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Choosing the Best Gas Mask

Gas masks are probably the most iconic prepper gear. They are so iconic that survivalist video games use gas masks as game icons, or at least as mainstay content. In fact, it is one of the first things that come to mind when we hear the word “prepper”. Ironically, it is one of the last piece of gear a prepper should prepare. However, the last should not always be the least, so a prepper should know how to determine the best gas mask.

Why Do You Need a Gas Mask?

asbestos in home
Asbestos can be lurking in your home. If multiple buildings and houses are destroyed by a disaster, you and your family are in risk of asbestos inhalation

The real question here is “why do we need a respirator?” There are different types of face masks and respirators; gas mask is just one of them. We are surrounded by stuff that pose serious respiratory risks. Ranging from asbestos insulation to nuclear power plants, these instruments of both life and death can cause serious trouble when an unexpected turn of events happen. For instance, the 9/11 tragedy indirectly caused several cancer deaths because of inhalation of mold, toxic construction materials and asbestos. Similar biological damage can happen when infrastructures are ruined by calamities like a storm or an earthquake. Because of this, it is important to have a face mask in your stash. You will likely need one travelling around the wreckage left by a disaster.

Choosing The Best Gas Mask

Human beings can be knuckleheads at times (most of the times actually) so the threats you have to prepare for includes those that are man-made in nature. This includes nuclear strikes and bioterrorism, thus stressing out the importance of a reliable face mask. What type of face mask is the best for you? Or is the gas mask the best option you have? Before you we move on to finding out the best gas mask, let us first take a look at the types of face mask that can help you during an event that requires NBC protection (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical).

Types of Respirator/ Facemask

Dust Masks

Dust masks are very far from effective, but they are very cheap and lightweight. Carrying one around is not a bad choice and is better than nothing. You can count bandanas into this category. In case you have no other choice but to use a bandana, folding it properly can give you a few layers of protection.

Particulate Respirator

Particulate respirators are a tad bit more effective than dust masks. They can filter smaller particulates including viruses and bacteria. However, they are not the perfect choice because they won’t protect you from nuclear, radioactive and most chemical sources. Particulate respirators are classified by their effectiveness and oil aerosol resistance. The nomenclature goes like this: (Oil resistance)+(Percent of particulates filtered)

Designation Oil Resistance
N Not resistant to oil
R Resistant to oil
P Oil proof

Particulate filtration percentage is usually one of 95, 99 and 100. So, a particulate respirator that is impervious to oil and filters 95% of particulates is classified as P95. Truly, it seems that P100 is the best choice you have. Unfortunately, such a respirator requires tremendous density, one which can easily give you discomfort when moving around (which you will surely be doing when shtf). Some particulate respirators are disposable but cheap. Others are a bit more expensive but can be reused by replacing the filters. Personally, I recommend the use of reusable ones since they have more upfront cost but little maintenance costs. These maintenance costs will only apply if you consistently use the respirator or when you take out the filters out of their container.

Gas Mask/Vapor Mask/ Fumigator Mask

Gas masks are your best source of protection because they can filter fine particles. Technically, gas masks are respirators too but they do a better job than particulate respirators. However, they are very costly, making them impractical at times. Furthermore, choosing the best gas mask for you can be quite a daunting task (we’ll go through it later) compared to the straightforward process of picking up a particulate respirator based on the classification. The only downside of the gas mask is its inherent unwieldiness and unreliability in unventilated or enclosed areas. In such cases, you are better of using a SCBA which provides an independent source of air, contrary to a gas mask that will only filter the air supply.

Self-contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

SCBA
First Responders use SCBA

As the name itself suggest, SCBAs provide you with an independent source of air to breathe. It is perfect for people who work on enclosed environments. It is not a very good choice for emergency because you can be totally screwed by the time you completely donned the apparatus. Now, you are probably asking which of these respirators/face mask you should use. Without a second thought, I will answer “Go for a gas mask and a particulate respirator”. The reason? Gas masks offer the best protection. Unfortunately, gas masks are expensive and unwieldy so you won’t likely have a gas mask in your car, your bug out bag and your cache simultaneously. You can leave the gas mask either near your bug out bag or in your cache and take a particulate respirator in your car for emergencies.

Choosing the Best Gas Mask

Here’s a topic that will step on the feet of know-it-all-macho-preppers who have tunnel-vision focused on a single “best-of-the-best” gas mask (usually a gas mask they sell through affiliate marketing). Other blogs will go like “hey, choose this brand y’all. It’s the supplier of military X and used by preppers Y.”, sometimes adding a coup-de-grace to nail the coffin “and it’s NBC+CBRN certified”, but we won’t. Brace yourself because we’re diving into objective facts that will help you choose the best gas mask and avoid the crappy fake masks that are only good for helping you not smell your neighbor’s fart.

The Best Gas Mask is Dependent on the Situation

There are cases where gas mask A is much better than gas mask B, but there will also be cases where B is better than A. In fact, there will be cases where gas mask A through Z will not save you! The point is, the effectiveness of gas masks will depend entirely on what situation you are caught in, mainly because of the filters.  Hence, the following guidelines will help you:

The Filter is the Heart of the Gas Mask

A gas mask with a used up filter is none but a husk of its former self. It will be good for nothing but a Halloween decoration. That NBC/CBRN gas mask? There’s nothing special about it. Most modern gas masks are useable for NBC and CBRN protection anyway. Even the most expensive gas mask will be useless if you do not use the right filter for the job. Yep. You read it right. There are types of filters too, thus adding to the complexity of choosing the best gas mask. The substances a gas mask can filter is dependent on the type and class of the filter. The table below shows details about the types and classes of a filter in accordance to EN14387:

Filter Type Contaminants Filtered
AX Gases and vapors of organic com  pounds with boiling point  ≤ 65 °C
A Gases and vapours of organic com  pounds with boiling point  > 65 °C
B Inorganic gases and vapours, e.g.  chlorine, hydrogen sulfide,   hydrogen cyanide
E Sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride
K Ammonia and organic Ammonia   derivatives
CO Carbon monoxide
Hg Mercury vapour
NO Nitrous Gases  including nitrogen monoxide
Reactor Radioactive Iodine
P1, P2, P3 Particles

Filters also have different classes. For gas filters, they are classified according to their filtering capacity, i.e. class 2 gas filters can filter out higher volumes of particulates. If class 1 and class 2 filters are to be left in a contaminated environment at the same time, type 1 will be the first one to be rendered unusable.

Class: Maximum Allowed Concentration
1 1000 ppm
2 5000 ppm
3 10000 ppm

Particle filters are classified by their efficiency. The table below shows how effective particle filters are in terms of percentage of particulates filtered, assuming that the mask in question is full mask:

Class: Efficiency Maximum Allowed Concentration
1 80% 5 times OEL
2 94% 16 times OEL
3 99.95% 1000 times OEL

OEL (Occupational Exposure Limit) is the tolerable concentration of a substance before they become health or life threatening. You can get the maximum allowed concentration by multiplying OEL with the numbers in the table above. For example, a class 1 filter can filter out lead dust with an OEL of 0.4mg/m3 up to a maximum concentration of 2mg/m3.

Nomenclature: (Gas Filter Type) + (Gas Filter Class) + (Nomenclature of additional filters)

Example: An A2B2P3 filter can filter out gases and vapors of organic compounds with boiling point  ≤ 65 °C up to concentrations filtered by class 2 gas filters. It can also filter inorganic gasses up to concentrations covered by class 2. Lastly, it can filter up to 1000 times the OEL of particulates with a whopping 99.95% efficiency. P3 particle filters seem ideal right? Nope. Unfortunately, P3 particle filters have very dense filters making it a little harder to breathe. Added to the burden is the uncomfortable level temperature caused by the density of the filter, so you’ll have to choose between efficiency and mobility and convenience.

You will need both efficiency and mobility when shtf so it is a matter of personal preference. When choosing the best gas mask filter for your situation, you should weigh what type of substances you will likely encounter.  Consider the following possibilities:

chemical fumes
You’ll never know what chemical gases will be unleashed if factories are ruined by calamites.
  • Asbestos – don’t wonder if the remains of a ruined town or structure is reeking with asbestos. It is a very common material that is very toxic and carcinogenic in large concentrations. Thankfully, most gas masks filter will help the air you breathe be purified of this villain.
  • Chlorine Gas – chlorine gas is a bioweapon used by both military and terrorists. It is very poisonous and can easily kill you by damaging your respiratory system. Type B filters can filter this chemical.
  • Hydrogen Sulfide – hydrogen sulfide is yet another poisonous substance that can quickly kill you. Back in 2014, a large concentration hydrogen sulfide was reported in Siam Square One mall in Thailand and the employees suffered from health complications. Hydrogen sulfide can build up from improperly treated sewage, so it can be present in damaged residential and industrial structures. Type B filters are your best bet here
  • Prussic Acid (Hydrogen Cyanide) – hydrogen cyanide is a poisonous substance that you may encounter in industrial structures involved in mining and refining gold. If you are near such a structure, type B filters will be of help in case something bad happens.
  • Sulfur Dioxide – SO2 is a toxic gas that can be released from a volcanic eruption and the burning of fossil fuel. You can protect yourself from this gas by using a Type E filter. Consider protecting yourself from this gas if you are near a volcano, a fossil fuel power plant or an oil refinery.
  • Hydrogen Chloride – hydrogen chloride forms hydrochloric acid when in contact with water vapor or the moisture from our body. It can cause inflammation of the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. HCl is used by chemical factories to produce other substances. Consider preparing to protect yourself from hydrochloric acid if you live near tire factories or anything that use rubber for their production (HCl is used for hydrochlorination of rubber). Type E filters can protect you from this deadly chemical.
  • Ammonia –inhalation of ammonia can cause nasopharyngeal and tracheal burns in addition to bronchiolar and alveolar edema. In case you are wondering, these medical jargons all refer to respiratory damage that can easily kill you. You better gear up with a Type K filter if you live near a fertilizer factory, drinking water factory or a cold storage.
  • Carbon Monoxide – if the concentration is about 35 ppm, carbon monoxide can be poisonous. You should always be prepared for one because strong concentrations of CO can form during fire (especially forest fires), no matter where you are. You are in increased danger if you live near a food processing plant, chemical plant and structures involved in metallurgy. Make sure to stash a Type CO filter. Back in March 2012, 17 people, including responders, were hurt from a carbon monoxide leak in food processing plant in Hayle, Cornwall, England.
  • Methyl Iodide – methyl iodide is a toxic component of pesticides. If you are near a pesticide factory, then keeping a Type R filter will be a good choice.

Consider which combination of chemicals you should be worried about. Then, find a suitable combination filter. Keep in mind that your filter should have P type because you will likely encounter particulates from infrastructures like asphalt and asbestos.

The Mask itself is only a husk, but some are better than the others

While it is the filter types that are the deciding factors, each gas mask model have their own set of advantages. Here is a guideline for choosing the best gas mask for you:

Say No to Surplus Gas Masks

Some online stores sell used gas masks. Others even sell gas masks that dates back from the World War. Please don’t use such gas masks. World War gas masks contain asbestos and have filters that are likely damaged. If the filters are damaged, the asbestos can easily leak in to be inhaled by the wearer. Sad to say, it will cause more harm than good. While surplus gas masks are tempting choices because of their relative cheapness, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Some surplus gas masks have factory defects. You’ll never know what component is leaky unless you try them out and it is too late for a refund. Furthermore, surplus gas masks usually lack proper documentation so you are left blind in terms of choosing

If Feasible, Only Buy NATO approved gas masks

Aside from quality assurance, NATO approved masks are the best gas masks in terms of availability of canister filters. The filters of NATO approved gas masks are interchangeable. Hence, you can use the filters of Brand X gas mask to replace that of Brand Y. Some non NATO approved gas mask manufacturers have their own gas mask canisters that are not compatible to other filters. That is, Brand Z gas mask will only accept Brand Z filters so you will be forced to buy filters from Brand Z only. This makes the availability of filters a major issue. If ever you want to buy a non NATO gas mask, then you better look for one that it adheres to a third party authority such as NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and find out about the details of the standard.

Some Gas Masks Offer Neat Features

If you are struggling between to gas masks, the tie breaker will be the unique features they offer. The following is a list of possible features of a gas mask:

  • Straw Assembly (for drinking)
  • Lens Mounts – useful for mounting prescription lenses
  • Wide range of view – some gas masks offer unhampered vision
  • Hollow cheek – this feature is neat if you ever need to wield a gun. The hollow cheek allows comfortable aiming, contrary to how gas masks without this feature works
  • Face Adjustment – some models of gas mask can adjust to the size of the face
  • Defogging Valve – the formation of mist in your gas mask will prove to be a hindrance when SHTF. A defogging/demisting valve will help you remove the fog without having to remove the gas mask.
  • Multiple Filter Ports – some gas mask models allows simultaneous use of multiple filters. The main advantage of this type of mask is the ease of breathing.
  • Speaking Diaphragm – a speaking diaphragm improves voice pitch, volume and clarity making it ideal if you need to communicate
  • Optical Correction – ensures that the face piece will not cause visual distortion
  • Ballistic Resistance – protection from high velocity projectiles

Choose the gas mask with extra features that are perfect for your situation. If you think you will need to communicate properly during a disaster, then a speaking diaphragm is a must. If you have eye problems, then go for one that has a lens mount.

Gas Mask We Recommend

Draeger 4500

The Draeger CDR 4500 is a NIOSH certified military-grade gas mask.  It has a 40mm filter threading, hence standard NATO filters will work with it. Perhaps, one of its most distinct features is the width of the viewing range. Such a feature will help you retain situational awareness which is definitely a must if when stuff hit the fan. In addition, its flexibility allows the shape to adapt depending on your face size as long as you do not have a face as small as an average 12-years-old’s.

This gas mask also features a hollowed cheek, hence it can be used in conjunction with a firearm. It also has a voice-enhancing diaphragm which is valuable if you need to bug out with someone.

All these features, combined with the fact that you can easily find appropriate filters because it uses 40 mm threading, make Draeger 4500 a wise choice in terms of gas mask.

Conclusion

There are tons of factor to consider when choosing the best gas mask. It may seem a daunting task, but isn’t it fair to weigh every factor, especially because one day your life and the lives of your loved ones may depend on it? Choose carefully. Lives are priceless.  

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Written by James Bana

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