The dreaded day came last year in June. A sting on the thumb; my fault, shortly followed by shortness of breath and a lump in my throat. My fears were confirmed by the immunology nurse at the hospital. I was allergic. And should give up bees.
I consulted the Internet, and found excellent reviews from allergic beekeepers and countless recommendations for the US UltraBreeze – a vented suit, made of 3 layers of mesh, virtually sting proof. (The material is thicker than your average bee stinger, and the barbs do not catch, so a bee survives- and no alarm pheromone remains if she does try to sting you.) It was not cheap (around £200) but I figured that was a small price to pay to be able to continue my beloved beekeeping and regain my confidence around bees. I had been stung through my regular suit and gloves several times, and been dealing with a hot hive that made me more and more nervous. (I’m sure the bees can tell!)
P&P and import taxes appeared to be very high for the UltraBreeze (£70+) but luckily my brother lives in the States, and he brought the suit over for me on his next visit.
The suit was fantastic. Really excellent quality, with robust metal zips, and roomy fencing style veil.
I have not been stung at all since I got it.
It is bulky however and heavy to carry (often on my bike). It also marks and stains easily, and though it dries very quickly after washing, propolis and mud stains persist.
I was considering investing in another Ultrabreeze suit when I came across the Sentinel Pro 3D from Old Castle Farm Hives at the BBKA Spring Convention Trade Fair. I’d read about the “virtually sting proof suit” on the BBC news website, but no reviews or testimonials (which I tend to rely on). At £130, from a UK supplier (so no shipping taxes) it was an attractive alternative, with a similar vented 3 layer mesh as the Utrabreeze. I liked the colour (grey) and look of the suit – more structured than standard suits and an almost futuristic design. I hummed and hawed until Ian Roberts – the Welsh beekeeper behind the design asked if I’d like to try one on. Ladies and gents….the minute I got into the suit it was sold! SO, so comfy and so lightweight; I could move and bend easily, and felt the breeze through the suit. I caught a glimpse of my reflection and could not believe that I looked person shaped (rather than cuddly toy shaped) and that I even had a waist! I brought 2 of them, and my partner brought one too. He’s delighted that we look like a pair of astronauts.
I’m happy to report the suit has performed brilliantly, and is easy to pack and transport (in a rucksack) on my back without making me look like a turtle on wheels. It washes and dries well, though I suspect stains may persist. It has really good pockets, well positioned, and the breast pockets have zips – which is excellent as I’m forever fishing adventurous bees from my pockets on other suits. There’s even a pocket for my trusty Epipen. The zips at the ankles are quite short; while the UltraBreeze has zips that run from the ankle to the waist. The Epipen cannot be used through the mesh fabric of either suit owing to the thickness, so in the event of needing an epinephrine injection (in the mid thigh), the UltraBreeze is much easier to manage, and I think I’d have to climb out of the Sentinel.
The hood design on the Sentinel is excellent. I tend to prefer the round shape traditional veil (not available from UltraBreeze) as I feel the mesh is kept away from my face better, and the back of my head and neck remain cooler. However, the Sentinel fencing style hood fits so well – it is shaped really well at the top of the head and sits very comfortably well in front of your nose; a cap underneath is not essential as with other hoods.
The UltraBreeze has Velcro fasteners at the wrists, while the Sentinel is just elasticated. I may add some Velcro to the Sentinel wrists so that I can use shorter gloves tucked in (I always double glove, with nitriles on top), but have been using long cuffed gloves for now. Old Castle Farm Hives also supply gloves- they are made of the same material as the suit on the top side, and leather on the palms. They seem to work well, and can be washed in the machine.
|UltraBreeze||Sentinel Pro 3D|
|Price||$259 (about £200)||£129.99|
|Weight||1.8kg approx||1.2kg approx|
|Fit||Good sizing guide
Roomy fit all over, long legs
|Ian Roberts picked the right size for me
Size guide online a bit confusing
Slimmer fitting on the legs
Much more roomy on the top
|Veil||Fencing style only
(a bit cone head shaped!)
|Fencing style or round (interchangeable)
Fencing style fits amazingly well
|Colour||White only||Grey or white|
|Pockets||Large, dry slowly, non closing||Well positioned, good size, breast pockets zip up, useful Epipen pocket on sleeve|
|Knees||–||Reinforced with patches|
|Fastening||Really good metal zips, robust
Zips run from ankles to waist
Elasticated cuffs with Velcro at wrist
|Plastic zips, easy to use
Elasticated wrists and ankles (a bit loose)
|Neckline||Round neck, comfortable||Shirt collars – not really necessary|
|Overall||A great suit, good quality
Pricey, difficult to procure in the UK Heavy and bulky
|A great suit, stylish
Excellent veil shape
Affordable, especially if you’re in the UK
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