There is a fair bit of choice out there with respect to which bee suit you buy. If you don’t read this whole article, the single thing to bear in mind is that the cheap bee suits don’t stop stings, actually none stop them 100%, but some of the cheap ones don’t stop many at all. I know this from personal experience and seeing as the sole purpose of a beekeeper wearing one is to stop stings, they are basically useless. The first one I bought was a smock from ebay, I confidently wore it a couple of times and then one day at the club apiary, a particularly angry hive decided to have a go and stung me straight through it.
While there are plenty of suppliers out there (which I will come to shortly) you have three main options, the full overall type which is similar to a boiler suit with an attached hood and veil, a jacket with hood and veil, or just a veil which I wouldn’t recommend if you are new to beekeeping because as some point the bees will try to sting you and whilst your head will be protected nothing else will! Personally I started off with the jacket type with a fencing style hood but later moved on to a full length suit.
There are 2 main types of hood, the traditional style or the fencing hood style, there isn’t a huge difference between the two and which you use seems a matter of preference, although if a fencing one doesn’t fit very well, you will find yourself constantly pulling it away from your face, or have to wear a baseball cap underneath to keep it in place.
Other things to consider are the thickness of the fabric, generally speaking the better the suit, the thicker and/or denser the fabric is, which is exactly what you need to prevent stings penetrating. That being said, the thicker the fabric, the hotter you will get, remember that if you have a few hives, you will be wearing it in mid summer, probably with boots and gloves on and a thin layer of clothing underneath while you move roofs and supers off the brood boxes, do an inspection and then put the hives back together again, it can get very hot!
Bee suits come in white as standard, this is because honeybees are said to be more docile if you wear lighter colours, plus it’s not as hot as darker colours when working the hives in the summer sun. My current suit is not white though, this is simply because having bees out on a farm, I’m less likely to be spotted and draw any attention to the hives, it’s amazing how much more a new white suit stands out in the countryside. They do come in quite a wide range of colours these days, from white, blue, beige, pink (for the ladies) to stone, sage and even army camouflage, but to start off I would suggest a light shade.
When you go out to buy one, actually try it on, as one of the big and important differences between them is the grade of mesh which is used in front of your face, you need to be able to see through it clearly when you are doing inspections as one of the key things you always look for are eggs in the brood frames, so you need to be able to see through it as clearly as possible. (Oops, did I just repeat that? that’s because it’s pretty much useless if you can’t see eggs through it, especially if you aren’t good at spotting queens)
A good bee suit should last you for many years, so it’s worth spending a little bit more on buying a good one and dramatically reducing the chance of being stung.
Bee Suit Suppliers
Here are a few of the main bee suit suppliers in the UK:
BB Wear make good high quality bee suits and this is what I use these days.
Beechwood or Maisemore make reasonable mid range ones, although I know from experience that the Maisemore veil will only last around a year of regular use.
Ebay could have some decent ones although you won’t know the quality until it’s delivered, I made that mistake myself with my first one, it was cheap, but I certainly got what I paid for.