A good and responsible beekeeper who knows how to keep him or herself safe always has a beekeeping suit that helps protect them from the stingers of an angry swarm of bees. After all, bees can sting you whenever they feel the need to protect themselves. And no one wants to get stung by dozens or even hundreds of bees. But how does a beekeeping suit work, and what is it made of?
Bee suits work by keeping your vulnerable parts protected, such as your head and your face from getting stung. These suits are made from different types of materials such as cotton, nylon, mesh, or a combination of two or all three of those materials. Each type of material has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The bee suit is one of the most important pieces of equipment any beekeeper should have because, let’s face it, getting set upon by dozens or even hundreds of flying potential bee stings isn’t the best kind of experience 🙂 As such, it is vital that you know how a bee suit works, what it is made of, and how to best avoid getting stung so that you can enjoy your life as a beekeeper without fearing the prospects of getting stingers all over your body.
How bee suits work
When it comes to beekeeping, you can never disregard the importance of your initial investment in your beekeeping equipment because they are quite necessary if you want to succeed as a beekeeper. And one of the most important parts of your beekeeping equipment is your beekeeper suit, which serves as your armor or your first line of protection against bees.
The importance of a beekeeping suit is highlighted when you know how painful a bee sting is and even more so if you are allergic to bee stings. If one bee sting is painful, just think of hundreds of these tiny needles stinging you all at the same time. That is an experience that you should want to avoid if you don’t want to end up dreading the life of a beekeeper.
Nevertheless, bees will only sting if they feel like you are threatening the safety and security of the hive because bees are naturally not as aggressive as you might think they are. Instead, they are more or less defensive creatures that will only sting as a way of defending themselves against anything they feel is a threat. So, if you are careful enough when handling them (in such a way that you won’t seem like a threat to bees) your chances of getting stung are minimal.
Still, you should never forget about how important your beekeeping suit is because there is still a good chance of you getting stung by your bees while you are handling the hives or while you are inspecting the bees or looking at how healthy the queen is. As such, it is important for you to know more about the beekeeper’s suit so that you would be familiar with the first thing that serves as your protection against the flying stingers we call bees.
First off, what is usually considered to be the most important component of a bee suit is the head and face protector. This part completely covers your head and face with the same material that is used for the entire bee suit. However, the face part is covered by a transparent glass-like material that can be made of glass or acrylic. But the more modern and popular headgears actually have mesh-like or netted materials that provide enough airflow to your suit without compromising protection.
The point here is that regardless of what the headgear may be made of, you should still be able to see through the face protector and be happy that your head is protected well enough that bees won’t be able to get to it.
Meanwhile, bee suits are usually one-piece suits from the neck down to the feet. This is to reduce the number of openings that bees can get through if they are determined enough to sting you. You can enter the bee suit through a zipper opening found either at the back or the front of the bee suit.
From there, you pass your hands and feet through the openings made for them. The openings for the hands and your feet are usually made to have elastic bands or are tapered so that they wrap tightly around your wrists and your ankles as this will prevent bees from trying to enter through those openings. If a beekeeping suit isn’t tapered, this will only give the bees an opening to enter (and you know what that could mean!).
Bee suits won’t be complete without gloves that will protect your hands, which tend to be the most vulnerable parts of your body when you are handling bees because you will be using your hands a lot whenever you are inspecting your hives. The gloves of a beekeeper are usually tight enough around the wrist area so that the bees won’t be able to get inside. However, the gloves are not tight-fitting enough so that, if bees do sting your hands, the stingers won’t easily get to your skin through the gloves.
Of course, you have to wear shoes or boots that are closed enough that bees won’t be able to find any openings whenever they try to sting your feet. It is best to wear shoes that cover up to your ankle area so that you reduce the openings that bees can sting. Wearing boots might be a good idea for any beekeeper because they are rugged enough to handle the rigors of a beekeeper’s life.
Depending on the material that the bee suits are made of, their main purpose is to make it tough for the bees to sting you due to the thickness of the suit or because they can’t establish a good foothold while preparing to sting you. That’s why bee suits are thick enough that bee stings won’t be able to easily penetrate through them to reach your skin. Also, bee suits are usually made to have a loose fit so that, if ever the bees do end up stinging through the bee suit material, the stingers won’t immediately touch your skin.
What is a beekeeper suit made of?
Now that we have that out of the way, let us talk more about what beekeeper suits are usually made of as they tend to differ in terms of the material they are made of even though most beekeeping suits are technically similar in terms of their design. There are usually three different materials that beekeeper suits are made of.
Cotton is like your classic beekeeper material because humans have been using cotton for their clothes since the beginning of time (that’s how it seems anyway!). This material is pretty common because of how readily available cotton is. However, it also is a good material to use not only for your clothes but also for your beekeeper suit, as some of the classic beekeeper suits are actually made of cotton.
The good thing about cotton is that it can be as thick as required when it comes to your beekeeping suit. There are some cotton suits that tend to be quite thick to the point that it will be very difficult for bees to try to penetrate through the material with their stingers. This makes cotton a great material for beekeeping suits, allowing you to match the thickness to your particular needs.
However, the downside to cotton is that, as thick as it is, it can also be quite warm. If you have ever worn a thick cotton garment in the middle of a summer day, you would know what it feels like to wear a beekeeper suit under the warmth of the sun. And because the suit covers you from your head all the way to your ankles and wrists, it becomes difficult for air to freely flow into the suit. As such, beekeeper suits made from cotton aren’t the best in terms of airflow.
Nylon is a synthetic material that was made to be durable. This is usually the same material used for umbrellas and raincoats because of the fact that nylon is great at wicking away moisture and allowing it to slide off the material (like water off a duck’s back….literally). The same property allows it to work well as a beekeeping suit.
When you look at a nylon beekeeping suit, it certainly isn’t the thickest suit that you can find in the market. This will make you wonder how it serves as a good way for you to protect yourself from bee stings. In fact, bees can theoretically pierce through the nylon fabric when they are determined enough to try to sting you.
However, the same reason why nylon is great at wicking away water and moisture is what allows it to protect you from bee stings. Simply put, the bees will end up sliding off the material when they try to set their feet on the suit to sting you. So, in that regard, it makes it very difficult for the bees to even try to sting you in the first place.
The problem with nylon, aside from how it lacks the thickness to protect you from bee stings, is that it is one of the most impermeable materials that can be used for beekeeper suits. In the same way that water and moisture find it difficult to pass through the material, air cannot just simply penetrate through the nylon. As such, it will be like wearing a sauna suit when you are wearing a nylon beekeeper suit in the middle of a hot summer day.
You are probably familiar with mesh as a material because it is used in clothes and sports shoes. This is a material that is made using synthetic fabric that seems to be woven together to form a net-like material with small holes. However, a single layer of mesh isn’t enough to protect you from bee stings, and that is why mesh beekeeping suits are usually made of several layers of mesh.
The positive thing about mesh is that it can be as thick as needed to offer you the kind of protection you need from bee stings. However, even if it might be quite thick, mesh is a great material when it comes to maximizing airflow because air can pass through the tiny holes found within the fabric. This makes it the most breathable material when it comes to beekeeping suits.
But the downside to mesh is that it can be pretty difficult to develop a good beekeeping suit that is durable and high-quality when mesh is involved. Moreover, there is no guarantee that it will be great at protecting you against bee stings because, as I already mentioned, mesh comes with tiny holes that may allow bee stingers to go through. As such, it might be best in the breathability department, but it is probably the worst at actually protecting you from bee stings.
As you can see from the abovementioned materials used for beekeeping suits, it is clear that all of the three materials have their own quirks, advantages, and disadvantages. This means that beekeepers tend to weigh the pros and cons of each material when they are choosing a beekeeper suit. However, it also isn’t uncommon for some suits to be a combination of two or all of those materials. And, in some cases, certain beekeepers have one of each suit so that they can choose whichever they feel is perfect for a certain situation.
How thick is a beekeeper’s suit?
If you are wondering how thick a beekeeper suit is to help protect you from bee stings, you should know that there is no exact number when it comes to how thick certain beekeeper suits are. It really depends on the manufacturer and on the material used. Naturally, cotton and several layers of mesh are going to be thicker than nylon. Meanwhile, depending on how thick they were made to be, cotton beekeeper suits can be thicker than mesh suits.
In most cases, the majority of cotton beekeeper suits have a thickness of 220 to 280 gsm, which is somewhere between 0.22 and 0.40 in terms of millimeters. So, if you look at how long a honey bee stinger is, you should know that their stingers are usually about 1.6 millimeters. If bee stingers tend to be longer than the usual thickness of a beekeeping suit, how is it possible that a suit is able to protect you from the stingers?
You should know that the purpose of a beekeeper suit is not to stop the stingers in their tracks, but to make it difficult for the stingers to reach you. That means that the thickness of a beekeeping suit is meant to decrease the chances of the stingers from getting to your skin, considering that these suits are also supposed to have a loose fit. So, if you were to factor in the thickness of a beekeeping suit and how it is designed, you would see that its thickness is just right. That is, of course, if the bee can manage to actually pierce the material in the first place, considering that some beekeeping suit materials tend to be tough enough to make it hard for the stingers to physically penetrate the outer layer.
Why do beekeepers wear white?
Another thing you might have noticed about bee suits is that, other than the fact that they look like they are uncomfortable and quite warm, they are also usually white. You will hardly or even never see a beekeeper wearing something other than white. So, is there a good reason why bee suits are supposed to be white?
As a matter of fact, there is an entirely good reason why bee suits are supposed to be white and why beekeepers will always wear white whenever they are handling bees. And this can be traced back to how honey bees are naturally wired.
In the wild, bears are often the greatest foes of honey bees because these mammals love to feast on the honey produced by the bees and the bees themselves. As such, bees are naturally wired to try to defend themselves from anything that has a similar appearance to that of a bear. And this includes the color of a bear, which can be light to dark brown.
Of course, humans have varying skin colors, but there are some that have skin colors that are close enough to resemble the color of a bear. That means that bees will more than likely attack people who have skin colors or are wearing clothes or bee suits that will remind bees of their greatest foes.
However, it has been proven that bees are not as defensive when dealing with the color white. That’s because, in the wild, they hardly deal with anything that is color white. As such, they are less likely to sting you when you are wearing something that is white. This explains why bee suits are almost always going to be white and do not usually come in other colors.
Other Reasons Beekeepers May Wear White…
It Aids Beeswax Extraction
The second is that white is a natural color for beeswax, the waxy substance that the bees build their honeycombs out of. Since the beeswax is what most beekeepers extract their honey from, having white equipment makes it easy to spot when it begins to darken, which indicates that the wax is beginning to lose its structural integrity.
It Keeps you Cool
It is commonly known that white color helps to reflect the suns rays, so having a white beekeeping suit will help keep you cool when you are standing out in the field all day long!
They Help you See Bees on You!
Another theory I have heard talked about is that beekeeping suits are white so that you can quickly and easily see when a bee has landed on you, as the color of the bee will stand out against the white of the suit. Great for when that aggressive African bee is out to get you!
So You Stand Out!
This has to be the craziest theory I have ever heard, but I will tell you all the same. The idea that white is very eye-catching against the dark colors of the beehives. Well I can tell you that this particular thought has never crossed my mind whilst beekeeping, how about you?
But does that mean that you shouldn’t wear any other color when you are a beekeeper? Well, there are some colors such as light yellow (which resembles the golden color of honey) and light olive that have also worked well around bees. That’s because, again, bees are not used to stinging animals that come in these colors. So, as long as you are wearing a beekeeper suit that closely resembles white or anything that is similar to things that bees find safe and harmless, your chances of getting stung will be at the low point.
Will a beekeeper suit protect you from wasps?
While bees are one thing, yellow jackets or wasps are another problem. There may be some instances where yellow jackets end up nesting near your property or even in your apiary. And the worst part of it all is that yellow jackets are predatory insects that will also eat other insects, which includes bees. In fact, honey bees are high up on the menu of yellow jackets.
As such, if there is a yellow jacket nest nearby, you have to protect your bees from these predatory insects because they will not only eat your bees but also invade their hives and raid them for larvae and honey. You don’t want your apiary to die out due to a yellow jacket infestation in your area, and that is why you might have to do something about those pesky wasps.
However, will your bee suit offer you the same protection from yellow jackets as it does with bees? After all, when you want to deal with a yellow jacket nest, you need to protect yourself as well because wasps will also sting. And the worst part of it all is that, unlike honey bees which can only sting once, hornets keep their stingers intact after each sting and can repeatedly sting you.
For the most part, yes, a bee suit can still protect you from a yellow jacket’s sting. But the problem here is that, as mentioned, yellow jackets can repeatedly sting you since their stingers remain intact. In that regard, while a bee suit can protect you from a yellow jacket’s sting, the chances of their stingers penetrating the bee suit are much higher because of the very fact that they can sting you indefinitely.
As such, if you are planning on dealing with a wasp nest in your apiary or in your home, you have to have a quick game plan that will allow you to swiftly dispose of these predatory insects or else you will probably end up seeing yourself full of yellow jacket stings that have somehow penetrated your bee suit.
Which piece of beekeeping clothing would be the most vital to own?
We have already discussed some of the important things you need to know about the beekeeper’s suit and how it works. So, at this point, you are probably already familiar with how important a beekeeping suit is when it comes to protecting yourself from your bees whenever you are tending to them. But is there a piece of beekeeping clothing that is more important than the others? If so, what is it?
What is regarded as the most important part of your beekeeping suit is probably the headgear, which serves as a way of protecting your entire head from these flying needles we love so much 🙂 But what makes the headgear the most important part of your beekeeping suit?
For starters, the headgear protects your entire head, which includes your face. Those who have experienced life as a beekeeper without the benefit of using a bee suit know for a fact that getting stung in the face is the most unpleasant experience you can have while you are tending to your bees. After all, you are going to find it more difficult to see while bees are swarming all over your face and stinging you all over.
It also isn’t the most pleasant experience getting stung near the eyes because your eyelids are going to get swollen up to the point that you won’t be able to see well until the swelling goes down. Of course, you have to make sure your eyes are actually protected because you will never know what a bee sting can do to your eyes. Bee stings to the eyes might be rare, but they can still happen and can even cause complications to your eyesight.
In a study, it was found that the most painful part that a bee can sting is the nostril. It’s also going to be more difficult to breathe with a swollen nostril. The second most painful part is the upper lip. Meanwhile, the parts that ranked lowest on the list are the skull, upper arm, and the tip of a toe.
So, as you can see, the two most painful areas that a bee can sting are found on your face. As such, this makes the headgear the most important part of a beekeeper’s suit since it protects your face. No one wants to feel a ton of pain from getting stung on the face. And if you happen to get stung on your face, it’s not only going to get difficult for you to see when your eyes are swollen but it is also difficult for you to show up for work the next day with a face the size of a melon (swelling from bee stings can do this kind of thing!).
What is the best bee suit?
For those who are looking for the best bee suit to buy, we have three picks that will surely interest you depending on your budget and your needs.
Humble Bee 420 Aero Beekeeping Suit – Best overall
The Humble Bee 420 Aero Beekeeping Suit is the best beekeeping suit that we have on this list because it comes complete with everything you need for a capable and effective beekeeping suit. Its material is made from synthetic fabric that is a combination of different types of materials that allow you to feel cool and fresh throughout the day. But, at the same time, it has a light foam insert that will keep you protected from bee stings in all of the most vulnerable spots.
We also like how comfortable the Humble Bee 420 Aero Beekeeping Suit is, as it doesn’t feel heavy or too warm at all. The headgear is also self-supporting in the sense that the veil supports itself without adding a ton of weight to your head. That said, it is complete in terms of its functionality and comfort.
If you are interested in the Humble Bee 420 Aero Beekeeping Suit, it is available for purchase on Amazon through here.
VIVO Professional Large Cotton Full Body Beekeeping Suit – Best for those on a budget
If you can’t afford a beekeeping suit that is more on the expensive side of things, there are still effective suits that are available for you to buy at a good price. But just because they come at a lower price doesn’t necessarily mean that these suits compromise protection and quality. In that regard, our favorite affordable bee suit for those who are on a tight budget is the VIVO Professional Large Cotton Full Body Beekeeping Suit.
Made using cotton, this beekeeping suit should come with the kind of protection you need from bees because the material is thick enough to prevent stingers from passing through. At the same time, the fabric is also light and comfortable enough for you to feel easy and free while you are working on your apiary. And we also love how collapsible the headgear is, so that it is easy to store.
If you want to know more about this beekeeping suit or if you want to buy one, it is available on Amazon. You can access the page here.
Humble Bee 430 Ventilated Beekeeping Suit – Best for ventilation
If you happen to live in a particularly warm region or if it is the middle of summer and you don’t want to end up sweating buckets and feeling like you are in a sauna while you are tending to your bees and harvesting your honey, the Humble Bee 430 Ventilated Beekeeping Suit should be the right choice for you.
Made of 50% cotton and 50% synthetic materials, this beekeeper’s suit comes with a good blend of protection and ventilation to make sure that you can still feel as cool as possible without compromising the protection you need from bee stings. This makes it one of the best beekeeping suits when it comes to breathability, as those who tend to work in warm regions or those who are working under the heat of the summer sun tend to love it.
Of course, the 430 comes with Humble Bee’s trademark tailor-fit design that allows you to feel comfortable, loose, and free in this beekeeper suit. So, if you are interested in it, you can check it out here.
How to make a beekeeper suit
If you don’t know where to get a beekeeping suit or if buying one is out of your budget, you can actually make one at home, even though there is no guarantee that it will be as effective as the ones you can buy. But it is still better to have a homemade beekeeping suit than to have none at all, even though you are only using a makeshift suit. So, here is what you have to do to make your own beekeeper suit:
- Go get a loose, long-sleeved shirt that is colored white. It is important for it to be loose-fitting so that the stingers won’t easily get to your skin. Of course, the shirt needs to be quite thick as well. And always use a white shirt because the color white is naturally the safest color for bees because they are more likely to sting dark-colored objects due to their natural tendency of attacking bears in the wild.
- Remove the buttons from the shirt because you won’t be needing them. Instead, attach Velcro in the places where the buttons should be. Be sure to cover the spots from the neck area all the way to the bottom part of the shirt so that you will be able to close your shirt without leaving any gaps in between.
- Pop your collar up and attach Velcro to the front part where both the ends of the collars meet. This ensures that your neck will also be tightly protected.
- If the armhole openings are too wide for your wrists, you can adjust them by adding in a new buttonhole that will make it tighter so that bees won’t be able to get through it as well.
- For the headgear, go and get any piece of headgear with a brim. The brim will keep the net away from your face so that you will still be able to see and breathe properly. Cut a piece of net that should be able to wrap around the headgear’s opening. Make sure that the piece of net drapes all the way down to your shoulders.
- Tape the net to the hat and make sure that there are no openings. The net should be able to reach your shoulders and should be protecting all sides of your head as well as your entire neck area.
- Go get a pair of loose track or jogging pants that are quite thick. Make sure that the pants are tapered at the waist and at the ankles to ensure that there will be no openings for the bees to use as an entrance.
- Wear a pair of rubber gloves that you can tighten around the wrist area by wearing an elastic wristband. For your footwear, it is suggested that you wear boots that are tight around the ankle area so that the bees won’t be able to enter your shoes.
- When wearing your makeshift bee suit, wear your shirt first and make sure that it is tucked in under the tapered elastic waistband of your jogging pants (you will look a million dollars, right!). From there, wear the rest of the suit as you would normally and see to it that there is no open skin areas that the bees can sting or small openings in your suit where the bees can enter.
Using a makeshift beekeeper suit shouldn’t be something you should worry about as long as you made sure that you have all the basics covered and that you are using thick enough materials that can help keep you protected from bees. However, if you can afford an actual beekeeper suit, there is no reason why you shouldn’t buy one at all because of how these suits are made with the right kind of material and have the perfect designs that will maximize your protection against bee stings.
Final words: Can you get stung through a bee suit?
Now that we have established the importance of a bee suit, you might be wondering if this suit is truly an absolute line of defense against bees. So, can you still get stung through a bee suit even if you are wearing it properly?
Unfortunately, yes, bees can still sting you through a bee suit. As we have established, bee suits aren’t thick enough to the point that they will prevent bee stingers from passing through the material. In fact, most bee suits have a thickness that is less than the usual length of a bee stinger.
But the point of the bee suit is to make it difficult for the bees to sting you similar to how Kevlar vests are there to make it difficult for bullets to penetrate through to your body. Bee suits are supposed to be made with materials that will make it difficult for the bees to pierce through because the outer layer might be hard enough to prevent the stingers from penetrating through it. And if the stinger manages to pass through the outer material, the loose fit of a bee suit will make it difficult for the stinger to reach your skin.
Still, no matter how effective a bee suit may be at protecting you, beekeepers will still get stung from time to time. That’s because bees can be quite determined when trying to sting something they deem is a threat to their survival. And imagine dozens or even hundreds of bees trying to sting you. A few of these determined flying needles might find a way to get through your beekeeper suit or even inside it.
Nevertheless, it still is better to wear a beekeeper suit than to wear nothing at all. While the suit isn’t supposed to be an absolute layer of defense, it does its job well enough to make it difficult for bees to get to you. That said, wearing this suit should be a priority for any beekeeper regularly working with bees. And the fact that there is still a possibility of you getting stung should not deter you from buying or using a beekeeper suit.