beekeeping equipment

Bee suit alternatives

I‘ve written many posts about bee suits over the past five years. In one of the first, I said bee suits were worth the money. But subsequent posts showed me becoming a skeptic. And now? I would never buy another. Almost anything you can find laying around the house is better.

The one thing heavy cotton bee suits are good for is protecting your other clothing. I used to think bee suits saved me money because of that. But invariably there were days when I didn’t wear a suit and I ended up ruining my clothes anyway. So after a while, I just wore the ruined clothing and called it good.

The most frequent argument I hear in favor of bee suits is that they are white, and as such they are cooler. But I don’t believe this. Well, I believe the science: white reflects the sunlight and so those suits are cooler than if they were black, but the fabric they use is so heavy they are deathly hot anyway.

When I’m in the bee yard, I like clothing that I’m comfortable in. Why do hot, heavy, and stingy work in clothes that make you antsy? It doesn’t make sense.

So I began keeping a list of suggestions from other beekeepers. I’m passing it along for the day you can bear the bee suit not one more minute:

  • jeans with a long-sleeved, zip-up turtleneck and veil
  • a painter’s suit from Home Depot
  • a Tyvek suit from Home Depot (these offer good sting protection but are also hot)
  • surgical scrubs with duct tape or elastic at wrists and ankles
  • heavily-starched denim pants and shirts
  • bib overalls with an over-sized shirt on top, and boots
  • layers: baggy clothes over regular clothes with a bungee cord belt
  • long-sleeved hoody and extra-long jeans
  • packable nylon rain gear
  • shorts and a tee-shirt with briefs (not boxers)

I also promised you a report on the Bug Baffler. I’ve only worn it a few times, but I haven’t been stung so far. I like the cuffs at the wrists and ankles because they are tight enough to keep out the crawlers. And the best part: I can feel the breeze through the mesh. The Bug Baffler is hotter than wearing no protection, but much cooler than a cotton suit.

The downside of the Bug Baffler is there are no pockets. But since my hive tool always fell out of my hive tool pocket anyway (due to the crotch being down around my knees somewhere), this is not much of a handicap. So far, I’m impressed. Click here to see the Bug Baffler Insect Protective Mesh Shirt.


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  • Rusty, bees are much less likely to sting a white clad intruder as well. Have you tried the UltraBreeze suits or jackets? They sound like the least stifling suit available….and sometimes I want a full suit ie. when I have to do something really upsetting to the bees.

    • Plan Bee,

      I’ve never seen any compelling evidence for the white-clad intruder theory; I file it under honey bee myth.

      Yes, lots of folks are happy with the UltraBreeze. I looked into them but the expense holds me back.

  • I’m a new beekeeper (been at it just about 1 year) and today was finally able to do my first hive inspection of the year. I found 2 things: first, I started feeding my bees just in time (maybe) given the horrible cold winter, but second, I couldn’t identify any brood. The hive didn’t have a lot of bees in it, but neither was it a ghost town. There’s flat-capped cells but I think they’re the last of the honey stores. Consulting pics on the internet is just confusing me more. There’s also a weird structure that may be a new queen cell?

    Should I be seeing brood? I can identify bees of various ages, or at least various levels of wear and tear (some golden & fuzzy, some darker & not fuzzy). I couldn’t definitively spot my queen on this inspection, but did see a couple groups of bees that might have been attendants following a bee that was running from me.

    Weird cell:

    Two different sets of flat-capped cell

    I guess my question boils down to do I need to order another package and start over, upping my winterizing game this fall? Just order a new queen? Just wait?

    • Andrea,

      The weird cell is nothing. It’s not a queen cup or anything recognizable. Just ignore it. The flat-capped cells are honey in both photos.

      It doesn’t look like a viable hive, based on the photos. You should definitely have brood at this time of year. My guess (and it’s a guess without seeing more) is that the queen has died for some reason. You should probably get a new package.

      • Rusty,

        Thank you so much for the advice! It’s pretty much what I was expecting when I saw all the empty cells but I was kinda hoping, as you do. Ah, well, once more into the breach!

        Also thanks so much for the time you devote to this blog, I’ve been lurking and reading since before I got my first package. When people tell me they’re thinking of getting bees, I send them here first!

          • Rusty,

            I wanted to update you on my hive, as the story just got a little weird but slightly hilarious.

            My new package of bees arrived today. I haven’t been messing with the hive because watching it die slowly would have been too depressing. So you can imagine my startlement when I opened the hive to put the new bees in and found three bars of capped brood. I searched through the hive and was able to locate a marked queen.

            Not, however, the queen I had last year who was marked in red. This one is marked in yellow, which means if she came from somewhere that uses queen making conventions, she’s from 2012. So presumably someone’s hive swarmed and wound up here!

            Anyway, I’ve set up the hive and package bees to merge and am seeking a new home for the new queen, and hopefully there’s a happy ending!

            • Andrea,

              There’s nothing more fun than getting an unexpected colony. Congratulations!

  • The Bug Baffler is an interesting alternative for sure.

    I do have a question. How do bees react to bug spray/repellant (not killer) that has DEET in it like Deep Woods OFF? I ask because being outside any amount in the southern summers is going to invite mosquitoes. So bug spray is just something I have on hand all the time for anything I’m doing outside (walking, yard work, etc). Does it repel honey bees? Or does it just make them want to sting you more?

    Since it’s likely something I’ll have on my skin at some point in the summer anyway, I’m just curious if it’s going to be a plus or a negative as it relates to beekeeping.

  • Thanks Rusty
    I ordered a Bug Baffler. I can wear shorts! It gets pretty warm here East of the Cascades.

    • Yes, I know . . . spent some time in Walla Walla last July. I opted for getting stung!

  • I am definitely a shorts and t-shirt guy. And I round it off with sandals. Sure I get stung occasionally but at least I am comfortable when it happens lol.

    I do tend to wear my veil though as facial stings are rough.

    I tend to wear light olive green stuff as I have convinced myself that the bees will think I am just grass or a bush. lol

  • At the Mountain Empire beekeepers classes, where I learned to be a beekeeper, the old established beekeeper members would attend the class and sit in the back and listen. During breaks I sought them out and spoke to them about topics raised during the classes or about questions I had from just reading the books. One day the class leader handed out a discount coupon from a beekeeping supply company for a discount on a beekeepers suit. I asked the “old heads” what they thought. Most of them scoffed at the idea of buying store-bought beekeepers suits. They told me to go buy some inexpensive painters pants at the local Sherwin-Williams store. These pants have multiple pockets on the sides of pant legs, including one that easily holds a hive tool. They recommended that I buy some inexpensive cotton tube socks like we used to wear to play basketball back in the 60s, and just pull them up a little bit over the bottom of the pant legs. They suggested that I rummage around in my closet and find an old white button-down dress shirt and wear it with the collar turned up. Then they said to spend all the money I would’ve spent on a store-bought beekeeper suit on a really good veil and a really good pair of gloves. They debated the bit about the gloves for quite a while. Finally, they came to agreement that a new beekeeper would do better to have gloves until he got good enough to go gloveless. That’s pretty much what I use as my beekeepers suit. High quality gloves with good finger flexibility and a great veil are certainly positives. Sometimes the white button-down shirt gets a bit hot, but I really like the monogrammed pocket.

  • Interesting! Perhaps getting overheated is more of a problem where you are. On unusually hot days I do feel a little too warm in my suit, but sometimes that is an advantage in winter. When we have winter meetings at our apiary to drink tea, I sometimes put my bee suit on over my coat to try and stay warm.

  • I’m happy to hear that the bug baffler is working out for you. The big thing that drove me to it in the first place (in addition to being cooler and somewhat cheaper than a regular bee suit, while still preventing stings) is that we have lots of black flies in our yard. Black flies are small enough to squeeze through the mesh in a standard bee veil, and then the veil makes it impossible to squash them when they bite my ears. But, the Bug Baffler mesh is fine enough to keep them out.

    • Tim,

      My husband and I had the good fortune to be backpacking in North Cascades National Park one year during what was reported to be the largest black fly hatch in the history of the park. We were eating them, breathing them, hiking with our eyes closed. We finally stopped and built a huge conflagration and sat in smoke for two days. It was horrible. Talk of black flies makes me quiver.

  • I don’t do honeybees, but I’ve been pondering what to wear chasing bumblebee nests. Your article comes at a perfect time. Thanks.

    Monogram, yes, you definitely should do it.
    “I am a trained professional. I am a trained professional. I am a trained professional. OK — I feel better already.”

  • I would not trust the Bug Baffler for any of kind intrusive hive inspections with a colony of defensive bees. I have one colony that is exceptionally defensive. Those bees come in for the sting by the dozens whenever I try to pull out even a single frame. I’d try to Bug Baffler for regular hive maintenance though.

  • About the tool-falling-out-of-the-pocket thing: I haven’t tried this yet, but it occurs to me that a carpenter’s tool belt might be a better way to carry hive tools than sticking them in a pocket. Does anyone use one of these? If so, how well does it work? Are there any unexpected problems, like bees crawling under it?

  • I use a pair of loose white scrub pants and my ventilated mesh jacket from Pigeon Mountain for inspections. Jeans are just too hot here.
    The Bug Baffler looks fascinating as another breezy alternative. I would not be able to wear it to prevent bug bites as the bugs get me EVERYWHERE, including my hands if I don’t spray them. Maryland will kill you with either bug bites or heat. I hate both.

  • I do both … depending on mood and temperament (of both me and the bees!). If I am casually checking the hives … just feeding, or checking for eggs, and the bees are calm, I’ll don a veil and call it good. I still wear long sleeves and at least nitrile gloves.

    I also have an ultrabreeze full suit. It allows me to work in full confidence if I am doing a more thorough inspection and I know the hive is going to get fairly agitated. The suit is much cooler than regular suits for sure … and it is particularly great for visiting guests that are interested in seeing the bees up-close, but otherwise afraid. That suit really is sting proof.

  • Put a large flat magnet in your pocket where you would like to hang your hive tool. This should work through the Bug baffler. It will also leave propolis on your pocket.

  • Hi Rusty,

    We have been using the ventilated suits for last season,I find them great for hot summer days in New Zealand. You still get hot but the breeze helps remove the sweat from your body.

    I get less stings as well, due to the multiple layer design. Not sure how much the Ultra breeze suits are. But we could ship you a kiwibreeze suit?


    Gary Fawcett

  • I’ve had an Ultrabreeze suit for a couple of years and recommend it unreservedly. It’s more expensive than other bee suits, but you usually get what you pay for.

    I would rather not wear a bee suit at all, but when I do need one, I need the best.