If you’re in emergency services, work on disaster cleanup sites or simply want to be prepared for a pandemic, a gas mask can give you peace of mind. But with so many options available, it can be hard to know which one is right for you. A good place to start is with a military surplus option, but there are also more convenient (and more affordable) options on Amazon and from other manufacturers.
In general, the most important thing to understand about a gas mask is that it filters out airborne contaminants, mainly gases and particulates. Some gases can be lethal, and others can irritate or poison your lungs and other respiratory tract structures. Some of the more common contaminates that are filtered by a gas mask include:
The key to choosing the right gas mask for your needs is understanding what threats you’ll be facing in your area of operation or environment. Most modern filters are made from a combination of elements, most often activated carbon or molecular sieves. Molecular sieves trap larger particulates while activated carbon removes toxic gases and other vapors. Other filter materials, such as elastomeric or neoprene, are used to make the mask more flexible and comfortable for long periods of wear.
Some of the more expensive models of gas masks are designed with additional features to improve your comfort and capabilities. For example, some feature a mechanical voice amplifier that reverberates and amplifies your speech to make it easier to communicate with people close to you. Others come with a built in radio so you can stay connected to your team even if communication lines are down.
Depending on what you’ll be using your gas mask for, you may also need to consider whether it needs to be impact resistant. While most models have a standard ANSI Z87 impact rating, some can be upgraded to ballistics-grade resistance.
A gas mask’s protection level is also based on its specific filter type, which dictates what kinds of atmospheric hazards the model will be able to face. Some filters are designed for very specific threats, such as chlorine or mercury. Other filter types are designed to protect against a wide range of airborne threats, including organic and inorganic vapors, particulates, tear gas and CS gas, and volatile chemicals and gases.
When looking for a gas mask, be sure to avoid anything that isn’t certified by a recognized certifying body or has no manufacturer website or other reliable information. This will help ensure you’re getting a quality product that meets the requirements of your situation. It’s also a good idea to read the official spec sheets for any gas mask that interests you before making a purchase to understand what exactly it will be protecting you against.