If you’re going to keep bees, you may have to overcome strong, perhaps lifelong, conditioning to avoid bee stings, all while voluntarily handling frames crawling with bees. It would be a rare new beekeeper who didn’t have to deal, at least to some extent, with this psychological challenge. Beginning beekeepers often search high and low for the best pair of protective beekeeping gloves — and even the most experienced among us keep gloves on hand just in case. There are a few glove options, perfect for beekeepers with any level of experience. Explore these tips for choosing the beekeeping glove style, material, and fit for you.

Beekeeping glove material options

The right pair of beekeeping gloves for you depends on your personal comfort level. There are two main choices for glove material: leather or nitrile, a synthetic rubber latex alternative. To decide between them, consider how much protection you need and what you intend to do while wearing the gloves.

Leather beekeeping gloves

Most people start beekeeping wearing leather gloves with elbow-length fabric extensions, which give your hands and lower arms the highest level of protection. Leather beekeeping gloves are most often made from goatskin or cowhide, in ventilated and non-ventilated styles. When learning how to keep bees, you need to be able to handle frames and bees with security and confidence. If leather gloves will give you that, they are the right choice for you. 

You may have seen experienced beekeepers working without gloves and wondered how they can possibly stand it. No one likes being stung, and bee stings never stop giving you a little jolt when they happen. But with continuing experience, you may realize that with leather gloves on your hands, you can’t feel the bees. This can make it nearly impossible to avoid crowding or crushing some of them. Which, in turn, alarms the other bees, making stings even more likely. This need for nimbleness is why some beekeepers choose thinner gloves.

Nitrile beekeeping gloves

In time, your own comfort around bees is likely to increase enough that you want to change to a less-interfering kind of glove. Nitrile gloves are a good first step. The first few times you dare to use them, you may be astounded at how indifferent the bees seem to be to your hands, even if they fiercely attacked them before. This is because nitrile gloves offer better sensitivity, so you’ll be more dexterous and agile in your actions. You can easily feel a bee, and will instinctively avoid injuring one that gets in your way. Uninjured, undisturbed bees don’t give off any alarm pheromone, and so your inspections will be less fraught.

Because they’re disposable, there is no sticky leftover residue to clean up — simply remove your gloves and throw them away. Some beekeepers even double up their disposable gloves for a bit more protection without sacrificing sensitivity.

Do beekeeping gloves prevent stings?

Beekeeping gloves are not a guarantee against stings: Bees can sting through nitrile gloves — and even through leather gloves — but wearing them provides a little more protection than beekeeping without any barrier. You may choose to wear wrist protectors, with either nitrile gloves or bare-handed, to prevent bees from slipping up your sleeves without having to fully cover your palms or fingers.

How should beekeeping gloves fit?

Choose beekeeping gloves that offer a snug fit, and avoid having lots of extra space in the fingertips to prevent snagging and catching while working the hives and frames. The tighter the fit, the better you are able to grip and move — but gloves that are too tight can be uncomfortable or hinder your grip.

How to measure for beekeeping gloves

Measure (in inches) the length of your hand from the center-front of your wrist to middle fingertip, as well as the circumference of your palm at the knucklebones. Then, compare your measurements to the size chart provided by the glove manufacturer. Note: Beekeeping gloves may run larger than fashion or winter gloves.

As you gain confidence working with bees, make all your clothing choices based on your level of comfort. That will make you a happier, more confident beekeeper right from the start. You’ll have more fun, too, if you’re free to focus on the bees and their amazing lives, without cringing every time one gets too close. For more tips and information on beekeeping clothing, explore our Beekeeper Beginner’s Guide.