bee stories

How I came to have a camo bee suit

The fabric of my camo bee suit.

Althouth I never much liked camouflage clothing, my camo bee suit is perfect. Stains from propolis and beeswax hardly show, which is the best part.

Yes, I really do have a camouflage bee suit. It wasn’t an idea that came to me fully formed, but one that evolved piecemeal.

Over the past several years I’ve had frequent encounters with camouflage. The most embarrassing one occurred in 2009 when I was in graduate school at The Evergreen State College. The school is not far from my home, and by using a shortcut through the state forest, I can cover the distance in about 30 minutes, assuming all the trees are still standing.

No way home after the storm

On this particular day, we had torrential rains and the local roads were flooded. After class, I got as far as the local post office—a tiny dilapidated trailer that sits alongside a crusty old church—but I couldn’t go any further. It was 10 pm, dark as pitch, and Waddell Creek cascaded over the asphalt. I called home and my husband tried various routes, but he couldn’t find a way either. It was truly a case of “I can’t get there from here.”

Camo day at school
Off to class in my friend’s boyfriend’s rain gear. © Rich Davis.

I called my friend, the assistant postmaster, and she put me up for the night. The problem was that I had a mandatory field trip the next morning and I couldn’t get home before then. I had no clean clothes, no toothbrush, and no way to stay dry in the field. Ever the gentleman, my friend’s other loaned me his brand new, never-been-worn camo rain gear—straight from Cabelas.

Off to class with no clean clothes

Bright and early the next morning, off I went to join my classmates and examine the biodiversity of urban forests. It was excruciating. All day long the guys, big handsome rogues half my age, would walk straight into me, nearly knocking me over. “Oh, Rusty! Sorry, I didn’t see you standing there!” At each new stop, the professor would do a head count, then solemnly pronounce, “We seem to be missing someone.” It was a long, long day.

By the end, I never wanted to see camo again. But as things happen, my daughter soon paid a visit and brought me a cache of BDUs she had left over from her army days. They reminded her too much of Iraq, but they were perfectly good, so she thought I might want them for gardening.

From rain gear to BDUs

It turns out that, with a dirty job on the agenda, they were great. And so many pockets! I love pockets. I began wearing them for more and more things. And then, one day, I started wearing them for tending bees.

I’d always assumed that being dark-colored, the camo would upset the bees. But they didn’t seem to mind . . . like maybe they didn’t see me either? And my regular bee suits were so gross—with parallel lines of propolis permanently etched across my hips—that I was happy to have an alternative. Camo barely shows anything.

Then one day I went to the dump, stood in the back of my pickup, and with great ceremony, tossed my old suits into the void below. It was liberating. My suits were so worn and loose they attracted more bees than they repelled. Still, I would need a full suit for those days when I felt like a target.

A camo bee suit from England

My camo bee suit by Natural Apiary. © Rich Davis.

I decided to try a suit from Natural Apiary. I liked the description, the customer comments, and the fact they had colors, and I especially liked the price. I was planning on the green one, figuring it wouldn’t look quite as bad as white when scored with parallel lines and bee poop. I was just about to hit the “place order” button when a sudden inexplicable urge guided my hand to the camouflage option. I hit that, then ordered.

Afterward, I struggled with this. Was I entirely crazy? Well, yes. Would it be hot in the summer? Of course. Would other beekeepers think I was fried? Yes, but they do anyway. I decided to live with it.

Two days later my suit arrived. I loved it! I wanted to wear it to dinner. It was described as having eight pockets, but it actually has ten if you count the ones on the sleeves, and it fits better than any suit I’ve had before. It has all the creature features of a good suit, and just think: my “mortified of bees” neighbors won’t even see me out there!

The trouble with pocketses

The second day I wore it, though, I had a problem. Remember all those pockets? Big, deep pockets? Well, I dropped my keys in one and forgot about them. At the end of the day, I hung my prized suit in the garden shed, locked up for the evening, and forgot about the keys until the next day when it was time to let the chickens out of their coop.

I live in the woods along with all kinds of things that are not conducive to hen health, things like foxes, owls, weasels, and ermines. So we lock down the birds at night. But as soon as I went to release them the next morning, I remembered my keys in the pocket of my new bee suit, which was safely looked in the shed where I couldn’t get them. The chickens squawked a fright and I couldn’t bear to leave them incarcerated all day.

To the rescue

The chicken coop has two doors. One for humans and one on the opposite end appropriately sized for chickens. Once the chickens exit, they go down a ramp and through a wire tunnel that leads across a corner of the vegetable garden and through a second appropriately-sized entrance into their own yard.

To open their door from the outside, I would have to go through this second “appropriately-sized” entrance. It went like this:

  1. Wear BDUs
  2. Ignore rain and hail
  3. Lay face down in 16 years worth of chicken s–t
  4. Pull self through 12” x 16” wire opening
  5. While laying on my stomach, reach through the tunnel and pry the wooden door with crowbar (which I actually remembered to bring)
  6. Say “good morning” to chickens
  7. Pull self back through the 16 years’ worth
  8. Injure both hands on the way out
  9. Write about experience
  10. Clean blood from keyboard

That was yesterday. Today my right hand is bruised and swollen but I can still type. I have my keys. The chickens are happy. I haven’t figured out what to do with all those extra bees, but I’m still in love with my camo bee suit.

Honey Bee Suite

*This post contains affiliate links.


  • Hey Rusty,
    I discovered BDU’s quite a few years ago, I love them. Like you, I love pockets, and have mine filled with, binoculars, hoof picks, extra SD cards for my trail cameras, dog treats, and whatever else I think I may need for work. It’s great, I usually find them on sale, found black ones awhile ago, $20.00 bucks a pair, on sale, and just recently got some digital camo ones for $22.00 on another site. I will have to check out the camo bee suit. Thanks much,

  • Hello Rusty; I so enjoy your humour and wisdom! Thank you. I found an old dark green military flight suite at an army surplus store for $20.00 (right now that would be about 14.00 for those of you in the U.S.). Lots of great deep pockets. Big and baggy but light weight so not too hot in the summer. There were some slit pockets and slits at the cuff that I stitched up. It has a two way zipper up the front. The bottoms of the pants have an inner section that tucks into socks or boots and an outer part with a draw string to tie if you choose. I find that I sweat buckets in my official bee suite in the summer this green one is much more comfortable.

  • Oh, stars above! I want one! Though I’ll bet my family will say I’ve been living in Kentucky waaaay too long.

  • Thank you again, Rusty.

    As I sit at my desk in my workplace-appropriate clothing I will smile when I visualize you belly crawling in chicken stuff.

    Wish I were there……

  • Thanks for giving me a good laugh in the morning, Rusty! I can’t even imagine having to crawl through the chicken droppings.

    I have also been very happy with my suit and gloves from Natural Apiary. I selected the solid sand color instead of white though – as a kind of muted camouflage for use here in the desert. I wanted a light color for the bees – but didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb and attract unnecessary attention from passers-by to the hives located on my remote property.

    • Linda,

      BDU stands for battle dress uniform. It is the typical camo that you see soldiers wearing. In my post, if you hover your mouse over the underlined word, it should tell you what it means. Although, I don’t know if it works in all browsers.

  • Rusty,

    Years ago when we had a terrible mosquito year I ordered The Original Bug Shirt, Elite Edition from Canada. It is also camo. It has a hood with a zippered front screen for the face. Plus on the end of the sleeves and bottom of the shirt are elastic bands with lockable stops that adjust to hold tight. It is very light and possible for bees to sting through but for the last four years I have been using it I have not been stung once through the shirt! The only main spot they could sting me from is the shoulders where it rests smoothly. I even emailed the company and said they should advertise these for beekeepers too because the honey bees almost don’t notice I’m there. Maybe I just blend in to the surroundings.

    Jeff D.

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