bee stories beekeeping equipment

Down with bee suits!

I loathe bee suits and wish I had never seen one. Then again, sometimes I need one—or I think I do. The first one I ever purchased was just a jacket. I figured that would be plenty for a hobbyist like me. It turned out to be the most miserable garment I ever owned.

It was one of those with an attached veil. Invariably, the veil pressed against my face and I got stung on the nose and chin. Worse, the elastic on the bottom caught my shirt and pulled it up, so a bare patch of skin showed just above my waist. Bees loved this particular target—delicate and stingable.

I was told that wearing a baseball cap would keep the veil off my face. But inside a hot and humid bee suit, I quickly got “hat hair.” Hat hair is not good; it freaked me out worse than the stings.

So instead of wearing a baseball cap, I started wearing duct tape across my nose and chin. This worked pretty well until it was time to take it off. A quick rip left more red and swollen welts than a dozen irate honey bees ever could. And it didn’t help with my mid-section, which was still bare.

So I finally broke down and bought the pants to go with the jacket. When the pants arrived—women’s extra small—I stood in one leg and a friend of mine stood in the other for a protracted giggle-fest. We virtually disappeared inside because the waistband came up to our shoulders.

But it wasn’t so funny when I tried to wear them. The amount of fabric around the waist was just too much for the drawstring. It bunched and bunched until it couldn’t bunch any further, but it would never get tight around my waist. It left a space for the bees to go down inside my pants, and since the pants didn’t connect to the jacket, there was still that bare spot around my middle.

Furthermore, the crotch of these pants was down around my knees, which forced me to take little mincing steps like a duck. The pants had two hive tool pockets that would have been very convenient if they weren’t near my ankles. Reaching them was particularly awkward considering my knees were tied together in the middle. I’ve tried to picture the model they used to design these pants, but I have no clue. She probably didn’t need a suit because she would have scared the bees away.

Then there was the ankle elastic. You would think ankle elastic was a good thing because it would prevent bees from walking up your legs. That’s the theory, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, the elastic catches on the legs of your jeans and pulls them away from the tops of your socks so you have two bands of bare ankle which wouldn’t be there if you weren’t wearing a bee suit. I got stung on the ankles more than any other place, and it hurt.

I finally purchased a full bee suit. It cures the bare waist problem, but all else remains the same. I think that if I were to do it all over again, I would make a suit from old clothes and other “found” items. I’m sure it would work just as well, maybe better, and save me a lot of money and aggravation as well.



  • Many people seem to idealize beekeeping. I know I did. I like stories like this that tell it like it is. The reality is far removed from the picture of beekeeping so many people paint in the minds. Thanks.

  • I love the ultrabreeze, too. I have the jacket and it’s wonderful.

    Now the smoker, on the other hand – who in the heck invented THAT? I think it’s one of the clumsiest, inept, antiquated items on earth. It can be very difficult to light. There is no good way to carry it. Or to hold it while you’re actually using it. You have to hold it an awkward angle to put the smoke where you want it. I’m amazed that someone hasn’t come up with a better way to put a few clean, cool puffs of smoke into a hive!

  • Still in my first year of beekeeping, I just use a very heavy long sleeve shirt that has a a zip up turtle neck. White of course. My cheap veil covers the top and I tie it around my waist below the belt to keep bees out. Never had any problems till this fall. Had two girls decide they wanted to crawl up my sleeve. They stung me before I even knew they were there. I run back to the house to have my wife tie them shut. I now have gloves that I hate. I need to shrink them to make them tight. I hate loose gloves.

  • I have used a $10.00 paint suit from Home Depot for the last two years, with a commercial head cover/veil/hat. Works great. To date, the only stings I have suffered while so wearing it have been through the gloves! Twice!!! Over achievers, I would think.

    Nice elastic closers at the ankle. Got the suit with the hood and think maybe, if this one EVER wears out, I would replace it with one without the hood. Any thoughts?

    Poor honey production this year for me in Oregon. The “girls” (or APU’s) seem to be doing well.

    So, let’s see. $10.00 for a painter’s suit or $100 for a “bee” suit. Oh, and when the painter suit gets filthy, throw it away.

  • I have the exact opposite size problem. My suit is an XXL not because I’m fat but I’m tall with an exceptionally long spine. All the extra fabric goes into the hight and it’s still a little snug around the crotch and short in the lag and arm. I just this afternoon made enquiries for a custom suit that will actually fit!!

    Shaun (from down under)

  • My partner and I have tried out a whole bunch of coverage options in our 2 years of beekeeping. I started with the full suit, but wore it once and never again. I’m tall, so the legs stop at mid-calf, which is not particularly useful. I’ve settled on a ventilated jacket, worn with scrubs pants. The pants, while not sting-proof, are loose so you can bend, and the waist is high enough to minimize the exposed back patch. And I can get tall sizes, so they still cover my ankles when I put rubber bands around the bottom. I haven’t quite learned yet not to wear my gardening clogs. That’s a sting waiting to happen when a bee lands on your foot and tries to explore the inside.

    I agree on smoker design. A lot of beekeeping equipment desperately needs an ergonomic redesign.

  • Hi Rusty – I am back with more bee saga. We have hives 1,2,3,4.
    3 & 4 are the original hives. 1&2 are the swarms that made it good over the summer and survived. All 4 hives are jam-packed with ‘honey’ and pollen. Here comes the trouble:
    Hive 1 – Great brood, Queen laying, all well
    Hive 2 – Swarmed in the middle of Sep. No eggs, no larvae. Queen not visible.
    Hive 3 – Queen visible, very few brood, weak queen (?)
    Hive 4- Queen visible, full of drone cells, sign of hive attempting to re-queen

    So, we merged hives 1 & 4 and hives 2&3 (newspaper method). Given the rush of things, we couldn’t find and dispatch the queens of hives 3&4.

    I am concerned if I messed everything up (?). I should have spent more time finding those weaker queens : (?

    What should be my next step? This is my 1st year actively managing my hives. Sorry for the long message..but appreciate your help.


    • Hafiz,

      1 & 4: You hope that the good queen killed the drone-laying queen, and not the other way around. Just because she lays drones doesn’t mean she can’t fight. I’d check on things and make sure you have a laying queen in there.

      2 & 3: It sounds like you have two weak queens, or maybe just one. Can you order a queen from somewhere? It sounds like you need one.

      • Thanks Rusty! Appreciate your guidance. I was thinking about getting queens..but we live in NJ and weather is heading towards 40s at night. Our fall started last Sunday. Will a queen be effective in this weather? i.e go out to mate and come back to lay eggs? Also, I heard that there are no more drones now. Is that true? I am new to fall management and having challenges understanding what the queen does at this time of the year. If I am queenless – will the colony survive till the Spring? Appreciate you being patient with all my questions : )

        • Hafiz,

          1. There are no drones and the queen could not mate. You would have to buy a mated queen from down south and have it shipped through the mail. I believe you can buy queens for another month or so.

          2. The queen maintains a brood nest most of the year. It is small, but some bees are being born throughout the winter with perhaps a few weeks off.

          3. The brood nest starts expanding after the winter solstice, so you would need a good mated queen to build up for spring.

          4. Even if you didn’t need brood, the queen’s pheromones hold the group together. Without a queen, you will get laying workers and the hive will eventually die out.

          5. The short answer is “NO.” Your hive cannot survive the winter without a queen.

  • I use a surgical suit as a bee suit. I have found it to be much cooler than
    my actual bee suit. I tried this with one of the suits we use in the surgical
    suite to keep people from contaminating the OR suite when wearing street clothes in the operating room. My Dad wears his HEAVILY starched denim shirts and pants. We secure all leg and arm openings with duct tape. I use plain yellow rubber gloves to work my bees. I don’t really mind if I get stung through the gloves…I find that the stings help the arthritis.

  • Hi Rusty – suggest you checkout Tyvek coveralls – they’re cheap but do the job. I’ve been using them for years. When they get really filthy – just chuck ’em away.
    Caveat – unless you want to lose serious amounts of weight from water loss – recommend you source the breathable variety. 🙂

    Ta-ta – Little John (from England)

  • I used the Home Depot tyvek paint suit for a while, but I’d get holes in the crotch & armpits pretty quickly. Now I wear a $20 pair of painter’s jeans from Home Depot tucked into my socks, a $3 long sleeve cotton T-shirt from Walmart tucked into the jean’s waistband, and a $20 “head & shoulders” accordion-style veil.

    However, I usually only wear this on cool days. When it’s over 75, I’m usually dressed in a straw hat, a short sleeve T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I’ve only got two hives and can afford to go nice and slow. I worry about getting a bee caught in the flip-flops, but with a little extra caution it hasn’t happened yet.

    For gloves, I use a $2 pair of long-cuff dishwashing gloves from Walmart. Although they make my hands sweat, I like dish gloves because:
    1. they are thin and give me almost total tactile sensation of what I’m gripping (fewer squished bees).
    2. Although they’re thin, it’s almost impossible for the bees to sting through the rubber.
    3. They’re very easy to clean (I just wash my hands before I remove the gloves).
    4. They’re cheap & easy to replace.

  • I am fortunate to have very gentle bees. I don’t wear a bee suit, rather I opted for a pair of Carhart carpenter overalls. Great heavy fabric, excellent waist down coverage, good size range and are perfect for work planting that “bee garden”. I wear a lightweight white cotton shirt, a hat and veil, and arm length canvas, leather gloves. This gearr combo is lightweight, inexpensive, easy to move around in and makes donning the gear quick, simple and easy. Working my hives is a quick simple joyful task, and because I’m not wrestling my own clothes, I can create a better , more relaxed and less stressed energetic rapport with my girlies. Maybe that’s why they are so mellow. So much so that most time I only use gloves! I’m all for sans suit…and I’m getting there quickly. I’m a big believer in it all being about how you approach and “address” your bees. I just love them so much, I believe they feel it.

  • This article had my whole family in stitches when I read it out loud. Thanks for the laughs and the honesty. The comments are very helpful, as well.

  • There’s no one around for me to be glamorous for; my dislike of bee suits is because they are hot. When it’s 97 outside, putting on a suit raises the ‘feels like’ temperature to 187 degrees. That being said, wearing a suit has saved my life. One time I set them off, I don’t know how, but I ended up with 100s, if not 1000s, of stingers in my suit and a swarm of bees that followed me for half an hour after I left the area. Had I not been wearing my suit that day, and I almost didn’t, I would not be here today.

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