Beekeeping Protective Clothing (A Guide For Beginners)

Inspecting a frame with bees and brood in beekeeping protective clothing

Updated on July 19th, 2021

Honey bees sting.

You have probably seen beekeepers on YouTube working their hives with little or no sting protection. Those beekeepers are usually very experienced, know how to interact with bees to limit the number of stings, learn when to walk away, and may have built up some immunity to bee venom, diminishing the extent of their reaction.

As a new beekeeper, wear protective gear until you learn how to handle the bees well enough to avoid stings as much as possible and know how well you tolerate bee venom.

Beekeeping protective clothing consists of veils to protect your eyes and face; beekeeping suits and jackets for most of your body; gloves for hands; and boots for feet and ankles. The amount of protective clothing you wear depends on your comfort level and what you are doing with the bees.

Do not leave getting your initial protective gear to the last minute. You want to make sure of proper fit and comfort before you commit to a purchase.

This article will explain various options in protective clothing and what to look for when buying. Then, armed with that information, you can decide what you need to start beekeeping.

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Beekeeping Veils

A beekeeping veil is a fine mesh (wire or fabric such as tulle) head covering to protect your face and eyes from bee stings with minimal impact on your vision. A veil is a critical component of your beekeeping protective clothing.

As you get more comfortable with bees, you are more likely to open a hive without full protective gear. However, we strongly recommended that you always wear a veil.

While bee stings to the eye are rare, they are dangerous.[1]  There is no need to risk it. Defensive bees will target your head and face as the most vulnerable spot.

I once went into the bee yard for a “quick peek” inside a hive. I lifted the lid about 45°, and a bee shot out and nailed me on my eyebrow. I learned my lesson. I have been stung in the face other times when away from the apiary. Not fun.

Honey bees sting
After a sting above my eye

There are a few different types of veils.

Round veils provide a full range of vision, having at most one seam on the back. With 360° of mesh, rounded veils offer excellent ventilation. Round veils work with a helmet or hat (often sold separately).

Round veils may have drawstrings or elastic on the bottom for a tight closure. They also come with zippers for attaching to bee suits.

Alexander veils are round veils that include a cloth top and an elastic headband. No hat or helmet is needed; however, many beekeepers choose to wear a cap underneath the cover.

Square veils (sometimes called folding veils) also go over a helmet or hat. Unlike the round veil, several seams support the square structure. These seams keep the veil far from the face allowing a wide range of vision. Square veils fold flat.

Fencing veils, also called hooded veils, zip onto a bee suit or jacket. The mesh area provides viewing in the front and part of the side. With no mesh on the back, hooded veils provide less airflow than other veils.

Some veils come as “pull over” which combine the veil with a shoulder covering or vest for some additional protection.

Choosing A Veil

The type of veil a beekeeper uses is a matter of personal preference. Purchasing from a reputable supplier or manufacturer, you will get a good quality product no matter your choice.

We recommend that beginners always wear protection working the hives. If you follow that advice, then a fencing veil zipped to a beekeeping suit or jacket may make the most sense.

If you plan to live a little more “dangerously,” then we would suggest either the round or square veil with accompanying helmet/hat. I am sure an Alexander veil works fine, but I am not sure how comfortable it would be if you decided to wear a cap along with the elastic headband.

As you get more comfortable in the apiary, any of the veils will work well.

I wear a jacket with a hood any time we do detailed work in the hives. I also have a square veil and helmet for occasional short trips to do some simple checks.

You can make your own veil if you are so inclined. Check out these instructions from the Klamath Basin Beekeepers Association for making a low-cost veil.

Square veil with a helmet image
Jim wearing his square folding veil and helmet
Bee jacket and gloves
Melanie working a hive with a bee jacket, fencing hood and gloves.

Beekeeping Suits And Jackets

A beekeeping suit covers almost all your body from the ankles to the neck and wrists. A beekeeping jacket only covers your upper torso.

What To Look For In Beekeeping Suits And Jackets

Beekeeping protective clothing comes in a wide range of quality and pricing. When buying a beekeeping suit or jacket, look for quality workmanship:

  • Beekeeping clothing should be thick enough to prevent penetration by a honey bee’s stinger. Better suits and jackets are thick cotton or a cotton/polyester blend. Ventilated suits and jackets (best in hot weather) are layers of polyester or vinyl.
  • Avoid cheap, thin cotton outfits that provide little to no protection.
  • Wrist and ankle openings on suits should fit snugly with elastic or Velcro closures to keep bees out. The same is true for the waist and wrist openings on jackets.
  • Thumb loops keep sleeves from riding up your arm.
  • Metal zippers generally hold up better than plastic ones. However, they will add to the cost.
  • Check the manufacturer’s sizing information before ordering to avoid returns. Customer reviews on sites like Amazon can help assess true sizing. Protective clothing should be roomy for freedom of movement.
  • Multiple pockets that seal help carry some tools and miscellaneous items.
  • Hoods should have fine, non-glare mesh for visibility and enough room to keep the mesh away from your face. It also needs a Velcro-secured flap to cover the zipper for complete protection.

Higher-quality protective clothing is generally more expensive. It is okay to save some money with lower costs gear so long as it provides adequate protection.

Should You Get A Bee Suit Or A Bee Jacket?

For experienced beekeepers, choosing between a full suit and a jacket is a matter of personal preference. Many beekeepers will have both available and choose the one appropriate for different situations.

We suggest that new beekeepers start with a beekeeping suit until they learn to work beehives comfortably without agitating the colony.

If you live in an area known to have Africanized Honey Bees (“AHB”), which can be significantly more defensive than typical Western Honey Bees, get a beekeeping suit.

AHB are found in South and Central America and much of the southern United States.[2] You can find some more info about AHB in our article here.

If you opt for a beekeeping jacket, you can wear jeans or overalls to cover your legs with thick fabric (though not as protective as a bee suit).

You can help keep bees out of your pant legs with boots, duct tape, or Velcro leg straps (like these on Amazon).

And remember, protective clothing only works if it is securely closed without bees in it….as you will see at the end of the beekeeping short video nearby.

Do Honey Bees Recognize Faces?
I got outta there in case more bees were in my jacket.

We started with “economy” beekeeping jackets for cost reasons. They have served us well. Their biggest shortcoming is a lack of ventilation on sweltering days. I have never been stung through my pants, though I have been stung on my ankle through socks.

Beekeeping protective clothing is most often white. Light colors are best in the hot summer sun, and dark colors make bees think of predators (like bears). Over the years, more options have become available.

See our article Why Are Beekeeping Suits White? if you would like to learn more about color alternatives and how bees see colors.

The Mann Lake Economy jacket is the one we have been using. It is an excellent low-cost option.

Ultra Breeze ventilated suits are considered among the best in the industry.

Natural Apiary offers quality beekeeping suits and jackets (cotton or ventilated) in a variety of colors. Click here to see options and pricing

Beekeeping Gloves

Your hands will come close to bees on every hive inspection. Gloves are your best protectionBeekeeping gloves present a particular problem.

For gloves to protect your hands, they need to be thick enough to prevent penetration by the stinger. However, thicker gloves make it more challenging to handle hive tools and frames. Some tasks can seem almost impossible with thick gloves.

Many experienced beekeepers work barehanded regularly, but we recommend that new beekeepers start with beekeeping gloves.

What To Look For In Beekeeping Gloves

  • Quality bee gloves extend to cover your forearm. Since you will probably only wear gloves with a suit or jacket, the extensions are best ventilated.
  • Unlike jackets and suits, which should be roomy, beekeeping gloves need to fit snugly and not slide off your wrist.
  • Cowhide leather gloves are usually the thickest and provide the most protection; however, they can be the most difficult ones to work with.
  • Goatskin gloves are thinner than leather. They are also more supple and make them easier to use. Make sure they are thick enough to block a stinger.
  • Nitrile gloves are not thick enough to prevent a sting. However, they may make a bee less likely to sting and, if she does sting, keep the stinger from embedding in your skin. Nitrile gloves usually have short cuffs, so make sure your wrists are covered. Nitrile gloves permit the same dexterity as being barehanded but keep your hands cleaner.
Natural Apiary has a nice selection of cowhide and goatskin gloves to meet your needs. Click here to see their cowhide gloves.

We have been using these economy, vented cowhide gloves from Mann Lake for years. They are a bit thick for handling equipment but I have never been stung through them.

These ventilated gloves from Foxhound Bee Company may keep your hands cooler on a hot summer day.

Boots For Beekeeping

Bees do not often go for your feet and ankles. But if you drop a frame full of bees by your feet, that will change quickly. Boots will help protect you. Do not wear sandals.

Unlike other protective gear, you do not need boots designed explicitly for beekeeping. However, white boots (or boots with little bees emblems) are available.

Muck boots (what we wear) or any agricultural-type boot will work that is comfortable will work.

A bee may get inside the top of your boot. You may want to pull your pant leg over the top of a boot.

We wear these muck boots for beekeeping and all sorts of work in the garden and around our property.

These muck boots are a very popular option for footwear.

If you really want white boots to go with your other beekeeping gear, check out these boots at Betterbee.

Betterbee has been a quality source of bees and other supplies for us over the years.

Other Considerations

Beekeeping protective clothing can gather dirt, propolis, wax and honey. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper cleaning to maintain the life of your equipment.

See our article Do Honey Bees Sting? Yes, The Do! (What You Should Know) for information on what to do when you are stung.

Conclusion

Beginners should wear beekeeping protective clothing whenever working in the apiary. As you get more comfortable managing beehives and know your tolerance for bee stings, you can try working barehanded or without full gear at times.

This article is part of a series on how to start beekeeping, a step-by-step guide through your first year of beekeeping.

Check out the next article in the series which discusses how to set up your first beehive.


[1] Here’s what happens when a bee stings you directly in your eyeball by Beth Mole is ars Technica.

[2] Africanized Honey Bees by Kirk Visscher, Associate Professor of Entomology at University of California Riverside

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