Feature on the BBC News website
‘Virtually sting-proof’ bee suit made after allergy concern.
The Sentinel Pro 3D Bee Suit, created by Ian Roberts, is made from material thicker than the average bee sting.
The suit is being used by horticulture students at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire.
It will be launched at the Welsh Beekeepers’ Association Convention at Llanelwedd on 24 March .
Customer review from Mr Brian Moore, Northamptonshire
Now I have had the use of one of you new suits for a beekeeping season, I would like to say how pleased I am with it.
In fact it has transformed my beekeeping. I can now work in shorts and T shirt & without a cap under the hood as before. That was a great blessing in the heat of the 2018 summer.
I am so pleased with it I have recommended it to our current group of beginners, going through our “Beginners Training Course” at the moment.
For me it ticks all the boxes. It is cool to wear, easy to put on and off, washes well, dries quickly and is sting proof. Bees do not seem to like landing on it and because of that, they do not leave there sting in the material (being able to withdraw there sting it seems) therefor stings & sting pheromone are not left on the suit. I am convinced this has resulted in calmer bees. All that at the right price. What is there not to like?
Brian Moore, Northamptonshire. March 2019
Feature on the Daily Post website
Welsh farmer develops ‘sting-proof’ suit for beekeepers.
A Welsh farmer and beekeeper is to launch a bee suit for honey producers that he claims is “virtually sting proof”.
Ian Roberts was spurred into action when a beekeeper friend developed a life-threatening allergic reaction after being stung.
He hopes his Sentinel Pro 3D Bee Suit will end the “nervousness” that many beekeepers get even when fully kitted up.
Review from Mr Joe Lionel on Beekeepity.com
I am a careful beekeeper. I don’t like stings. In my first year of keeping bees (one colony, split into two by summer’s end) I had zero stings. None.
And I still am.
But it’s not just me being a scaredy-cat – there are plenty of people who want to avoid stings. Obviously, not liking stings is basically the point of them. Some people tolerate them more than others – I get itchy for a day or so, but it’s generally pretty minor. Other people have an anaphylactic reaction to bee stings – their throat can swell shut, and they need a shot of adrenaline if they are to survive.
Anyway, I saw this bee suit featured on a news website a while ago, but I pretty much dismissed it as a far-out fantasy. I’ll never be able to afford a sting proof bee suit, I convinced myself – I may as well buy a liquid oxygen powered space rocket.
Anyway, fast forward to late April, and I saw it again, this time for sale on a Facebook page. I’ll just check it out, I said. I went to the sales page, and it looked pretty cool, although the comments on Facebook were that it would be incredibly hot to wear such a thick suit, especially while doing physical work on a sunny day.
Anyway, long story short, I emailed the inventor/designer – Ian – and we had a short chat on the phone. He helped me pick my size and had one sent out to me the very next day.
So, now I have a new bee suit.
So when I first saw the Sentinel Pro 3D, I assumed it would be too expensive for a mere mortal like myself to buy. I, like other lowly beekeepers, would have to endure the occasional sting through poorly stitched, budget cotton overalls.
When I actually looked at the sales page, I was amazed to see that the price was less than that of the current “top-of-the-range” suit, the Apiarist by BJ Sherriff. Whether it will stay so low, I don’t know, but it’s definitely within reach.
I was also sceptical of the “sting-proof” claim. The logic is sound – a bee’s stinger is 1.5mm-3mm long, and this suit is 3.5mm thick. But when I got it out of the box, I was bewildered to see that it appears to be made of a collection of small holes, held together with thread. In other words, a fine mesh. It looked as though a bee should be able to poke its stinger through any of the holes in the mesh; it was basically a net. Anyway, I suspended my disbelief for testing later.
The suit itself is great. It’s comfortable, really light given it is so thick, and flexible too. In the immortal words of Ned Flanders, it feels like I’m wearing nothing at all.
The mesh-like fabric of the suit has another incredible property – it’s not hot at all. It is nothing short of breezy. If you were out on a hot, sunny day, you’d feel comfortable. You may need to wear an extra layer.
I tried it on as soon as I had it out of its packaging and it was a pleasant surprise. I got a size 54 – I’m 5’10” and not a giant, but not small either. I weigh about 185lbs (on the phone to Ian I said I weigh 15 stone, I was only two stone out but keeping a grasp on reality isn’t my strong point).
Let’s be honest, I’m not going to get smaller, so the extra space is just future-proofing.
Despite the mix up with my size, it fits really well around my chest and waist, and it is elasticated around the middle, so it’s not baggy like my other bee suits.
There is a zip pocket for a mobile phone on the breast, and an adrenaline (Epi-pen) or queen marking pen or whatever pen you like pocket on the upper arm.
The only reservation I had, apart from the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to believe that bee stings would be kept out, was that mesh feels quite fragile. I’m just being paranoid with my new equipment, perhaps, but I worry that a snag on a briar or gorse bush or hive tool might rip it relatively more easily than a cotton suit.
Trying It Out For Real
Unfortunately, the delivery of the suit coincided with about a week of poor weather, but I did soon enough get a chance to try it out in the field.
I had a swarm that had taken up residence in a mostly empty super box and had built quite extensive comb crosswise to the few frames that were in there. Needless to say, it made inspections difficult, to say the least, so I wanted to cut out the comb and tie it into some frames.
Usually, this seems to get the bees a bit fraught, and I thought this is a good a chance as any to try out a sting proof suit.
I strung up my frames to accept the cut out bits of comb and set out to my apiary. Once I got there, I donned up, lit my smoker, and it was immediately obvious how well ventilated this suit is: I felt like the seat of my pants must have unzipped, but it was just that cool inside.
I mentioned wearing another layer to stay warm, a bit of a joke but I was wearing only a t-shirt under the suit (and trousers, like). What I noticed is that some of the seams are really scritchy. It’s not a fault, I think it’s just the material from which the suit is made. And I’m a bit sensitive about that sort of thing, I always tear the labels out of shirts. That’s why there’s always a hole at the back of my shirt around the neckline.
I opened up the colony and gave them a puff of smoke, and I have to be honest – they are such sweethearts that I can’t really say if the sting-proof aspect of the suit is accurate. They just buzzed contentedly and got on with life as I tore their nest apart. I got all of the comb into frames to fit the super, and found plenty of brood and eggs. No sign of queenie, but no signs of swarming either. I am terrible at spotting things, so it doesn’t mean much not to see her.
Despite the gentle nature of these bees, I have it from several other sources that this bee suit (as well as other similar suits) are indeed pretty much impervious to stings. They certainly won’t be getting in through the cuffs, which are well elasticated, or through the zipper around the veil which also has a hook and look flap to cover the gap between the two ends of the zip.
I was pleasantly surprised by the suit in pretty much all aspects.
It is light and comfortable to wear, feels very flexible and non-restrictive and really cool. Ian told me on the phone that it’s even been tried by beekeepers in Namibia, who found it extraordinarily comfortable in their climate.
It does look a bit futuristic, and I know that many beekeepers are traditionalists. New technology is often shunned, and things that look so different may raise a few eyebrows. But I think it looks pretty good myself.
I’ve also heard some beekeepers say that wearing a suit is for fools and people who “don’t get” their bees – don’t listen to these people. Wearing a suit makes some people calmer and more comfortable, and makes them better beekeepers as a result.
There is an argument for wearing less PPE, especially if you aren’t too distressed by the idea of being stung (and if you don’t have a severe reaction to them) but one of the main reasons I have found to wear less PPE is comfort and to prevent overheating.
Since this doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue in the Sentinel, I don’t have a good reason for you not to wear it. You never know when your bees are going to have an off day, and a suit gives you peace of mind when they do act up.
If you are, like me, reluctant to get stung – even if you just wear it for those incorrigible colonies with a wicked queen, probably as you’re searching for her in order to replace her and calm the workers – for whatever reason, I would recommend this suit.
I don’t think there is anything else like it in the UK at the moment. The Ultra Breeze suit is available in the USA, but it costs quite a bit to import. There is another suit by Humble Bee, but really these latter two sell you on being ventilated rather than sting proof.
Customer review from Ms Amber Sanchez
Ventilated, Sting Proof Bee Suits – The UltraBreeze or The Sentinel Pro 3D?
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!)
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