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Footwear for beekeepers: What’s your favorite?

Todd Smith, a Michigan beekeeper, wants to know my favorite beekeeping footwear. He is trying to decide on a gift for a 77-year-old female beekeeping friend, and he was thinking of footwear for the bee yard.

Well, I have news for you, Todd. Women do not own footwear. Women buy shoes, boots, sandals, or even hikers. But footwear? Never.

History could be rewritten if women wore footwear. Think of Dorothy in Oz trying to return to Kansas. Would tapping three times the heels of ruby-crusted footwear actually work? And how about Cinderella? Would she marry the guy who found her missing glass footwear? Sooo not romantic! She’d probably throw it at him. And remember Imelda Marcos? She had 2700 pairs of shoes, and not one pair of footwear. Seriously.

When things are too heavy to lift

Once upon a time I wore running shoes or hikers for beekeeping. That worked fairly well until the day I dropped a fully-loaded deep brood box onto the ground in front of me. It was too heavy by far and I had to let it go. I used to wonder what would happen if you lifted something that was too heavy, but I figured if you managed to dislodge it in the first place, it would be okay. Not so.

When my husband was a teenager, he apparently discovered the same reality. He worked summers at a marina, and one day he was asked to remove a customer’s outboard motor for service. He hefted it from the transom but then realized it was too heavy, so he ended up dropping it in the Chazy River. Oops.

When in doubt, they go for the ankles

The bees in the downed brood box were not particularly happy and blamed it on my ankles. In the thin sliver of space between shoes and bee suit, they tattooed white-hot ankle bracelets in a matter of seconds. I ran for the house and the bees came with. Later, I pulled out 21 stingers before I decided counting was a bad idea.

A few days later, I was standing in line at Costco scratching one ankle with the other when I felt a cold stare. I turned to see a self-important suit, all pressed and manicured and watching me with a disgusted look on his face. I delivered an unfriendly smile—one of those that dissolves into a frown and shouts, “Mind your own business, moron.” But then I left the line and went in search of boots. Enough was enough.

Finding the right boots

Since then, I always wear boots when beekeeping. My first pair of muck boots were too high, however, and caused the legs of my bee suit to fold into accordions around my knees. The accordions forced me to walk like a toddler in diapers, so I gave that up, too. Later, I learned that shorter boots—about mid-calf—keep out the bees, don’t interfere with the suit, and are easy to take on and off. So at this writing, that’s what I wear.

I know that’s not much to go on, so I’m hoping you can give Todd a helping hand. In your opinion, what is the perfect footwear for beekeepers and why?

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Footwear for beekeepers
For beekeeping, I prefer short muck boots, like the ones on the right.

Comments

Sharon Klemmu
Reply

Hilarious. My footwear of choice are heavy leather boots that fit under the suit fine. However, a decent pair of wellies can be found at most farm stores for not a lot. 77 and tending bees. Impressive. I would like to know more about how she manages hives bc they are way too heavy for me too. I moved to the one brood box hive idea for that reason. Funny post with a message.

Dinah
Reply

Do you tuck your pants into your boots or let them fall over the tops? Put elastic around them?

Rusty
Reply

Dinah,

I tuck them in.

Richard Anstis
Reply

‘Eager’ is probably taking it too far, Rusty, but mild interest. For me, it’s footwear, plain and simple. They need to be:

1. bee proof = wellies
2. propolis and honey and sun and hive-tool proof = wellies
3. waterproof = wellies
4. easy to put on and take off quickly = wellies
5. cool in summer or capable of containing all the sweat that drips into them = wellies
6. who cares…it’s wellies.

For non-uk readers, ‘wellies’ are wellington boots, rubber boots, yard boots….whatever – like the ones in the picture.

White ones go with a white suit and make you look like those guys in ET, but bees don’t really care.

So, in summary:

‘Eager’ really was pushing it.

Rusty
Reply

Richard,

1. Regarding “eager,” what was I supposed to say? I’m mildly interested in your opinion? Jeese. I deleted the whole sentence.

2. “For me, it’s footwear, plain and simple.” I knew it. Footwear is a man thing.

Samantha Walker
Reply

Joules do beautiful bee wellies not sure if they are in America though :S

Sarah
Reply

I wear hiking boots and gaiters. I use the gaiters for cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, so they are definitely dual-purpose! I’m ashamed of how many bees crawled up my pantlegs and met their untimely death (either by leaving their stinger and half their guts in my leg, or by my wild swatting when I felt them crawling around) before I thought of my gaiters. Works great.

Hannah
Reply

Hi Rusty, I am in agreement with boots! My personal love are the fun decorative gardening\ rain boots! But then again I like to paint my supers pink:)

Kris
Reply

Same for me. Boots. Tucked in. Mine are insulated as they are the same ones I use in the barn in winter. I don’t notice that they make me any hotter. Feet slip right in and out. Comfy. No stings. Available at Southern States Farm Supply here in Va or online.

Janet Hofmann
Reply

I feel your pain. Scratching my ankles as I read this.

Cathy Wilde
Reply

50 years of horsekeeping has brought me to Muck boots, which I “improve” with Klogs insoles. I wear them outdoors pretty much all the time, all year long.

Philip
Reply

99% of the time I still wear sneakers (running shoes) with a pair of jeans. I’ve been stung on the ankles more than a few times, but as a hobbyist beekeeper with dwindling ambitions and not many hives (I’m reducing my number of hives — a stroke of genius, I must say), I seem to get by with casual wear most of the time.

I began with a full bee suit, goat skin gloves and rubber boots, and every year it seems to get less and less. Half the time I don’t wear gloves, no bee jacket, only a veil, and half the time I forgot to tie the veil tight, and I only put on boots when I know I’m doing something that’s likely to rile up the bees. When I do wear boots, I wear my Blundstones, which aren’t the greatest because of the low ankles.

But after reading this post, you got me sold on the funky rain boots.

Rusty
Reply

Phillip,

For me it’s a seasonal thing. I wasn’t wearing much earlier in the year, but right now I’ve got some really nasty bees. On Sunday, I got stung 4 times and my husband got stung twice. And we were just watering the lawn. Nasty, nasty guards on a search and destroy mission.

Sara
Reply

So you have that problem too! Usually it has just been in the spring when a colony is getting ready to swarm and depends on the colony, but not this year. This summer we’ve had more of a problem with a few guards seeking us out when we’re just working in the garden, weeding, picking, not threatening at all, and dancing in our faces. That up and down, ‘I’m just working myself up to sting you dance’ is very disconcerting. Usually sends me running to the house for one of the cheap ‘just your head’ veils. If they can’t reach the face, it’s far easier to keep working and they don’t usually try to sting anywhere else.

Clifford MCghghy
Reply

I wear Redwing safety toe boots. I came from an industrial background and I owned them. If you drop that hive on your toe it saves the toe. I owned them. Did I mention I owned them. The price was right. They are leather with 10 inch tops and the elastic cuff of my bee suit fit snuggly around the tops.

Liz Bateman
Reply

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I am now in search of a pair of short muck boots in a narrow size 😛

Jasmine
Reply

Rubber wellingtons! You can tuck the legs of the bee suit into them quite comfortably and there is no way that the little dears can puncture the thick rubber. A pair of thin socks to soak up the foot humidity! Now that they come in pretty flower designs, one can be quite exaggerated, but I prefer the simple black boots and stride through the weeds and thistles with ease.

Dave
Reply

Rusty, I love that you’re down to Earth. We all have that conversation in line sometime in our lives! The one thing I don’t wear is sandals, of any sort! I wear runners most of the time but long pants that drape over the shoes down to the ground…that so far has prevented any ankle injuries…however, one time I dropped a full frame and the shoes allowed for the quick getaway! When harvesting however, boots are my go to. Love the site!

Dave

Dawn
Reply

I love my pretty Sloggers rain/garden boots – http://tinyurl.com/yd7bmqoo

They are lightweight enough not to get too hot in our southern California summer, but thick enough to resist even determined africanized bees. Life savers! My husband is just disappointed that they don’t make them for men. 🙂

Rusty
Reply

Ohh. I like the ones with chickens!

Heather
Reply

I also wear muck boots. Not only do they protect you where your bee suit stops, but I love that my feet stay dry. It’s nice when I’m walking through the dew covered grass, getting all of my stuff ready for morning inspections, that wet shoes and socks is one worry I can leave at home.

The other nice thing about muck boots is that, in the winter, I can put insulated insoles in them and my feet stay warm. It gets very cold here so when I’m making the rounds checking on hives while walking through knee deep snow in 20 degree weather, warm feet are a must. My regular winter boots get me through normal winter trudgery but they aren’t quite as high as my muck boots. The muck boots keep the snow out and are an added layer to keep my legs warm when digging hives out of the snow.

Interestingly, my boots are not hot in summer (as long as I remember to take out the thermal insole!) so my feet and legs stay as comfortable as can be expected in full bee gear.

I vote for muck boots.

Rusty
Reply

Heather,

I too have noticed that muck boots are not hot in summer. Surprising, really.

Doug A.
Reply

I just use a pair of leather Wellington boots. They are slip-on boots that are a cross between work boots and cowboy boots. Although I wear jeans and a beekeeping jacket. The jeans seal tight enough around the base that the bees don’t come up. So far so good!

Sherry Hill
Reply

Low calf rain boots or high top muckers

Harte
Reply

Blundtstones! I wear them anyway so I don’t even have to change “footwear” to see bees. I pull the elastic of the pants legs over the top of the boots.

Donald Rideaux-Crenshaw
Reply

My wife wears wellies and they work well for her; I recommend them. Like many of the other commenters, I recommend them. I suspect my wife will too if she comments on this post.

I wear, well, it depends entirely on what I was wearing the last time I came in through the mud room.

Maryanne - Watkins Glen, NY
Reply

It’s funny, I started out wearing leather work type boots (ariats), but as I move ahead in my endeavors as a beekeeper, I find that I wear my jacket, veil, and jeans. It wasn’t until this year with my new bees that I got stung on my ankle. I usually just wear my leather keen sneakers, but I tend to wear my muck boots in the spring and when it’s wet out. Although, I have to say, I really like the idea of rain boots with bees on them!

Ruth
Reply

Hightop Converse under straight-leg Levis. Sorry to hear about your aggressive bees, Rusty! I’m in Los Angeles so it’s a constant issue around here, but I strive mightily to keep only docile bees, so I figure when I find myself donning those gaiters it’s time to start thinking about “Icing” the hive. I love the lightweight flexibility of Converses and so many color choices!!

Brian Tamboline
Reply

Muck boot ‘Scrubs’. Elastic ankle cuffs on bee suit keep it ‘bee free’ down below.

Melanie Hinzman
Reply

I wear low calf boots and tuck in my pants. It is a mistake to wear tennis shoes.

Julie
Reply

Muck boots, definitely. I have the ultra breeze suit and the suit zips easily around the boots, so no baggy legs.

Bianca Pratorius
Reply

I used to wear my slogger shoes until the bees found that unprotected 1 inch spot between the top of the shoe and the end of the suit. It was boots for me from then on.

robert
Reply

I just wear plain old town shoes and never had a problem. My arms however were too long for my suit and I often get bitten on my wrist but with my new suit, never any more problems, and I am still wearing town shoes.

Ann Flanigan
Reply

Getting stung once in the ankle, so badly I couldn’t put an ounce of weight on it, is enough to swear by boots in the bee yard! And, Rusty, you are the most entertaining and informative writer on the web. I always look forward to your updates!!

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Ann. Now I can become smug and unreasonable.

Pam Burke
Reply

I wear wellies with my jeans tucked in and a 2 1/2 inch tall wrap around piece of masking tape adhered to foil those rascals.

Rich
Reply

I wear a really old pair of combat boots and tuck my jeans into the tops. The Bride wears a pair of knee high rubber boots when she makes the inspections.

Tommy Hodge
Reply

Hunting boots with steel toe, or Keen sandals. Kind of depends on what I’m doing in the bee yard at the time. Both allow an occasional crawler up the leg. 🙂

JoAnne
Reply

I’m with Clifford. Steel toed boots. The elastic of the bee suit goes over them for bee proof protection. And I have saved my toes and feet more than once. Perhaps I drop boxes more than other beeks do?

Damon
Reply

Most of the time just whatever footwear I happen to be wearing (usu tennis shoes or boots).
If I think I may be riling the bees, calf boots and jeans, similiar to the ones pictured on the right.
I have a bungie I just leave around my boots all the time and when working the bees i slide the bungie over my jeans (so my jeans are outside the boots).

IanMichaelTee
Reply

Been here and my bees are in an out yard so I usually go on way home from work. I often forget to bring proper shoes so I go in whatever I happen to have in my car. I have very calm buckfast bees in my two hives. Half the time I wear sandals because I forgot to bring shoes with me and I’ve yet to be stung, even with spending 30 or more minutes inspecting things! I do realize that will not last tho!

Tim Norris
Reply

I’m a fan of Muck brand boots. I learned long ago that if I roll the tops down before putting them on, I can lay my pant legs in a bit easier and just roll them up! Muck boots are the most comfortable rubber boots I have ever owned.

Tracy
Reply

I always seem to get that one bee who manages to crawl down my calf high muck boots just to sting me. So, I prefer high top waterproof hikers and wool socks plus elastic or Velcro straps around the bottom of my bee suit.

Stephanie
Reply

I only have 1 very happy hive currently and I wear Blundstones or clogs with socks pulled over my jeans… it’s quite the fashion statement with my jacket, veil and gloves!

Vic
Reply

Really. What footwear to wear. No I have realized that everything else I think about, worry about etc is wanting. What clods should I wear? I wear jeans and ankle height muck boots. I used to be like some of you and worry. I would duct tape my ankles and pray. I got tired of the sweating to put it on an then take it off. Now I just put on the jeans and the muck boots and have never been stung. Really. Maybe I should wear different colored jeans or underwear. If you can’t think of being stung go to Whole Foods and get over it.

Chris
Reply

We call them Gumboots over here in Australia but similar to what is pictured. Added benefit of being easy to clean for apiary hygiene.

Roger Muellemann
Reply

Great subject Rusty! I have been looking for a cooler option. My feet get way too hot in boots, like my feet are in fire hot. I am currently looking at some high top canvas. Anybody out there have the same problem and founds cool option? I would appreciate any thoughts. Thanks!

John UK
Reply

Hi, like Sarah, I wear a pair of gaiters – from my days of winter fellwalking – over my trousers and shoes.

Slightly off-topic: I was once a victim of the curse of the 501s (button fly, work it out!)

Rusty
Reply

John,

I know someone who quit beekeeping completely and forever after a 501 incident!

Jill Goodenough
Reply

Hi,

Colourful wellies for me, but with the top of the wellies inside the legs of my bee suit, since having a bee fall down inside the boot one time I did it the other way!

Jeffrey
Reply

So far I guess I have been lucky. Sneakers, heavy work jeans, vented bee jacket with veil, and gauntlet gloves. I re-queened my survivor hive this spring due to aggressive behavior, I refuse to go through that again this summer, no sting just relentless facial dive-bombing when you walk past the hive. Now they are calm and a pleasure to have around. Two Italians hives, one Carniolan hive, and a Carniolan queen box that I am going to turning into a NUC. (My reserve queen.)

I was jumped once when I separated the upper deep from the lower, they covered me so fast I didn’t know what to do. They never stung me but they shook me up rather badly at the time. Now I give them plenty of warning (a few good puffs of smoke) before I open them up like that. I do wear my jeans on the long side so they cover my ankles fairly well. After reading some of these stories I may want to think about buying some high tops. HaHaHaHaHa!!! Happy beekeeping all, and thanks for the wonderful writing Rusty.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Jeffrey.

John "Rusty" Walker
Reply

Down on da bayou, we wear shrimp boots for almost everything. They are light, white and reach above the ankle. They even give you a little more heads up when the red ants start climbing up your pant leg. In or out, it don’t matter.

Kerrin Thompson
Reply

I wear short muck boots as well. I don’t tuck my pants into the boots, but pull them over and use a rubber band as a barrier to keep bees out. I found that a few would get trapped between the boot and the pant leg when I tucked them in and as I walked they would get smashed and sting.

Eddie
Reply

I use well-fitting high-top rain boots.

Steve Gibbs
Reply

Cowboy boots, under the jeans, with rubber bands at the end of the pantlegs! Stylish!

Judy
Reply

I wear high muck boots and tuck my pant legs into them. I also tuck in my hive tool and brush…very handy!

Brian
Reply

I know it’s not the right answer, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wasn’t completely comfortable with it, but I wear flip flops when I tend my bees. I get stung more in the forearms than I do on my legs, so I wasn’t so worried about that aspect. My bad back keeps me from lifting anything that would put my toes in harms way, so I don’t have that issue to worry with either. Besides all that, boots would seem a little out of place with the shorts and t-shirt. I do wear a veil sometimes, because it still sucks getting stung in the face.

John
Reply

I highly recommend Hunter boots. I just replaced a pair that lasted me some 25 years (they do wear out eventually…) with the exact same style that the company has been making since the mid-19th century. Classics never go out of style!

Here’s a link to what I bought http://us.hunterboots.com/male-tall-rain-boots/mens-original-tall-rain-boots/green/47. Also on the Hunter website, the more fashion-conscious beekeepers will also find many colors and more modern styles, including some shiny ones. I purchased a size one larger than more normal shoe size, for extra comfort.

I’m sure your can buy cheaper, but you can’t buy better. I recommend any style of tall rubber boots that you can slip on, with room to tuck your pants into the top.

John

Mark
Reply

Chacos ,.. why sweat?

Blake Santaniello
Reply

I bought 2 pairs of long, thick white hockey socks and i put on one pair before i put on my suit and then put on the other pair after putting on my suit. This puts one under and the other over the ankle part of my suit. Then i just put on a pair of slides (sandals) and call it a day. So far this works good since the socks come up to my knees and provide great protection.

Mindy
Reply

Muck boots. My husband had the same experience as you, getting “tattooed white-hot ankle bracelets” when we wore our sandals. Never again. Muck boots no matter the temperature.

Sandra E Chubb
Reply

The first time I visited my hives I wore suede ankle boots with my bee suit tucked into my socks. I came away with over 150 stingers actually in the boots, luckily no stings in me. From then on I wear socks inside cut down wellies; cut so that they come above 4″/100mm above my ankles and tuck my bee suit trouser legs into these. No stingers in the foot region since that first day – wellies rule, OK!

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