How to Choose Protective Beekeeping Gear

When it comes to protective clothing for beekeepers, there are many styles, materials, and pieces to choose from. Some beekeepers opt for a full suit, while others prefer to wear only a veil and gloves. For beginners who are just starting their beekeeping journey, it can feel overwhelming to select the right protective gear for the job. This guide explains the different types of protective clothing available to beekeepers, what coverage each item provides, and how to choose the best options for you.

When should you wear a beekeeping suit?

Some beekeepers wear a beekeeping suit any time they’re around the hive, while others prefer minimal protective gear and only wear suits when performing more invasive tasks. A beekeeper should feel confident and comfortable in whatever protective clothing they choose, whether it’s a hat and veil only, a suit but no gloves, a full beekeeping suit, or a jacket and pair of boots. No matter what you select, you must still take safety precautions around your hives and avoid upsetting the bees. Remember that wearing protective clothing is not a guarantee: A beekeeper can still be stung, even when wearing a full suit.

Types of beekeeping clothing and gear

Beekeepers rely on several types of clothing and gear for protection around bees. While some beekeeping clothing covers your arms, legs, and torso with thick fabric, other pieces of protective gear shield exposed areas that heavy clothing can't, like your hands and face. Beekeeping suits and jackets can also protect your everyday clothing from the dirt and grime that accumulates while working around bees.

Protective clothing for beekeepers includes:

  • Veils, with or without connected hats
  • Helmets
  • Beekeeping suits
  • Jackets
  • Gloves, with or without a long gauntlet
  • Wrist protectors
  • Boots
  • Boot bands

You should also plan to use other beekeeping safety equipment such as a smoker and fuel to help calm your bees while inspecting or maintaining hives.

Choose your beekeeping head protection

Your face is a delicate area that needs trustworthy protection — especially around the eyes, nose, and ears. Beekeeping head protection typically consists of a wide brim hat and a mesh net that hangs down to cover the face and neck, keeping bees out and reducing the chance of getting stung in these sensitive areas. Beekeeping head protection comes in a variety of configurations:

  • A hat or helmet with detachable veil that doesn’t attach to a suit or jacket
  • A hat with attached veil that doesn’t attach to a suit or jacket
  • A hat and attached veil that zips onto a suit or jacket
  • A hood veil that may or may not attach to a suit or jacket

Though a few experienced beekeepers may prefer to tend a hive without protective head gear, we do not recommend this under any circumstances. Whatever veil you choose to wear, you should also keep a spare hat and veil on hand for friends or neighbors who want to observe while you check your bees.

What to look for in beekeeping clothing

The design and construction of your protective beekeeping clothing is just as important as the material and fit. A quality beekeeping suit should have multiple pockets to hold your tools and accessories, double-stitched seams for durability, and tight elastic around the ankles and wrists to help keep bees out. Choose high-quality clothing made in strong, durable materials and look for items that are machine washable for easier laundering.

  • Beekeeping clothing made of heavy-duty woven cotton is comfortable and offers very good protection. Though cotton is breathable, it can be too warm in the summer and in hot locations.
  • A cotton/poly blend fabric is durable, lightweight, and breathable, making it comfortable any time of year.
  • A partially-ventilated beekeeping suit or jacket is typically made in a cotton/poly blend but includes mesh and foam panels along the sides that allow air (but not bees) to pass through easily.
  • In the heat of summer, you may prefer a fully ventilated jacket or suit made from multiple layers of both thick and fine mesh that allows plenty of airflow while maintaining protection, though such suits typically weigh more than non-ventilated clothing.

Most beginning beekeepers also wear gloves to help reduce stings and build confidence as they get used to taking care of the hives. Leather gloves offer the highest level of protection but can be cumbersome and make it difficult to feel the bees as you work. Goatskin gloves are thinner and more flexible than cow leather for better dexterity and good protection. Nitrile exam gloves offer good protection from stings and keep your hands clean, but barely limit dexterity and protection. Many beekeepers wear exam gloves or no gloves during inspections — but keep goatskin leather gloves nearby in case the bees get defensive.

Find the ideal fit for your protective bee gear

Your beekeeping clothing should fit properly for the best comfort and protection. Wear your beekeeping clothing loose, but not baggy. If your bee suit, jacket, or pants are too big, you risk tripping over the excess material. Additionally, any loose elastic could gap around the ankles and wrists, allowing bees to enter and reducing protection.

Beekeeping suits, jackets, and pants shouldn’t be too tight, either. Cloth stretched tight against your skin could allow the occasional stinger through. You’ll also need room to bend, stretch, and twist, so avoid protective clothing that restricts your movement.

Is a full or partial beekeeping suit better?

The type of beekeeping suit you wear depends on what makes you the most comfortable. If you’re a beginner, you might feel more confident wearing a full beekeeping suit with an attached veil. If you’re a seasoned beekeeper or performing a quick, routine task in the hive, you may prefer a "partial suit," or a beekeeping jacket.

A full beekeeping suit is a one-piece zip-up unit with long sleeves, long pants, and elastic at the wrists and ankles to keep bees out. Some beekeeping suits come with an attached veil to cover the face, neck, and head. A full beekeeping suit offers more protection than a jacket alone, which can improve confidence in beginners. A full suit is heavier, bulkier, and can be harder to move in than a partial suit — practice wearing it ahead of time so you’re comfortable when you begin working with your bees.

A partial beekeeping suit typically includes separate pants and a jacket. A beekeeping jacket is more convenient to put on than a full suit and may be ideal for a quick trip to the hive. Wear your jacket with thick, loose-fitting denim jeans, other long cotton pants, or specialized beekeeping pants. Like a full suit, elastic at the wrists of the jacket and ankles of the pants help keep bees out. Most beekeeping jackets feature attached or removable veils or hoods.

Do beekeeping suits prevent stings?

A beekeeping suit is a great option if it helps you relax around your bees, but the material isn’t sting-proof, and a persistent bee can still sometimes find its way into a gap. Stay calm and be considerate of your bees as you work. If you are careful to avoid disrupting or agitating them, it will reduce the chance of getting stung.

Beekeeping clothing is more than just a suit alone: What you wear under your protective clothing matters, too.

  • For the best protection, wear thick denim jeans or canvas painter’s pants, a long sleeve shirt, and sturdy boots or shoes.
  • If you wear low-rise jeans, choose a long-hem shirt that covers your back when you bend over.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks or use boot bands to cinch the leg openings.
  • Avoid shorts, tank tops, sandals, and clothing that exposes your skin.

If your beekeeping suit, jacket, veil, and other protective gear are worn incorrectly, you sacrifice range of motion and risk bees getting inside your clothing or gear. Learn about proper use and how to get comfortable with beekeeping gear for better safety by attending a beekeeping class or event.

Why do beekeepers wear white?

Beekeepers don't have to wear white, but light-colored clothing is recommended. Some prefer to wear white because bees may react aggressively toward dark clothing and seem less aggravated by light-colored clothing. Another reason for wearing white is that it makes it easier to spot bees that have landed on you, so you can remove them before you leave the bee yard — keeping them closer to home and preventing you from carrying them indoors with you.

No matter which type of protective beekeeping gear or clothing you choose, your focus should be on the hive. The more comfortable you are, the better you can handle your beekeeping tasks. Explore our Beginner’s Beekeeping Guide for more tips and information.