Many experienced beekeepers go without gloves and for good reason— they are cumbersome! These beekeepers trade comfort and dexterity for the occasional sting. But, if you are a new beekeeper or in an Africanized Honey Bee zone, you are probably in for more than just an occasional sting. Personally, I rarely work without gloves. So, if you are going to wear gloves, what kind of gloves are best? Read on to find out my preferences and advice.
Size & Fit
One of the most common mistakes I see new beekeepers make is purchasing gloves that are much too big for them. This is especially true for women. Your gloves should fit your hands snugly. You should not have a ton of overhang at the tip of your fingers. If your gloves are too big, they will get caught underframes and make it difficult for you to inspect your hives. The tighter your gloves fit, the more dexterity you will have, but there is a tradeoff, snug gloves are easier for bees to sting through. Usually though, when a bee stings through the glove, it is not quite as bad as a normal sting. I call them “micro stings” because the stinger may not get all the way through. Whenever possible, buy your gloves from a local shop, that way you can try them on.
Beekeeping gloves are usually cow leather or goat leather. Cow leather is thicker than goat leather and will have more protection from stings, but less range of motion. Thicker leather will also mean less sensitivity: it’s harder to feel when you are accidentally placing your finger on a bee, for example. For this reason, I prefer goat leather. It provides reasonable protection, while still allowing some sensitivity. My current favorite is the XS from Walter T. Kelley.
Last summer, I got a cut on my finger that became infected from wearing my beekeeping gloves so often. It is not uncommon for me to work bees every day in the spring and summer and my leather gloves become very hard to keep clean. I ended switching to disposable nitrile gloves and now, I am not sure I can go back to the leather.
Surprisingly, I have found that I get less stings with nitrile gloves than I did with leather gloves. Even though the gloves are thinner, the bees don’t seem to realize they can sting through them. I also enjoy the increased dexterity and sensitivity. I can even feel the heat from the beehive through them! The cons are that they are disposable. I really dislike how much trash I am making. However, I try to offset this by saving them, washing them and wearing them again. They can last quite awhile. Some beekeepers like to use dish gloves for this reason. Although they are thicker, the benefits are similar and they have more longevity. Another issue with nitrile or dish gloves is that they do not breathe like leather ones do and they will make your hands VERY sweaty. That might be a dealbreaker for some of you, I have grown used to it. My current favorites are these long-cuff nitrile glove in size medium from Amazon. Check out my article all about the pros and cons of using nitrile gloves over on my blog by clicking here.
Working Towards Gloveless
If your goal is to eventually be able to work your hives without gloves, you can transition yourself by switching your glove type. Start with leather gloves, which will give the most protection while you are a new beekeeping and still learning how to handle your bees. Once you feel you have a sense of how to keep your bees calm while you inspect then, you can switch to nitrile. This will provide moderate protection and give you peace of mind while you work towards taking off your gloves completely. Eventually, you can begin testing the waters by starting out your hive inspection with gloves on and then taking them off part way through. This will allow you to judge the temperament of your hive before removing the gloves. Remember, a colony’s behavior can change from day-to-day. Just because they were gentle during your last inspection, doesn’t mean they will be for the next. That’s why I always bring a pair of gloves in my pocket, even if I don’t plan on wearing them.