is sold, one would hardly expect years of use. This is ultimately a particularly good suit which, using a few simple and low-tech techniques, achieves an impressive degree of comfort and sting resistance. That’s why it makes my list.
The last so-called “budget option” on my list doesn’t really fit the term. This is simply a great beekeeping suit – regardless of the price. The fact that it is typically affordable is one of those strokes of good luck. This is not an affordable suit that merely stretches its price tag to an impressive degree – this is a suit that can compete with the expensive ones.
Composed entirely of cotton, the suit nevertheless manages the degree of protection that we would expect from hybrid suits (cotton normally being used to provide comfort). Just how this suit manages to be both very ventilated and virtually sting proof is something of a mystery. But it does.
The veil, although not flame proof, does stay well clear of your face (a problem that you will have noticed has plagued most bee suits on this list). The suit offers a totally secure fastening of the veil to the rest of the suit by means of both a zipper – which is durable – and a large Velcro strap at the front. This is not a suit that will let in any insects.
The suit would also appear to be built to last and can take the vigorous washing often necessary after use. The suit is also well tailored and fits well in all sizes, always allowing ample room for movement.
The 50-50 synthetic blend of cotton and polyester can probably be considered the gold standard for combining sting protection and comfort (or as close to it as you can get in a bee suit). It doesn’t stop there though. Even the most sting proof material isn’t worth a jot if the suit is not secure and integrated enough to keep out any insects.
Humble Bee – a company that have featured several times on my list – have form in providing bee suits that provide precisely this and more. This excellent suit is no exception. Coming with a round veil that offers excellent vision as well as resting a good distance from the face, the seal between this component and the rest of the suit – perhaps the most vital part to get right – is perfectly secure.
The suit is also well-ventilated and the fabric more or less sting proof. It never hurts to wear sufficiently thick clothing underneath, but this suit should provide you with the peace of mind necessary to do beekeeping work properly. This combined with the excellent vision – and security of distance – provided by the veil, means the beekeeper can really stand amid an aggressive swarm and simply get on with it. This is what makes a great beekeeping suit.
As I have mentioned several times on this list, Humble Bee also donate to initiatives that support local beekeeping. This is all but essential to the continued health of beekeeping as an institution – and the health of the planet in general!
Ultimately, what this particular suit from Humble Bee amounts to is one of the best designed suits on the market, with reliability stitched into every pocket and ventilation pad. Excellently tailored, all but sting proof and surprisingly comfortable, you could scarcely do better than this.
This is a beekeeping suit that seems to get the size just right – and that’s a tricky business. When it comes to bee suit sizes, getting one that fits (which – see above – can be surprisingly difficult) is about prioritizing the right amount of space between the wearer and the suit. Bee suits need to be baggy, because this puts some distance between the bee stings and the wearer’s skin, but they also need to be well tailored, maneuverable, and wieldy when being used out in the field.
This suit from Natural Apiary is pretty much the ultimate when it comes to the perfect, integrated beekeeping suit. Walking the tightrope between sufficient ventilation (remember, you are wearing – or should be wearing – clothes underneath it), it will keep you marvelously cool while allowing you to move about with ease. This is no small matter, and it is complemented with a collapsible veil that at once keeps the bees clear and affords a good visibility. It is also resistant to flash flames from your smoker. The composition is, once again, polycotton, but in proportions that seem to keep stings out and allow air in.
Other beekeeping suits on my list have had specific features to recommend them, but this is another that would be described as a “good allrounder.” So much so, in fact, that there doesn’t seem to be any glaring downsides. The zippers are strong and built to last, offering little resistance when zipping up the suit.
To be sure, there are better ventilated suits, more sting-proof suits and suits with useful accessories that do not come with this one. Yet for near-excellence in all of those areas, this is the suit to go for.